Books books books

 

So I was in Waterstone’s today, as I so frequently am, and I couldn’t help but purchase some books. It’s my weakness- clothes and shoes I can easily resist but books? It’s not possible.

 

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On the Road by Jack Kerouac

This book has been on my to-read list for months and when I saw it was on offer I jumped at the chance. Besides, the film’s coming out soon and I have to read the book before I see it! On the Road is the story of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriaty set in the 1950s and is a modern classic. I’ve heard only good reviews of this book and I love novels which explore elements of American society at different periods. 

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The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

I’ve heard brilliant reviews of this book, plus it’s won the Sunday Times book of the year award, so it seemed like a good choice. Plus the plot sounds intriguing- a mysterious and educated poet is brought into the home and the family’s lives are changed forever. It’s described as ‘seductive’ and ‘elegant’ and I can’t wait to read it!

Have YOU read either On the Road or The Stranger’s Child? What did you think? Please let me know!

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

This book may not be your standard holiday read, but I’m a lover of 19th century fiction, in particular the Gothic. Although Oscar Wilde’s only novel needs no introduction, for those of you who don’t know it, it’s the tale of a young man who wishes that his portrait will age instead of himself. The portrait bears the signs of Gray’s sins as he becomes increasingly corrupted- visiting opium dens, deflowering young women and eventually committing a murder- whilst Gray himself does not age.

This novel is beautifully written, in a highly descriptive and sophisticated style that plunges you into the opulent world of upper class Victorian life. Wilde’s rich descriptions had me hooked from the very first page and caused me to fall in love almost immediately with this book. What I dislike, however, is some of Lord Henry’s babbling. I appreciate his hedonistic character and find him charming, but I eventually grew sick of his constant epigrams- even Dorian himself notes “you would sacrifice anybody, Harry, for the sake of an epigram”.

The plot is also wonderful; although today we are accustomed to this idea of a young man trading places with his portrait, this was a new idea at the time of the novel’s writing. I loved the idea that all of Gray’s corruptions were displayed on a canvas but what I found even more brilliant was Wilde’s acknowledgement that Gray’s attempts at redemption were really just acts of vanity, because he could no longer bear his hideous portrait. I feel that this is present in all of us in some form; when we do a good deed, how often are we thinking of the good we are bringing to another person and how often are we seeking to confirm ourselves as “good”? Back in the 19th century people often tried to lead a pure life to avoid going to hell, rather than for the sake of morality and I think Wilde picks up on this as his protagonist makes petty attempts at atonement. I say “petty”, however, because Gray still refuses to own up for his crime. He does not even feel a great deal of remorse for murdering his friend, later dismissing it as “small”. His sympathies lie with himself and he becomes a twisted version of the great Romantic hero; like Victor Frankenstein, he has boundless sorrow for himself but thinks little of the hurt he has caused others.

I rejoiced in the sheer darkness of this novel; I liked how that rather than striving to be virtuous, the character of Gray did exactly the opposite and corrupted himself. I also enjoyed reading about the hedonistic, reckless lives of the upper classes; it was almost like a 19th century escapist novel! However, there is one point at which the plot hits a snag. The chapter in which Wilde describes Gray’s pursuits over nine years, whilst beautifully written, as always, took me longer to read than the rest of the book put together! It picked right up again straight after but for some reason, perhaps the sheer lack of action and volume of description, I found this chapter was a real struggle.

To conclude, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a perfect read for anyone who loves 19th century fiction! If ‘chick lit’ is more your thing then I wouldn’t recommend this novel, but I enjoyed it hugely- in fact, I’d say it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Wilde is a genius and a natural born writer if ever I stumbled across one.

Have YOU read The Picture of Dorian Gray? What did you think? I’d love to know, so please leave a comment!

“Ah! this morning! You have lived since then.” – Lord Henry

Size 14 Is Not Fat Either

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Size 14 Is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot

Now this is a perfect holiday read! Heather Wells, residence hall worker and part-time sleuth is back for a second instalment (the first being Size 12 Is Not Fat) in which she has gained weight (hence the title), is trying to build bridges with her estranged father, still hasn’t managed to make Cooper (oh Cooper!) fall for her and finds herself investigating another, darker murder. To top it all off, she’s going to have to take a maths course before they let her enrol at the university.

The novel is written in Cabot’s usual, bubbly, girly, easy-to-read style. This time, Heather is less outraged with the branding of the ‘average American woman’ as ‘fat’ and is more annoyed that everyone keeps telling her to keep her nose out of the latest grisly murder in the Death Dorm, because there’s no way she wants to go after someone who likes decapitating cheerleaders, but she finds that she can’t help herself. The crime in this novel is much darker and requires even more bravery on Heather’s part; she walks in on a grisly stabbing and eventually uncovers a very dark and dangerous fraternity circle. This time, too, the killer is not someone who Heather knows at the start of the book, which removed some of the fun, I felt, but it was probably just as well- how many killers can the staff of one dormitory (sorry Heather, I mean residence hall) have?

As well as the crime, there is also some romance. At times I thought that Cooper liked Heather but at other times I almost wanted her to get back with her shallow but loveable ex, Jordan, who skis across New York during a snow storm to see her (even if he is drunk when he does it). Heather also manages to attract the attention of a college student, who she promises she’ll go on a date with in two years’ time, once he’s graduated.

What really makes this book, however, is the loveable protagonist. Even when everyone asks her to keep her nose out and laughs at her, she is undeterred. She is brave, kind-hearted and funny, even if she does have an overly large soft spot for dove bars (or galaxy bars, as they’re called in the good ol’ UK). The introduction of her father also made for some comic moments- especially when Heather walks in on him doing the downward facing dog!

Whilst Size 14 Is Not Far Either isn’t going to be winning the Pulitzer Prize anytime soon, it’s a great holiday read, perfect for taking your mind off of the discomfort of sun beds! I read it in a day as it’s so easy to read and it was a welcome refreshment after reading The Poisonwood Bible, I can tell you!

Have YOU read any of the Heather Wells mysteries? Please let me know in a comment!

The Poisonwood Bible

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This book was recommended to me by my English teacher, to further my knowledge of postcolonial literature and is one of the novels I read whilst on holiday. It took me a few days as it’s almost six hundred pages long and not always the easiest of reads, but nevertheless it’s a very interesting book.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story of the Price family who go to the Congo as missionaries in the year 1959. Even without the problems provided by their mission, the family has it’s problems. The father, Nathan, is a misogynistic evangelical Baptist minister who seems incapable of affection and his long-suffering wife, Orleanna, feels she is no longer needed by most of her children. The eldest daughter, Rachel, is horribly shallow and prizes her mirror above all else. The twins, Adah and Leah, aren’t exactly close- Leah is prone to dogmatism whilst Adah is highly cynical, especially with regards to religion. There is also a lot of guilt and resentment between them, since Adah is hemiplegic and mostly refuses to talk. Leah also idolizes her father and receives very little affection in return; only scorn from her sisters. As for the youngest, Ruth May, she is Orleanna’s favourite and when Orleanna chooses to save her over Adah, Adah’s relationship with her mother is thrown into doubt. Yet what family is perfect? This is one of the things I liked best about the novel; it captured the fractures and imperfections of this family in a very realistic manner- I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Prices were based on a real family.

At the centre of the Price family, at least at first, is Christianity. At the start of the book it is their crux, but by the end all of them have questioned their faith, except for Nathan and it seems that his unwillingness to do so is his downfall. He thinks that what works for America will work for the Congo too and that he can just enforce his views on a society. Nathan seems to see the world in black and white, but the Congo is a grey area. What we see as a problem, such as child mortality, might be seen differently in another part of the world. This was my favourite part of the book; it stressed the importance of understanding and respecting other cultures, rather trying to change them and seeing your own culture as “right” and every other culture as “wrong”.

Whilst this book is a fantastic achievement and very skillfully written, it didn’t quite grip me somehow. It’s very slow moving at first and there are many chapters in which not a lot happens, but I suppose that reflects everyday life- every day is not an adventure, even in the Congo. The book focuses instead on the gradual change of the Price family and this adds a touch of credibility.

Whilst this is an incredibly well-written book, for me it just wasn’t overly enjoyable. It was certainly thought provoking and I can’t deny that it took a very talented writer to produce it, but I don’t think I’d read it again.

Have YOU read The Poisonwood Bible? What did you think? Please let me know!

Hide and Seek…

Hide and Seek (a Lying Game novel) by Sara Shepard

I got into the Lying Game series around a year ago, since I’m a big fan of the Pretty Little Liars television series. It’s trashy on one level but also a great mystery on the other- you can just tell that some really messed-up truths are lurking behind Sutton Mercer’s perfect façade of lies. Although it’s very hard to guess exactly what’s been going on (this book certainly contains a revelation that I didn’t expect), there’s one person who was obviously involved in Sutton’s murder.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN. It’s the perfect crime. He obviously would have known the alarm code in his own home and been able to navigate it in the dark and Emma saw him on her first day in Tucson, when he was supposed to be in Tokyo. Plus, he’s friends with Sutton’s father, which means that something could have happened- perhaps Sutton found out something about Mr. C that he didn’t want her to know- his daughter seems to think he’s having an affair. However, Mr. Chamberlain was surprised and even unnerved to see “Sutton” when Emma first meets him, whereas if he had been the killer he wouldn’t have reacted like this, because he would have been the one who lured her to Tucson in the first place. It doesn’t all quite add up, but Mr. C definitely has something to hide. Plus, this is the way in which Shepard writes- it’s always a shocker. I managed to guess who ‘A’ was in Pretty Little Liars fairly early on, just because I figured it would be the least obvious person- and Mr. C only gets a couple of mentions in every book; not often enough to make him a prime suspect, but frequently enough to lay a few clues. I also think Ethan might possibly have something to do with it- but that may just be me being paranoid?

Sleuthing aside, this is a great continuation of a gripping series. I would say it’s definitely aimed at teenage girls but that doesn’t mean that any mystery fan can’t enjoy it!

Have YOU read any of The Lying Game novels? What did you think? Who do you think the killer is? How long before it is revealed? Please let me know!

“I haven’t felt this ostracised since I was the skinniest girl at fat camp.” – Charlotte Chamberlain

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green

I bought this book a couple of weeks ago from Waterstone’s and I’m pretty sure I posted about it. It recounts the tale of Budo, the imaginary friend of an autistic boy named Max- although Max is never actually labelled as ‘autistic’, which I liked. When Max is abducted by his teacher, Mrs. Patterson, Budo is the only one who can help him, but in doing so is threatening his own existence, as Budo knows that if Max escapes he will eventually stop needing Budo, and Budo will disappear.

As one would expect of a book about imaginary friends, this novel is both imaginative and refreshing. Green has clearly put a lot of thought into the world of imaginary friends; Budo notes that a lot of imaginary friends are missing ears, because children don’t tend to put a lot of thought into ears when they are imagining friends for themselves. This is very clever on Green’s part, because when you think about it, you don’t think of every anatomical detail when imagining someone. Imaginary friends are also a variety of shapes and sizes; there are puppies, fairies, spoons and even a giant. Green explores the powers of imagination and also the power of imaginary friends to help children (and adults, in the case of Oswald)- for example, Budo helps Max open jars by telling him “lefty loosey, righty tight” and aids him in making decisions, even the smallest of which are difficult for Max. However, imaginary friends also have lives of their own. They aren’t imaginary as such- they are created, but not controlled by their human friends, and therefore have free will. Budo enjoys visiting the gas station at night, when Max is in bed, for example. It is clear that Green put a lot of thought into the imaginary world before putting pen to paper.

Not only was the concept of the novel original, it also allowed him to provide a fresh perspective on the world. Budo is, to everyone expect Max, an unknown observer. He is outside of normative society and this allows him an unbiased view on life. For example, Budo notes how unfair it seems that although Max’s dad works a lot harder than Max’s mum, because Max’s mum works in an office and makes more money everyone thinks that her job is more respectable. This was something I’d never really considered before but it certainly got me thinking.

However, I do have one small criticism. Whilst I like the fact that Green has considered how imaginary friends travel- some can get through doors or even walls whilst others can’t- after a while this began to feel like padding. Budo was almost constantly getting stuck because he couldn’t get in the car on time or he forgot to remind another imaginary friend- who couldn’t pass through doors- to get out of the car. At first I thought it was a realistic touch but after a while it just began to feel like padding.

All in all, however, this is a great and original book that won’t take you long to read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d definitely recommend it, especially perhaps as a holiday book- you could read it all in one go whilst lounging on a sun bed!

Have YOU read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend? What did you think? Please let me know!

Long time no see!

Sorry for my absence lately. What with a shocking (and I do mean shocking) internet connection, driving tests (I passed, yay!) and a holiday to boot I haven’t had much time to blog, plus it’s been made pretty much impossible because living in a village doesn’t guarantee you the best wifi connection. All that aside, I have been reading during my absence, so during the next couple of days I’ll be posting about the books I have encountered during my absence…