Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011 That Was the Year That Was

Well, we have another year just about done and dusted, and I'm sure a lot of people are with me in saying that this is a year we'd be happy to say goodbye to.  As I was packing my suitcase today in preparation for my Christmas holidays I was thinking about some of the books that I have read this year.  I can't count 2011 as my best year of reading as I didn't make my challenge of 75 novels, but if you consider that my list included Melmoth The Wanderer, Anna Karenina (nearly finished), several Charles Dickens novels and The Iliad (halfway through it), I'm pretty happy with my effort overall!


2011 was the year that I discovered Haruki Murakami, firstly with the strange Wind Up Bird Chronicle and then the beautiful Kafka on the Shore.  Dance, Dance, Dance was a little disappointing but I'm waiting in anticipation to next year when I'll be reading IQ84.  It's kind of funny but when I first joined a Book Club the genre I disliked the most was Magic Realism yet I find that the more I read, the more I enjoy it.  Murakami's novels are certainly unusual, but there's something about the characters that intrigue you; especially characters like Mr Nakata in Kafka on the Shore.  

2011 was the year that Earth Abides by George R Stewart was recommended to me by a fellow blogger after they read my review of Children of Men.  Isherwood Williams is a wonderful character, his love of the written word and his care of one of the last remaining libraries in his post apocalyptic world is very poignant in relation to today's e-book revolution.  The final chapter contains imagery that I don't think I will ever forget.  It's quite a novel, and probably one of the best in the genre.

2011 was the year that I became disillusioned with Michael Crawford after reading his autobiography Parcel Arrived Safely - Tied with String.  It taught me a lesson - if you admire someone then don't read about them!  He's way too full of himself and the fact that he had cheated on his wife totally finished me - I can't even watch him on TV now.  The realm of the autobiography is a dodgy one, in a way the author is re-inventing his own past for entertainment and that's not always such a good thing. There's something to be said for a little mystery when it comes to celebrities.

The highlight of 2011, for me, was meeting one of the best literary characters ever and his name was Owen Meany.  This diminutive little guy with the weasley face, big ears and high pitched voice was an unlikely hero.  But, hero he became and I just loved his outlook on life - he could not be put down, he had something to say and he said it loud and proud.  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is both funny, sad and a wonderfully put together novel. The ending is so unexpected, but the storyline had been building to just this the whole way through.  It's fantastic story telling and I totally recommend it.

So now I'm debating do I take a real book on my holiday or do I take my Kindle? I generally don't read much when I am away but I did recently pick up Cold Hand in Mine by the master of eerie stories Robert Aickman so that may make it's way into my hand luggage.

In 2012 I hope to be dabbling into a lot of Indie Horror, and have five more spots left on my list if anyone would like me to read and review their novel.  Details can be found here:

http://caffeineandchapters.blogspot.com/2011/11/are-you-on-my-2012-reading-list.html

I'll be off the air for around three weeks, so have a safe and happy Christmas everyone and I hope you find your next favourite novel in your Christmas stockings :)

All the best

Maxine

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The New Death and Others by James Hutchings

If you like your short stories cynical and twisted, or your fairy tales fractured, then this is a perfect coffee table book full of cynical and twisted tales, interspersed with some very good dark poetry.

Mr Hutchings left a message on this blog asking if I would read and review his book.  I had put the call out to ‘independent authors’ in an earlier post for my 2012 Reading List, but I think this was a random request and I’m so pleased to have been asked as this little book really tickled my sense of humour and touched those dark chords that draw me to unsettling and unusual fiction.

I have never read a book quite like this, it has no particular order, being a total mix of work which makes it perfect for picking up and selecting a page at random. I didn’t like some of the stories, but I did appreciate most of them, and the poetry I thought was wonderful.

An obvious cat lover, there are several references to cats throughout, such as the disturbing How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name and the gorgeous little poem My Cat is Not Like Other Cats, which all of us cat lovers can definitely identify with!  In The Death of the Artist it is revealed that all writers and artists have cats, a fact which takes on a sinister significance; and now I fully understand that when my Tenshi is staring intently at nothing she is actually enhancing her mental powers!!

Of all the short stories I really liked the atmospheric The Scholar and the Moon which has less of the cynicism that prevails in most of the other work, and the nightmarish The Dragon Festival. The poetry, as I have said, is very good with some of it being based on actually stories by Lovecraft, Dunsany and an author I have only just recently ‘discovered’ - Clark Ashton Smith.

Yes, some of the stories are corny or just plain silly, but others have a touch of sheer brilliance to them. If you tend to get bogged down with some heavy reading, which I do on occasion, this is a breath of fresh air.  I didn’t want to put it down, and looked forward to the twisted endings and the clever play on words and ideas.  Even the corny stories got a giggle as well as a groan out of me.

It’s on Smashwords and if you want to inject a bit of random fun into your reading,  I recommend you check it out:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/92126


Maxine

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Do You Believe in God?

My intention is not to spark a debate or to offend anyone with this post.  I  merely want to put down some (rather confused) thoughts after reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

The God Delusion is a very persuasive and compelling argument against religion, drawing from Darwin's Natural Selection and Human Biology, and has given me plenty of material to discuss with my partner and argue about!

I can't say that I have been a very religious person, but I'd like to think that there is more to life in a spiritual sense than what Dawkins is trying to prove.  It comes down to the age old question - why are we here?  We humans need a reason, we need something to believe in and something to hope for, otherwise what is it all for?  When we lose someone we love we live in hope that they will be waiting for us 'on the other side'.......

Dawkins argument is that religion is purely a way  for those in charge to control the masses, the fear that an almighty being can hear our innermost thoughts and the threat of eternal damnation was a good tool way back when, but in these enlightened times we should know better.  Indeed, I am the sort of person who needs proof to believe in something; I haven't had a religious experience - so I JUST DON'T KNOW - and Dawkins can even explain away some religious experiences.

The Crucifixion
How about Jesus Christ?  My opinion has always been that he was a misguided cult leader and Dawkins leans towards that direction too.  The Bible must be taken within the context of the time, you can't really take it literally with what we know today.  Some of the scriptures are quite appalling and include rape, violence and murder.  It is a handbook for warfare, and the same could be said of The Iliad but we haven't taken that literally and built a religion around it, so why do we hold such faith in The Bible?

Religion takes up a massive amount of money, time and energy, it creates so much guilt in people to the point that some are drawn to suicide.  Think of the lives that are lost in religious wars, honour killings, and martydom? Imagine how happy we could all be if there was no religion.  But, would we really be that happy with nothing to believe in?

I agree with much that Dawkins says, but I still can't shake the belief that there is something out there that is bigger than what we could possibly imagine or comprehend.  There is so much more that we don't know about our origins, but maybe that is my own indoctrination and Dawkins is right; but I sincerely hope not! 

I wonder though, if when the end is near for Dawkins, do you think that he may actually change his mind?

Just a thought.......

Maxine

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Are You on my 2012 Reading List?

I will be dedicating 2012 to Independent authors (interspersed with some classics of course) in my search for the ultimate horror novel.  I plan on reading a minimum of 60 books next year, depending how much the classics slow me up!

My list so far consists of 34 novels (they are in no particular order):

Click Here: 2012 Reading List

This leaves me with 25 spots for an independent horror novel - do you want to be on my list? Send me a DM on Twitter @CaffeineChapter with the link to your book -  please note I am interested in horror novels only.  If you can offer your book for free it will go to the top of my list.  If I like the first chapter I will read the whole novel and leave a review on your preferred site.  Short horror stories are also welcome - the only criteria is to SCARE ME!

So, what are  you waiting for?!!


Maxine

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Friend Batman

Jayden & Batman
I have just had the best five days.  A whirlwind visit from my daughter and my two grandsons, all the way from Western Australia, had me realising just how cool it is to hang out with a three and a half year old!  What joy he brought into my home, along with his ever smiling 7 month old brother.  My daughter is obviously doing something right to have such lovely children.  

There were so many funny moments courtesy of Jayden, but the highlight for all of us was when he met his hero Batman at Movie World here on the Gold Coast.  Batman even took the time to talk to Jayden during the end of day parade which totally brought tears to my eyes! I never thought Batman could be so cool :) Jayden was totally awestruck, especially after the Batman Show which had him shaking in his sandals it was so intense, and after he had his photo taken he just had to tell everyone about "my friend Batman". What a magical age three and a half is!

Happy Taj
And who could resist this little cutie? Taj was either eating or laughing. I don't think I've ever seen such a happy infant.  I'll miss out on seeing him crawl for the first time, but he was giving it a good shot whilst he was here.

All good things must come to an end and we said goodbye on Wednesday. Jayden left armed with his new Bat Cave that I couldn't resist buying him, and I've been left with some fantastic memories.  Now I'm counting down to Easter when I'll fly over for Taj's first birthday.

Hungry Taj
Being a Nana (albeit a far too young one lol!) is a truly wonderful experience, and I can highly recommend it. 

All this excitement hasn't left me much time to read this week, and I was ill for a couple of weeks prior, so I have a lot of reading to catch up on.  Plenty of recommendations are coming in via Twitter and my Kindle will be put to good use soon as I try a few Indie horror authors. Right now though I'm finishing off Dicken's Dombey and Sons (depressing), The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (compelling argument against religion) and Damned by Chuck Palahniuk (disappointing so far).

I'm up to Book 9 of The Iliad.  So, I'm off to bed now to spend some time with the Greeks and Trojans.

Happy Reading All!

Maxine

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

George Chapman, 1559 - 1634
I have been thinking a bit about translated books, and often wonder do I love the author of this novel or the translator?  I was never quite sure and now I am even more unsure after switching from the audio version of Anna Karenina to my kindle version and the difference in writing is quite obvious.  I am really surprised.

I thought I loved Haruki Murakami but do I really  love Jay Rubin for The Wind-up Bird Chronicle or Philip Gabriel for Kafka on the Shore?  Maybe Koji Suzuki's The Spiral was an okay novel and I just didn't like Glynne Walley's writing style (though the story was so ridiculous that I can't believe that it did get 'lost in translation').

What is the criteria when translating a novel? Is it like the X-Factor where you pick a song and then 'make it your own?'  Can I really say I love Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy - have I REALLY REALLY read them?  It's a subject that I actually wish I hadn't started thinking about!!

My latest translated read, apart from Anna Karenina, is of course Homer's The Iliad.  I'm on Book Six now and can honestly say that I look forward to lying in bed of an evening, reading the study guide notes for the verses I'm to read and then just reveling in the language.  My version is George Chapman's, and although there are many other later translations that may be easier to read, I think I will continue with this one.  The poet Keats was so taken with what he had read by Chapman that he wrote a sonnet about it and I want to read that version which so inspired him. 

Keats, 1795 - 1821
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
 Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
 And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
 Round many western islands have I been
 Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
 Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
 That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
 Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
 Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
 Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
 When a new planet swims into his ken;
 Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
 He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
 Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
 Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

                                         John Keats, 1816

I would love to know your thoughts on the best and worst of translated novels and translators.

Happy Reading All.


Maxine

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Frightens You?

What makes a horror movie scare one person but comes across as ‘ho hum’ to another?  How many times have you been recommended a 'must see' horror movie only to be disappointed?

I did that very thing the other day.  I recommended Insidious to my son.  This movie scared the hell out of me (well the first hour did anyway), but my son thought it was ‘okay’.  What was it about that movie that made me leap out of my chair and cuddle up to my partner for reassurance?

Thinking about the movies that have rattled me there does seem to be some common themes –

The Unnatural Child

ü     Don’t Look Now (my all time favourite movie) has the father of a deceased child chasing what seems to be her spirit around the canals and alleyways of Venice.  It is only at the end of the movie that we find out what this ‘child’ really is.  I don’t think I slept for weeks after that revelation.

Sinister Gage
ü    Pet Semetary.  We all know the premise of this one, the idea that Gage has been brought back from the dead is bad enough but we know that his soul did not come back, something else did. He makes me shudder every time I think of him.

ü   Insidious.  Dalton, a young boy, is in a coma and being nursed at home. One night his younger brother says he wants to change bedrooms because he doesn’t like it when Dalton walks around. That gave me goosebumps, but the thing that really got me was the sulking boy doll from the laundry that ran and giggled around the house!!

Unnatural Movement

Samara
 ü      The Ring.  I laugh now when I see this movie, but after I saw it for the first time I took the portable TV out of my bedroom and it’s never returned.  The way that Samara moves towards the screen really bothers me.  I can’t stand it!

 ü      The Gift.  Remember the fiddler?  I hate that part, he plays too fast, it’s completely unnatural.  In the words of the immortal Owen Meany – it gives me ‘the shivers’.


Jagged Teeth


Pennywise

ü      Pennywise The Clown from It……… enough said there.

ü   Have you ever seen The Two Faces of Evil?  It was a Hammer House of Horror episode that absolutely terrified me when I about 13 or 14.  The evil doppelganger with his jagged teeth and one long dirty fingernail really played on my mind at night.

The Music

ü    Salem’s Lot (the TV movie with David Soul).  I cannot stand the music that plays when the young boy taps on the window for his friend, it makes my heart race and I just want to cover my ears and bury my face in a cushion to block it all out!


ü      Psycho.  The shower scene music is so well known that it doesn’t have much effect now, but what a great piece it is.  We’re hard to scare these days, but I would have loved to have been in the audience on it’s first showing.

So, it's not blood and guts that I find scary, it's just the little, unnatural things with some good music thrown in.

So now you know what frightens me, what frightens you?

Maxine


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Is This Self Torture?

When I picked up my first Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities I thought it would be torture.  Going from reading nothing but horror to picking up a classic was a bit daunting.  Instead I read a wonderful piece of story telling from a master.  When I picked up Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment I thought 'this will definitely be torture', but I read a fantastic psychological thriller which I still think about today, and which has encouraged me to try other Russian works with equal delight.  Back in  my twenties I read The Bible. I decided that I would read a few verses a day, following the reading guide at the back of my edition, but all the who begat who in Genesis, and all the cubits of this and that when building the ark were mind numbing I wanted to speed read and get to the good stuff.  I did, however finish it, and I can honestly say that was TORTURE!

So, now I've picked up Homer's The Iliad and I'm wondering as I commence this slow read - like The Bible I shall be taking this 'verse' by 'verse' - will it be torture?  Somehow I'm thinking not, even after my partner had a flick through it and threw the book at me and told me to 'give it up' before I had even started.  Talk about narrow minded - or perhaps he's worried about my mood swings if I don't enjoy it!  I understand that this is not the type of book that you jump into feet first, on reading the first page I could not understand a thing.  So I took the sensible step of downloading the Shmoop Study Guide.  I've read the back story, the character summaries and the themes and with its help I am finding a rhythm to the poem.

So why torture myself?  Because Shmoop writes that "you'd be hard-pressed to find a work that comes close to the Iliad for depth of insight into human life, as well as sheer beauty" and when I read literature I love the subtle references to other classical work and the more I read the more I 'get' these references.  The Iliad and The Odyssey have had a huge impact on classical and modern literature and I want to understand this and relate to it.  

Happy Reading!

Maxine


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Overblown and Under-Edited?

Who are we to criticize a novel for being overblown and under-edited?  Granted, some of the classics are awfully long, some due to the fact that they were serialised, but I guarantee that unless a novel is of a substantial size you won’t be drawn in or get to know the characters so well.

I find that a lot of modern novels are generally not long enough. and some of these ‘indie’ authors on Amazon seem to be writing what I would term as ‘pamphlets’.  There’s no substance to them at all.  Some are okay for a VERY light read to pass the time but mainly they are forgettable.

I read this blog post recently http://www.inpotentia.co.uk/2011/09/four-legs-good-two-legs-bad.html?m=1 and have been thinking about it a bit as I disagree with a couple of comments that were made.  Especially the remark about Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants for example (I found this novel to be very entertaining and I like to think myself a discerning reader), and then there’s the dig at J K Rowling’s Harry Potter being woefully under-edited!  I’d like to see what my (adult) daughter and die-hard Potter fan would like to say to that.  I think they are wonderfully written novels, and very clever.  Their success and the fact that they have probably got more children (and adults) reading than any other series speaks for itself.  My son would never have picked up a book if not for Harry Potter.  I don’t think any real Potter fan would accept a novel of just a few hundred pages with no exposition or reference to the previous works.

I also read a review yesterday (on Good Reads) that criticized Anna Karenina for being under-edited.  You’ve got to be kidding!

So, give me an overblown under-edited novel any day, because I know that I’ll be thinking about the story and the characters long after I’ve tossed aside an indie ‘pamphlet’.

Actually, I totally digressed. as I really wanted to talk about Philip K Dick's Ubik.  I'll have to save that for another night!

Happy Reading!

Maxine

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Wish I Could Write Like Tolstoy

Tolstoy

Stories are really only a string of words, most of which we all know, that are put together to describe and explain.  But, it is the way that you string them together that makes the difference between an okay writer and an incredible one.

W. Somerset Maugham has always rated very highly with me for the way that he is so comfortable to settle down with.  He draws you into the story, like you are a familiar friend; and he makes it look so easy.  Yet another writer strings his words together and it’s just a bunch of characters and a setting which feels like ‘just a story’.  There’s nothing familiar about it or believable.  You are not ‘drawn in’.

Now, after reading many chapters of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, he’s rating way up there with Maugham in the way that he is making me feel.  The settings and dialogue are so natural, it all flows magnificently.  He isn’t overly descriptive yet I can picture the scenes and the characters effortlessly.  So much so that I’m going to ditch the audio version (which by the way is excellent) because I want to curl up with the ‘real deal’ and immerse myself within actual pages.  That is the joy of reading, and I haven’t felt like this for some time.

I used to love curling up with Stephen King many moons ago, okay so it’s horror which is not believable in the least, but it was King’s characterisations that I used to love so much.  However, I have been reading his ‘kindle single’ Mile 81 and I’m getting the feeling that he’s committed a ‘Meat Loaf at the AFL’ offence by not calling it quits.  It’s quite badly written, and appears to be a re-hash of old themes, though I haven’t finished it yet so I could be wrong (but I don’t think I am).  I’ve pre-committed to his new novel 11.22.63 (a date which is horribly close to my ex-husband’s birthday of 11.22.61!) on Amazon but feel it’s just going to be an addition to my King collection rather than a ‘must read’ once I get it.

On my other reading front I’ve nearly finished the audio version of Mill on the Floss, narrated by Nadia May, and I have really enjoyed spending time with Maggie Tulliver, although it hasn’t been an uplifting novel.  But, it’s another classic to put under my belt as I slowly plough through them.

Scare me Please!
I’m still looking for that ultimate horror.  I have been asking for recommendations but nothing seems to be forthcoming from you guys out there.  Please let me know what book or even short story has frightened you by way of a comment.  I’ve just ordered some Robert Aickman collections – one of them is Cold Hand in Mine which I’m really looking forward to reading and I’ve just enjoyed Pollock and the Porroh Man by H G Wells which was a nice and creepy short story and would have really scared readers back in Victorian England I’m sure.

So, I’m about to curl up with Tolstoy now, with my nightly latte, and marvel at how he can string together these words so wonderfully, and I can’t!

Happy reading and don’t forget those recommendations.

Maxine

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Novel vs The Movie

Ater recently reading Ben-Hur for the ‘Book That Inspired the Oscar Winning Movie” theme for my book club, and finding time to sit down and watch the first half of the ‘oscar winning’ movie, I’m feeling rather annoyed.  Apart from the usual changes in characters, and general mucking around with the storyline and plot, I find it hard to believe that a studio would cast the gorgeous Ben-Hur of the novel with an actor who had a receding hairline and a forced smile.  I know I’m 52 years too late to protest this obvious miscasting but there it is.  Weren’t there any good looking Hollywood actors available in 1959 or maybe Charlton Heston is just not my ‘type’?

So, I’ve been thinking about other movie faux pas when it comes to casting against the novels character type.  Gwyneth Paltrow playing Marge Sherwood in The Talented Mr Ripley is one that springs to mind.  Marge, in the novel by Patricia Highsmith, is a robust girl with a healthy appetite who is not altogether very attractive.  It is for this reason that Tom Ripley dislikes her, she actually disgusts him.  He is repelled by the fact that Dicky is attracted to her.  This is important.  Now, who can be repelled by Gwyneth Paltrow?  I ask you……!

One of the very worst casting faux pas was Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in that truly awful adaptation of Capote’s not (in my opinion) particularly good novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  It must be the most embarrassing movie role to watch and I can’t even comment on it without cringing.

Another blunder movie makers make is cutting out a character altogether.  Who makes this decision?  Have they ever read the book?  East of Eden is a beloved novel of mine, and for me the main character was the Chinese servant Lee.  He was an integral part of the story, but was nowhere to be seen in the movie.  Instead we had to put up with a mediocre screen-play and James Dean hanging off window sills and tree branches.  What the?

And, while we’re at it why mess with the storyline?  If it was such a great novel that it just had to be made into a movie then why change it?  In some cases the novel should stay a novel, no movie required.  Case in point is Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. It did not translate into a movie very well at all.  Where were the images of the beautiful kimono designs that were described so beautifully and lovingly in the novel?  And more to the point why the hell does Nobu have both arms?  He only has one in the novel, and for this reason his back story and looks are important to his character and those who know him. 

But, I have to concede that some movies just can’t go wrong with the novel’s material and, for me these would be To Kill a Mockingbird,  Lord of the Rings (even though characters were cut and blended, and lines meddled with, it is a very exciting adaptation of Frodo’s quest).  Lastly, I can’t go past the Australian mini-series production of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet.  I never would have thought that the ambience and characters of this novel could be captured so perfectly on screen.

I guess, in the end if you really love a novel then avoid the movie as nine times out of ten you will be very disappointed.

Well, that’s my gripe for the day J

Happy reading!

Maxine

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Exuberant Misunderstood Child

Aaahhhh, poor Maggie, what an exuberant misunderstood child.  Cutting your hair off after a teasing is one thing, but forgetting to feed your brother’s rabbits whilst he is away at school is something else.

I’ve only just starting reading The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, but the brother and sister ‘run-ins’ with Maggie and Tom Tulliver have had me laughing and remembering some of the things I used to get up to with my siblings.  Thankfully none of them resulted in the death of a pet, unlike poor Tom’s rabbits.

The worse thing my sister and I did, when we were around 7 and 9 respectively, was plot to kidnap her love interest Peter who lived just down the street.  We decided to write the ransom note and deliver it to his poor unsuspecting mother before the kidnap attempt.  We demanded one pound for his return.  Unfortunately having only scrambled our names at the bottom of the letter it wasn’t long before Peter’s mum had us discovered and after a few words with our mum the kidnap plot was thwarted amongst many tears. 

Getting back to Maggie, she doesn’t mean to behave ill, but she does have a tendency towards dramatics and acts impulsively without thinking; when the deed is done she tortures herself knowing that she can’t take it back and should have behaved differently.  Maggie’s latest escapade involves making her cousin cry to get back at Tom who has been showing the cousin favouritism.  She pushes the child into the mud as they make their way to a pond (which incidentally was out of bounds to the naughty children).  When Maggie realises what she has done, and the possible consequences of her action, she decides that life probably won’t be worth living and it would be better to run away and join the Gypsies!  She does in fact make it as far as the Gypsy tent, feeling very sure she would be welcomed with open arms and made the Gypsy Queen.  After some uncomfortable moments when her pockets are picked and the contents examined, along with the dismal offering of some cold bacon and hard bread for tea, she decides that perhaps Gypsies are thieves and scoundrels as Tom had once told her. Finally Maggie is convinced that they are actually murderers and that she will never see her home again………. this child has the overwrought and vivid imagination that I had as a youngster, and I can totally identify with her!

I'll post more about this novel once I've read some more. So, happy reading all!

Maxine

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Reading Restrospective

Whilst browsing at the library this week I came across a copy of John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids and remembered that I really enjoyed it as a teenager.  Actually, it did have a bit of an effect on me due to its content.  You see, I didn’t (and still don’t) have flat toenails!  Did that make me a mutant in the eyes of the characters in The Chrysalids?  Apparently so, and it certainly made me feel like one for a very long time J  I was young and impressionable, but now I don’t obsess over it so much, plus I keep my toenails nice and short so it’s no longer an issue!  However, picking this novel up to read again got me thinking about what my favourite novels had been as a youngster.

Absolutely top of the list, though it is not a novel, has to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses illustrated by Hilda Boswell.  I adored this book.  The poems could be read over and over, and still I discovered more meaning within them.  My younger self often wondered ‘why did Auntie's skirts rustle so?’ and ‘what was a counterpane?’  I often thought about that boy and his shadow and also the bucket full of stars.  The poem that I loved the most was The Land of Nod, not so much for the poem itself but for the illustrations that somehow thrilled me but frightened me with equal measure.





Second on the list would have to be Five Go to Smuggler’s Top by Enid Blyton.  I took this book on holiday to Scotland with me and have a distinct memory of sitting on a large rock near a Loch in a pair of shorts and a jumper (I was obviously prepared for all weather events) lost in reading about the Famous Five.  I had a secret crush on Julian and I read this book over and over again during the course of our holiday.

Another novel I borrowed from the library many times was Down Bound Train by Bill Garnet (though now I’m older I think it was more of a novella), and it was probably my first foray into horror, albeit of the ‘pulp’ kind.  I loved how the characters caught this train only to find each one had a nasty secret and at the end of the journey they find their final stop is actually in Hell.  All, that is, except for one innocent passenger who sleeps through the entire journey.  It was real Twilight Zone stuff.  I think I read the 1973 edition, which had a green and black cover from memory.  I haven’t been able to find a copy with this cover but would love to read it again just for fun.

As a youngster I must have read all the Famous Five and Secret Seven novels, I enjoyed Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and even Hitchcock’s The Three Detectives, but the three books above have always remained fondly in my memory and were my absolute favourites.  So, what were yours?  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Story of Biblical Proportions


I've just enjoyed an audio reading of Ben-Hur, it is an epic tale of betrayal and revenge set during the time of the Christ.  Judah Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince who is betrayed by his childhood Roman friend Messala, and sentenced to life as a galley slave - which wouldn't be long, as most galley slaves lived only a few years -  Ben-Hur's mother and sister disappear, and the family property is confiscated.  

Through a series of circumstances, Ben-Hur escapes from the ship he is sentenced to and is adopted by a Roman friend of his late father.  Life could be good, but Ben-Hur is tortured by the incident which changed his life and the cruel betrayal by his friend. Messala really is the pits, as a child he was taken into the family home, yet now he sets out to remove all trace of the Ben-Hur family.  Judah's mother and sister are entombed in a leprosy infected cell for eight years, and upon their release they are stoned and sent outside the town's gates. Their tale is so so sad.
Lew Wallace
Author of Ben-Hur
Ben-Hur is full of ideas of revenge, and the opportunity presents itself in the form of a chariot race.   Actually, I was rather disappointed with the race scene itself, especially after the long description of the stadium.  I think that I would like to see this scene re-written by Matt Reilly.  He could certainly inject some real excitement into it!

The novel itself is over descriptive, but when you consider when it was written, it was really important to set the scene and describe it as fully as possible as most people would not have travelled to, or even seen pictures of, exotic locations or animals.

Ben-Hur's story runs parallel with the rise of the Christ, and whilst this side of the story could have been tedious it wasn't.  I certainly found myself drawn into the buzzing excitement in their search for the Messiah. Some of these old classics can be tough (ie Melmoth The  Wanderer) but mostly they are great reads, and this is one of them. So, this was my read for this month's book club theme "The Book that inspired The Oscar Winning Movie".  I must have seen Ben-Hur years ago but barely remember it, just mainly the chariot race of course, so looking forward to finding three and half hours to sit down and watch it again when I get it out of the library :)

Next months read is a food based novel, so I've started The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola. The first thirty or so pages are a description of the delivery of food to the Halles Markets.  It's wonderfully written, and he layers the description of the food as a palette of oils slowly being applied to a canvas.  Fantastic.  I'm not sure what the actual story will be about but I do like the way he writes.  (I read Therese Racquin last year and thought it very good).  I've a few other novels lined up which I'm excited about, plus I need to do a Russian novel for November - probably a Dostoyevsky as I know him the best.

Happy reading all!

Maxine

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This is How

This is just a quick post about my new read This is How by M J Hyland.  After really enjoying Carry Me Down, which I read a few months back, I thought I would try another of her books.  Carry Me Down was narrated by the protagonist and slowly unraveled to reveal his personality and emotional problems.  This is How is written in pretty much the same vein.  Patrick Oxtoby has moved into a boarding house by the sea after his engagement is broken off by his fiance.  We don't know why she broke off the engagement but I expect that this will be revealed later in the plot.  The clever use of the dialogue and Patrick's reactions to certain situations leads you to realise that despite his obvious intelligence he is a very disturbed young man.

The whole time I have felt anxiety as to where the story is going.  I'm now six discs into it (another audio!) and things have taken a turn for the worse.  Patrick has done something very stupid, but he doesn't feel remorse or even sorry for what he has done. He does feel confusion though, he just can't understand the consequence of his recent action.

The other characters in the novel are a bit odd too, the boarding house scenes are very cloying and uncomfortable.  It's well written and I'm really interested in where this is going to end up but, unlike John Egan in Carry Me Down, I don't like Patrick. He's cold and dark with a lot of rage bubbling under the surface.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Of All My Books I Like This The Best"

So wrote Charles Dickens of David Copperfield.

Actually, after finishing this novel, I’m close to thinking that instead of ploughing through 1001 Books You Must Read Before you Die perhaps I should just read everything Charles Dickens has ever written, because he is well and truly a master story teller and so far (apart from Bleak House) I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have read.

When I started David Copperfield I was worried that I would be reading a story about a little destitute boy who battles through trials and tribulations to become a gentleman, and I was very anxious as to what those trials would be because he is such a nice little boy.  Well, it wasn’t like that.  Sure he has a rough ‘trot’ (pardon the pun, you won’t appreciate that one if you’ve not read David Copperfield!) but that does not constitute the whole book and that is what makes it so enjoyable.  When David goes to a questionable school I was imagining all types of beatings and bullying but in fact he meets a school master who does his best under very trying conditions, and he makes friends with two boys (Traddles and Steerforth) who will play very different roles in his life when he is older. 

Mr Murdstone (David’s step-father) and Miss Murdstone the 'steely' sister are very dark moody characters that cast such a gloom over the once happy family that just about breaks your heart.  You can really feel David’s nerves when he tries to do his lessons under the dark glare of his step-father and it’s no wonder he stumbles and forgets.  David’s mother is not allowed to show him any affection and after an altercation with Mr Murdstone he is sent away to school; then, when she dies, he is pulled out of school and sent to work, he was only a small child!

One thing I could not understand as David got older was what this intelligent young man saw in Dora Spendlow, the daughter of his employer, until I read somewhere that she was based on Dickens’ own mother.  He calls her his ‘child-wife’ and that really is what she is.  She’s very pretty but has no concept of house-keeping or doing figures and just likes to play with her dog Jip and can’t bear to be grumbled at or found fault with.  Once David accepts her for what she is and stops trying to change her he finds himself more settled in his marriage although the marriage is short lived.  David’s excuse for his choice in a wife is his 'young undisciplined heart', even Dora towards the end of her illness agreed that they should have enjoyed their love just as a boy and a girl and then just left it there.

Apart from David’s eccentric but loving Aunt Betsey Trotwood (who reminded me of Madame Yepanchin in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot), the other strong female in the book is Agnes, she’s very placid and wise, but even she has difficulty dealing with the devious villian of the novel Uriah Heep who slithers his way into the family business and eventually the family home.  Dickens describes him as a thin pale man, with ginger hair and no eyebrows to speak of who is snake-like in his movements and demeanour.  I expected him to have a negative influence over David’s life; however this is not the case.  He casts his poison over Agnes and her father instead and his true nature is exposed by Mr Micawber, whom Heep employs, believing him to be as corrupt as himself.

Now Mr Micawber is a strange character, and I was married to someone like him once.  He never pays his debts and is always waiting for an opportunity to ‘turn up’.  I didn’t like this character particularly (not because it brought back bad memories!) but because of his long convoluted speeches and letters - they annoyed me immensely.  However, he does seem to be a popular Dickens character giving rise to some well known quotations, and after all he is the one who exposes the devious Heep for what he really is, because despite the trail of debt Micawber is actually an honest man.


The strange thing about the novel is that David is barely ever called by his correct name, being called by many nicknames (Daisy), pet names (Doady) and also taking on his Aunts surname of Trotwood, it is like by writing his 'autobiography' David is setting the record straight that this boy, young man and eventually father, was actually called David Copperfield.

David Copperfield is quite an easy read in comparison to Bleak House, being a linear narrative, and there is a lot that you can identify with as we all grow up and fall in love.  If you have never read Dickens don’t let the size of the novels or the convoluted language put you off.  He doesn’t take long to draw you in, and takes you on a wonderful journey with his characters that leaves you sad to say goodbye once you have finished.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Septimana Horribilis

15 Nov 1995 - 23 July 2011
Well Queen Elizabeth had an ‘Annus Horribilis’ and I’ve had a week that can ascribe to the same.

I put my beautiful Missey to sleep on Saturday and it just about broke my heart.  She had been losing weight and was drinking a lot so I took her to the vet about a month ago for a ‘top to tail’.  The weight loss was put down to her age (nearly 16) and unfortunately I did not take it any further with blood tests.  She went into a steady decline daily from then until Saturday when she walked into the door as I called her in for breakfast.  I noticed her pupils were fully dilated in the bright sunshine and alarms bells rang.

To cut a long story short she had hyperthyroidism and must have had this for quite some time.  The classic symptoms were pretty much overlooked by the vet the month before.  Missey’s blood pressure was so high that her retinas detached and she literally went blind overnight.  Now, cats can manage without their sight quite well, but the treatment for the disease at her age could have caused renal failure and the treatment for the renal failure could cause liver failure and after all of this she may have only survived another uncomfortable six months.  I couldn’t do that to her, and we agreed it would be doing her a kindness to put her to sleep.  I can rationalise it now, but I felt intensely guilty that I chose the day of her death, and the fact that the food I had been feeding her probably contributed to her illness.  After reading up about it, it seems that it is common in female cats over 13 years of age who eat the fish variety of canned food.  How can a pet food manufacturer happily promote ‘oh so fishy’ on a can of poison?  Tenshi my 10 year old cat will no longer be ‘enjoying’ this junk and I’ll be sticking to Science Diet and fresh meat for the future.

So, that was bad enough.  But on Wednesday my 3 year old grandson was rushed to his local hospital with suspected appendicitis.  The hospital then sent him to the Children’s Hospital in Perth where he spent some time on a drip; it was decided that he didn’t have appendicitis and he was sent home (in pain – what the ?)

Yesterday still in a lot of discomfort he was taken back to his local hospital but was again sent home.  Today after an uncomfortable night he has again been taken to the Children’s Hospital and lo and behold his appendix had perforated.  As I write this he has just come out of surgery and is in recovery.  Living in Queensland I feel totally helpless and unable to support my daughter, it’s horrible.  Honestly, you begin to lose faith in the medical system, especially as it’s not that long ago that he was misdiagnosed with a ‘bad cold’ when in fact he had pneumonia!

My only escape is in reading, but this week it’s been hard to concentrate on anything much.  I have been listening to David Copperfield in the car and when I can get my mind onto a happier track I will write some thoughts on it.  I can say that it is the best Dickens I have read to date.

Before I go, I’d just like to mention that we had local author J R Sanders speak at Caffeine and Chapters Book Club yesterday evening and we will theme Keep it in Yor Knickers as a group read for September.  We wish Ms Sanders all the best with this and future work (I always enjoy meeting someone who is living my dream).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's All in the Name

After a few false starts with Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit, I find that I now can’t wait to listen to more.  It was so hard to get going on this one as it was all in the names, I couldn’t ‘get into them’ – I mean ‘Pecksniff’, ‘Slime’, ‘Chuzzlewit’ ……….

To help me get over it, I decided to get the BBC production out of the library to help me visualise these miserable characters, their dress and setting – and what a joy it has been to watch. My first impression was that Tom Wilkinson was miscast as Pecksniff – he didn’t look at all how I imagined.  I was visualising an older, willowy, wrinkled and grey haired man.  But, no matter – Wilkinson obviously revelled in his portrayal of this well to do low-life that he now seems perfect for the role.  I love the scene where he is waiting in the woods for Mary - as she passes by he leaps out from the trees and the movement is like something from a Nightmare before Xmas – it’s an absolute classic. 

Most of the scenes from America are missing in the series, though the major points are related by letter.  That was a wise omission by the writers as I am finding the American plot rather boring and wishing myself back in the company of the scheming Pecksniff even though I abhor the man!

Of all the characters I loathe the most; it has to be Jonas Chuzzlewit.  Again, in the production the actor has him off to a ‘T’.   This is a man who begrudged his wealthy father’s life because he lived ten years beyond the allotted three score and ten, keeping him from his inheritance.  A boozer and a wife beater – he just has it all in the personality stakes…… not.  I can’t wait to see what the plot is going to do to this poor excuse for a man.

I’m not going to give the story away on this one, if you don’t think you’d bother reading the novel, but you do like Dickens or the classics then I would fully recommend the BBC series. 

My physical read at the moment is Victor Pelevin’s The Sacred Book of the Werewolf.  Obviously it was the title that caught my attention, but really this is not a horror novel and it’s being narrated by a ‘fox’ though I do believe we will meet a werewolf somewhere within the pages.  Translated from the Russian, this is apparently a satire on modern day Russia. 75 or so pages in, I am finding it very entertaining, and it is certainly different from my past Russian reads J

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Danger of the Autobiography

I’m not a great reader of biographies or autobiographies, I’ve only read a couple The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven which was really just a cleverly crafted story by a ranconteur, and the fabulous Che, A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson.  I think I haven’t read many because there is the danger that you might not like what you read!  Sometimes a ‘public persona’ is best left that way.  Yes, we are all human and as such we are flawed, but do we really need to know that the people we really admire are not really that admirable as ‘people’?

Why the whinge?  I’m reading Michael Crawford’s Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied With String.  I’m about halfway through it (as usual, this always seems to be the point in a book when I feel the need to write about it J ) and my impression isn’t favourable.  Apart from some personality issues I see in him, what has disappointed me no end is the fact that he was unfaithful to his wife.  Crawford blames success and his sudden attractiveness to women but that should not affect your moral behaviour – especially when you are married with two children for goodness sake. 

I think in future if I choose to read another autobiography I’ll pick someone with a reputation or someone I don’t admire then I might be pleasantly surprised!  Though talking of reputations I wouldn't mind reading Errol Flynn’s My Wicked Wicked Ways seeing as I’m heading to Tassie in the New Year.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Good On Ya, Rosie

Now and again I seem to pick a common theme in my reading material.  This month it is evidently violence and animal abuse.  After some very disturbing scenes in The Wasp Factory I've had to endure some terrible scenes in Water for Elephants.  With this aside, it really is an engrossing novel.  Set during the Great Depression, it gives you an insight into how desperate men will do anything to remain in work even if it is with the unscrupulous Uncle Al,  the owner of The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

There is a love interest, of course, and this is in the form of the talented Marlena whom Jacob, our narrator, is very attracted to.  Marlena is married to August the head animal trainer.  August is a paranoid schizophrenic and a very unlikable character indeed.  The novel is told by Jacob in the present remembering his life in the past, he is 90 or 93 - he's not too sure - and lives in a nursing home.  When a circus comes to town it triggers his memories.

Jacob has become a very cantankerous old man but he reminds you that we are all going to be old one day, that all old people were young once and, like Jacob maybe, they have a story to tell.

Ringling Brothers Circus is mentioned as the circus that Uncle Al aspires to become, and I was fascinated to note after Googling it, that it is a real circus that started in 1884.  It absorbed the famous Barnum and Bailey and was well known for its honest dealings, and is still in operation today.

And Rosie?  Well she's proof of the old adage that elephants never forget - and neither do they forgive.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thoughts on The Wasp Factory

You do have to wonder how an author's mind works when you read something like The Wasp Factory.  It's a very twisted read indeed, not to mention violent.

Sixteen year old Frank Cauldhame is the narrator and he provides not only the horror but the humour too.  Frank's older half brother Eric has escaped from a mental asylum and he's on his way back to their isolated home in Scotland where Frank lives with his father.  We never meet Eric, but we do find out why his mind shattered, and we listen in on the bizarre phone calls he makes to Frank as he gets closer and closer to home.

Frank loves his older brother, but he is disturbed and horrified by the violent acts that he perpetrates on dogs yet Frank himself tortures animals and, during the course of the novel, he admits to murdering three children before he is nine years old.  Frank considers himself sane, and he has rational explanations for his murders, but he is aware that he needs to perform certain rituals - the sacrifice of mice, and the capture and killing of wasps in his 'factory' which he believes foretells the future.

In a way this character reminded me of Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr Ripley - Frank is a psychopath or a sadist but you actually quite like him.  I liked the way the novel unravels events from the past which have shaped Frank's present, and the revelation that even Frank is not what he seems. It's very well written, but it is very graphic and it would probably be wise not to read it if you are an animal lover.  I had to keep telling myself - it's only a story, it's only a story..........

It's been hard to find something interesting to read next, I'm trying Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro but it's not really grabbing me.  I've read some really good reviews so hoping it picks up soon, and I'm listening to Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I like the look of the movie trailer, but I always like to read the book first.  The narrators aren't bad, I think the old man is done very well, but the young man's voice is a trifle boring.  I don't know much about the story at all, but the premise is about a young vet student who joins a circus after his parents die in an accident and he finds that his inheritence belongs to the bank.