Friday, 7 December 2012

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

At the start of the year I set myself the target of reading 25 books in 2012.  At times it looked like I would read far more, and at times I felt as if I'd never make it.  Still, 2 days ago I finished reading the book that took me to the finish line, and it was a great book to finish with.

There are many books that I feel I should have read, and among those are a lot of classics.  This list includes Jane Eyre, but I've always been put off borrowing it from the library because of its length.  Enter the Kindle, meaning that it is just as light as other books and doesn't feel like such a mammoth task.

Jane Eyre is written as the autobiography of the girl with the same name.  I say girl, at the start her childhood memories are played out but much of the book is focussed on her life aged 17 and over.  Living with harsh relatives as a child, Jane struggles to grow up with others as she attends school.  But it is after she leaves school and enters employment that things start to get really interesting for her.

In the end, length wasn't an issue at all.  I initially decided to have this as my 25th book to ensure that I finished it in about a month, so taking under 2 weeks was unexpected.  Although the childhood scenes at the start could be hard going at times I quickly became obsessed with Jane's world and wanted to read more.  That buzz of wanting to continue reading after the end of my lunch break returned, and wow did it feel good!

I think the main factor in making this such a compelling read is how wonderfully real Jane herself is.  She isn't perfect and doesn't pretend to be, and there's an inherent honesty about her character.  The story itself is beautifully written, particularly when retaining the values held at a young age.

As for the themes covered, well that's a fairly long list.  Family, wealth, religion, loneliness, love - just a few that immediately spring to mind.  And the honest method of storytelling allows a true understanding of Jane's opinion on each matter, even as those feelings change over time.  Definitely a lot of thought-provoking stuff going on.

It seems almost trivial to state this, but I would definitely recommend this book.  Give it the attention it deserves at the start and it will repay you til the end.  And now I'm off to see if I can keep going and exceed my target for the year!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Sign of the Four - Arthur Conan Doyle

For my next literary outing I returned to to world of Sherlock Holmes.  After not being overly thrilled with the first novel, I didn't really have high hopes for the next.  But it seemed convenient to read (being on my Kindle) and avoided too much decision making.

The Sign of the Four revolves around a mystery that starts with Mary Morstan reporting to Sherlock Holmes about the strange events surrounding her father's disappearance.  Over time, however, the mystery quickly thickens and as one loose end is tied up another unravels.

What I really liked about this book was that it felt slightly more realistic than the first.  Holmes himself is portrayed brilliantly.  The idea that a man who thrives on intellectual challenge would turn to drugs when the puzzles run out is very easy to believe.  And then there are those quiet periods where leads dry up and trails go dead, so all they can do is wait.  Which, again, contributes to making the whole thing seem just a little more likely.  Or as likely as you can get in a story about treasure.

It has everything a good mystery book should have.  Intrigue, a cast of crazy characters, grey areas between good guys and bad guys, and a high-speed chase.  I always love a good chase scene.  The story completely pulled me in and I couldn't wait to keep reading to find out what would happen next.  Even during the reveal I kept hanging on every word, because it was played out so well.

The only thing I did struggle with is a lack of knowledge about the politics of India in the 1850s.  And, quite frankly, it's not something I would expect most people to be familiar with.  But this is one of the things you get when reading a book that was written over 120 years ago.  However, the context is explained well enough and so it's easy to pick up everything you need.

I would definitely recommend this book and will most certainly carry on with the world of Sherlock Holmes when time allows.  The art of pure logical deduction is such a great concept that such a character absolutely fascinates me.

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Truth - Terry Pratchett

How do I write one of these posts again?  It's kind of been a while.  Every time I think I've got over the worst reading blip another one turns up.  And in a style that's becoming far too familiar, it took me weeks to read the first 100 pages and then about a day for the other 300.

Returning to Discworld for the first time in a while, I finally reached the 25th book in the series.  The Truth is based in Ankh-Morpork and follows William de Worde as he goes from part-time newsletter writer to full-time newspaper editor.  It's amazing what a printing press and some business-savvy dwarves can do with an idea.  As is the way with these things, once you start looking for more news you find more than you'd bargained for.

The range of characters involved in The Times are typical Pratchett brilliance.  William himself is the perfect shadow of his father, more so than he'd ever even realise, and the relationship between him and Sacharissa is beautifully real.  The transformation of the pair into hard-core journalists is brilliantly written.

But my favourite character has to be Otto.  As a reformed vampire he has taken the pledge to stop biting people, and so has driven his passion into the world of photography.  Cue a desire to ever-improve the technology, and lots of issues with flashlights.  A particular personal highlight was the dwarves singing the positive-reinforcement songs.

I also enjoyed the role that the Watch played in the story, as Vimes is such a great character.  The developing chemistry between the Duke and William was wonderful.

This is definitely a book I would recommend.  Even if you haven't read a Discworld book before you would still enjoy the satirical references to the world of newspapers.  But it would mean missing out on the passing references, which are sometimes the best bits in Pratchett books.

The Truth Shall Set Ye Free, as they say (whoever they are), and the truth is that sometimes all you need is appropriately-timed roaring thunder to make your day.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb

Of the large number of books on our bookshelves that I have yet to read, 12 carry the name of Robin Hobb.  Loved by my husband, auntie, cousin and many others, I have been meaning to try out one of her books for some time.  And now, that count has just gone down to 11.

Assassin's Apprentice is the first book in The Farseer Trilogy and is based in the Six Duchies, a kingdom ruled by the Farseer family.  It follows the life of Fitz, a royal bastard who struggles to fit in with either royal or normal folk and has to find his own path.

The story is told in first person, but in a reflective way such that the older Fitz can analyse the decisions he made in younger days.Each chapter begins with a section of the history of the Duchies, which our storyteller has been tasked with writing.  This provides more insights into the political situation surrounding the land, and some of its key characters.

I confess, it took me a little while to get into this.  Another book to fall victim to me reading while tired.  I also struggled a bit with some of the plotlines at first.  The brutality in parts surprised me, but became one of the things I really appreciated.  Every aspect in the story is raw.  What you see is what you get.  And the telling in first person allows this to be delivered beautifully and honestly.

When my husband suggested this book, I had no idea what to expect.  The fantasy genre covers such a wide range that it can be hard to tell how 'overt' the fantasy aspects will be.  In this case, the magic is built in slowly.  You are introduced to the world and its characters long before magic becomes apparent, and through the acceptance of a young boy it's almost easy to miss it when it first comes in.

The important distinction, in my opinion, is that the world does not purely exist for the forms of magic it holds.  Because the Skill is taught to so few the every day life of most people goes on without really noticing it.  This means that when magic does come to the forefront its place has been earned.  The purpose for using it can clearly be seen.  Which seems to me to be the mark of a very well written book.  One that uses fantasy elements to enhance good writing, rather than to mask poor writing.

It took me a while, but I did fall in love with the characters.  Not in my usual way of connecting with one or two more than others, but in a way that made me appreciate all their individual characteristics and how well the personalities played off each other.  It was also interesting how Fitz's perception of different people changed as he got older and wiser, and as familiar faces appeared and disappeared in his life.

For the first book in a trilogy, the ending is very satisfying.  Enough ends gets tied up that it justifies being a story in its own right, rather than just 'part 1'.  Which means I don't need to instantly plough on to the next one, and so can reflect more on what I've read.  At the same time, though, there are enough open threads and tantalising glimpses that mean I can't see it being long before I return to the world of the Six Duchies.

Monday, 10 September 2012

A Study in Scarlet - Arthur Conan Doyle

Recently I was given the lovely present of a Kindle, which I needed an excuse to try out.  So I started to think of the older books that I keep meaning to read, and Sherlock Holmes sprung to mind.  With the wonders of modern technology, I downloaded the entire Sherlock Holmes collection in under a minute, and started to read A Study in Scarlet.

The first novel to feature the famous detective and his medical sidekick focuses on the death of an American - a mystery which the police detectives find to be beyond their reach.  Holmes finds the whole thing very simple and spends much of the time parading in front of the others just how simple he finds it.

Ok, so that doesn't sound a ringing endorsement for the story.  And in some ways, it sums up how I felt.  Halfway through the crime is solved and the plot switches to back-story.  This confused me at first, but at times I felt like I enjoyed the back-story more than the main detective plot itself.  That may not be any bad sign on the story, more a sign of my habits.

As is quite clear from this blog, I really like Agatha Christie's Poirot series.  These focus a great deal on the idea that a good detective looks at things from a different angle to see things that others miss.  I've also watched a fair bit of CSI, so the concept of analysing evidence is somewhat second nature.  But what needs to be remembered is that Sherlock Holmes was before all that and living in a different age.

Overall I'm a bit undecided.  The actual mystery itself felt a bit weak, and as a reader basically no details are provided til the final reveal, giving no chance of even making a guess at the murderer.  However, I know that one of the later novels is the more acclaimed and so I'm going to give them a chance and carry on.  Besides, I've got the whole lot sat on my Kindle already.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

As anticipated, I sat down on Monday night and read Mockingjay, the third part of the Hunger Games trilogy.  If I'm being honest, I read it too quickly.  Once things got going it was really hard to put down, and my impatience to find out what happened meant that I was practically speed-reading towards the end.  Still, it was worth it.

Ok, so I then had to sit down last night and re-read the last few chapters, but that's somewhat of a habit that I've got into lately with the end of trilogies.  It's nice to take a little while to reflect on what happened, and then return to pick up the nuances that were missed.  And somehow it's much more satisfying to be able to just relaxing into the situation knowing what will happen.  That is if you liked the ending of course.  Probably if you hated the ending then it wouldn't be such a good thing.

Thankfully though, I got the ending I wanted.  Selfish, maybe, but right from the first book I knew exactly how, in my mind, one of the plotlines should finish.  And it did.  Which is good, as it means I didn't have to get annoyed at the book.  It would have been a shame to get annoyed with it, particularly given how beautifully crafted the whole country of Panem is.

This is where I have a difficulty.  One thing I've really been trying while writing about the books I read is to not include spoilers.  It would be great if my babble encouraged someone to pick up a book they might otherwise not try.  And generally this is easy enough.  But when you're writing about the third book in a trilogy which involves lots of killing it becomes difficult to write about the characters without spoiling earlier books.

Having thought about this, my advice is for you to go read the first two books now and then come back again.  Or just carry on anyway.

A lot of conflicting feelings appear throughout this story, with Katniss struggling to decide on where her future should lie.  Should she keep hoping that Peeta will be safe or instead try to build a future with Gale?  Should she keep her head down or agree to be the face of the rebellion?  So granted, they're quite life-changing decisions, but there a few occasions on which I just wanted to knock some sense into her.  Well, many occasions actually.

My sister and I discussed the trilogy yesterday and she commented that as the time in the Arena is her favourite bit, she liked the third book the least.  I can definitely see that point of view.  The moments in the Arena seem the most thought through, with the attention to detail and raw emotion.  The idea flows throughout the third book that Katniss performs best when she is just being herself, and I think that when she is fighting for her survival, or someone else's, she really shines through.

I had my reservations during the second book about how many events had been set off so quickly, however it definitely wasn't as extreme as it could have been.  I liked the way a lot of the events were handled.  The brutality of war situations wasn't covered up, and the idea of klling others wasn't glorified.  It was just there, as something that was happening and couldn't be avoided.  And the aftermath of emotions were there too.

My favourite character stayed the same from the moment they were introduced in the first book to the very last page of the last book.  This could mean that I'm loyal, that they are the best-written character, or that they are the one I sympathise with the most.  Maybe it's all three, I don't know.  But as it always seems sad to read a book and not truly want at least one character to succeed, I would say this did its job.

Definitely read the Hunger Games trilogy.  Even if it's not your normal sort of book, give it ago.  I'm not sure if I'll have chance to read it again, but get the feeling it will be playing on my mind for a while.  And after the beautifully described last few chapters I have no desire at all to watch the film(s), there are just too many favourite moments for the filmmakers to get wrong.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

My sister visited us last week and the only criteria I gave for letting her stay was the loan of the second and third books in the Hunger Games trilogy.  And so yesterday afternoon, when I should have been unpacking boxes, I curled up on the sofa and started to read Catching Fire.  With breaks for dinner and a bit of cleaning, I finished the book at around half past 10 last night.

In some ways that says everything that needs to be said, but given the speed with which I read the first book it's unsurprising that I found this one easy to get through.  The story starts around six months after the end of the first book, shortly before the Victory Tour is about to commence.  The major events of the missing six months are slowly filled in as the story progresses.

The break in time does allow for more 'important' storylines to be the focus, but as a character fan it also feels a slightly wasted opportunity.  It almost feels as though they were marking time, and that the relationships have changed very little from where they were before.  Any tense feelings that lasted for those months seem quickly forgiven and forgotten, although it is true that some things last on.

Far-fetched is a word that popped into my mind a lot when I was mentally replaying the story last night.  Some aspects of the plot seemed overly dramatic and all very sudden.  And our storyteller does seem to quickly change her mind about the most important of decisions.  However, on reflection, it wasn't quite so far-fetched as it seemed.  The gap of six months allows plenty of time for build ups, and the lack of communication between Districts would account for everything seeming sudden.  And thinking about it, it's often the most important of decisions that are the hardest to make up your mind about and yet the clearest when the right answer has been reached.

I enjoyed reading Catching Fire, but I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow for a true opinion as, like many second books in a trilogy, it's hard to judge the build-up without knowing the conclusion.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Enigma - Robert Harris

When I started writing this blog I made a rule for myself that I can't start reading a new book until the blog post for the previous one has been written.  This ensures that I don't skip a blog post for any book, and so the record is maintained.  Unfortunately this time it's somewhat backfired.

Due to being off work ill, I read most of Enigma in one day, finishing on Tuesday 7th August.  Since then I have moved house, and so haven't managed to find the time to sit and write about it.  However there have been lots of occasions on which I could have happily sat down and read a few chapters of book.  And so the blog that was designed to keep me reading has stopped me reading.  The real lesson is, though, that I should just make the time to write sooner!

Back in January I read Fatherland by Robert Harris and commented that I would try some more of his books in future, and the next one I picked was Enigma.  As the name suggests, the story is based during World War II in Bletchley Park.  For those who don't know, Bletchley Park was where the greatest British minds of the generation gathered to break the codes generated by the German Enigma machines.

The plot itself focuses on one particular cryptoanalyst called Tom Jericho.  Part of it focuses on attempts to crack the hardest codes encountered so far, and the rest is a mystery surrounding Tom's former girlfriend.  Each section starts with an extract from the real cryptography manuals from Bletchley Park, which is nice to set the scene and to give some explanations about the jargon used.

Many of the characters are proper geeks, which is kind of what you would expect from a group of mathematicians that all get together for a secret project.  Personally, I didn't mind this.  But then being one of the geeky cryptoanalysts would have a huge appeal to me, which may have swayed my opinion somewhat.

The concept of the story was interesting.  At the start I wasn't really sure what to expect, which is probably a good way to go into a book really.  It means that the story is judged for what it is, not for what you thought you already knew about it.  In this case, the judging was pretty positive all round.  Some of the characters did lack a little depth.  I suppose you could argue that none of them knew each other overly well, and so the little details wouldn't have been mentioned, but it still felt difficult to really understand where they were coming from.

I would definitely recommend reading Enigma.  Apart from anything, the historical context is fascinating, and anything that makes you want to find out more about the time in which it was set must be a good thing.  I'm not sure what it would be like to read this with no prior knowledge of Turing, Bletchley Park or Enigma, but if that applies to you then read the book and let me know!

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

There have been two literary bandwagons that I could have jumped on this year.  The most recent, from what I've heard, actually involves a lot of jumping on in the story.  But Lady Chatterley's Lover filled my quota for the year on that sort of book.  So I chose the bandwagon from earlier in the year and started reading a book by Suzanne Collins.

The Hunger Games probably needs little introduction.  It is set in an America of the future, where the landscape is carved into Districts and the Capitol rules all.  To remind the Districts of a failed rebellion years before, each area must send two teenagers to compete in the annual Hunger Games - a 'winner takes all' fight to the death.

The idea of the Hunger Games themselves seems scarily realistic to me.  Looking at the way that reality TV is heading it's not too hard a leap to think that if one society got a true grip over another then this sort of thing could happen.  As I say, scary.

But more interesting is the set up of the society itself.  A lot of the Districts don't get much mention, just those from which the main contenders appear.  The Districts that have the worst poverty seem to be those that contribute the most to society.  Again, the echoes seem scarily real and not too far fetched.  I was completely swept in by the world that was created.

It doesn't take a genius to notice that I read this pretty quickly.  Less than 24 hours from start to finish, and that time included sleep, work and eating.  One factor was definitely the world drawing me in, but that alone wouldn't be enough.  The book was written for teenagers, which I find gives the author more freedom to write about what they want rather than what they thing people want to read.

It also allows for a real display of emotions.  Strangely, given the situation and storyline, one of the main words I would use to describe Katniss is 'innocent'.  And the same goes to Peeta too, although perhaps less surprisingly in his case.  The fact that the characters are allowed to be innocent and just, well, human makes it far easier to be absorbed in their lives.

In case you hadn't worked it out by now, yes I would very much recommend that you read this book.  I am currently regretting only borrowing the first one from my sister, and wondering how quickly I can get my hands on the other two.  Note that I haven't seen the film and so can't compare it to that.  But it would have to be a pretty amazing film to come close to the feelings of being inside someone's head that first-person writing gives.  So give it a go, it's not like it will take long to read!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

True to intentions I returned to Discworld for my next book, and it didn't disappoint.  Carpe Jugulum (or "Go for the throat" as Nanny translates it) focuses on the witches and Lancre as dignitaries from across the Disc arrive for the naming ceremony of the baby princess.  Unfortunately, some of those invited guests include vampires, and once they've been invited they are hard to get rid of.

The whole idea of the story is one that really appeals to me.  Young vampires being conditioned from an early age to be resistant to holy water, garlic and similar items.  It makes perfect sense really, as everyone knows how to kill a vampire and so if you're immune to those methods you must be on to a winner.

Of the witches, my favourite is definitely Agnes.  The arguments with Perdita are a particular highlight, and these feature heavily in this book.  There's a lot to be said for listening to the nagging voice within, although talking back to it is a little weird.

But much as I love Agnes, the best character in Carpe Jugulum for me was Mightily Oats.  Definitely had a bit of a soft spot for the Omnian priest who never meant to get into any trouble.  The fact that he keeps trying to do the work his beliefs tell him is right, even though he's not sure if he's sure about those beliefs, seems reassuringly real.  His interactions with the witches also make for some very amusing encounters.

It took me a little while to get into this.  I think that there were so many strands of plot to set up that it wasn't until a few combined that I really got my head around which were the key points.  But, as always, I got fully immersed in the world and really struggled not to laugh out loud while reading in my lunch break.  I'd very much recommend reading the earlier witches books first, to really understand the interpersonal dynamics, but once you have done then this is a must read.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John le Carré

I swear reading used to be easier.  Still, I am determined to persevere with getting back into reading and if that means slogging through a few books that I lose interest in then that's what it takes.

Of course, this isn't the sort of book you are supposed to lose interest in.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is set in England during the Cold War and focuses on George Smiley, who used to work for 'the Circus', and his efforts to find a mole.  Not the furry, digging type, for anyone who was confused.

I actually quite enjoyed reading this, particularly as it got nearer the end.  Think I would have enjoyed the earlier parts more if I'd sat down and made the effort to get into it.  When I started the book I was out of the habit of making time to read and very tired, which is a deadly combination for an unfamiliar author.  For the first 10 or so chapters I was reading about half a chapter at a time before I fell asleep.  The result of which was I didn't really take a lot on board, which then made the book even harder to read.

One example of my ignorance came when some of the characters were discussing a former colleague.  I expected this to be followed up by a chapter about the colleague, as tends to happen in books, when I realised that this particular guy had already been the main feature of about 3 chapters earlier on.  His name had completely slipped my mind and I almost gave up and started reading again from the beginning.

Reviewing this book is really hard.  I'm very torn between being honest about the fact that I had no idea what was going on for most of the book and blaming my clueless-ness on my lifestyle for the last month.  Maybe one day I'll re-read it and find out for sure whether I liked it.  Maybe I'll just play it safe and read a Discworld book next, in an attempt to reboot my reading habit.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Cocktails for Three - Madeleine Wickham

So it finally happened - I hit a reading rut.  It has been pretty much 6 weeks since I last finished a book, and there have been a number of reasons as to why.  Firstly, things got pretty busy and so sitting down with a book felt like I was relaxing too much.  Secondly, with everything going on I found it hard to concentrate, which made reading before bed difficult.  And thirdly, I picked the wrong book to read next.

I have had Cocktails for Three on my 'To Read' list for ages.  For anyone who doesn't know, Madeleine Wickham is Sophie Kinsella's real name, and so I was keen to try out one of her earlier books.  The book is about three friends who live in London and each reach a turning point in their very different lives.

To start with, I really struggled with this book.  In fact, several times I made the decision to give up and start reading something else.  But I had the horrible feeling that if I did give up I wouldn't ever want to return to it, which just seemed wrong.  And so, slowly but surely, I persevered.  In the end though, it wasn't so hard.  About two thirds of the book was read between two sessions, it was the rest that was in fits and starts.

My first problem was not relating to the characters.  The closest I got was with Roxanne who, weirdly, is nothing like me.  Somehow she seemed the most real and her storylines were the ones that kept me reading.  As the book continued I got more and more into Maggie's storyline, and saw the classic theme of 'being true to yourself' developing.  It was Candice that I never really 'got'.  Maybe she was just too much of a push-over or maybe it was just that her 'life' involved more bitchiness than the others and I wasn't in the right mood for that.

Actually, though, overall I quite enjoyed it.  It was the wrong book for me to try to read then, but that doesn't make it a bad book.  The range of strong emotions involved were portrayed very well, particularly for Roxanne and Maggie.  And the concept, of needing someone to turn to for support, can't be seen as a bad thing.  So while my overall emotion is relief at having started to break my reading rut, I also gained a whole host of other emotions from the book itself.  Books that can successfully tug emotions can't be all that bad.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence

Well... that was interesting!  When returning my last book to the library I decided to seek out another based on a list of classics I had taken with me.  Only, none of those books were available so I found myself walking up and down aimlessly, until I sat down for a moment and looked up to see DH Lawrence books on the shelf immediately in front of me.  And seeing as I am trying to widen my reading habits this seemed as good a time as any to read something a bit more controversial.

Lady Chatterley's Lover is one of those books that I'd heard of (I imagine most people have) but actually had no idea what it was about.  But I decided to read it with an open mind, and taking for granted the fact that 'classics' usually take me longer to get into.  Actually, as it turned out, the writing style is really easygoing most of the time, and so I found myself drawn in quicker than some of the fantasy books I've read lately.

The story is based in the heart of industrial England, during the years following the second world war.  After a varied, and somewhat wild, childhood, Constance Chatterley finds herself living in a manor house in the middle of nowhere, with very few people to talk to other than her husband, who was paralysed from the waist down during the war.

There's no dodging the fact that this is a controversial book - there's a reason it was banned for so long.  And the fact that the mentions of sex started on the third page told me that the reputation was probably well-earned.  Many of the 'encounters' throughout the story are described in explicit detail.  What seems most strange when reading isn't the language or description used, it's remembering that it was written by a man in the 1920s.  If Cosmopolitan magazine published similar descriptions these days then people would hardly bat an eyelid.

For me, though, the story isn't one that should be judged on those details.  If you take that out of the equation you are left with a story of loneliness, of struggling to cope when things turn for the worse, and of love.  There is a theme running throughout of what love is, what it truly means to say you love someone.  And there's very much the idea of having to choose between doing your duty and staying true to yourself.

All this is set against the backdrop of changes to the industrial world.  I actually found it quite interesting reading about the coal mines, although I found it harder to concentrate on the descriptions of the towns than of the people.  Mind you, even that didn't compare to trying to keep reading through Mrs Bolton's gossip, which at one point stretched to three pages.  I have to admit that I did not read every word so carefully that chapter.

Speaking of chapters, the sections in this book are quite long.  I nearly overran my lunchbreak by mistake one day as I was halfway through a 38 page chapter.  Getting over my hatred of stopping reading mid chapter had to happen quite swiftly at that stage.

Overall I enjoyed Lady Chatterley's Lover.  Partially, I think, because it didn't hold back.  There's something refreshing about saying things as they are.  Reading some of the dialect was difficult at times (I found sounding the words out in my head first helped a lot) but that added to the ambiance.  Reading Connie's journey from contentment to loneliness to despair to hope and finally to love made me think a lot.  And in my view, a book that makes you think has to be a good thing.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

Despite having many books of my own that I have yet to read, and even more on my list to read again, I decided to borrow a book from the library.  After reading my last book I was in the mood for something a little smaller but that would still get me thinking, and Agatha Christie seemed to fit the bill.  When I mentioned to some friends a while ago that I was reading several Poirot books, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was recommended to me as one of the best.

The story is based in a sleepy English village and, like most sleepy English villages in books, there is a collection of strange characters with complicated lives and plenty to hide.  Given the title, it probably doesn't give too much away to say that the victim this time is a Mr Ackroyd.  After his murder a moustached Belgian detective is found to be taking it easy in the village, and so the classic grey cells of Monsieur Poirot get to work.

I always enjoy the fact that Poirot takes seemingly unconnected events and pieces them together in a jigsaw that to most would be like a baked beans impossipuzzle.  As the plot evolves you are introduced to more and more of the characters' secrets and the events that surrounded the murder, but are never quite given enough information to get the full picture.

The recommendation was, in my eyes, correct.  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was really, really good. I could probably say it's the best one I've read so far, but actually my favourite Poirot books are all so different that it's hard to compare them.

It's fair to say that I was completely in the dark about who did it.  In fact I didn't have a clue who to suspect in the slightest until two paragraphs before it was explicitly stated (thankfully I did at least work it out to be the right person at that stage!).  The fact that I've been really tired for the last few days may have contributed to my lack of clue, but mostly I think it was the wonderful way in which the story was crafted.

If you haven't read any Poirot books before then I'd recommend reading one or two of the earlier ones before you read this, just to get your eye in really.  But once you have got your head into the world of Hercule Poirot then this is really one you HAVE to read.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Voice of the Gods - Trudi Canavan

After getting completely addicted to the second book in the trilogy it was never going to be long before I bought and read the third and final Age of the Five book.  It didn't disappoint.  Once again I found myself completely immersed in its world and wrapped up in the lives of the characters.  I was itching to get through the day just so that I could go home and read more of the lives of the Circlians, the Pentadrians and, perhaps most of all, the Wilds.

Voice of the Gods sees the power of the world is balanced so finely that the smallest thing could be enough to bring about another war between the Circlians and the Pentadrians.  Much of the plot is focussed on the two sides making stands and solidifying their battlelines (metaphorical or otherwise).  Interesting as that was, my favourite parts were (clearly!) the journeys the characters took of self-discovery and self-development.

As with the second book, it is Auraya that faces the biggest decisions and has the potential to change the most.  But the difference she makes to those around her isn't small either.  There aren't many characters that end the trilogy feeling the same way they did at the start (if any at all).  There is a strong theme of identity and staying true to who you are, but perhaps more importantly a theme of finding out who you really are.

Did I enjoy the book?  I think that's a pretty obvious yes.  I was so disappointed to get to the last few chapters and realise that I would have to leave the world behind.  But the ending was great and felt in fitting with the trilogy as a whole.  And the fact that I read the last page (before the epilogue) at pretty much snails' pace is a testament to how much I didn't want it to be over.

I really liked the little touches, such as Mischief playing some important roles in the final build-up and the dream-link conversations that are shared just to keep contact.  The ever-changing chemistry between characters is what I'll miss the most.  Although the world is quite well developed in terms of description it's not something I ever 'pictured' as such.  But maybe next time I'll pick up on it more.  Because while my 'to read' list is still expanding, I think I'll sneak this trilogy back in there again before too long.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett

G'Day.  For the last week or so I've been a bit busier than normal, and so it's been handy to read a book I could dip in and out of.  I find Discworld books particularly useful for this because of their lack of chapters - which, weirdly, increases the number of places it feels appropriate to stop reading.

Having read Jingo at an earlier point, The Last Continent was next on my list of Discworld books to read.  This book features Rincewind and the (other) wizards on a trip to sunnier climes.  Far too sunny as it turns out, but that's another matter.  The theme for the story is all things Australian, with the usual mix of very obvious comparisons and several more subtle references.

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to, I admit.  The wizards tend to annoy me after a while and switching to a Rincewind plot doesn't always ease it off.  And at points it did seem to be dragging its heels more than making interesting diversions.  But I really liked some of the ideas involved, like the building of an extra continent at the last minute.  The evolution god amused me as well.

Despite annoying me, I did like reading about the wizards, particularly their reactions in a foreign environment and seeing which relationships stayed the same and which differed.  I always find it amusing to read about wizards who experience a lot of magic but actually use very little of it themselves.

One warning I should give to anyone who hasn't read this yet is that you may pick up some of the constantly-used language.  Thankfully it's not too out of place, as I think I said "no worries" to every person I spoke to on the phone at work today!

The final thing I should mention is the final thing mentioned in the book.  In fact it is talked about in the last 3 paragraphs.  It's one of my favourite sensations.  And if that doesn't make you at least look at the last page of the book, I don't know what will!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

It's not often that I read books just to see what the fuss is about... and I suppose technically that's not the reason I read this one.  My husband read the book to see what the fuss was about, and then put it on my 'to read' pile, which I dutifully did.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mystery thriller that is set in Sweden.  If you're anything like me this means you will spend most of the book wondering how the character names and places are actually supposed to be pronounced.  But it's quite interesting to read something set in a different country from time to time.

The plot revolves around a struggling magazine and a mystery that one of its editors is hired to solve.  Henrik Vagner hires Mikael Blomkvist (see what I mean about the pronunciation?) to investigate the disappearance of his great niece decades before.  Vagner is convinced the girl was murdered by a family member, and so begins the real mystery.  Along the way are several side plots and a large cast of characters.

Lisbeth Salander (the girl with the dragon tattoo) plays a fairly minor role for a fair chunk of the book, which confused me a little as I was reading.  It was also annoying as I found it easy to remember details about her whereas some of the Vagner family and magazine workers got muddled in my head.  Although there were a large number of characters only a few had more than a superficial personality given to them, and I have to admit that I wasn't all that impressed with the character development generally.

I enjoyed reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and was interested in the solution to the mystery.  Reading the last section was great for tying up lose ends, but by that stage I wanted to finish so it seemed to drag a little.  Although I read large parts of the story at a time and found the plot interesting I didn't really grow attached to the characters, and as such didn't feel like I was leaving anything behind when it ended.

The acid test is always reading more books by the same author.  In this case I probably will read the other two books in the Millennium trilogy, but it won't be a big priority for me just yet.  I feel bad for sounding so negative, but it may just be that I've fallen in love with so many books lately that one that I merely enjoyed just seemed a let down.  Guess you'll have to read it yourself to judge!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Last of the Wilds - Trudi Canavan

Confused.  That is the only word that can possibly describe how I felt reading the first hundred-odd pages of Last of the Wilds.  Not through fault of the book though.  This is the second book in the Age of the Five series.  Emphasis on second.  It's pretty clear from this blog that I didn't read the first part this year.  What's not clear is that I'm not even sure whether it was 2011 I read it or 2010...

So my memory of what happened previously was pretty sketchy.  I slowly pieced together in my mind the key points of what had happened, helped by the fact that major events were recollected by characters as part of the storyline.  By a third of the way through the book I was well and truly immersed in the story and didn't feel my head hurting every time an event got mentioned or the focus switched to a different character.

Last of the Wilds is based in the world of the Circlians and the Pentadrians, two religions who went to war because both wanted to prove the others were wrong.  Both groups of people feature in their own plotlines and developments as do the Siyee, a race that can fly, and the Elai, who live in and under the water.  Add to that a few Dreamweavers, a cult considered to be heathens by both religious groups, and you have an idea of all the information I had to pull from the back of my memory.

The characters development is key in this book.  The discoveries that they make about themselves and the people they love or once loved are the defining moments far more than any event could be.  And as character development is my big thing you can probably guess that I loved it.

I also loved how everything was turned on its head - several times.  In Priestess of the White, right and wrong are as clear as.. well black and white.  But here the lines get a bit more smudged.  Seeing the world from the point of view of all the different groups gives an entirely different perspective, and I spent a good deal of time reading it trying to work out whose side I would be on.

I would definitely recommend this to any fantasy lovers, particularly if they enjoy any of Trudi Canavan's other books.  Of course I'd recommend reading Priestess of the White first though!  Strangely I seem to recall that I didn't think all that much of the first book when I read it.  It was soon after I had finished the Black Magician trilogy, and I kept drawing connections with that.  But Last of the Wilds won me over when I let myself fall into its world and enjoy looking around.

Now I just need to buy the third book... and try to read it a little sooner!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Twenties Girl - Sophie Kinsella

In case you didn't guess by the author, if you're allergic to chick lit then this probably won't interest you that much!  Personally I am a believer that you never know if you'll like a type of book until you try it, so would be disappointed if someone never even gave it a chance.

Twenties Girl is about Lara Lington, a girl who is struggling to have anything really go right in her life.  Then she goes to her great aunt Sadie's funeral and everything changes as Sadie's ghost appears and starts talking to her.  Which changes things somewhat.

Ok, I'll admit, I often find chick lit just a bit too cringeworthy, and sometimes struggle to read chapters properly because of it.  But with this book there was no struggle.  Instead of wanting to hide with embarrassment I was laughing out loud at the situations and the amazing dialogue between characters.  In fact I was laughing so much reading it at home that I felt self conscious reading in my lunch break in case I laughed too loud at work!

The characters are great and their development through the story is even better.  The relationship between Lara and Sadie is particularly special, and a reminder that the advice you need can come from the strangest of places (granted, not normally this strange).  There are also several moments that are great examples of needing to just go with the flow and stop worrying, which if I'm honest is a lesson I could use learning.

This is a book that I would absolutely recommend to anyone wanting to relax and enjoy themselves.  The way a book makes you feel is such a big part of the reading experience, and the range of emotions I had reading this definitely made it for me.  I don't generally think about what my favourite book is, because I have such a varied taste, but after finishing reading the brilliant ending of Twenties Girl the word favourite did enter my head several times.

It's also given me the desire to learn to dance Charleston.  Isn't it great when a book changes how you feel...

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Hallowe'en Party - Agatha Christie

To go with a week when I had less time to devote to reading I handily decided to read a slightly shorter book.  We have a selection of Agatha Christie's Poirot books which I have been working my way through.  Hallowe'en Party is the final one of the slightly random set.

In case there is anybody that doesn't already know this, the Poirot books are murder mysteries based on the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.  This particular book is based in a small village and the events that occur at, funnily enough, a Halloween party.  A girl boasts about having witnessed a murder and then later becomes a victim herself.  The noted detective novelist Mrs Oliver heard the boasting and decides to call in Poirot.

Mrs Oliver is a very amusing character who it would seem is a tongue-in-cheek representation of Agatha Christie herself.  She carries with her the great belief that all crime fiction fans develop, that murder is like in the books and a black-and-white matter.  Between the books I have read and the TV shows I watch I fall into this category myself sometimes.  But the only mysteries I consistently fail to even vaguely guess the answer to are the Agatha Christie ones.

I enjoyed reading Hallowe'en Party and seeing how the story developed.  The plot has many different pieces, most of which refer to seemingly unconnected events.  This makes things quite complicated but somehow not too difficult to follow, although I did get some of the women muddled up a few times!

Overall I found it quite nice to read something a bit lighter after a 750ish page fantasy book.  Not sure I should really be describing a murder book as 'light' but never mind.  Think I'm trying to say that it was an easy read and not too heavy going.  Now that I've finished all the Poirot books that we own I suppose I'll have to head to the library or buy some more, because I'm definitely not leaving it there.  They're just far too interesting to do that.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Hero of Ages - Brandon Sanderson

It took me a little over a week to read The Hero of Ages and then another 4 days before I've sat down to write about it.  Even now I'm struggling to write anything.  I'm not entirely sure why that is, but it is at least partly down to how big the story was in terms of detail and plot.

The Hero of Ages is the final book in the Mistborn trilogy and starts a year on from where The Well of Ascension finishes.  The story is split over several locations, generally switching between each city at the end of a chapter.  Sometimes this was a little frustrating as I wanted to keep reading about a particular place, but it meant that the stories ran in roughly the right time and gave more perspective on events.  It did make me confused occasionally though, as I kept forgetting the names of the cities and had to rely on which characters were there to work it all out.

I really enjoyed the storyline, which is saying a lot as this book has one of my least favourite 'types' of ending.  But it was done so well and it felt so right that it very much added to my experience of the book rather than spoiling it.  The way that everything from the three books came together made for a very interesting read, and it wasn't just the big storylines from the earlier books that made a difference.

One thing that I always appreciate in books and films is when a seemingly innocuous comment or event turns out to have great significance.  The Hero of Ages has a plot of its own, but many events and discoveries actually serve the purpose of explaining earlier events, or helping you to view them from a different perspective.  Combining the explanations with the off-hand mentions makes for very powerful narrative.  At one stage I actually commented to my husband that I really enjoyed the random little comments that were being made about something.  Somehow he managed not to react, as a few chapters later it turned out not to be such a random comment after all.

As with the earlier books, each chapter starts with a segment from a book written in the Final Empire, this time written by the Hero of Ages.  The segments serve to sum up events that have happened and fill in the gaps in acquired knowledge.  I actually want to re-read the chapter starters now that I know what happens so that I can really appreciate the careful selection of words.

I couldn't really say what my favourite part of the book was.  The character chemistry was again really good, and seeing how they all dealt with stress in different ways was interesting.  And of course I loved the way that everything was important.  I think that there are probably small parts of individual elements that I would say I wasn't so keen on, but everything fits together so well to form a clever and engaging story that I couldn't rate one thing higher than another.

It's very rare that I leave a fantasy world behind satisfied about loose ends having been tied up and the way in which it was done, but it has happened here.  I hope to read the books again some time so that I can fully appreciate the way that the characters and plots develop.  Of course with the current length of my 'to read' list it there might not be an opening for a while.  Some books are just worth making the effort for though.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Iron Hand of Mars - Lindsey Davis

I started this blog to encourage me to spend more time reading and to put more effort into 'getting into' books.  I think that with The Iron Hand of Mars I may have just achieved this.

The first time I started reading this book was a fair while ago - I think it was last year but I'm not certain of that.  I think I read the first 30 pages 3 times and then on my last-but-one attempt made it to around page 70.  And yet this was the book that swept me up.  I started reading it on Sunday evening (admittedly skipping the first 30 pages that I basically know off by heart) and didn't want to put it down to go to sleep.  My lunch break on Monday was full of reading and I then spent almost the entire evening in the same way, thankfully finishing not too long after I had planned to go to sleep.

So after that great build up, what is the actual book?  The Iron Hand of Mars is the fourth book in the series about an investigator called Marcus Didius Falco, who lives in Rome.. in the year AD 71.  This particular story starts in Rome but travels across the empire to the hostile borders in Germany.  Helpfully a map is provided at the start of the book so you can easily translate the Roman names for areas into modern day countries.  A guide to characters is also provided at the start.  I find it more fun to read this afterwards as it reminds me of things that have happened in the book, but I'm sure it's a useful reference point if you spend more than two days reading it and forget who people are.

The plot revolves around an 'errand' for the Emperor and the dangers that Falco faces in trying to complete it.  As much as I enjoyed the story, that isn't what got me hooked/obsessed.  The world in which the plot is set take part of the credit for that.  I feel that I know very little about the Romans (other than the small trivia pieces you learn at school) and so I can't vouch for historical accuracy or inaccuracy, but this definitely feels real.  The little touches are put in about how the society operates and the references to historical events all go towards making a very believable setting.

But more believable than the world in which they are set are the characters themselves.  In a setting so famous as Roman times it would be very easy to fall into the trap of pigeon-holed, stereotypical, shallow characters.  These people are anything but that.  On the surface Falco seems to be entirely self-centred and carry no moral values.  Digging deeper though he sometimes cares a bit too much about other people and even the fate of the Empire.

The role of Camillus Justinus in the story was particularly engaging, a young soldier moving quickly through the ranks and trying to find out for himself what the boundaries should be.  And then there is his sister Helena Justinus, perhaps the most real character of them all.  She is strong-willed and sharp-witted, but somehow mild and caring at the same time.

Even better than the characters themselves are the relationships and conversations between them.  More than once while I was reading I burst out laughing at a quip that one of them had made (much to my husband's annoyance).  I've said before that good chemistry can make a book for me, and this was certainly the case here.

You may be wondering, with all that I've praised the book for, why I found it so hard to get started.  I think that it was a burn-out.  Previously I have tried to read the next book in the series as soon as I've finished one, and in each case I've stuttered at the start.  It's hard when you have fully immersed yourself in a world to step back and start from scratch.  So this time I will switch to a different book first before heading back to enjoy the world of Falco and Helena.

If you haven't encountered the series I would really recommend giving it a try.  The Silver Pigs is mostly a scene-setter for getting to know the characters, you should read Shadows in Bronze as well before judging if you like it or not.  In my opinion it is definitely worth it.

To finish, I feel I should mention that I know have a strong desire to go out and buy a good quality pottery serving dish.  It's amazing what a book can do to you.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Hogfather - Terry Pratchett

And now for something completely different!  I have slowly but surely been working my way through the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett for a while now, and this is where I'm up to.

Like all books in the series, Hogfather is set in the fantasy Discworld and doesn't take itself too seriously.  As is immediately obvious from the front cover, the main subject of parody in this book is Father Christmas and Christmas in general.  The main characters to be featured are Susan and Death, while many other Ankh-Morpork regulars such as the Wizards and the Watch also make appearances.

Susan is one of my favourite characters, because she has a constant battle between the 'family business' and trying to lead a 'normal' life.  The different perspectives she and her grandfather have on the world make for some interesting and amusing conversations.

The story focuses around Hogswatch and the problems it would cause if the Hogfather were to, er, 'disappear' on a permanent basis.  In the process it manages to poke fun at almost every part of the commercial side of Christmas, from the over-eating to the shops cashing in.  Bogeymen and Tooth Fairies get a lot of page-time too.

Did I enjoy it?  Yes of course.  I haven't yet read a Discworld book that I haven't enjoyed.  Several people remarked as I was reading the book that it was one of the better ones in the series.  Although it's not my favourite so far I really liked the concept of the story and the way it was played out.  And as I mentioned before, I love the chemistry between the characters.

The Discworld books are written such that you could pick up any of them to start reading, but you definitely get more out of the references made if you've read the earlier books.  In this case, knowing Susan's back story would be a big help to avoid confusion!

If you want some light-hearted relief, and enjoy looking at things in a different way, then I would absolutely recommend reading this book.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Fatherland - Robert Harris

When I finished my last book I had no idea what to read next, so I asked my husband to pick something for me from his collection.  I'd noticed a string of Robert Harris books before, so when he suggested one I took him up on it.  It seemed logical to start with the first one written, and so Fatherland it was.

Fatherland is based in Berlin in 1964, but not the Berlin you would read about in history books or might have experienced.  This is Germany with history re-written - how it might have looked if the Germans had won World War II.  The story is based around a police investigator and a murder that he finds himself investigating, and the consequences of the investigation push him further and further in over his head.

The first thing to say is that I found the concept fascinating.  I don't know much about Nazi Germany and this has left me wanting to find out more.  I also loved the idea of changing a few events in history and looking at the difference that would have made to the world.  As far as can be done, any references are based on fact (although clearly some changes had to be made).

I never really felt like I 'got into' the book.  I read it every day, including a bit at lunchtime when I was near the end, it just didn't grab me as much as other books have done.  Part of that was struggling to identify with the characters, one of my key draws in a book.  For some of the book I was definitely reading just to find out how it ended.

That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it though.  As I said, the concept really interested me and it is what made it different to all the other books I've read recently.  I also have to remember that I tend to read quite a limited range of books, so stepping outside my comfort zone will always be strange at first.  The real testament I suppose is that I will be trying some more of his books as the writing style was easy going and he clearly thinks about the setup of the books.

As to whether I'd recommend it to a friend, well it would depend on the friend.  I'd definitely suggest that they read it, I just might not commit to an opinion of my own.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Well of Ascension - Brandon Sanderson

This morning I finally finished reading The Well of Ascension.  I say finally because I started reading it near the start of December, and even for 753 pages that is a long time.  But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the book or find myself getting lost in its world.

The Well of Ascension is the second book in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy.  The fantasy world is based around the Final Empire, where evil has already won and where metals provide a source of magic for the privileged few.  The book starts a few months after the first one left off and quickly brings you up to speed on what has happened in between.  For those who can't remember what happened, there is a helpful summary of the first book at the back, as well as a glossary of the common terms used.

So why did it take me so long to read it?  Well to start with I got out of my reading habit in December.  With so much going on it seemed easier to just pick up a magazine than get lost in a different world.  But mostly I never gave it time to get going.  It took me a month to read part 1 of the book, and in the last week I've read the other 4.  Once you get drawn into the world you can't leave.

Part of the draw is the realism of the characters.  They may be heroes but they are people too, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  Anyone reading the book would find themselves drawn to different characters and different traits.  Although the story is based around Vin, there are many more people that play valuable parts and can be seen to develop as they face different situations.  One of my personal favourites is Breeze for the way that he works at soothing emotions far more than the rest of the crew give him credit.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes definitely.  Of course I would recommend reading The Final Empire first (unless you enjoy getting horribly confused!)  And yes I am looking forward to reading The Hero of Ages.  But I think I'll read another book first, so that when I take the time to re-enter the world of the Final Empire I can enjoy being drawn in all over again.