Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries ~ A Movie Review

You couldn't get a better setting for the promise of a horror movie than the ghost town of Prypiat, located near the doomed Chernobyl reactor.  

I have a connection with Chernobyl myself as I was living in the UK when the reactor exploded.  Almost ten years later to the day I was diagnosed with a rare aggressive form of Thyroid Cancer which I blame on the radiation cloud that blanketed Southern England.  Whether Chernobyl is to blame for my cancer will never be proven, but I did however survive (so far).  Many of those living in Chernobyl's shadow did not, and those that did have been subjected to the effects of prolonged exposure to the radiation, with the added horror of children born with rare mutations.

Enter one 'Extreme Tour' guide, a Russian by the name of Yuri (of course!), and six young victims (for we know that that is what they are going to be).  For a fee Yuri can get you into Prypiat by legal means, or by his own methods, whichever is required. The tourists may take as many photos as they like but no souvenirs due to the radioactive contamination.  Our tourists are assured that their health is not at risk as they won't be staying that long (famous last words!)

After a morning looking around abandoned homes and buildings, a close encounter with a mutant fish and other local wildlife, it is time to call it a day once the sun begins to go down. It seems the tour has gone fairly smoothly until they arrive back at their van where it becomes apparent that it has been tampered with.  Now the group are faced with spending a cold night, with continued exposure to the radiation, in the van.  Even worse, there is something prowling in the twilight, and it's not very friendly............

I did actually enjoy the first half of this movie.  The set looked very authentic (filmed in Hungary and Serbia I believe) and as my suspicions grew about Yuri (played by Dimitri Diatchenko) I felt my anxiety levels rising as to what he had in store for these youngsters. I was wrong about him however.

What I wanted from this movie were grotesque mutant beings but I didn't get them.  At one point the tourists come across what appears to be a young girl standing in the deserted road.  When they tried to entice her to turn around my heart skipped a few beats, I wanted a 'Don't Look Now' moment:



or a 'Walking Dead' moment:


But nothing happened at all! I felt let down by the whole experience and then I felt guilty about even watching this movie because it just reeked of insensitivity to those who have lived through that terrible disaster.

(The Mutant Fish)

The direction was ok, the acting was ok (Yuri was the stand out), but there were not enough scares or shocks for this horror buff so overall I found this to be an average horror experience.

Maxine

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Brothers Karamazov ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov is the story of three brothers, two women, a grotesque father, an illegitimate brother and  three thousand rubles, set in a provincial town in Russia in the 1860's. 

Dimitri Karamazov was my favourite of the brothers.  He is a 'scoundrel' by his own admission and whilst he has a good, if not passionate, heart he has a temper which prevents him from doing what is right.

Alexei (Alyosha) Karamazov is the type of character I find annoying.  He is too 'good' and kind, (like a benevolent Dickens character, just a bit too good to be true) but I read that Dostoevsky had lost his 3 year old son Alyosha to epilepsy, and so he imbued Alexei with the qualities he admired and, I guess, would have wished his son to have aspired to had he lived.  The author's grief at the loss of his son is also reflected in the novel with the death of a young character, whose funeral scene I will never forget.

I felt I didn't really get to know Ivan Karamazov very well, he is the serious brother who adores the youngest (Alexei) but he carries the Karamazov chip on his shoulder for all to see.

This is one mammoth read, and I did at times feel bored with some of the philosophical passages and long speeches, and I was a bit baffled by The Grand Inquisitor until I read it a couple of times and could appreciate and agree with what Ivan was saying.  But, if you can get past the religion and philosophy this is an exciting story of lust, passion, greed and murder.

I must mention too, the characterisation of the brother's father Fyodor is wonderful.  He is a middle aged wealthy pig.  He is a lustful, disgusting and rude drunk who actually made me laugh in most of his scenes.  He is so vile I loved him! ( I wonder what this says about me, I loved Fyodor but found Alexei annoying? Maybe I just appreciate well drawn antagonists?).

There is a sort of madness attributed to all the characters I have read so far by Dostoevsky, yet you can always identify with them and their self destructive natures.  This novel was planned to be part of a greater work but was sadly never realised as Dostoevsky died just four months after its publication.  I would love to have known what he had in store for Dimitri.

Maxine

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ravens, Pigeons and Parrots!

The Raven drawn by Manet
When Di, one of my book club members suggested this month's theme of a novel with a bird in the title all I could think of to read was To Kill A Mockingbird (again!) or Mockingjay one of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Feeling a bit sceptical about the theme I went onto Goodreads to see what they had listed.  It was then that I realised I had read a fair few of the books, and also that I wanted to read most of the other books that they had listed there too! 


I couldn't not read The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.  I know I know, it's a poem not a novel, but what a poem it is!  My first ever reading was last week and I've read it several times since.  I only wish I was younger and could memorise it all, it's just wonderfully written.  I thought I'd quote a few lines here, but reading it again I couldn't decide which of the verses to use and I'd have to quote the whole poem, so if you've never read The Raven do yourself a favour: 


My next choice was a brilliant little novella by Patrick Suskind (author of the fantastic novel Perfume) called The Pigeon.  It was almost like reading something absurd by Kafka.  The protagonist lives a very simple well ordered life in Paris, everything is going to plan as he slides slowly to retirement, until one day he opens his apartment door and there, in the hallway, is a pigeon.  What follows is both funny and sad at the same time, I could  almost imagine the same events happening to me if I found a large cockroach in my bedroom.  They are my greatest phobia, I can't even sweep one up if I have murdered it with bug killer.  I can't stand the feel of their bodies at the end of the brush.  My fear of cockroaches is rational, but the fear of the pigeon described in Suskind's novel is bizarre, insightful and highly enjoyable.

Finally I have lined up Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes.  This novel was described by a friend of mine, at a book club meeting a few years ago, as his favourite novel at that time and I've been meaning to read it since then.  (David, if you still read my posts then you know who you are).  This will be an audio and once I have finished The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky (which has been one hell of a read, as a reading experience and in length) I will start it.  I'm really looking forward to this one and I hope it lives up to my expectations.

I'm interested to see what my other book clubbers have chosen for this theme.

Until next time,


Maxine

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Everyone Loves a Winner!

Earlier this year I won a $150 visa card through Paws and Purrs for doing a pet food survey on my pesky cat's eating habits, and a couple of months ago I won $1200 on lotto which I timed perfectly with the arrival of my rates and water bills LOL!

Last week I won a book pack thanks to a competition run by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the books arrived today.  I'm quite excited by these reads:


Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark, an historical novel inspired by the true story of a British politician's wife who lived a double life for decades.

Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago.  This novel was published in 1980 but this English translation is not due for publication until Dec 4.  I have an advanced copy woo hoo!!

The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock, due for publication April 2013 a haunting novel inspired by true events based around two children who grew up in a religion that believed the world would end in the late 1980s.


Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller a humorous thriller set in Norway with apparently an unforgettable hero. Another advanced copy, due for publication May 2013. I think I might read this one first.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien - I have read this, but it is a movie tie in edition so I will probably read it again.  I love the cover.


Life of Pi by Yann Martel - again, I have read this novel and absolutely can't wait to see the movie.  This is the tie in edition, and once I have seen the movie I will read it again.

The Best American Essays edited by David Brooks.  I love reading essays, and am looking forward to this one.

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco.  I have read one other Eco novel and whilst it was hard going I did like it.  I hope this one is easier to read but the premise is very interesting, and it is set in my favourite period - 19th Century Europe.

and last but not least:

Maid by Kimberly Cutter - a fictional treatment of the Joan of Arc legend....... cool, sounds interesting.

Sadly though, despite the fact that I feel really lucky lately I did not have a win on today's Melbourne Cup.  Still it was GREAT to see Australia's favourite race won by an Australian Horse. Congratulations Green Moon!!

But, keep your fingers crossed for me, I have a ticket in tonight's $100 million lotto draw that's about to be drawn any minute!

Until next time,


Maxine

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Plot Like Hardy, Write Like Maugham


2012 was to be the year that I dedicated my reading to independent authors, and whilst I tried (I really did), by the end of August I was feeling such a ‘lack of literature’ in my reading diet that I switched back to my ‘1001’ list.

I will keep those E-books that I have received on my reading list and will try to give them a fair go at some point.  The books that I did read made me realise what I enjoy about reading – it’s the plotting, language and characterisations.  With the exception of one or two indie books, these elements just did not figure.

If you could plot like Thomas Hardy, characterise like Stephen King and write like W. Somerset Maugham then you would be on to a winner.

I’m still undecided with regards to independent publishing, because of the two books I did enjoy.  Even a traditionally published author can write a dud, but generally they are well written duds.  It’s the quality of the writing that I am struggling with and this is why I have gone back to my original reading list.

A few years ago I used to be a member of a book club whose reading I felt to be a little too ‘high-brow’ for my humble tastes which didn’t venture much beyond Stephen King and Clive Barker.  But five years on I now feel that this is the level I am currently at.  I need to aim high to get the satisfaction I need – there’s still more Dickens, Dostoesvky, Tolstoy and Hardy novels out there I’ve yet to read and they will be my goals next year.

In the meantime I am really enjoying my current audio book the magnificent Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  I have had to do a little background reading about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More, as well as events during the King's reign, to understand the character motivations and the period, but it is so worth it.  My physical read is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.  The emotion evoked in this novel is so brutal that I can’t read it at night for fear it will pray on my mind whilst I am asleep. 

Now that’s what I call writing.

Until next time.

Maxine

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Dig Tree ~ Sarah Murgatroyd

Never has my imagination been so captivated reading a novel as it has been reading The Dig Tree.

Living in Australia I had of course heard of the names of Burke and Wills, I mean there is a Burke and Wills Hotel in Toowoomba!  I knew that they had been ill fated explorers in the 1800's but that was about it.

Finishing The Dig Tree today after hardly being able to put it down, I marvel at those early Europeans who risked their lives in pursuit of knowledge of Australia's interior.

The expedition lead by Burke, and his second Wills, was mismanaged from it's conception, to the returning of their bodies for burial.  Burke was only chosen because he happened to be a 'gentleman' (albeit an Irish one), and that was of prime importance for the Exploration Committee, it didn't matter that Burke couldn't even find his way home after a night at the pub.

Burke & Wills' route
Sarah Murgatroyd has written a very compelling story from start to finish, giving an incredible insight into what drove those men and how it all went horribly wrong.  When Burke and Wills left Melbourne, their supplies included an oak dining table and a bath tub!  Aboriginals they met along the way brought gifts of food, but the explorers deemed them a nuisance as they wanted gifts in return from their supplies - knives, oilcloth etc  On the return trip from the Gulf of Carpentaria Burke finally succeeded in scaring the natives off completely, and it was then that he and his remaining men realised the folly - they had to discard the supplies that could have been traded for food because they were too weak to carry them - and finally all but one starved to death surrounded by the bush food they did not know how to prepare properly.


Other explorers of the outback are mentioned in the novel too as this had been a race between the Australian colonies in the hope of opening up the interior for the Telegraph and claiming it for their own.  Names like the Stuart Highway, Leichhardt, Mitchell and Julia Creek all now have a special meaning to me, they will no longer be just the names of places where I freight our company's products. 

This novel also gives you a reality check as to what the Europeans did to the Aboriginal tribes in Australia and how they suffered the loss of their native land to the white intruders.  You can't change the past but they were treated very badly indeed.

Coming from England I do feel the lack of real 'history' here compared to Europe, but having now read The Dig Tree I can appreciate that Australian's colonial history may only be recent, but it can be utterly fascinating.

Maxine

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cheated!

That is how I feel after reading Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

The first half of this novel was so promising that I could not not put it down, it was creepy and disturbing.  I felt excited that I had finally found an unnerving book.  But then it dwindled to something boring, and finally ended up feeling like a bit of feel good fluff.

The premise was initially interesting - a strange weather event in Sweden results in the re-animation of the recently deceased.  The powers that be try to handle the situation as best they can by rounding up the dead (which they later term as the 're-living') and taking them to local hospitals, and digging up the more recently buried.

The novel follows three families - Flora & Elvy, David & Magnus and Gustav & Anna.  They have each lost someone they love, Flora her grandfather (Elvy's husband), David his wife (Magnus' mother) and Gustav his grandson (Anna's son).  Basically the novel then explores the feelings each experiences coming to terms with the 're-living'.

By far the best storyline was that of Gustav (Mahler), Anna and Elias. Gustav is grossly overweight and constantly locks horns with his grieving daughter Anna.  Anna's young son Elias tragically died in a balcony fall, but when the strange event occurs Mahler races to the cemetery and digs Elias up (a bit 'Pet Semetary' you might think, I thought so too but it was not the case as it turned out). The weather has been very hot and dry so Elias has not begun to decompose, he is however mummified and full of decomposing gas.  The description of this mummified child being taken care of with lotions for his skin, and saline which he will swallow from a baby's bottle whilst not moving nor being able see through his dead eyes, is truly nightmare material.  It is tremendously creepy.

I 'got' that Lindqvist wanted to explore the emotional side of a 'zombie' event but it got too airy fairy towards the end especially the Flora & Elvy storyline.  The supposed proof of a soul and life on the other side didn't really work for me.  (After reading The God Delusion can you blame me?) I really think that it would have worked best as an out and out horror.  I didn't need flesh eating zombies, the 're-living' that he presents are creepy enough, but I would have liked to have seen more exploration of the other types of re-living such as those that had been recently drowned.  Anna encounters one and it is quite frightening at first but then that falls flat too.

However, with this said, I think I will read more of Lindqvist's work as he is very readable and the ideas are definitely there.  

Until next time.

Happy Reading!


Maxine

Monday, September 3, 2012

Little Dorrit ~ Charles Dickens


Little Dorrit is rather overshadowed by the more popular of Dickens' novels, but it really is worth reading.  Broken up into two parts, the first being Poverty and the second being Riches, the whole premise centres on the theme of imprisonment (both physical and mental).

When Dickens was a young boy his father was sent to the Marshalsea debtor’s prison whilst the young Dickens went out to work in a blacking warehouse.  This very negative experience served as inspiration for this novel.  The character ‘Little Dorrit’ is Amy Dorrit, a slight young woman, who is born into the Marshalsea and has lived there all her life up to the point where the story first commences.  She looks after her father, an impoverished gentleman, and finds work sewing for people outside of the Marshalsea, whilst her siblings enjoy a better life living with their uncle.

When the Dorrit's receive a change of fortune Amy finds it very hard to live on the other side of the prison walls having known nothing else.  Mr Dorrit, known as the ‘Father of the Marshalsea’, in respect of the many years he has endured there, is a very arrogant and selfish man. He soon rejects all those who have helped him and befriended him in the past and takes his family abroad.  However, even distance does not give him piece of mind, for he lives in fear that his children might let something slip in society or that he will meet someone who is familiar with his previous circumstance.

There is another storyline which centres on the House of Clennam and a suspicious foreign criminal, but I found it rather messy and hard to follow.  The main character from this storyline is Arthur Clennam and he links the two stories having befriended the Dorrits during their imprisonment (Amy had done some sewing for his ailing but iron-willed mother).  Arthur also has dealings with the wonderfully named ‘Circumlocution Office’, which is a government department and a prime example of how things should not be done.  Dickens shows his satirical prowess to great advantage when writing about this office.

Flora Finching - BBC Adaptation
There are many other characters, some relevant and some just filler, but by far my favourite was the kind hearted Flora Finching.  Flora and Arthur had been sweethearts and when they meet again on Arthur's return from overseas she is much changed ie rather rotund and older for her age.  What I loved about her were the references she made about herself, and her weight, and the long dialogues which she delivers at a rate of knots whilst drifting off subject in a big way before finding her way back again. She had me laughing every time, I thought she was brilliant.

John Chivery - BBC Adaptation
Another good character was John Chivery who works at the Marshalsea.  He loves Amy Dorrit, his childhood friend, but is usurped by Arthur Clennam.  He comes up with various epitaphs for his own headstone relevant to whatever event has taken place in each of his scenes. Ie Here lie the mortal remains of John Chivery, never anything worth mentionin', who died of a broken heart, requested with his last breath that the word "Amy" be inscribed over his ashes which was accordingly directed to be done by his afflicted father.   I thought him very adorable and heartbreaking! 

The BBC have a wonderful adaptation available, you can see the trailer here:  Little Dorrit

I just can't get enough of Dickens at the moment, I was only going to read three this year but I've just lined up another two (Hard Times and Our Mutual Friend), but before I delve into them I'm going to read Jane Austen's Persuasion.

So, until we meet again, Happy Reading!

Maxine

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Solitary Thoughts


Solitary Thoughts is a hard book to review because the opinions expressed in the various essays are unique to the author.  William Goff has very strong opinions about today's society, that of corporate greed and mass consumerism, amongst a number of other subjects addressed.

I agree that we live in a world that has gone mad, and which is greedy and selfish.  Human beings have this innate ability to over consume, be it food, cars, houses, or technology.  We seem to think that this will buy us happiness but it comes at a cost - heavy debt, declining health, and stress.  Over consumerism has resulted in mass production of products which lack any true style or craftsmanship and are soon outdated causing us to live in a disposable society.

The essays in Solitary Thoughts focus on the author's feelings about these various subjects. The presentation of the book is excellent, the cover is very tasteful and each essay is not too long; but there is negativity surrounding each one so I found that reading just one or two at a time every couple of days was enough.  I did find the essays rather verbose and I needed to read each one a couple of times to fully comprehend what the author was actually trying to convey.

My favourites were "The Dancer" which is the most optimistic of the essays, and I really liked "Theatre of the Mind" as its structure is reminiscent of my favourite short story (Midnight Express by Alfred Noyes).   

The essays are not light reading, nor are they uplifting, but each one does contain something profound which makes it worthwhile taking a look at this independently published book.

Maxine

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Which Literary Character are You in Love With?


Sergeant George (Hugo Speer)
Are you like me? Do you find yourself attracted to a character in a book and then fantasise about them?  I've done it for years since having a crush on Julian in Enid Blyton's Famous Five story books.  You'd think I'd have grown out of it by now but, alas, I seem to be getting worse as I get older.

My latest 'crush' is Sergeant George from Dickens’ Bleak House.  Now, I really liked the character when I read the novel but I've just watched the BBC's mini series and, for me, Hugo Speer as Sergeant George - well what can I say? He's the one!! I'm absolutely besotted.

There have been others in the past like Nick Andros from Stephen King's The Stand (purely the fictional character not a re-imagined version for the screen), and Roland Deschain from King's Dark Tower Series (I can't even begin to imagine who could play him and do him justice).  When Nick died in The Stand I could barely read any more, I actually went into mourning for him. 

Murray Jacob (Richard Roxburgh)
There was Murray Jacob from Tim Winton's In The Winter Dark - a very moody character with a secret (though all the characters had a secret in that novel) – and the screen version played by Richard Roxburgh was not a bad choice at all. 

George Eliot's strong and dependable Adam Bede had me going there for a while and so did John Thornton from Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. I did dabble with David Copperfield but he was too nice, and Heathcliffe but he was way too much Catherine's to ever hope that he could be mine; it got too hard so I had to let him go LOL!  On the whole I prefer the gallant 19th Century character, a gentleman or a working man, they must be noble and kind, but not prissy (like Nicholas Nickley).

Sergeant George is perfect.  He is a strong and true friend, he may have crippling money problems but he is a good man with a big .. um .. heart, and those whiskers just set my heart fluttering!

So, who is your literary fantasy?

Maxine

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy


  
I loved this rags to riches to rags story so much that it will definitely feature in my all time top ten favourite books.

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard, is a proud, stubborn and hot tempered man.  He reacts without proper thought to future consequences, and when he reaps the rewards of his actions he his quick to blame everyone but himself.  It is only towards the end of the novel that he realises he alone brought his fate down upon himself.

Henchard was not always the man that the people of Casterbridge knew him to be.  When he was 21, and in a drunken state, he sold his wife and child by auction at a county fair.  Devastated by his actions he swears off alcohol for the next 21 years and builds a new and productive life.  But, this is a story of secrets, and the biggest secret of all is that which is held by Michael Henchard’s wife, who returns to her husband 18 years after he sold her.

This novel highlights the status of women in society and what is considered to be proper and moral conduct.  A young woman who has had a love affair with Michael Henchard falls into disgrace when she moves to Casterbridge to demand that he marry her and restore her good name.  The lower class in this small community – who seem to have the highest morals of all - conspire to bring her down.

The idea of Henchard’s wife having lived with her ‘purchaser’ out of wedlock for 18 years would probably have scandalised 19th Century readers, and there are other far reaching effects on another character in the novel which I can’t mention without introducing a plot spoiler, and so will remain un-named.

There were no wasted elements here, it is so well plotted - every action has a negative reaction.  – you find yourself running through each cause and effect, tutting along the way and thinking ‘if only he hadn’t done this in chapter so and so, then that wouldn’t have happened in this chapter…..etc’

I read Hardy’s Tess a couple of years ago and found it very sad, although beautifully written.  The Mayor of Casterbridge is told in a more straight forward manner, but he still managed to make me cry at the end!

Maxine 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

50 Shades of Blah!


I'm talking about the hype surrounding the E L James trilogy. I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey but hey, if there is a bandwagon lets jump on it.  I don't need to read this book to know it will be rubbish, those who know me as the bookworm that I am have warned me off it, and the reviews I have read have been enough for me to know that the writing will be poor and the use of language basic. 

I thought the following review was brilliant: 


I am just thankful that I caught my mother in time so that she could cancel her purchase from Amazon after someone recommended it to her. She is 68 years old and a recent widow. What the?

Why am I so anti a novel that I haven't read? Well because the hype surrounding it has reached such a pitch that we are now going to be inundated with frustrated housewives trying to sell their fantasies thinking they can make a million like E L James. Move over vampire novels..... is this the next genre that will be buckling the shelves at our local book stores making it even harder to find something new that's decent to read?  No wonder I escape into the 19th century and delve into the classics, it's just about impossible to find a new book these days, when browsing in a book shop, that truly represents the art of the written word.  Two shelves containing penguin classics doesn’t cut it.

Next will come the movie with the 'Hollywood Treatment', which is just another avenue to rip you off.  If I see another ad, article, recommendation, or breakfast tv segment about this novel I shall cry LOL!  I shall cry for all the media hype that encourages us to spend hard earned money with a guarantee to be left disappointed and wonder what all the fuss was about.  It’s lucky we have short memories – or so the industry would like to think - otherwise why do they continue to pump out such rubbish?

If you need to read a trashy book because your marriage needs saving, or your sex life needs spicing up, then you're better off seeing a marriage counsellor.  But if you want to read a good novel try The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.  I'm reading it at the moment and it is just wonderful……or for a modern master of letters how about The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King - I couldn't put it down. A story within a story within a story, and what a story it was, and what a story teller. I’ve fallen in love with Stephen King all over again.


Mr King, you probably get this a lot but 'I  say thankee'.

Maxine

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nicholas Nickleby ~ Charles Dickens


Yet another great read from Dickens, but I did have a few problems with it.  Although apparently a good example of 19th Century comedy, I didn't really find it very funny.  Mrs Nickleby was to provide the comic relief, and undoubtably back in 1838 this type of humour was appreciated, but I found her awfully annoying.

Nicholas is not immediately likeable; he's not as selfish as Philip 'Pip' Pirrip but he's not the true gentleman that David Copperfield grew up to be.  Nicholas has a good heart; however he is very hot headed and, when it comes to defending someone's honour, he does it with violence and unable to leave it with just one blow he must pummel that person to within an inch of his life!

There are a whole host of characters and towards the end I did get a bit forgetful of who one or two of them were. I guess Wackford Squeers, the beastly conniving school master was one of my favourites and the tragic Smike. 

There are plenty of cartoonish names, and the ever present benevolent gentleman, although in this case there are two (twins!), but you tend to expect this from Dickens.

The novel pretty much follows the Nickleby family after the death of Nicholas's father. The family are left destitute and so they travel to the big smoke to appeal to their wealthy relative Ralph Nickleby for assistance. Ralph is extremely unlikeable and he and Nicholas soon become sworn enemies which is the underlying theme of the whole novel. I loved the revelation of who Ralph Nickleby's son was, and the outcome of that revelation.

A very satisfying read all in all.

Maxine

Niedermayer & Hart ~ M J Johnson


There’s something rotten in the basement of Niedermayer & Hart Fine Porcelain, which photographer Jim Latimer discovers to his peril.  Jim has been commissioned by the company to photograph their collection for an upcoming catalogue, but he soon realises that there is something very wrong with his employers, and it isn’t long before he finds himself fighting to save his very soul.

Hugh Apsley, once a Knight Templar, has a very strange tale to relate to Brother Anselm of the Abbey of Valle Crucis in a letter dated 1202. It is a disturbing story which shakes the very foundation of their religion and transcends the boundaries of death.

The lives of Jim and Hugh are inextricably linked together and via their individual narratives the story begins to unfold and converge.  

This independent novel was very enjoyable to read.  The quality of the writing is very good, and the structure of the story intriguing.  On one hand we read about the young Hugh Apsley and the horrors he tries to make sense of in a superstitious world, and on the other hand we are transported to the 20th Century involved in a detective story that tries to make sense of what the modern world cannot explain away.

If you like a touch of horror with some solid foundation then you won’t go far wrong with this novel. 

Interested?  Then for more information on the novel, and its author M J Johnson, click here: 


Happy Reading!

Maxine

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Iliad ~ Homer


I cannot describe the sense of achievement that I feel at having completed The Iliad today after several studious months.

The title The Iliad actually means ‘What Happened at Ilion’, Ilion being the capital of Troy.  The Greeks and the Trojans have been battling it out for the past ten years, and The Iliad is set in the final year.

There are plenty of boring references to who is fighting, who is killed and who they are the son of and various family histories, but the story itself is quite amazing.  I loved the references to the gods, and how they interfere. I enjoyed Nestor who is a legend in his own lunch box, and the overall tale of the doomed Achilles and how his pride results in the death of his friend Patroclus.  

I could not have read this and enjoyed it as much as I did if it hadn't been for the Shmoop Study Guide.  It takes you point by point, book by book (there are 24 books to The Iliad) so that you have a full understanding of the meaning being portrayed in the poem, but it does so in a light hearted manner which makes it a great fun read on it’s own.

I read the translation by George Chapman, and whilst it was hard going once I found the rhythm of the poem and got to know the characters and the gods I found it hugely enjoyable.

Next year I’m going to tackle The Odyssey.

Maxine

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Great Expectations ~ Charles Dickens

I felt the need to do another Dickens, which is how it should be considering it is Dickens’ 200th Birthday year.


Great Expectations is more of a plot driven novel compared to some of his other work, and not as long as David Copperfield or Bleak House.

I did the audio book (narrated by Simon Vance) and although I enjoyed it very much I found that I kept drawing comparisons to David Copperfield and I found that I didn’t like Pip half as much as David.  Pip is a blacksmith’s boy who is told he is to come into Great Expectations.  He immediately believes it to be from the dotty but wealthy Miss Haversham whom he visits.

As soon as Pip receives his good news he basically doesn’t take a second glance back at his home, his village or his friends.  I did not like that in his character at all, expecially when it means forgetting the lovely Joe Gargery his brother-in-law and father figure.  When Pip finally receives the news of his benefactor, it comes as a bit of a shock, and worse still it looks like he’s not going to come into his money after all, it is then that he finds out who his real friends are.

It’s a moral tale, and for a quick Dickens read it’s a good one.  But, for my money give me David Copperfield every time.

Maxine

Ancestor ~ Scott Sigler

You might think I’m a Scott Sigler addict, having read two of his novels recently and now reading Ancestor in tandem with his latest novel Nocturnal.


The Ancestor is a biological embryo,  implanted into cows, and grown to provide human ready organs for transplantation.  However, of course, things don't quite go to plan.  There is lots of blood and lots of violence, and if you love cows then don't read this novel!!


The writing isn’t first class, but it’s addictive and reflective of Sigler’s personality from what I can glean from the u-tube videos he’s posted. The characters are unbelievable but mostly fun, and there is plenty of real biology and science to make the plot plausible.


However,  I felt quite confused at the beginning of this novel, not really knowing what was going on, and I found the swearing a bit overboard this time.  The last third of the novel did border on silly in my opinion, even though I had suspended my disbelief, I kept thinking back to the movie Starship Troopers and how much the Ancestors reminded me of the bugs even though they were based on cows!


Nice try but this one didn't really work for me.


Maxine

Monday, May 7, 2012

The New Arrival

Well, here it is!  My inscribed copy of Scott Sigler's Nocturnal.  

I was surprised actually to receive it so quickly (a couple of week's ago in fact) from Borderland Books in San Francisco, which begs the question: when I order a book from Amazon why do I have to wait up to two months to receive it??

I haven't had time to really sit down and read it yet, so the review will come later, but I'm 146 pages in and enjoying what I have read so far. But, I do have to admit I'm kind of missing the fact that I'm not listening to Scott's terrible voice characterisations that made Infected and Contagious so much fun for me.


The reason why I haven't been reading much is after attempting to read Michael River's Black Witch and not succeeding due to the usual indie editing and grammatical errors, writing style and bad dialogue, I started to think that if these independent writers can create a following and have people recommending them with work as ordinary as this, then why don't I give it a go?  


I've got an idea for a novella, it's pretty original and quirky I think, I've even plotted it out quite well.  Now, all I have to do is write the damn thing, but I'm stumped.  I just cannot find the right narrative voice. I've been playing around with various perspectives and not liking any of them.  I want to write what I love to read - Robert Aickman style - but it's not working.  I've tried writing dialogue for a couple of key scenes - it's coming out extremely banal.  I'm worse than the writers I'm criticising and struggling to read!! Talk about feeling shattered.

But, Rome wasn't built in a day and Catch 22 wasn't written in a year.  I will persevere gradually and I guess one day, though I may struggle like Joseph Grand, I will come up with a decent opening line and it should all flow on from there.  One thing is for sure though, I'm not a natural! Another thing's for sure, I'm still not going to bother finishing Black Witch LOL.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Art of Siglerism

I feel like writing a few words about the author Scott Sigler now that I have finished a second novel by him.

In a way Sigler reminds me of Australian author Matt Reilly.  Not in the way that he writes or the kind of stories that he writes but just for his sheer enthusiasm.  It is infectious and contagious (sorry for the puns there!). 

When you come across a writer like this it sweeps you up and you just want to read their work.  It doesn’t matter that it isn’t great literature, you just want to enjoy the ride.  Scott Sigler has re-invigorated my reading which has been a bit jaded of late after my misinformed decision to devote this year to Indie Authors.  I’ve tried several novels on my list and I just can’t get past their first chapters (thank goodness for Amazon’s free sample function for Kindle).  Anyway, I digress. 

What I love about Scott Sigler and Matt Reilly is their approachability.  They stay in touch with their fans, these authors really appreciate and respect their readers.  Sigler has maximised his use of social media by podcasting his books for free from his website, what a brilliant idea!  http://scottsigler.com/

I am really disappointed that I can’t be at the book signing of Nocturnal at Borderland Books in the US on Monday!  However, a quick email to the bookstore and a phone call later, I have secured a copy to be signed and posted out to me. Woo Hoo! Jude at Borderland Books was very helpful.  It sounds like a very interesting bookstore too, I wish there was one like it here on the Gold Coast: http://www.borderlands-books.com/  However, I am very impatient and knowing the postal lead times back to Australia from the US I also have a copy on order from the library J

Another medium being employed by authors lately is the use of video trailers to promote their books.  I’ve watched Nocturnal’s several times.  It just sums up Sigler’s work perfectly – it is dark, it’s bloody, it’s violent but it’s also got some humour.  Check it out:


Get your copy now and let’s catapult Scott Sigler to New York Times #1 Bestseller because he certainly deserves it.

Maxine

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Promotion Spot - The New Death and Others by James Hutchings



In December I reviewed this independent novel:


If you think you would like to read it, the e-book is free on Amazon for the next couple of weeks:


I've been away from my blog as I've been proof reading a fantasy for a friend, and soon I'll be off to WA for Easter but I hope to return in a blogging frame of mind.  So, in the meantime give this little book a go, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.


Maxine

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Blah!

That kind of sums up how I'm feeling at the moment. It's nearly 9pm and my house is still hot, I'm definitely not a hot weather person.

I've been away from the internet lately as I have been busy reading and catching up on DVDs this past week.  I've caught up on my recent release horrors and I can honestly say that there was not one good one amongst them (!) apart from The Thing - Prequel which I did enjoy; the special affects were pretty good.

I re-watched Kick Ass (twice) - which has to be the coolest movie of the decade (I love the Big Daddy Warehouse scene) -  it has the lot, great story, great visual, great acting and a fantastic score. The violence is pretty intense, but somehow acceptable because you know it's based on a comic strip.  Plus, it's pretty real as the characters really do get hurt.  I love it.

I finished 11/22/63 by Stephen King and what a relief it was to read something by him that I could enjoy once again.  It was a great premise - if you could go back in time would you stop the assassination of President Kennedy?  It isn't a task that is taken lightly and the outcome sends ripples through time that are disastrous.  There were some seriously 'corny' elements which annoyed me and I guess King must be a dud in bed as his love scenes were terrible. BUT, on the whole it was a damn good story which had me wanting to know how it was going to end.

My audio book at the moment is a little gem!  I picked it up at the library and apparently it was initially a Podcast read by the author (Scott Sigler) who has a cult following.  I am finding the narration a little iffy - it's extremely American and one of the character voices comes across sounding like a gay character from South Park. However, Infected is infectious - it's a great story about a biological threat to humans - those who are infected become murderous psychopaths. Just my type of novel.  What I really like about it though are the biological elements which are taken from real life science and make the story feel quite plausible. 

If you have read a great sci fi or horror lately I'd love to know about it.  It's so hard finding something new to read.

Maxine







Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Horns ~ Joe Hill

I’m fairly new to Joe Hill’s work, I liked his collection of short stories in 21st Century Ghosts, but I didn’t like Heart Shaped Box though I can’t remember why – but I do remember it was way too long.  Horns, however, has some very nice writing in it and I really liked the themes and how the characters developed.  I guess you can call Horns a love story, but it’s not your regular romance, so don’t go putting down your Mills and Boon in a hurry – as it may not be for you!

Ignatius Perrish, the protagonist, awakes one morning after getting very drunk the night before to find that he has grown horns.  People who fall under the influence of the horns will tell Ig their darkest secrets and desires which, at first, he finds very alarming especially when he learns what his parents really think of him.  But, Ig’s parents have good reason for harbouring bad thoughts about him, as they believe that he murdered his girlfriend and got away with it.  No one had been charged over Merrin’s death, but under the horn’s influence Ig’s older brother Terry confesses that it was their mutual friend Lee Tourneau.  

And so evolves a story of good vs evil, sin vs faith, revelations, love and revenge with lashings of magic realism, and some great back-stories.  I especially liked Lee’s memory of a contrary cat and setting the moon straight.  I have a feeling that some of these scenes were once short stories, but it all works very well.

Horns is a devilishly tongue in cheek dark fantasy and I really liked it.  

Maxine

Monday, February 13, 2012

Not Quite The Castaway

Robinson Crusoe isn’t quite the castaway that I was expecting when I read this novel last week (especially comparing it to the excellent movie Castaway) but he is enormous fun. 

I had this on my reading list because last year I read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and it was the favourite novel of one of the characters who constantly quoted from it.  It certainly does contain plenty of thought provoking anecdotes.

Crusoe is the sole survivor of a shipwreck (not his first either by the way) and he spends the next 28 years marooned on a desert island.  Amazingly though this island seems to be able to supply him with all his wants and needs – there are goats which he kills for meat and obtains milk; and grapes which he dries into raisins to begin with.  Later he grows corn, makes a type of bread, learns how to make cheese, weaves baskets and fires clay pots.  He has a ‘house’ on the beach which he calls his ‘castle’ and then he has his ‘country retreat’ further into the island.  Crusoe certainly makes the best of a bad situation, whilst berating himself for not taking his father’s advice many years ago and abandoning his plans to go to sea in the first place.  His father, being a pious man, had planted the seed in Crusoe’s mind about God's punishment should he go to sea which he refers to throughout the novel.

Whilst the plot is pretty whimsical, it does reach a defining moment when one day the lonesome Crusoe finds a footprint in the sand.  Suddenly the idealistic life becomes one of fear and constant looking over his shoulder.

Daniel Defoe
There are plenty of moments where you just cringe, but they do relate to the times when this novel was written.  Crusoe was in fact on a voyage to purchase Negroes, to bring back to the Brazils as slaves, at the time of his shipwreck.  One day after many years on the island, and with cannibals being bi-annual visitors to the other side of the island, he saves a Negro man from imminent consumption.  This man is called Friday as that was the day, by Crusoe’s reckoning, on which he saved him.  We never actually find out what this poor man’s real name is.  Crusoe dresses Friday in jackets and breeches made from goatskin which probably would have been excruciatingly uncomfortable, not to mention hot, and taught Friday to say his (Crusoe’s) name which was ‘Master’!!  Appalling!

The best thing about this book though, for me, was the fact that it was written nearly 300 years ago yet the language is simple and the story entertaining. I can imagine Defoe in his elaborately curly wig, fingers stained with ink, writing with his quill by candlelight, and giving his readers a glimpse of far away places that most people could not even begin to imagine yet alone visit.  That’s pretty magical.

Until next time

Maxine

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Well Dean, You Have Lost Me

Stephen King is hanging by a thread, but he may redeem himself with 11/22/63 which I do happen to be enjoying (200 pages in), but Dean Koontz has done his dash with me.

I have just read his biggest load of drivel yet - What The Night Knows.  I wasn't expecting much when I picked it up, but it didn't even rise to that expectation.  I don't understand publishers, is it really all about a quick buck?  If a newbie writer had submitted this rubbish it would most definitely have been rejected.

So what was wrong with this piece of junk?  Well, pretty much everything!

Plot
It's all been done before.  The premise was just like the Denzel Washington movie Fallen - you know, the one where an evil entity jumps from person to person to achieve its end.  I'll give a little on that one, it's probably hard to come up with new ideas, especially when you pump out as many 'novels' as Koontz, and they do say 'don't write what has never been written before, but write what only could have been written by you'. However, in this case it was a poor job indeed.

Charactisation
I think that Koontz needs to spend more time in the real world, with real people/families.  When you read horror you need to suspend your disbelief, this is the nature of the genre, but you do need decent characters that the reader can relate to.  If you can't relate to them, you don't care what happens to them, and you don't care where the story is headed.  The characters in What The Night Knows are totally unbelievable, the protagonist's family are too perfect, his descriptions too corny and sickly sweet.  The protagonist is a cop yet he lives is this huge house with staff to cook and clean for the family whilst the wife paints.  The kids are home schooled, with no set bedtime hours, and intelligent beyond their years.  It just doesn't ring true.  This is an area where Stephen King stands head and shoulders over Koontz - you connect with his characters, you care about them, and he can write from a child's point of view brilliantly.

Horror
Where was it?  Readers today are more sophisticated, we need that feeling of dread and building tension, throwing in a few murders and an evil spirit just doesn't cut the mustard I'm afraid.  What happened to the writer who penned Phantoms, Watchers and my favourite Odd Thomas (discounting those dreadful sequels)?  

In short What The Night Knows is an example of how not to write a horror novel and is just an outright insult to his fans.

Bitterly disappointed,
Maxine


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pygmy ~ Chuck Palahniuk

Pygmy is a diminutive 13 year old terrorist from a country/state that is never named, but is likened to Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and China.  This ‘country’ has arranged for several of its young ‘operatives’ to stay with host families in America as a kind of student program.  

The operative’s mission is code-named ‘Havoc’ (surprise surprise for a Chuck Palahniuk novel!!), and it is to take place at the National Science Fair where money tainted with a neurotoxin will be released and it is hoped that the money will be spread around until all the capitalists are killed.

This story is told via Pygmy’s regular dispatches to his superiors, and is written in a drone-like pigeon English which at first is quite hard to read, but you do get into the rhythm of it.  As well as learning about Pygmy’s time in America you also find out about his formative years and his training leading up to the mission. Pygmy rarely mentions actual names, so his host family, the Cedars, become familiar to us as ‘Pig Dog Brother’, ‘Cat Sister’, ‘Cow Father’ and  ‘Chicken Mother’. Things look dire for America with such indoctrinated and well trained operatives, but things do go a little awry when Pygmy realises that deep down he does feel emotion and that strange feeling is actually fondness for his host ‘cat sister’.

Pygmy is a satire on Western, particularly American, consumerism and greed. It is certainly a very original novel, not just for the plotline but also in the way that it is written.  After reading the first chapter I debated whether to make my life a misery over the next few days or just forget it and move onto something else.  Luckily I decided to persevere and I read a very clever, shocking and funny novel.

I don’t recommend Palahniuk novels to people I know as he’s very confronting and not to everyone’s taste, a lot of readers I know would be offended by his work.  But, for the record, I thought this was a great novel though I think he has limited his readership because of the narrative voice.

For more info on Pygmy and other Chuck Palahniuk novels visit http://chuckpalahniuk.net/books/pygmy

Happy Reading!


Maxine