Thursday, 19 April 2007

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

So, yes, I'm in a bit of an accidental Austen phase at the moment. But I have my next book lined up and it isn't Austen...
Years ago when studying Mansfield Park for A Level (and hating it) a friend (who hated it even more) said that Northanger Abbey was brilliant, pretty different to the rest and way worth a read.
So I finally got round to it. And indeed it was great! So funny and ridiculous and silly! It does often take me a while to notice when Austen is being funny (I really didn't get P&P the first time I tried to read it aged about 12) but this is so tongue in cheek and ridiculous that even my stupidity couldn't miss it.
It was a little slow going in places and I haven't been entirely gripped - for not the longest book in the world and having taken it on holiday and so on it still took me around three weeks to actually get it finished...but definitely an enjoyable jaunt.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

A few weeks ago, I went to the library to find a comfort read. Thinking I might fancy Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility, I did a search on the computer and found they were all out for the next few weeks. But I thought I'd go and check the Austen shelf, just in case. The only thing there was Lady Susan. Which I'd never heard of before but thought "why not?"
Lady Susan was never published in Jane's lifetime and was found some years later in complete manuscript form in the papers she'd passed on to a relative (niece? maybe?). It has only been published a few times and keeps (in this edition) all the original language uses and spellings. Which I found really intesting. Mostly things like words e before i. And there were z's in places I'd expect an s and other such things.
So besides that interest, was it good? The book takes the form of letters between various of the characters. Lady Susan is awful. Conniving, nasty, "loose"...more conniving than Miss Bingley, and far more "loose" than Mary Crawford. She sucks men in and spits them out as it suits her - and always has a tale to explain away any bad gossip that may circulate about her.
By virtue of the letter format, you are left in no doubt of her two faced behaviour and so on as she candidly reports her true feelings to her best friend (who is later forbidden from ever communicating with her again by her husband).
The book is very easy reading, with some of the letters nice and easily short for reading in doctors waiting rooms/on the bus/while eating breakfast. I enjoyed it very much, though at least a third of that enjoyment was from the language interests. Lady Susan doesn't quite get the comeuppance at the end, but it is a happy ending for all other characters you've come attached too.
I'd recommend it if you saw it but perhaps not to the extent to hunt it down mercilessly!

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer

This is the fifth in the Artemis Fowl series. I was set on to Artemis Fowl when the first book came out by the same person who sent me The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I am very grateful to her. :) They are more aimed at children than perhaps the Harry Potter books but are lots of fun. They can be frustrating at times as the start of the book tends to do a lot of recapping of the previous book. However, it is long enough since I read AF and the Opal Deception that I didn't really notice the recapping so much, it was obviously useful.
I was very slightly disappointed with the book though. Not a big disappointment by any means, just the kind of disappointment that comes when your favourite characters aren't in the story enough. For those that have read the books, Foaly and Mulch just aren't in this enough (particularly Foaly).
I'm also concerned that Artemis is going a bit too soft. (He used to be really quite nasty - criminal mastermind genius boy - but has been getting nicer over time. Which is all well and good but now he needs some really nasty opponents and he didn't quite get one in this book.)
Still, these are relatively small complaints. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it (particularly as I had been struggling for a while before that with a book I was not enjoying so much - I will attempt to finish it one day - and it was nice to just read something so fun) and will of course read any further installments.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

The Kingdom of the Golden Dragon by Isabel Allende

Having finished this while on holiday, it has taken me a while to get round to blogging it...
Kingdom of the Golden Dragon is the second in a trilogy for early teens. Having read the first, The City of Beasts, a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was glad to find this in the library after a few searches.
Unfortunately, it didn't live up to expectation. It wasn't a bad book but no where near as good as I remember the first one (this of course may be memory, anticipation etc etc building it up too much but...). It is still a fun romp of the vaguely fantastical sort though. It just suffers from being a little too cheesy as much as anything. And from trying to be accesible for people who haven't read the first one which is always a problem. You are constantly being reminded how Alex was renamed "Jaguar" and how Nadia knows how to "talk with her heart". It gets a little tedious.
I don't really have all that much to say about it. It wasn't a bad book, it was enjoyable in places but left me a bit bland and disappointed. Hey ho.
I just have to decide whether to read the third one now...

Thursday, 25 January 2007

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

Another recommendation and acquired at the library...
Interesting read as it is set in New Jersey not tooooo far from where I spent four years of my childhood. So there were things that rang true and brought up lots of memories (like references to being the sewer of New York and general pollution issues...) but there were many things that were just a long way outside a 5-9 year old's experience!
A fast, light sort of read. Very interesting characterisation. I'd like to read something by Janet Evanovich that wasn't part of this series to work out just how good she is at creating these characters - particularly the narrator, Stephanie Plum. The language and grammar used so much built up her character and set the whole tone. But if that is just the way Evanovich speaks/writes then it is less interesting!!
Bits of the book were NASTY (rape and mutilation). They were over fairly quickly but left enough hanging that it was icky for rather longer.
Some gentle humour on the way through. For the general humour mixed with detective work type element, it was clearly not a patch on Thursday Next but that isn't really an insult to Ms Evanovich, just the continuing haven't-found-anything-to-compare-so-happy-Thursday-is-coming-back-this-year thing...
I expect I will read the rest of the series over time, I'm assured this is actually the nastiest of the series so far so I'm looking forward to more comedy moments in the next few!

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

I've just finished this (within the last ten minutes) and desparately need to talk to someone who has read it!
It is a excellent book. But I can't really say much about it. This is part of what it says on the sleeve: The story of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about a book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about.
I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and thus for fear of ruining the book for anyone, do not want to say anything about it. However, I recommend it to (almost) anyone. There is one other clue on the sleeve which indicates that it is not necessarily a fluffy book. This is true, but it is still an excellent book. I suggest if you do intend to read it, ensure that you have someone else around who has either read it or will read it very quickly after you so you can talk about it.
I will be keeping my eyes open for other books by this chap. (And am now going to email the person who gave it to me so that I can talk about it!)

Friday, 12 January 2007

Mother, Missing by Joyce Carol Oates

Where to start? Well, I launched into this book with great gusto, relieved to be reading something that came as highly recommended after my few recent unsatisfactory reads.
I was involved in the characters immediately and I think that is the key to this book - the narrator is excellently portrayed - you aren't always sure you like her, she doesn't always write "well" but you are drawn to her, not to her story necessarily. So I read LOTS in the first few days of reading it and am vaguely surprised now to find that it took me almost two weeks to finish it, perhaps I became a little less involved - towards the end I did get a little less interested but not in a drastic way. I did also notice a couple of editorial errors that I can still remember now - often I notice errors but by the end of the book no longer know what they were. Perhaps because I knew I'd be writing this, I remembered or perhaps it is an indication that I wasn't so involved in the story itself. I suspect if that latter was the case, it was through self preservation. The book follows the first year of a woman's life as she copes with the untimely death of her mother. And if there is anything that REALLY scares me in the world, it is the thought of one of my parents (or my husband) dying. (Having never experienced someone very close to me dying, only my dog.) So I may have distanced myself a little.
A couple of really interesting elements to the book (without saying too much as I wouldn't want to spoil) are...
The book feels like it covers a bigger time span than one year. Although vague timings are always put on things, you do feel the sense of the slowness of time that comes when you are sad and when you are waiting for something big to happen. The book did not drag. But I was amazed when reaching the end to realise it really had covered just one year.
The other thing was, as mentioned above, the narration style. The narrator is a journalist and so much of the time "writes well". However, at points of particular sadness or particularly strong emotions, especially around memories, the writer slips into childish styles, email style communication (not going quite as far as text speak!) which creates a really interesting effect of bringing you closer to the character.
So a good book and I imagine I will read quite a bit more of her's in future.