Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: That Was The Year That Was

Another year has slipped by all too quickly and it's been an up and down year for me but punctuated by some great reads which I want to briefly recap here.

This was the year that I read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, and absolutely loved it.  I wanted to wear the beautiful kimono that he described so brilliantly.

This was the year I discovered Fyodor Dostoevsky, reading Crime and Punishment and The Idiot.  I thoroughly enjoyed both, they had such wonderful and profound characterisations.

This was the year that I journeyed through South America and travelled to Cuba with Che Guevara.  I thought his biography A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson was simply awesome.  I could not get enough of 'Che', reading his Motorcycle Diaries and his Bolivian Diary and even dipping into Guerilla Warfare. What an amazing man, but whose life could have been so different had he not met Castro.

This was the year I fell in love with the amiable twit Bertie Wooster.  P G Wodehouse's humour just hits the nail on the head with me.  What a laugh I have had with Bertie and Jeeves.

This was the year I read about bicycles in The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien.  A bizarre vision that is very funny in it's absurdity. Definitely one of my favourite reads this year.

This was the year I met the tragic Madam Bovary and Therese Racquin and finished the Harry Potter series.  I went North & South with Elizabeth Gaskell and even travelled to Edwin A Abbott's Flatland.  I went back to the Dark Ages in England with Ivanhoe and then on to Paris in the Middle Ages with Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Then I finished my travels with a little Australian novel called The Celtic Dagger and by crikey I wished I had one to put me out of my misery whilst reading it.  I reviewed it for Good Reads and tried to be as objective as possible but between you and me I have to query whether the author Jill Paterson had ever read a book prior to embarking on her literary career.  It has to be possibly the worst novel I have ever read (as in literary style) possibly on a par with the pretty much unknown Cuckold Conspiracy, of which the author's name at present has escaped me, but which I promised to read and review for his feedback via my bookclub.  But, as I always remind myself when I'm in these critical moods "they're published and I'm not, so there".

Xmas Dinner
My book list is ready for next year, with the first book being Opposing Energies by J W Collier.and I will endeavour to finish Adam Bede and Pride and Prejudice - I was so looking forward to my break to catch up on my reading but I have barely had time to read anything!

Oh, I nearly forgot this is also the year that I bought my first brand new car, a velvet red diesel  Holden CD Cruze   I take delivery on Friday so that does end my year on a high note which makes up for the extremely wet Chrismas Day we experienced (as you can see by the photo our planned picnic took place in the lounge!)

Finally, as this is my last post for 2010 I just want to wish everyone who views this a Happy and Safe New Year, and if you are an author of any book I review please accept that I say it as I see it and I do admit to having a half written novel of which I will never finish as my own literary style is pretty ordinary at best :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Broken Hearts Lie Ahead

I'm making headway into Adam Bede after a little rocky start.  The way the dialogue is written isn't annoying me as much as it did.  Eliot has introduced me to the main characters - Adam and Seth Bede, and their  mother Lisbeth; and has taken  me by the hand and led me over to the Hall Farm, the home of the Poysers, their children and their two nieces Hetty and Dinah. Hetty and Dinah are like chalk and cheese, Hetty is very self absorbed and full of pretensions whilst Dinah lives by, and preaches from, The Bible.

Adam loves Hetty but Hetty has set her heart higher looking towards the dashing young squire Captain Arthur Donnithorne, whilst Seth loves Dinah whose heart unfortunately belongs to her Methodist religion.

So far I have peeked into their lives briefly and taken a look at the neighbouring countryside, but for a third of the way into the novel not much has really happened.  The Bede's lost their father in a tragic accident, and  Captain Donnithorne has inadvertently given Hetty cause to believe her future lies beyond her station.  He is a likeable young man who is deeply attracted to Hetty but he is also very much aware that he has standards to maintain when it comes to a future wife.  His recent actions are going to have severe consequences.

This has been a slow read for me, but for all that I do want to know how the story is going to develop and what broken hearts lie ahead.

I'm also currently listening to Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell on my iPod, another read from the 1001 list.  The narrator is a well to do young woman who has spent time in Cranford and relates her experiences with the women of the village.  There are not many men there (for those who live above a certain rent), but the women  manage their lives admirably.  They are no nonsense respectable types who live within an 'elegant economy'.

Again, nothing much has happened really, except one of the few male characters being tragically killed, and a spate of burglaries that have been blamed on the unseen French, which causes irrational panic amongst the village inhabitants.  I think I have probably read too much horror as I'm expecting something awful to happen around the corner at any moment! Apparently this is Gaskell's best loved novel, but for me I prefer North & South.

I've been concentrating on Adam Bede and so haven't read much more of Big Driver by Stephen King, just when the victim is about to claim her revenge too.  I'll have to aim for an early night tonight so that I can finish it in bed.

Waiting for Dinner
Book Club went well on Thursday, we were treated to a wonderful light show as the storms continued to pass over whilst we had dinner.  We exchanged Christmas presents and in the spirit of things we all ordered very unhealthy desserts after our mains :)

Well, the rain continues to pour.  I've watched the whole of series one of The Walking Dead since last night (it was a bit like Days of Our Lives set in Zombieland but rather compulsive viewing), so I might just curl up with my Kindle and a cup of coffee for an hour or so, I'm sure my ironing can wait..... and the dishes...... and the cats don't really need feeding JUST yet.........

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Shelf of Fame

So, this is my ‘shelf of fame' mentioned in the last blog post.  I thought I would write a little about this tonight.  All the books that are signed by their authors reside here. 

I bought Backroads to Hollywood by Ingo Petzke as I was a regular at Ingo’s Gold Coast Cinematique at Bond University.  It was open to the public as well as to the university and I would toddle along and feel like a fraud getting involved in the discussions after the movie was finished, seemingly the only person there not involved in the industry!  Ingo did a Ray Barrett Retrospective over a few weeks which was great, and among the movies we saw were Don’s Party directed by Bruce Beresford and Goodbye Paradise. Ray and his wife came along too and he would say a few words after the movie (Ray has sadly since passed away).

The highlight of my membership was a dinner at Salt in Varsity Lakes, which was attended by Ray Barrett and Bruce Beresford, and I ended up sitting next to Bruce and chatting with him.  He had just finished directing a movie with John Cusack and was quite taken by how tall he was.  I asked him what his own personal favourite movie was and he said The Warrior which is a Korean movie I think and the favourite movie he had directed himself was Black Robe.  Again I felt like such a fraud with all these industry people – I also sat next to someone who had just finished working on The Proposition…. It was a great night.  Anyway, Ingo had mentioned this book so I bought it at the university shop and got it signed at one of my last meetings (Ingo eventually left Australia to take a post within the movie industry overseas). The inscription reads:

To Maxine, who loves the cinema as much as one should! Ingo 12 Oct 2005

Malicious Intent by Kathryn Fox I bought after a library talk which Kathryn gave.  It’s not a great read but it’s always good to support our local authors, but she's published and I'm not so there.  The inscription reads:

To Maxine, good luck with the writing!! Go for it! All the best wishes Kathryn Fox

The two Matt Reilly’s I’m really proud of and I got those signed at another author event.  I was very impressed with Matt’s enthusiasm for his work, he doesn’t take it too seriously - it’s meant to be over the top fun and I was also pleased to see the time he took to talk to the younger audience members.  When I got Ice Station signed he asked me where I had bought the book as the cover is not generally available in Australia.  He suggested I put it on e-bay J  There are no inscriptions in these just Hi Maxine and Matt’s signature.  I also got a photo taken with him and this is on my shelf too.

So, that’s the shelf and there’s a fair bit of room left on it yet! 

I tried to get a copy of Northanger Abbey for download from the library but it's not available and I have to go on a wait list.  Are they for real?  It's digital media why is it not always available, I don't understand it.  Then I remembered that I had downloaded Jane Austen's entire collection for the Kindle so I'll read it after Adam Bede.  Instead I went back to some discs my daughter had thoughtfully done for me and chose Carry On, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse.  I just love Jeeves and Wooster, it's dated but still wonderfully funny.  The stories are all pretty much the same, but it's the way Bertie delivers his lines - the What Ho's and yipping, gargling and inhaling.  It's really uplifting stuff and it's had me smiling on my way to work these past couple of mornings.

Big Driver the second of the Stephen King novellas is really good.  It's very violent at the beginning and I think there really should have been a disclaimer!  I'm really liking it though, and I really want to know what the victim's revenge is going to be.  This one harks back to his earlier days, and has his trademark phrase repetition.  In this case it's You Like It It Likes You, and I'm definitely liking this.

Still haven't read enough of Adam Bede to comment on it yet, but xmas is coming and hopefully I'll find the time then.

I've won a book too from  Good Reads which I'll review for them - The Celtic Dagger, so there's a bit of new reading coming along on the horizon.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Playful Dance

I was sad to receive an email from The Book Army last night informing all members that they were closing the site on the 21st December. Too much competition apparently, and I feel like one of the traitors having moved to Good Reads recently. Even worse, after spending a lot of time adding my books into Good Reads, the email included a link to export from the Book Army! ….. if only I had got that email a couple of weeks ago!!

So, I finished reading Antic Hay and I had to wonder what the hell it was all about! The title Antic Hay is from a quote from Edward II by Christopher Marlowe and refers to a 'playful dance'. I thought it would be the name of a character and was waiting all the time for him to turn up! The writing was very good, but I guess you would really need to have moved in the circles described to fully appreciate what he was getting at. The book was controversial when first published due to its sexual references but by today’s standards it’s pretty tame. It’s mainly about a group of idle rich set in the 1920’s in London. Although I didn't really enjoy it I did like the writing style so I will definitely try another Huxley.

I also finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and definitely enjoyed it more than some of the others in the series. Everything tied in nicely, though it did have a ‘Matrix’ feel to it when Harry finds himself in a deserted Kings Cross Station with Dumbledore and during the fight at Hogwarts Mrs Weasley sounded like Ripley from Aliens 2 (you know, at the end when she is in the loader) when she tells Bellatrix to stay away from her daughter!! I didn’t like the 14 years later chapter, I felt that was a little silly, but on the whole it was pretty good and I think I shall miss the characters now it is all over.

Tonight I’ll start the second novella in Full Dark No Stars, which is called Big Driver and I just need to decide on my next audio book. I’m getting a bit annoyed with the Media Drive downloads from the library as just lately I’ve noticed that a few words are cut off at the end of each chapter. That’s very annoying, and spoils the story somewhat as it could be a crucial clue to the plot so I will have to rethink where I get my audio downloads. However, I’ll probably do Northanger Abbey next by Jane Austen.

I have also bought a book from new author J W Collier called Opposing Energies. It is his first published novel, and I first heard of it via Twitter and then the author’s website (you see dad, here's proof that Twitter is a great medium to promote yourself.......).  I wouldn't normally buy a book on spec, but I was impressed with the website and the author comes across as a really nice guy, plus the book will be signed so I thought what the hell, it will be good to help promote someone new. I’m really looking forward to reading it, and as it was posted a couple of days ago, it will my next physical read after Full Dark. Plus, once finished it will be a new addition to my ‘shelf of fame’ where I keep all my signed books and my photo with Matt Reilly J

So, with another very wet Sunday heading my way it looks like I'll have plenty of time to curl up with a nice cuppa and my Kindle and get some of Adam Bede read so I can talk about that soon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

From the Duality of Man to The Conniving Man


Muse
My reading has slipped a little this week, I blame it on work.  But I have the day off today to recover from last night (Muse) and to await my new washing machine (my LG gave up the ghost Friday night) so thought I would post a few words whilst watching Lord of The Rings on my new big screen TV (the product of going to Harvey Norman for a washing machine!!).

1922 is the first novella in Full Dark No Stars by Stephen King.  I was a little worried about going 'back' in my reading by picking this up as I have read some amazing books this year, but you know what - you just can't keep a good story teller down! 1922 is a murder confession.  The murderer blames his actions on The Conniving Man that wells up within him when his wife comes into some land and wants to sell it and move to the city.  The Conniving Man is having non of that, and he conspires with his son to murder her.  The son is only 14 years old, and is easily manipulated and whilst he did not commit the act itself he helped his father dispose of the body and with the subsequent cover up....... I am really enjoying it.

Muse
Adam Bede by George Elliot is on my Kindle and I've only had time to read a little bit of it.  It's set in 1799 and Adam has been introduced to us as a strapping young man of about 26 who works as a carpenter in a rural village in the North of England.  I'm finding the dialogue a little difficult as much of it is written in the local dialect and I also have no idea what the story's about - but it's on the 1001 list.  At the moment a female Methodist has come to the village to preach, she's young and attractive and although many of the villagers have a distrust of the 'Methody's' they all turn out to have a look at the young woman.  That's as far as I have got.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows I am enjoying quite a bit despite some of the stupid actions of the characters.  I like the fact that Neville might become a bit of a hero, but I'm still smarting at the death of Dobby.  I bawled my eyes out driving to work when he was killed and then the funeral (this is an audio book by the way!!) - Here Lies Dobby, A Free Elf.... boo hoo I couldn't bear it!  But I guess, she had to kill him off as there will be scrapes coming up that Dobby could have got them out of and so he needs to be out of the picture.

Antic Hay, now this one I daren't Google in case I spoil the story.  It's by Aldous Huxley who I have never read before and so far it's been a bit of a giggle.  I love the main character Theodore Dumbril who wants to patent a design for a pair of trousers with a pneumatic seat which can be pumped up when required - to alleviate discomfort when seated as shows etc!

The first chapter was wonderfully descriptive as Theodore is sat listening to a rather long sermon, and I knew I would like this writing style right away.  I'm soooo tempted to find out more about the title but the amount of times I've ruined a good read by stumbling across a plot spoiler I'm not going to do it this time.

So, now I'm off to enjoy an uninterrupted lunch.  My  other half is at work, and Big Red and Pestilence are having their naps........ I should take more time off work, it's awesome!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Saddest Novel I Have Ever Read

This has to have been one of the saddest stories I have ever read.  The story is not Quasimodo’s it is la Esmeralda’s.  It is a story about an abducted child and a mother’s grief.  Quasimodo only really has a minor (but significant) role.
The best scene was when the recluse realised la Esmeralda was her child whilst holding her for the king's men to take her to be executed.  She then tries to hide her, but Esmeralda makes herself known when she thinks she hears Phoebus. No amount of begging will stop the king’s men from taking the ‘sorceress’ to be hung, it is heart wrenching.
The poet who I thought would become a major character was pretty much a redundant character but he saved the goat, so he was good for something.
Hugo was under pressure from his publisher to finish the novel, and this was evident in the writing ie he got on with the story.  A very dark novel but, I am really pleased I stuck it out and read it.  
Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde didn't take long to read at all, so I have now reached my target for the year, yippee!!  The story is told by two of Jeckyll's friends, and by a letter from Jeckyll to be read only upon his disappearance or death.
The novel explores the duality of man and that we all have this darker side.  This is evident is some people who have suffered a brain injury.  A darker side emerges - a temper, swearing, extreme moodiness etc.
Apart from a couple of specific events Hyde's depraved activities are only barely hinted at, we can only assume that he is visiting prositutes and opium dens.  Jeckyll desired to frequent these placed but the coventions of society restricted him - he has his respectability to maintain.  Now that Mr Hyde is unleashed he can run amok.  Hyde becomes the more dominant character, Jeckyll goes to bed and wakes up as his darker self.  It is only after the murder of an eminent man that Hyde shows a fear of the gallows and lets Jeckyll take the reins again - albeit briefly.
It's a very disconcerting read!
What am I reading next? Well, I'm half way through Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.  Harry's annoying me slightly.  For all he's been through he's a bit dim sometimes, and even though he's been told Voldemort's name has been tabooed he still had to go and say it and now he's put himself and his friends in mortal danger. What an idiot!!
Adam Bede is my next Kindle read and I might try my new Stephen King tonight..........

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Bells! The Bells!

I've now read about half of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, so I thought I'd better write some thoughts on it as I'm ploughing through this much quicker than I thought I would.

Hugo sets the scene with rather a lot of description with regards to the architectural history of Paris and it's surrounds, which is a bit distracting and takes from the flow of the story, rather like Moby Dick and Melville's encyclopedic descriptions, or even like reading about the list of building materials required to build the Ark in The Bible - BORING!! Though, he is rather cynical with regards to the restorations and improvements that have been made since the setting of the novel, he states that Paris of 1482 was made of stone, but Paris of the late 1800's is made of plaster.  However, his description of Quasimodo when he was crowned The Pope of Fools was excellent and I could totally visualise his one-eyed, bandy legged, hump backed ugliness. Quasimodo is about 20 at the time of reading, and has been flogged for being a bit of public nuisance - he tried to run off with Esmeralda.  The fact that he is deaf and he was tried by a deaf judge did not help his cause and his punishment was rather severe, but at the moment I don't feel too sorry for him as I'm not sure yet if he's misunderstood or is mischievous in a malicious way.

I do appreciate the English translations of the French (and Latin) quotations, though I can work out a few utilising my high school French but on the whole many authors do tend to take it for granted that you will understand what they are conveying by their use of these phrases (Maugham etc).

This is my first Victor Hugo novel, and I don't think it will put me off reading Les Miserables.  Thinking about it, his style rather reminds me a little of Thackery's Vanity Fair - it just has that touch of cynicism about it. I'm not loving this novel, but I'm not hating it either.

Last night I finished One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.  It was very good, and I watched the movie again.  It does portray the novel very well though there are differences, but it really does have an excellent cast who bring the characters to vivid life. But, I just can't really see Nurse Ratched as a villain - especially not after reading the book.  These men were mentally ill, and Nurse Ratched knows how important it is to keep routine and order.  McMurphy might be outrageous and supposedly heaps of fun, but it did result in deaths - including his own - and at the end of the novel there is a native American schizophrenic on the loose!!  The electric shock therapy and the lobotomies performed as routine are barbaric, hopefully things have improved since then - it's not something I know much about thank goodness!

So, now I'm reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which is the penultimate 1001 book for the year, I can't believe I'm actually going to make my target.  I've just got to get through The Lair of The White Worm and maybe do the last book on the Kindle - I've got plenty to chose from I've downloaded so many 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Write About What You Know?

Emma is a book I could read again.  I loved it!  I loved the character of Miss Bates, she was a wonderful gossip and always had far too much to say at once, she was hilarious. I was so pleased that everything worked out for Harriet in the end after all Emma’s ill guided meddling.  Although this was a comedy of errors, you weren’t treated like an idiot and it wasn’t taken too far.  Sometimes that can be really frustrating with some of these 19th Century characters (Jane Eyre).

All in all Emma was brilliant and I can only wonder at how long it has taken me to discover Jane Austen.  I would love to start another of her novels but I will wait for the New Year and theme it for book club. (I’ve started The Hunchback of Notre Dame instead.  The recording is awful however – very tinny – so not sure how it’ll go, it’s going to be hard work I think.)

One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest has been another really enjoyable read.  I’ve been reading it in bed and I’m finding that I don’t want to put it down each time I pick it up.  We all know the story so there’s no point repeating it, but it is very well written and I like the way it is narrated by Bromden, who claims that it is all true even if some of it didn’t happen!  Kesey did the night shift at a mental institution whilst doing his journalism studies so again it’s the old adage – write about what you know.  I’ll never make a writer – I don’t know anything and I have no imagination!!  Still, I think I have more enjoyment from reading books rather than trying my hand at writing.

Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker's The Lair of the White Worm is absolutely atrocious.  What a bad choice for my first Kindle read.  It’s badly written, the plot is boring and ridiculous and the dreadful over use of the word ‘nigger’ and the disrespect associated with it is quite distasteful.  The lack of consideration for another human being due to his colour even back then is quite alarming.  I’m constantly cringing as I’m reading, I will finish it though as I rarely give up on a book – but it is a close one!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Emma Is An Absolute Hoot!

Even though Emma wasn't meant to be a totally likeable character, I'm finding her hilarious.  She is such a meddler, and so firm in her convictions - but when found to be wrong she has perfect reasons for why she was misled. I’m quite impressed with Austen’s simple style, as most books written around this era (Emma was published in 1815) are quite convoluted and at times hard to read.  Austen’s style is no nonsense and very enjoyable, no wonder she is so popular – six of her novels are on the 1001 list.

I find it amazing that this was written nearly two hundred years ago.  But it also shows that we haven’t really changed that much during this time – we just know more.  I try to imagine Jane Austen sitting at a table or desk, candle fickering, scribbling away with a quill.  She is giving us a lovely insight into the views of people back then - the need to marry well, the class divide and the general discussions of the day.  As you can see, I am enjoying it immensely.

Nurse Ratched is another wonderful literary creation.  A devil in disguise – from the point of view of the mental patients anyway (I've yet to make up my mind!).  McMurphy has almost caused the staid nurse to totally loose it over his insistence that he be allowed to watch the world series in the afternoons when the TV is usually switched off. The other patients join in  his protest, even Chief Bromden – which is a another slip up on the chief’s part as he is supposed to be a deaf mute and shouldn’t really know what is going on.  He can’t help but do what McMurphy wants, but another part of him wishes that he would go away so that his ordered world would return to ‘normal’.  The doctors all think that McMurphy should be moved to ‘Disturbed’ but Nurse Ratched is biding her time and wants him to remain on her ward. 

I’m close to reaching my yearly target from the 1001 list and have just two more to read to the end of December.  I’m still thinking but these will probably be The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.  As for my other reads, I've downloaded so many to my kindle I don't know what to do first!  Though one thing of concern is that I am focusing on one list and I might be missing some really good reads from more recent lists so I might have to dip into these on and off.  I don't think I'll be missing too much as I am really enjoying the old classics, but you never know........

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What a Sad End!

The last few chapters of The Idiot were very sad indeed.  Prince Myshkin was forced to choose between Princess Myshkin’s youngest daughter Aglaya and the fallen woman Nastassya.  Bizarrely he chooses Nastassya even after all the trouble she has caused, and they plan their wedding. All seems to go to plan until the morning of the wedding when Nastassya falls back into the arms of Rogozhin.

Myshkin goes in search of them the next morning, and after several false leads he finds Rogozhin who takes him to  his home to show him Nastassya.  She is tucked up in bed as if asleep but Rogozhin confesses that he had stabbed her in the heart that night. The next morning the authorities find the two men, one in a fever and the other out of his mind.  Rogozhin is sentenced to 15 years in Siberia and Myshkin ends up in the Sanitorium he originally came from in Switzerland.

I listened to the last half an hour three times.  It was so sad and as I had got to know the characters so well I just didn’t want it to finish.

It was hard to find a new audio after that, nothing can really follow it – certainly not those that I have waiting to load up.  After much deliberation I have decided to stick with another classic and do ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen (my very first Austen!).

My physical read One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is very good and there are some very unusual illustrations throughout it by Ken Kesey.  McMurphy has spent his first day on the ward and has already worked out that Bromden is not a deaf mute.  It’s a shame that I have seen the movie a few times, as I would have liked to imagine the characters without the influence of the movie.  The characterisations however are pretty good.

I also read a very good short horror story by Robert Bloch in my lunch break called Return to the Sabbath.  It reminded me a little bit of Shadow of the Vampire whereby the actor chosen to play a movie part is practically the real deal.  But, what really got me was Bloch’s description of the character rising from the dead in the movie Return to the Sabbath where the actor was first discovered.  It really chilled me:

“The shadows fell back.  A figure rose out of the grave, and the face turned towards me………….It was the face of a child, I thought at first; no, not a child, but a man with a child’s soul.  The face of a poet, perhaps, unwrinkled and calm.  Long hair framed a high forehead; crescent eyebrows tilted over closed lids.  The nose and mouth were thin and finely chiseled.  Over the entire countenance was written an unearthly peace.  It was as though the man were in a sleep of somnambulism or catalepsy.  And then the face grew larger, the  moonlight brighter, and I saw – more.

The sharper light disclosed tiny touches of evil.  The thin lips were fretted, maggot-kissed.  The nose had crumbled at the nostrils.  The forehead was flaked with putrefaction, and the dark hair was dead, encrusted with slime.  There were shadows in the bony ridges beneath the closed eyes.  Even now, the skeletal arms were up, and bony fingers brushed at those dead pits as the rotted lids fluttered apart.  The eyes opened”....................

So descriptive, it gave me goosebumps! 

I finished The Half Blood Prince and it was really sad when Dumbledore was murdered.  I was going to leave The Deathly Hallows until next year but I couldn’t resist and have listened to about six chapters.  Poor Mad Eye and Hedwig have been killed already. That's a bit merciless J.K!

Anyway, I'd better get back to some more reading………. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ringing The Changes

Ringing the Changes was every bit as creepy as I had remembered it to be.  No need for blood and guts, or outright horror here.  This is subtle and claustrophobic.  You can imagine the constant tolling of the bells, the emptiness of the village as the inhabitants hide behind locked doors.  You feel the fear of the honeymooning couple as they walk down to the ocean in the dark only to find that it is no longer there.  You wonder about the drunken landlady of the hotel, and the story about her strange husband.  The only other guest staying at the hotel tells the new husband that he still has time to get his wife away before the bells stop ringing……… 

From the many stories of horror or supernatural that I read as a teenager only three have constantly remained with me:

Midnight Express by Alfred Noyes
No Living Man so Tall by Rosemary Timperley
and
Ringing the Changes by Robert Aickman

I’ve just started One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  It is narrated by the Indian patient Bromden, and he introduces us to the ‘Acutes’, ‘Walking Chronics’, ‘Wheelers’ and ‘Vegetables’ within the ward.

The Ward is part of a well oiled machine which is headed up by the formidable Nurse Ratched (or Big Nurse as Bromden calls her). Randall P McMurphy (r.p.m.) has just entered the ward and is about to upset the machinations. I’ll write more on my thoughts on this once I have read some more.

In The Idiot Prince Myshkin has spent a rather distressing night with the tragic Hyppolite, and the other hangers-on in his entourage at a supposed party thrown for Myshkin.  He had asked Hyppolite to move into his villa so that he could see the trees instead of ‘The Wall’ (I can’t help but think of Shirley Valentine when I read of Hyppolite’s affinity with the Wall) which has been the view from Hyppolite’s sick bed. Hyppolite is in Consumption and says he only has a couple of weeks left to live.  He writes a farewell-cum-suicide note which he asks Myshkin to read aloud to his guests before daybreak.  The note is quite profound and thought provoking, and once Myshkin has finished reading it Hyppolite pulls out a gun and fires at his own temple.  The gun fails to go off, and he beomes a figure of fun as those who witnessed this action believe that he left the cap out on purpose. 

Myshkin is being pulled apart in many directions, but he still continues with his easy going kind hearted nature, though he has begun to lose patience with Lebedeff who has just told a roundabout story of how 400 Roubles have been stolen from him during the course of the night and he believes the thief to be one of the guests at the party - Ferdischenko.  This is possible because Ferdischenko told a story about how he stole money at the beginning of the novel and how he let a servant girl take the blame and even encouraged her to admit to the crime.  There are some really dark elements to this novel and they are threatening to overpower the Prince. 

Believe it or not I’m still listening to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, I’m just not enjoying this one as much so only listening to it on and off, but I’ll try and make an effort to finish it this week.  I’m also still reading The Lair of the White Worm on my Kindle.  It’s really not very good at all, which is disappointing as it is a Bram Stoker.  It’s just plain silly and not worth writing about at the moment.  But, I have had fun working out the bookmarking, highlights, clippings and background music on the Kindle.  I love new toys J

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Would Jesus Not Do?

All the time I find co-incidences with my reading selection and Choke and The Idiot are no exception.  Both have a Christ-like theme.

Victor believes he may be the son of the Son of God in Choke.  He slowly comes round to the idea that he brings peace to the old people at the nursing home.  He believes he can perform the miracle that will save his ailing mother’s life.  But, Victor is brought back to reality when his mother dies and Nurse Paige, who was his biggest supporter turns out to be a lunatic! 

This novel is most definitely one of the strangest that I have read, but I loved it, and couldn’t put it down.  I loved the short snappy sentences, the scenarios and the characters.  This was genuinely funny and compulsive reading.

Prince Myshkin, The Idiot of Dostoyevsky’s novel is a Christ like character.  He is described as being fair (light) whilst his nemesis Rogozhin is dark and brooding.  The prince is prepared to marry a fallen woman, not because he loves her (as Rogozhin does) but because he wants to redeem her as she has suffered in the past.  His goodness is taken advantage of when he comes into an inheritance and he is hounded by fraudsters.

There is a lot of dialogue in this novel, and it is just wonderful to read, the Princess Myshkin has the best lines.  She is so funny but also very perceptive.

The thought of reading a Russian novel has always been a bit off putting to me, but I loved Crime and Punishment and I am enjoying this one even more. I guess I’ll have to move Anna Karenina up the list a bit – although a different author may not be as enjoyable…?

Anyway, some good news – Mary Danby’s 65 Great Tales of the Supernatural arrived (way ahead of schedule), and so I shall be reading Ringing the Changes tonight when I go to bed.  I did sneak a few pages in my lunch break but I decided that I need to get the full impact of it's creepiness closer to the witching hour. I hope it’s as good as I remember it!

So, my next 1001 read will be One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey and if you want to know what Jesus would not do, then you’ll have to grab a copy of Choke (and be prepared to be shocked!).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Eh?


I don’t know.  I think I must have missed something with The Man in The High Castle.  In a way it was a bit like Carry Me Down – it had no ending.  The authors draw you into these peoples lives and situations, build it to a climax and then pull you out of it…… and then what?  You’re just left hanging and feeling like you’ve just wasted valuable reading time.                                                  
I thought I hadn’t downloaded the whole novel to my iPod.  I listened to the last disc twice, then again on my laptop – and nope, there was definitely no ending.  I ask you ‘what is the point?’!!
It was an interesting theme, and the various character stories, though not necessarily intertwining, were good.  I liked the idea of the ‘Oracle’……… but you don’t get that satisfied feeling when there are a ton of loose ends that need tying up.  I feel very let down.
I’m still giggling through Choke.  It really does evoke some funny (if not sometimes shocking) images.  Nurse Paige who takes care of Victor’s mother in the nursing home has read his mother’s diary and informs him that his mother believed that Victor’s embryo contained DNA from Jesus Christ himself.  Another patient at the nursing home recognises Victor (from a choking incident) and says that he has the capacity for great love and compassion.  Victor is terrified of this statement and needs re-assurance from his best friend Denny that he is in fact a degenerate loser!  So degenerate in fact, that they both spend a night prowling gardens and drinking the beer left out for slugs.  This really is a bizarre story, but it's extremely well written and is a very satirical slant on getting through life the best way you can.
I have started The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky which is about an impoverished and orphaned Prince Myshkin who has travelled from Switzerland where he was being treated for his idiocy (epilepsy) to St Petersberg to acquaint himself with the Princess Myshkin.  They are distantly related, and are both pretty much the end of the family line. The princess is not very keen on meeting him at first and is worried that he is an itinerant traveller who will require assistance; but she warms to him and so do her three daughters.  He is conversational, though he doesn’t seem to know when to shut up, and when he does he seems embarrassed about what he has just said.
At one point the characters are talking about Capital Punishment and Myshkin describes how he watched a man guillotined.  He felt it a terrible punishment as there was such a certainty of death in those last seconds from hearing the knife fall, there is no hope of getting away - an awful trauma for the soul.  He also talks about a man who was up before a firing squad, and how he felt that the five minutes he had left was actually a really a long time.  He could spend two minutes saying goodbye to his fellow prisoners etc but when he was reprieved instead of savouring the infintisimal minutes he now had, he wasted many of them. This is, without doubt, autobiographical and very haunting….. apart from the many Russian names and nicknames, I know I am really going to really enjoy this novel.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Knackered" isn’t the right word but it’s the first word that comes to mind

I wasn’t going to sit in front of the computer tonight after being glued to it at work this past week, but if I leave it any longer I’ll finish these batch of reads without having talked about them J


The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick  is a Hugo Award winning novel, set in an alternate reality where Germany and Japan won the war.  America has been divided into the Pacific States and the Reich controlled states.  Germany has wiped out Africa and are still exterminating the few remaining Jews. It is more tolerable to live in the Pacific States as the Japanese are more cultured and less ‘thuggish’ in their daily dealings.

The High Castle is a remote mansion, inhabited by the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.  This book, which is banned in the Reich States, tells of an alternative reality where Germany and Japan lost the war.

I’ve almost finished listening to this, but I can’t relate to any of the characters.  I like the premise, it is well written, but I’ve enjoyed other Dick novels more (Maze of Death and Dr Blood Money especially).

Choke on the other hand I love.  You are warned at the beginning that you won’t like the protagonist – but I do!  You can’t help it.  Victor is a sex addict, who works in an 18th Century themed park, and pays his ageing mother’s hospital bills.

As his mother needs a feeding tube and the bills get higher and higher, Victor needs to bring in more money.  He does this by selecting a restaurant, and choking halfway through his meal.  He always finds a saviour who then will remember him yearly by way of an anniversary card and (usually) a nice cheque.  Victor sees this as helping other people too -  making them feel special, becoming a hero…..

Victor never knew his father, but his mother is keen to tell the story to Victor but unfortunately she does not recognise her only son even though he visits her regularly – she sees him as one of her defence lawyers from her shady past!  Victor is also the bad guy from the all the elderly patients' pasts.  He accepts all their abuse as he thinks that it makes them feel better about what happened to them, and it’s not worth arguing the point with them.

It’s a very unusual novel and very quirky.  I like the way Palahniuk sums up the previous paragraph by saying: for example: “Freedom” isn’t the right word but it’s the first word that comes to mind.

The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker isn’t overly fantastic.  The writing is a little amateur.  Adam Salton has come to England from Australia to stay with his elderly uncle.  Whilst there he learns about the region they are situated in, which was known as Mercia in Roman times, and also known as the Lair of the White Worm - the worm being some monstrous snake or dragon.

There is something Lovecraftian about it, but it’s not on the same level.  I will persevere with it however.

That pretty much sums up my reading for this week.  I’ve got The Idiot by Fyodor Doestoyesdky lined up on my iPod (another 1001), though it’s only half downloaded from Overdrive, so I need to work out how to finish it off otherwise I’ll be downloading it as an EBook instead!!

Until the weekend then........

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In One Fell Swoop

As predicted, I finished all my ‘books’ at pretty much the same time.  It’s nice to start my next set as a clean slate.

In summary, The Woman in White was excellent, despite the many narrators.  It certainly didn’t pay to be a female heiress back in the early 1800’s; it was an insidious tale of identity theft, though I’m not sure that the reveal as to how it was all done at the end was really necessary.  The reader is not so stupid and is able to work it out from the clues throughout the story; I found it just dragged the story out a little too long.

I can only give it 9 out of 10 however as Collins used that fated phrase which I seem to have developed a strange aversion to since reading Harry Potter ie ‘He looked wildly about’.  Aaaaaagh!  Sorry J.K. that is my only criticism of your writing!

Crime is not my favourite genre, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was fresh and original.  It was rather slow getting off the ground, but it had a cracking revelation towards the end, and the revenge segment was sweet.  I look forward to reading the other two next year.  ‘1001’ books will be my priority until the end of December.

The Book of the Dead, I won’t say too much on this one or reveal the ending as I will write a review in the October Newsletter.  It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was an okay read.  The only thing that really annoyed me were the many spelling mistakes in the text.

Inspiration for my next life - talk about
taking it easy!
The 15th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories were wonderful to re-read through adult eyes.  The Dead Man of Varley Grange, No Living Man So Tall and The Hanging Tree were the best of the selection, but they were all really good.  I’ve several Fontana books I want to re-read so looking forward to it once I’ve finished Mary Danby’s 65 Great Tales of Horror.

Talking of Mary Danby (after speaking with my all knowing mum) it has transpired that I bought the wrong book for Ringing The Changes.  It’s in the 65 Great Tales of the SUPERNATURAL.  So, once again, I await with anticipation the arrival of this book which I’ve ordered via Amazon.com.  ETA is 27th December……. Patience is a virtue they say, but I can’t understand why it should take so long????

My next reads then……… I’ve bought a copy of Choke by Chuck Palahniuk (the author of Fight Club), which is a ‘1001’ read, so that’s my physical book sorted.  The Lair of the White Worm (I just can’t help gravitating to titles like this) by Bram Stoker is on the Kindle and will be my lunch time read.  My audio book is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, as the next book club theme is ‘A Man’s Home is his Castle’.  The premise is that Germany won the war, allied with Japan, and the novel is set in the Pacific States of America……. 

Just thought I'd share this photo which I took today at Dreamworld.
Pi is the latest addition to the Tiger Island family.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bitter Disappointment!

Me and My Kindle
After waiting weeks (or it seems like it) for my long awaited  anthology of horror stories to arrive,  it finally has.  BUT Ringing The Changes by Robert Aickman isn't in it!  Boo Hoo.  I can't believe it, I've read the contents page over and over.... but nope it's not there.  There are some really good stories in it however, so all is not lost, but now I'm back on the hunt for this elusive story.

The Woman in White has taken a turn, and it has been announced that Lady Glyde has died.  It is all a ruse however, and Anne Catherick is in fact the person who died, and Laura (Lady Glyde) was put into the asylum that Anne had previously escaped from.  Marian visits the asylum and recognises her sister at once.   I found this section a bit messy as there are narrations by the doctor, the woman who washes the dead body, and the housekeeper etc  But, now we're back with Walter Hartright who has met up with the ladies and is in hiding with them, and is investigating the history of Sir Percival Glyde in an effort to find out the secret that will destroy him.

In The Book of The Dead Maltravers has found a clue within the Attwater Firewitch story in the form of a series of numbers which prove to be the combination of Carrington's safe.  This leads to more suspects in the murder case, as anyone who has read this unpublished manuscript is now under suspicion.

Blomkvist has been shot at in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which shows that he is getting closer to the truth in Harriet's disappearance.......

Phew - at the rate that I'm reading these books, along with a Fontana book of Ghost Stories I've been puddling through, I'll be finishing these all at the same time so need to line up my next set of reads... one on my Kindle is a must - thinking of The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Laura, Get Out Of There!

I’m so full of anxiety for Laura Fairlie!  Marian has had her suspicions for quite some time, but now after overhearing a secret conversation between Count Fosco and Sir Percival Glyde by sneaking over onto a nearby balcony, they have been confirmed.  Count Fosco, who comes across as full of decorum, consideration and concern for the ladies, has now planted the idea into Percival’s mind that the only way out of his mounting debt would be through the death of his wife.

Earlier in the piece, the Baronet had tried to force Laura to sign a document but Laura had the presence of mind however to ask if she could read it first.  Her husband fobbed her off saying it was unnecessary and she wouldn’t understand it.  Marian backed her up however, and there was a scene, but Count Fosco interceded and the matter was deferred. 

Laura has also been secretly meeting with Anne Catherick, who knows of a secret that will destroy the  Baronet.  Anne leaves a message buried under the sand where Laura takes her walks, but Sir Percival has found it.  Convinced that Laura now knows his secret he has tried to bully her to a confession, handling her very roughly, dismissing her long-time personal maid and locking her in her room.  Count Fosco, again with the outward appearance of concern for Laura’s welfare appeals to Percival’s better nature to release Laura. But when she is freed, Laura only locks herself in her room, admitting only her half sister Marian.

Unfortunately, after Marian’s dangerous eavesdropping (in the rain) on the balcony, she has now become deathly ill.  Count Fosco is very concerned about his ‘worthy adversary’ and whilst helping the doctor during his visits he has had access to Marian’s diary.  Marian’s most recent entry mentions that she needs to get Laura out of Blackwater and back to Limmeridge House under the pretext of visiting her uncle.  A letter had been dispatched to Mr Fairlie but he pretty much dismissed it as he didn’t want an angry Sir Percival Glyde on  his doorstep upsetting his equalibrian.  He won’t get out of it so easy though, as Count Fosco has just come knocking and has stated that he can guarantee that the Baronet will not disturb him in the slightest……..

One thing I love about reading are the various references to other novels or characters, and the more I read the  more I pick up on them.  Sir Percival Glyde has a horse called Isaac of York - now if I had not just read Ivanhoe that would have meant nothing to me.

As for The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance is slowly being unraveled and the finger is beginning to point to the Vanger family itself.  Lisbeth Salander has found more murders that have a biblical pretext to them, and it seems Harriet was aware of this by the coded message that Mikael had found.  Mikael’s own daughter seems to be following in Harriet’s footsteps by becoming involved in an obscure religious sect, will she be the next victim?  I like the laid back way this is written and the way the mystery is being peeled away layer by layer.

With The Book of the Dead I’m wondering if the unpublished Holmes novel The Attwater Firewitch will hold a clue that will relate to the murder of Carrington.  Holmes is on the trail of a witch who curses a victim, and then the victim falls prey to a murderous bird.  Two people have been attacked, and Mad Meg the local weirdo is claiming to be the witch.  Holmes accepts Meg as the culprit and makes out that he is returning to London with Watson.  He is however going to return to Attwater by a round about route hoping that the real villain will make a mistake ….. what this clue can be to the real life murder I have no idea but why would so much of this 'unpublished narrative' be included otherwise? The plot thickens.......

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thank God It's No Longer a Man's World!

The Woman in White ~ Laura has agreed on a date for her marriage to Sir Percival Glyde, but the family lawyer has his concerns about the settlement details.  Part of Laura’s inheritance includes a substantial sum of twenty thousand pounds, which Sir Percival’s lawyer wants settled on the Baronet in the event of Laura’s death (rather than going to her relatives and beloved half sister).  On investigation into the Baronet’s affairs it appears that he is desperately in need of some ready cash.  Alarms bells ring and the family's lawyer contacts Laura’s uncle/guardian – who is a very selfish man, and takes the easy option in all he does.  Her guardian cannot see that that this could pave the way for a wrong doing against Laura and dismisses the Lawyer’s concerns as Laura is so young and with the Baronet being a good 25 years older it is evident, in his eyes, that he will pass away long before Laura.
I find the laws and rights of women back in this period (1850’s) rather alarming.  It was most certainly a man’s world back then.  Another good example of this is shown in Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu, where an evil uncle conspires to murder his niece for her inheritance.
I’m not too keen on the change of narrative voice in this novel though – we started with Walter Hartright, then Mr Gilmour (the Lawyer) now we’re privy to Marian Halcombe’s diaries.  I prefer one voice throughout, otherwise the story is being told over and over by the different characters.  I’ve only enjoyed this device twice before – Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Peter Carey’s Theft.  Collins used this device in The Moonstone to detrimental effect as I didn’t like some of the characters.  Apart from this I am really enjoying it, and the audio narrator is very good. 
I’m halfway through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I like the two stories being told in tandem, and obviously they will merge down the track.  We are following Mikael Blomkvist a disgraced editor/journalist of the Millenium magazine and Lisbeth Salander – a rather disturbed young woman who is under a guardianship law.  The theme of this novel seems to be sexual abuse against women, and the sections are headed by sexual abuse statistics in Sweden.  This should not put you off from reading this; it is a well written mystery and I’m very intrigued to know the outcome of the investigation into the disappearance of Harriet Vanger.
The Book of the Dead is travelling along very nicely.  The lover of Carrington’s wife has been arrested for his murder, but Maltravers believes the law have got the wrong man.  The premise is good, though the writing isn’t any great shakes.  But, it’s okay for a light read during my lunch break.
I’ll sign off for now as Laura Fairlie is due back from her honeymoon in Europe, and Marian has moved into the Baronet’s property to prepare for their return.  We need to know if the new Lady Glyde is happy in her marriage, and to find out more about her estranged aunt’s husband Count Fosco (who is also Percival Glyde’s best friend) whom she caught up with whilst travelling.  Aren’t they just great names? 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thoughts on The Woman in White

Reading with Mum on a wet afternoon
Well, the momentous event in Ivanhoe never happened.  Ivanhoe was to joust as a champion for the accused Rebecca, but when he squared up to the Templar Knight, he barely touched him with his sword and the Templar fell off his horse and died as a ‘victim of his own passions’ – probably a stroke or heart attack.  How pathetic - Ivanhoe was incapacitated and feeble for most of this story and I was very disappointed with him.  It was however a great adventure story and I liked the way Scott described his scenes and what his characters wore, pointing out the differences in dress between the Saxon’s and the Norman’s.   
  
Now that’s finished, I’ve started listening to The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  I have read a couple of Collins’ books and haven’t really enjoyed them; but I do know the premise of the Woman in White and as it’s on the list I’m compelled to read it.  Already I am finding the narrative voice similar to The Two Destinies so I’m really hoping it doesn’t get as corny as that novel did.  Our narrator is Walter Hartright, a drawing master, who has a chance and strange encounter with a woman in white.  She mentions with great regard the name of Mrs Fairlie, and Limmeridge House.  Walter is startled as he is about to begin employment at Limmeridge House.  He assists the lady to a carriage at her request and by chance hears a conversation where a man claims he is searching for a woman who has escaped from his asylum and who is dressed all in white.

Once at Limmeridge House Walter becomes acquainted with Laura Fairlie and her half sister Marian Halcombe.  Laura is delicate and attractive whilst Marian, though lacking in looks, is a strong minded, intelligent and well bred woman.  The half sisters are Walter’s students and the more time he spends with them the more he find himself falling in love with Laura.  Walter mentions his encounter with the Woman in White to Marian and with carefully reading through her mother’s letters she is sure that it is Anne Catherick, once a student at her mother’s school and who bore an uncanny resemblance to Laura. One day a letter arrives for Laura which distresses her and results in Walter being asked to leave the house.  Marian advises that Laura is betrothed to wed a Baronet, an arrangement made by her late father.  But, the letter that Laura has received points to a premonition of unhappiness and despair. Walter and Marian wonder at who wrote the letter, as they have describe the baronet perfectly.

I find that Collins describes what his character is doing in too much detail, and I’m a bit annoyed that Marion had to be construed to be unattractive in order to be a strong character.  But, the story line is intriguing and it has that Gothic feel to it which I like.
  
The Book of The Dead has taken a nice little turn.  Maltravers has been given the unpublished Sherlock Holmes manuscript to read, which is set in the local vicinity of Attwater.  In the meantime Carrington the owner of the manuscript has been told that his wife is having an affair, and who she has been having the affair with.  The bearer of bad news has long held a candle for Carrington and they agree to meet at his home to talk about it further.  But when Carrington arrives home he disturbs an intruder unlocking his safe and is shot in the chest with a shotgun. Who did it?!  It’s fun, easy to read, and I really liked the few chapters of the Sherlock Holmes story that Maltravers reads.

The weather here has been absolutely atrocious, but at least I can get some reading done!  Still going with Dragon Tattoo, will write some thoughts on it later.