Thursday, 27 March 2014

Top 5 Wednesday: Recommendation to new readers

This Wednesday we are to list 5 books which we would recommend to new readers. As you may know, I mainly read classics, so don't be surprised if a lot of classics end up on here. So here we go:

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is 15 and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about Maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour's dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down." 
This is a really easy read, but so impressive and so well written. It's only around 270 pages, and I guarantee you will flip through it within a few days, even if you barely ever read. It's written from a kid's perspective, which of course makes it all a lot easier, and there are a lot of pictures in it.

2. The Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum 
I'm just going to assume you all know what this is about. I believe it's one of the children's classics everybody should have read at least once in their lifetime. We all know many adaptations of it, and I think it's important to know the source behind those. As I said, it's children's lit, and it's under 150 pages, so it's no real effort at all.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
"A lawyer's advice to his cihldren as he defends the real mockingbird of this enchanting classic - a black man charged wit hthe rape of a white girl." 
This is my favourite book of all time. I think this was the first (modern) classic I ever read and I was so impressed by it. The way it is written takes some getting used to, but once you're used, you won't be able to put the book down.

4. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
"Orphaned into cold charity at the hands of her rich cousins and, later, at Lowood School, Jane escapes to take up a position as governess to the young ward of Mr Rochester."
This novel is a beautiful introduction to Victorian Literature. It's one of the less depressing ones which makes it a good start. It's a must-read and a real treat.

5. The Time Travellers Wife - Audrey Niffenegger 
This basically tells the story of a couple of whom the man is a time traveller. One of my favourite love stories of all time and my favourite post 2000 novel. Go read it.

Now let's go back to writing this essay I'm supposed to.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Top 5 Wednesday: Sequels

It's Wednesday again, so it's time for another Top 5 Wednesday, and this week the topic is Sequels. Now, I have a confession to make: I hardly ever read series. Therefore, it will not be a top 5 - I think I only ever (not counting children's books) read four series, and of these, I will discuss the 'sequel' I liked best.

1. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
As said before, I don't read a lot of series, but BOY do I love this one. I think Catching Fire is my favourite one when picking from book 2 or 3, but Mockingjay is pretty awesome too. 

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling
Another confession. I've only read the first three Harry Potter books. When I was little I was forced to read the first one, and therefore didn't like it. About a year ago, I started reading the books, and read the first three in a month. I didn't continue although I did love the series. The third one was the best. 

3. City of Glass - Cassandra Clare
When this book just came out (5 years ago), I still read more young adult fantasy, and I loved the Mortal Instruments series. Now I don't really anymore, but as I sort of 'grew up' reading them, I think they should be listed. 

4. Clockwork Prince - Cassandra Clare
I am not even sure whether I've fully read this one, but I felt like I couldn't leave this series out, because I liked it, especially the first one, better than the MI series - probably mostly because I had grown a little bit older since I first started reading it. I felt this series was more adult, and I also loved the literary references. 

I am very sorry if it's going to take a while before the next review is up. I am currently reading Moby Dick and it's taking a long time, although so far I am rather enjoying it. 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Review: Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Title: Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Author: Thomas Hardy
Pages: 350
My Rating: 4/5 stars

After having been 'forced' by uni to read quite some novels, lately I have finally been having time to read some for leisure. As I missed reading real British classics, (having followed one course on American literature, and another on detectives) I chose to pick up Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which is set in Victorian England.
       I had read a synopsis which said something along the lines of: "Young Tess Durbeyfield finds out she is actually a descendant of a rich family and sets out on a journey to find her true heritage". Although I had been warned this would be an incredibly depressing novel, this blurb sounded more like an adventure story. What could go wrong on her quest? Perhaps some love-issues, I thought. And so I started reading.
       In a sense, I was right. Most of the severe dramatic occurrences had to do with romance. However, usually I experience these tragic elements in books or films much differently as I tend to get bored with the characters and tell them to suck it up; there are worse things in life. I think it was due to Hardy's writing style that I did not feel this way when reading this novel. The dialogues are especially beautifully written and you can truly feel the emotions which felt with each sentence, or word even. When I had lost track of where the story was headed (which happened quite often too, because to me Hardy's way of describing events is a bit more difficult to follow), a conversation would suck me right back in.
     Conversation is also the vehicle which Hardy uses to give depth to the characters. He does not really describe the personalities, he rather lets them speak for themselves. As a reader you get to judge for yourself whether you like them. Hardy's point of view is entirely left out. Of course, by discussing matters as he does, his footprint is definitely perceptible, and for his time, I found him very open and perhaps even feminist. This is not the only way he distinguishes himself from other authors: at the time the novel was published, he received great critiques concerning his disdain towards religion.
    Although reading the story only superficially will already give you great insights into the Victorian time period - especially in terms of inequality of gender - looking at it in greater depth will offer you many different symbolic ways of looking at things (I will talk about this in more detail in the spoiler section of this entry).
    I do not want to spoil too much for those who have not yet read this book, and therefore the 'review' part will stop here. So please, do not be put off by the depressing nature of the story: it has so many beautiful things to offer. I've never enjoyed such depressing events more.
For your own sake, if you ever plan on reading the novel, do not read further than this. 

This novel is full of symbols, themes and motives, but most of them are rather 'in plain sight'. We can all see that Hardy addresses the inferiority of women, and although he does not really speak his mind, when Angel does not forgive Tess for having intercourse with another man before him, while he did exactly the same thing, we readers cannot help but feel angry towards the man. Some themes, however, are not visible to the bare eye and requires the reader to do some dissecting.
       One could claim the novel is a critique on society as a whole. The main characters, Tess, Alec and Angel would symbolise groups in society - the lower class, the higher class, and the intellectuals. The lower class is suppressed by the other two, although the higher, non-brainy class, is slowly being taken over by the lower as they are starting to develop. The fact that Tess, in the end, does not succeed taking over Alec completely because she is arrested, indicates this change of class is only set in motion but not yet completely perfectly executed.  This idea of class change is all throughout the novel, of course, as it already started out with the Durbeyfields 'upgrading' to D'Urbervilles. Tess' father even insists on people calling him Sir from that moment onward. This could symbolise people no longer just accepting the role society gives them - they want to make name for themselves (although that is highly arguable in the case of the Durbeyfields as they are still using a family name to gain respect).
     As I mentioned before, the best parts of the novel, to me, were the conversations. The way in which Hardy expresses the characters' feelings in the conversation is just wow. I don't think I've ever felt so moved by something as simple as love problems. The parts in which there were no conversation were to me often quite confusing, and Hardy probably did so on purpose. When Alec takes advantage of Tess, we never really get to know whether we could actually call this rape or not. While Tess appears very passive in the beginning, this is not the case, she is constantly making decisions,  and although they are not always, in fact hardly ever, the right ones, at least she decides for herself. That is why I find it really hard to believe that Tess did truly not object to Alec's advances. As the chapter is so unclear, and actually most of the details are left out, I find it extremely difficult to judge what happened. If in fact Tess did consent to the intercourse, the novel suddenly turns a lot less dramatic. That is why I like to believe that she was raped - otherwise I may get the 'get over it' feeling again.
     The final chapter is the most beautiful chapter of the novel, even though it does not contain any speaking at all. It is the only moment in the novel when something happy happens which cannot be ruined anymore as it is the last sentence. Even though Tess is pronounced dead in this scene, it indicates a prosperous future: there was never any hope for Tess to succeed in life, but there is for the younger generation - a bettered version of herself, namely her little sister 'Liza-Lu.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Pages: 352
My Rating: 3.75 / 5 stars

Before I got the chance of reading it, I did my best not to read any spoilers or even synopses, which I often do because I like reading a book without knowing anything about it. 

Firstly, the story was, to me, very original, but then you should know that I hardly ever read YA fantasy or the like. However, it took me a while to get hooked, and it was not until halfway through the novel that I started feeling it may be worth more than 3 stars. It then did become very exciting and especially the last 100 pages were terrific. 

What usually bothers me when I read YA, usually fantasy, is the writing style, as it is usually very simplistic to the point of annoying. Although the way in which this novel is written is by no means special either, it just feels like an easy read, and the style did not bother me at any point. 

I am not sure about the use of the pictures in the book. Although they are beautiful and often haunting, and in a way adding to the story, I also feel that they limit your own interpretations and fantasies. 

When starting to read this book, do not expect it to be scary or creepy at all. This was also said to me before I read and because I at first had that thought this made it less of a bummer that it was not. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Top 5 Wednesday: Book Parents

Before starting, I want to state two things: one, I don't read as many YA fantasy novels as most people who do these top 5 Wednesdays, and so parents often do not feature in books I read, so it was a tough challenge for me. Two, they are in no particular order.

1. August and her sisters from The Secret Life of Bees
Obviously, they are not real parents, but in a sense, guardians. They are so sweet to Lily as well as Rosaleen, and I thought they deserved a place in  here. 

2. Earl from Gideon's Gift
Again, although there are parents in this novel, I chose the non-parent. All characters are so sweet in this little book, but I chose Earl because having him as a father would be a treat. He's so lovely and caring. 

3. August's parents from Wonder
The way the parents really want the best for their boy is very admiring. Although sometimes the decisions are tough, you can really see they are truly  good parents. 

4. Thomas Schell from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Although at no point in the novel he is alive, the recollections of Oskar's father make him sound like a magnificent dad. The way he tries to help his son tackle his shyness by setting out scavenger hunts is adorable. 

5. Jack's mother in Room 
For the way in which they have to live their life, Jack and his mother are a lovely little family and I think she has brought up her son in the best way possible - for them, that is.