Tuesday, 31 January 2012

One for the money

Patricia is guest-blogging

Last weekend the latest Katherine Heigl movie opened in American cinemas. 'One for the money' is based on the first book focusing on the misadventures of Stephanie Plum a female bounty hunter by Janet Evanovich. Eighteen books have been published in this popular series so far.In 'One for the money' Stephanie has divorced her cheating husband and has been laid off from her job as a lingerie buyer. She has no income and when faced with the prospect of moving back in with her parents she takes a job with her cousin Vinnie who owns a bail bond office. She applies for a post as a clerk but when she finds that the position has already been filled she becomes an 'apprehension agent'. Her first job is to find Joe Morelli, a vice cop suspected of murder, with whom she has a 'history' and is the local bad boy. Stephanie has no clue how to find and apprehend him and stumbles from one hilarious situation to another but through sheer luck and determination she 'gets her man'. She is surrounded by a series of colourful characters which include her matchmaking mother, gun crazy grandmother, a fellow bounty hunter named Ranger.

The books are written in the first person and Stephanie's view on life, her family and friends are very honest and often laugh out funny :

'There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me – not forever, but periodically'.

'Two years ago, when Grandpa Mazar's fat-clogged arteries sent him to the big pork roast in the sky, Grandma Mazur had moved in with my parents and had never moved out. My father accepted this with a combination of Old-World stoicism and tactless mutterings.'

I have to admit that I read the first three books of the series in a row : 'One for the money', 'Two for the dough' and 'Three to get deadly' but by the third book I was tired of the uniformity of the books. This does not often happen to me since when I find an author or series of books I like, I tend to devour every single book I can get my hands on. I am not saying that the books are bad or not well written, I just found that they have to be read in dollops and I intend to go back to this series every once in while.

Now to get back to the movie. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the movie since a number of people have said that Katherine Heigl was not who they imagined playing Stephanie Plum and Joe Morelli has been changed from an Italian American to an Irish American as he is being played by Jason O'Mara (from the US version of Life on Mars and Terra Nova). Daniel Sunjata has been cast as Ranger and viewers of Grey's Anatomy will recognise him as the good looking nurse who catches a certain doctor's eye and I predict that he will be 'one to watch'. I have seen the trailer of the movie and despite the controversies mentioned above it seems to be quite faithful to the book. The reviews of the movie have not been flattering but I will definitely be watching it to see how it compares to the book and to see the great Debbie Reynolds as Grandma Mazar.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Major challenge ahead

This year, I'm undertaking the major challenge of reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  I've had my copy for too many years, afraid to actually open it and flip through its pages, lest I lose courage... But then, I was determined:  I had to read it!  Thankfully, there are many bloggers out there providing very useful tips as to how to conquer such a beast, and I will be following the War and Peace readalong, hosted by a Room of one's own, one chapter a day...  Given that there are apparently 365 chapters, this would mean an epic exercise of one whole year...  
My 1949 treasured copy

I fully agree with Margaret from
Where I'm supposed to be:

"...I acknowledged (that) War and 
Peace takes discipline to begin, 
unlike murder mysteries, but, 
once begun, offers refreshment 
and stimulation and a sense of--
"wow, I did it.""

The initial intention is 2 chapters per day during the week, and 3 during the weekend -- almost 6 months of continuous reading!
Wish me luck!!!

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Great Gatsby - the end

Yes, it's over.
I'm through reading the Great Gatsby and I'm at a loss.  Why? WHY?
Why does such a wonderful story have to end in such an abrupt manner?

In this part, Gatsby receives his last analysis of character.  We see him when he's first introduced to Daisy and her world.  He's gobsmacked with this new feeling of "breathless intensity" and "the ripe mystery" that surrounds Daisy's world.  Daisy is also a hot ticket, with many admirers around her.  Gatsby wants to be part of this world and "own" Daisy, and hence his road to accomplishments.

Compared to the previous parts, this one contains the final highlights to a tragic story.  Here we get to see the utmost betrayal of a human to another human:  Tom and Daisy vs. Gatsby:  

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."  

The story of the accident and the subsequent havoc is described very fast (I suppose this is how fast it happens), so much so that I actually had to go back and re-read the part, because I had the feeling I had missed something.  But no, it's over in less than a page...

I feel sad.  Even though the portrait of Gatsby has many flaws, I felt there is genuine wish on his part to improve.  For whatever reason, I'm not sure, but he - at least - is the one character retaining his integrity throughout the book.  He doesn't adapt according to wishes or needs, he doesn't change according to society's whims.  After the accident, I began reviewing all the previous parts, in a new light now.  How superficial society can be! Top actors certainly are Tom and Daisy, but even Jordan now seems a colourless and tasteless creature.  One minor character is introduced in this last part, Gatsby's dad, a nice, charming old man.  And here we learn that Gatsby was actually financing his dad's life.  Even though he refused to adopt his parents' credo for a simple life, did he perhaps see the beauty and realism of it?  Or perhaps he realised how futile his obsession with the "fake" past was?  the past that in the end came back to claim his life...

All in all, an excellent piece of in-depth literature that I would recommend to everyone - great topic for a read-a-long, chosen by Wallace at http://unputdownables.net/


I waited patiently until I had finished the book to re-watch the original Gatsby movie with Redford and Farrow.  How great this movie is - what great performances at just the right dose each!  I cannot imagine how the remake will try to live up to these standards... I suppose I will watch it at some point, but I can't honestly say whether I'll ever choose Di Caprio over Redford...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A mid-summer night's dream read-a-long

An interesting readalong on the net is Reading Shakespeare - a play a month... an ingenious idea and within a time frame that is feasible even for someone with a überfull-time job like myself... My solution to separating the readalongs with the challenge and book club reading, is to dedicate my weekends to the readalongs, and to read all other books over the week (I am organised, if nothing else...)

A mid-summer night's dream is a well-known fairy tale of love, betrayal and tricks... all the right ingredients for a havoc made in fairyland...

Shakespeare starts off with the main cause of distress in Athens: a strange love-triangle, with Hermia loving Lysander but being loved by Demetrius, who shuns Helena, who's in love with Demetrius... Oufff! Already the complications show the way to how the story proceeds... I find it weird that Demetrius would insist on marrying Hermia who doen’t love him, or the Helena would be so infatuated with Demetrius (but then again I am a present-day cynic…). The only couple that seems closer to today's standards is Hermia and Lysander, but there, as well:

"The course of true love never did run smooth"

Why the use of magic and fantasy in this play? I believe that the fantasy world is the only chance we get to find and express our true feelings, our gateway from the “real” world, with all its boundaries and insecurities – then but even more so now. 

Shakespeare also uses quotes to reach the desired effect: Egeus talks about his daughter Hermia “As she is mine I may dispose of her” (grrr…) but even Theseus, the duke, telling her “To you your father should be as a god” (double grrr…) – of course I was laughing while reading these quotes, but nevertheless they made me wonder how much this exaggeration could highlight the difficulties people faced (and face) when not following the "accepted" road (in love, but also in other matters). 

An on to the world of fairies. I found Act II especially poetic (I suppose it fits perfectly with the fairy world) and I thoroughly enjoyed the reference to Cupid and I suppose Elisabeth?? Because if it is indeed Queen Elisabeth, I can understand the reference made by Hermia to Lysander to keep a distance… 

Various misunderstandings happen, and affections change among the different couples - in real life this would be considered a serious matter, but in the play it's described in a merry and lighthearted manner. This made me wonder whether the play is about love at all: if I compare it to Romeo & Juliet (an exaggerated example, I agree) I cannot see the same depth of character or use of language. I start to think whether this play is not  a slight mockery of what people do for (or because) of love (with the help of Puck!). 

What is beautiful about Shakespeare's plays is, of course, the language.  If someone else took these same elements of the story and tried to present it to me, I would not be amused...  But, here, every flower brings a note of something in the story, every time Puck speaks, I feel like wandering off to the woods... Those who have watched stage productions get a different glimpse into the world of Shakespeare, but I, a non-native speaker, am also content with the Hollywood version of 1999, which I admit is not that bad:  when the play executed nicely, the language comes alive (which it is) and paints bright stars in the night...

That night when everything seems to go wrong... wrong people/fairies get the potions, horrible truths come up in the air (dwarf?  where are your stiletto heels, woman???) and insecurities rage in the air while someone becomes an ass... And for all that we blame a tiny bit of potion?  Can it be that love is so magical, that any confusion and disorder can only be because of a "trick"? are we mortals so without magic, that we don't have the capacity to feel perplexed otherwise?

In the following act, I have my only two objections in the play:  the one where Oberon requests the child from Titania in exchange for undoing the spell, which he receives -- a very thin line between the magic of love and blackmail? And then Demetrius is still under the first spell when love is restored between him and Helena.  No true feelings of love, then.  But all is all right, balance is restored, and as the magic of the night is undone, the sun rises and there are two weddings take place. 
Here again, Shakespeare is innovative:  he could very well have put a full stop and be done with the play.  But he chooses instead to focus on the sub-plot of a play within the play, of Pyramus and Thisbe, to provide some enjoyment to the public, after the "crises" presented before.

I must admit that from all the characters in this play, I thoroughly enjoyed Puck -- he's such a naughty, little creature that I can't but like him (and the fact that he's interpreted by S. Tucci in the film is an extra bonus...) and I particularly like the ending, that makes sure that the audience will leave in good mood (ingenious Shakespeare at his best):

"If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends".

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy

Patricia is guest-blogging

The Hunger Games Trilogy is a Young Adult series written by Suzanne Collins.  The books in the series are 'The Hunger Games', 'Catching Fire' and 'Mockingjay'.  When first published, they were compared to the 'Twilight' series,  but the only things they have in common are that they were written for young adults and include a love triangle involving the heroine and the two boys in her life.

The books are set in a distant future where North America, now known as Panem, has been divided into thirteen sectors each specialising in a specific trade or industry.  Following an unsuccessful rebellion against the Capitol, each district has to supply one girl and one boy every year to take part in the Hunger Games.  These games are literally a televised fight to the death.  The heroine is Katniss Everdeen from District 12, who volunteers for the games when her younger sister is picked in the lottery which chooses the participants. She is sent to the capitol with Peeta Mellark, the baker's son and asks Gale, her childhood friend and hunting companion, to look after her family in her absence.  The book vividly describes the preparation and training before the games begin and introduces a number of colourful secondary characters such as Haymitch, a drunk who is the only living winner from the 12th district.  There are some very visual descriptions of the clothes they wear, the weapons they use, the games and the choices the competitors make to survive at any cost even if it means killing their friends.   

Suzanne Collins has said that she got the idea for the books while watching reality tv.  She paints a harsh world where people are subjugated and starving and teenagers do everything they can to win and survive.  I had to constantly remind myself that the targeted audience were young adults. The leaders are corrupt and brutal, particularly in their methods to keep the districts under control. 'Catching fire' and 'Mockingjay' delve deeper into the politics of Panem and are just as riveting as the first book.  

The books are being adapted into film with the first movie scheduled to be released in March 2012.  Jennifer Lawrence has been cast as Katniss, while Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth have been cast as Peeta and Gale. The movies, like the books, are being hyped as the next big thing since Twilight and the production company has already been generating a lot of buzz in the media releasing pictures of the cast and production news on a regular basis.  A number of websites have also been commenting whether a movie revolving around a game were teenagers kill each other is suitable for the targeted audience.   I, on the other hand, am curious to see how they will bring the imagery of Suzanne Collins to the big screen, her descriptions are so good that I already have a visual image in my mind of the clothes worn (in particular the fire dress of Katniss) and various scenes of the book such as the opening ceremony of the games.  I will definitely be queuing up at the cinema to judge for myself when the movie is released. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Great Gatsby - week three

This has been a roller coaster of a journey and I found this particular part of The Great Gatsby very exciting!
We now get to the heart of the matter:  the beginnings of Gatsby and the climax of his relationship with Daisy.
The descriptions in this part are not only magnificently written but also provide the exact nuance needed to understand the deeper emotions, wants, needs - the essence of this book.

Gatsby starts from humble beginnings, but his dreams for a better life push him to higher aspirations.  He refuses to accept his provenance: 

"these reveries ... were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality"

Gatsby already then starts showing signs of megalomania that will on the one hand help him attain his material goals in life, but will prove also detrimental to his psyche:

His encounter with Daisy five years after their initial affair finds him having accumulated so much energy that I could feel the palpitations in the room.  His race towards becoming what he thinks he needs to become so that he's accepted by his love has darkened his inside world. Nothing good can come out of this.  I can already see that there is disaster bound to happen.  The language used  is so vibrant, particularly in this part, I could just bite off my fingernails in anticipation:

"he wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say "I never loved you"

How can she? how can he expect love to be as straightforward as having great houses, great boats, great food and drink?  how can he expect Daisy to wake up after five years and run to him?  WHY would she?

Aaaahhh... the human soul!  In matters of love, we become little children.  We want something (someone), we calculate our way towards our goal, and we are certain that if our part of the deal is kept, so will the other side.  How simple life would be...
No, Gatsby has put Daisy onto a pedestal, like a goddess, has calculated his way towards her, and obviously he must be smashed:

"You love me TOO? ... the words seemed to bite physically into Gatsby"

The demise ... in the beginning, I started feeling sorry for him, for all the effort he had put in, all the love he must have felt, unreciprocated... but then I realised that no, this cannot be love. This is an extreme case of infatuation. More and more I see Gatsby as striving for something better in his life. Ever since his early years, he wanted a better life, to be a better person. All his struggles, all his encounters with people and his dealings with them, had as an ultimate goal the improvement of Gatsby. So is the case with Daisy: she is to "better" him, to lead him to an enriched life... Yes, it's the beginning of the end for Gatsby, and I can only stand and watch the story developing...
As to Daisy, not only do I still not like her, and I've started discovering very annoying things about her character:

"What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon, and the day after that, and the next thirty years?"

What a simpleton... Life is continuous party, with pretty clothes, pretty drinks, a pretty daughter who must be disciplined at all times and a husband who adores her...  and still, she's not satisfied.  She must always have her wishes granted like a spoiled little girl (was she actually?  I wouldn't be surprised...).  And then there's this description, which I must confess I don't fully understand, but I can't say I like:

"Her voice is full of money"

Ugghhh... this leaves a very bad taste in my mouth, and I just want to slap her... but then again, how would I then see what happens next?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


I've always been rather afraid of reading YA novels - just because I've never actually read this genre.  Even as a teenager, I found classic novels much more to my taste and have never actually stopped since then.  'Tis the time, however, to leave one's comfort zone, and experience new challenges (or at least this is one of my resolutions for the new year...).  With this in mind, I read Underneath, by K.P. Burke, telling the story of a teenage boy and his encounters with bullying, love, redemption (and deception).

I was surprised at the twists of this story.  Having had substantial experience in reading literature, it's not often I don't immediately know what's going to happen within 2-3 pages (of course, it doesn't help that by reading it on Kindle I can't read the end first, which I would in a paper book --  but this is another post altogether...).  The story is seriously profound in its approach to the problems young people are facing, suspense up to the very last moment and twists that may actually haunt a reader and an excellent use of the written language when describing background information.  All in all, a very good sample of modern suspense literature...

... if only it had been a proper, full-length novel.  This is actually a short story, and therein lies its one fault:  Everything is crammed together, and I got overwhelmed with the continuous flash-like flow of information.  Before I had time to absorb what had happened, the twist in the story would throw me in a new pit where I would have to adjust my brain cells and restart absorbing... (I don't know whether this is how YA novels are, but I would consider myself a well-trained reader with enough potential of absorption of difficult and sometimes heavy novels, so I don't think this would be a problem for me).  It's a shame really, because I find the content very good and I believe it should be used to entice a younger audience into the world of literature.

Read for Mystery and Suspense Reading

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Patricia is guest-blogging

As an avid reader of all types of romantic novels - historical, chicklit, paranormal - I have recently been introduced to a new type: Steampunk. I had never heard of this genre so I decided to look up the meaning in Wikipedia where it is described as "a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.  Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc". Having read this, I realised that I had in fact been introduced to this world on TV with series such as 'The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr' and to a lesser extent with one of my favourite series, the brilliant 'Firefly'.

My introduction to Steampunk romance was with 2 novels from the Iron Seas series by Meljean Brook: The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel.  Meljean Brook creates a completely new universe where the Mongolian Empire under Genghis Khan has invaded large areas of Asia, Europe and Africa. This is an alternative universe where Leonardo da Vinci created war machines to fight of the invading Mongolian Horde, humans are infected with a nanovirus that turns them into zombies and used as an invading force, while other humans use nanoviruses to help them combat diseases or have artificial limbs implanted to carry out specialised professions.  I am not going through this whole new alternative universe here, Brook describes it brilliantly in her websitebut what really impressed me is the amount of detail she goes into creating this world. 

The Iron Duke is a romance with a murder mystery thrown in and centers around Rhys Traharean (The Iron Duke) a pirate who has helped liberate England from the Horde and Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth who are thrown together when a naked body is found dead on the grounds of the Iron Duke's mansion.  The story is foremost a love story between these two very strong personalities who clash at every turn but it also provides insight into the politics of this world while they try to find out who this body is and why it was dumped in the Iron Duke's garden.  A large number of supporting characters are introduced including Mina's family and old comrade in arms of the Iron Duke.  Two of these characters are the central characters in the second novel of the series Heart of Steel.
Heart of Steel is equally enjoyable.  Archimedes Fox reminded me of a young Indian Jones since he is a Treasure Hunter who smuggles himself into areas which have been invaded by the Horde in order to look for artifacts created before the invasion and then sells them to the highest bidder.  His love interest is Yasmeen, the captain of the airship 'Lady Corsair'.  They journey all over Europe and Africa looking for a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci. 

After reading these two books, I am not surprised to have seen them pop up on a number of Best of 2011 lists!

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Great Gatsby read-a-long - week 2

After meeting the writer of this book, Nick, after disliking the main couple of Tom and Daisy, witnessing Tom breaking Myrtle's nose and Daisy wishing for her baby to be a fool, it was only time to meet the main character:  Mr. Jay Gatsby.  

Reading through this part of the novel, I discovered the many, way too many levels of Gatsby's personality.  A person trying to hide his past, or rather trying to reinvent his past, his connections with the wrong side of the law that have contributed to his fortune, his lavish parties with guests from the old and new money, all this showcases a person who has a purpose in life:  prove his worth (to Daisy?) and ... to the rest of the people around him.  And yet, I cannot call him "pompous", I cannot dislike him.  His actions rather show how disconnected he is with all this showing off, how he feels as if all this is expected of him, but not actually "him".  Reading this part, I remembered the remark made by Nick in the very beginning of the book: "Gatsby turned out all right the end".  This perpetual restlessness that characterises him, the little mistakes in geography that call off his bluff, cannot be evidence of a naturally mean man.  I want to find out more about him - why is he so infatuated with Daisy?  I know I'm a cynic, but even objectively speaking, he cannot have gone through such a transformation within 5 years for her alone - can he???

Two other points left an impression on me in this part:  the insight into the characters of Nick and Jordan, two of the characters I had not particularly paid attention in the first part.  Nick makes a heavy statement in the book
 "I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known"
Now, whenever something like that is being said, I'm almost certain that this person is lying.  I know from now on that I will not get to like Nick, just by this statement.  I know there will be circumstances where he will prove that he's dishonest.

And then there's Jordan, who up to now I regarded as a semi-silly girl and who, even though met with people that did not make her a better person, still knew where she stood.  While driving, however, she proves how careless she is, and actually considers that any person hit by her car is also to be blamed.  This lack of responsibility just drives me mad!  I can imagine that Fitzgerald was not only talking about driving at this instance, which makes me even angrier!  Why do some people think the world belongs to them??

I can't wait until the next instalment... but I will not cheat and read ahead...

two more please...

... challenges and then I swear I'm done!

Graham Greene challenge hosted by Carrie at Books & Movies:  I have his books, I love his books.  Need I say more?  Challenge:  3 books (for the time being...)
European Challenge hosted by Rose at Rose City Reader:  Excellent idea (thanks to Joanna for posting about this).  Challenge: 5 books

My intentions so far:

L. Tolstoy - War and Peace (Russia)
E.E. Schmitt - La part de l'autre (France)
P. Sueskind - Das Parfum (Germany)
J. Gaarder - Sophie's world (Norway)
M. Kundera - The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Czech Republic/France)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


I know Elisabeth Gaskell primarily as the biographer of Charlotte Brontë, but also in her own right as the author of, among other, Cranford and North and South. Both these books show an author with an excellent writing style, covering subjects that may not be the easiest to deal with.
With this in mind, when my book club chose Ruth for our next reading, I was looking forward to a piece of literature work that would keep my interest up - alas, this proved to be the mistake from the beginning...
If it hadn't been for a book club reading, I would have quit by the middle of the book - I was that disappointed with it.  Reading beforehand about Ruth, I knew that it was based on a true case of a "fallen woman" whose story Gaskell wanted to use to change public opinion.  This was what had triggered my interest and this was what I was expecting.  Instead, I found a main character so unbelievably convenient and predictable that I doubt the book had the effect envisaged.  But to take things from the beginning:

Already from the first pages, the book reads like a "pink" novel, where Ruth is portrayed so naive, that I honestly cannot believe it - 
"Remember how young, and innocent, and motherless she was!"
a girl from a poor background, stuck in a room with a bunch of other girls and coming into contact with the aristocracy, surely would be in a position to know more about life!!!
A second point that irritated me was the immense amount of nature - even in the direst of situations, there would be such a long passage of beautiful nature, that in the end would counterbalance the evil.  In my opinion, this should not be the purpose of the novel.  It is a somber story to tell, and it should not be done in such a mild manner (this reminds me that Gaskell apparently forbade her daughters to read Ruth.  Why?).  
And then there were the tears.  All this crying...particularly in the first part of the book, it appears as if the characters, above all Ruth and Miss Benson, can cry on cue...  I know that I am a cynic, but this is definitely beyond average tolerance...

Time-break now for a good point in the book - Sally.  A very likable, believable character who is also well depicted and whose contribution improves the readability of Ruth. A simple maid, who knows a lot more about life than she lets people to believe, is well aware of the rules of society and how to "bend" them.  She proves to be the saviour of Ruth...

Back to the minus points:  I found the incident between Jemina and the dressmaker that resulted into revealing  Ruth's identity very good but very short, undermining its significance for the remainder of the book.  And, while I'm not a practising Christian, I must admit that even I was displeased with the characters imploring God during all the different situations - this can not have been considered serious practice even in the 19th century... 
Something worth mentioning:  I found the description of the Bradshaw family in the second half of the book much more exciting than the Benson/Hilton family, and I would go so far as to say that to me they seem like two different styles of writing...Does anyone know whether this could be the case?  

Last point - Ruth's death:
"I see the Light coming", said she.  "The Light is coming", she said. And, raising herself slowly, she stretched out her arms, and then fell back, very still for evermore"
(no comments...)

I still believe that Gaskell is a serious writer, but find that Ruth was an unfortunate piece of work, which was based primarily on Gaskell's own beliefs and ideals (which, honestly, were not the best possible - one only has to know how she tried to "upgrade" Charlotte Brontë in her biography to realise that she was not all that "goodie"), rather on the matter in hand.  Shame really...

Not again...

I apologise in advance - but I just can't help myself.  I'm going to Ireland this year, have just bought "The Dubliners" by James Joyce, and I know at least three Irish people.  How could I NOT take part in the Ireland Reading Challenge organised by Books and Movies???
Any book written by an Irish author, set in Ireland, or involving Irish history or Irish characters counts - I'm giving it a go - and I will even challenge myself and go for the intermediate level of commitment, the Luck o' the Irish !!!

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Boscombe Valley mystery

The Boscombe Valley mystery is part of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  I have to admit that I had already seen the adaptation with Jeremy Brett, so that while reading this story, I imagined him jumping out from the pages...

The story itself is very quick but still manages to include many pieces of wit from the part of Sherlock that showcase his intellect and his observation techniques that make him unique.

A man who has made his fortune illegally in Australia but has since moved on and has settled in England, is drawn back to his past by a fellow Australian who blackmails him.  This seems to be a common theme at that time, of gains made illegally and people making up for their past.  I suppose that this being the start of the end of the various colonies, people were becoming more mobile and tried to erase the unpleasant past in view of a calm, retired life. But this is not meant to be - while the main character in this case agrees to sign his confession, I believe one of the messages  is basically "be a good man from the start". 
One other point that struck me in this story, and this is not at all evident in any of the Sherlock adaptations, is the relationship between Holmes and Watson:  from the beginning it is evident that Holmes NEEDS Watson. 
He sends a telegramme requesting his company for a few days while he investigates this new case - he cannot start on his own?  he thinks better when Watson is by his side, keeping track of him?  Further on, he needs Watson to try out any new ideas:

"Look here Watson, just sit down in this chair and let me preach to you for a little. I don’t quite know what to do, and I should value your advice. Light a cigar, and let me expound"
What a relief to read that Watson does play an equally important role in the tales of Sherlock, not just being a sidekick (which is, I'm afraid, what I get from the screen adaptations). It also make Sherlock himself more human, not ashamed to rely on his friend. All in all, a very pleasant story, providing a whole new perspective (to me) of the adventures. 

Two minor things that puzzled me:  Sherlock speaking French (an über-British speaking this despicable language???) and the fact that these stories are supposed to be the published accounts by Watson.  How then, is the mystery of the past to be kept ("...there is every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their past")???   Strange...

Read for What's in a name and Back to the Classics

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Great Gatsby read-a-long - week 1

First of all, a big thank you to the Sleepless Reader for introducing me to all the fun events happening in Blogger-land.  She highly recommended the unputdownables for their read-a-longs, so I happily obliged.  What is more, The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald has been one of the TBR books for a very long time - actually ever since I watched the movie (which I loved, loved, loved).  This read-a-long will give me the opportunity to see whether the film was loyal to the book, and to discover the true story behind the "roaring Twenties".

Well, from the very beginning I was hooked.  Even the mere description by Nick of the background to this book is oozing cynicism and boredom, a boredom only known to people who have everything, been everywhere, done it all. So unnatural with the actual era of Prohibition, Fitzgerald makes a point to bring to our attention that part of society benefiting from the soaring economy of the 1920's, that lingers around drinking and goes to lavish parties uninvited. I found the chronology of the novel very important in this first part, as it marks the economic prosperity following the end of WWI and the general feeling of perpetual well-being.

Things that are not "politically correct":  the most impressive part will certainly have to be the scene where Tom breaks his mistress's nose.  Certainly by today's standards this would be inexcusable, I believe nevertheless that Fitzgerald used this scene to showcase the extent to Tom's temper and aggression, which would go as far as hitting a woman violently (and then people around them would just scold him???).  What I can not accept, however, is the darkness that surrounds Daisy.  Maybe I'm too sensitive when it comes to children, but I still cannot believe that her wish for her newborn daughter would be to

"hope she'll be a fool - that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool...."

Bearing in mind that this is the decade that will give rise to the suffragette movement, I would expect a mother to wish for her child to move past the boundaries that society imposes.  No, I can't see myself growing warm on her...  Would I grow warm on Tom?  No, definitely no - a former Adonis, who pushes his weight around and who believes that by reading some books he's an intellectual?  (and his statement on Jordan: "She's a nice girl -  they oughtn't to let her run around the country this way"... uurggghhhh!!!) I truly believe that Fitzgerald couldn't have picked a better couple to demonstrate the opulence that exists in certain social classes, the exaggeration and consequently the total disregard for fellow humans! 

Who is missing?  Gatsby, of course, who's not yet appeared but whose house, cars, (unread) books and parties are described to the minute detail... Looking forward to continue reading!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

In the year 2889

Read for What's in a name

In the year 2889, Verne's story on an ultra-modern future in the USA really fascinated me.  It echoes so much today's elements, that I still cannot believe that people in 1889 (when it was published) could be such visionaries.  I can only but list the predictions for 2889, which have already materialised:

pneumatic tubes -- bullet train in Japan?
accumulators -- renewable energy
telephotic journalism -- internet
telephote -- skype
commutators - WAP services
classification -- web engine results
the Moon is uninhabited -- this was confirmed in 1969...
asphyxiating shells -- atomic bomb or nuclear reactor?
(the Chinese government bothering others... no comment)
A private joke?  UK colony to the USA, India to Russia, Australia independent.  Nothing is left for the UK, except for Gibraltar -- the future order of things???
touch knob to listen to music -- radio (invented in 1901)
electro reckoner -- calculator
live coverage of major events -- the birth of papparazzi???

The language used is suitable for a young adult audience, as with most of Verne's books.  Where I stood speechless was the vision and imagination of this person, and consequently the lack of vision and imagination of our present society.  We have accumulated such wealth of comforts around us and have assumed that this is the reality, that we've stopped having visions.  It hit a nerve to think that in 1889, when people had nothing compared to present-day, when they did not know who lived in the village next to theirs, let alone in a neighbouring country, when travel was extremely difficult and time-consuming, that they would nevertheless think of a "better" world with the comforts of our lives today.  What are WE doing?? Why have we lost that vision?  Can we do something before it's too late? Can we ever leave our comfort zone...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Christmas Carol - Going into Society

This being the Dickens year, I intend to read (or re-read) as many of his works as I can!  I started over the holidays with the shorter books, just to get into the spirit...

In A Christmas Carol, I was totally hooked in the eerie atmosphere of the book.  I've seen most of the movie versions of the book, so I did know the story,  getting away from the purely material aspects of our lives and looking out for our fellow people (still applicable to our modern lives btw).  What I loved about this book were the descriptions and the use of adjectives - especially words relating to colour and sound were so aptly used that images would just spring out of the pages - and I have to admit that the description of Scrooge in the first pages instantly sets the tone for the remainder: 
"the cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and poke out shrewdly in  his grating voice.  A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin..."
I found the story-telling almost like poetry with lots of rimes at the end of sentences, and I can well imagine a parent or grand-parent reading this to small children in a dimmly-lit room...

In Going into Society, I was astonished that a short story could be such a work of art.  Just the language used had me re-reading the beginning, until I got into the habit of reading phonetically... But it is the phonetic writing that best depicted the slang? the accent? used by the "lower" classes.  A whirlwind experience of Chops, who, upon winning the lottery, desperately tries to go "into Society", only to realise in the end that
"the difference is this.  When I was out of Society, I was paid light for being seen.  When I went into Society, I paid heavy for being seen."
Yes, some choices may end up not being the right ones... it's therefore crucial that we do check them and the reason for taking them...

Monday, 2 January 2012

A brand new year of books!

I must have been veeeeery good last year, for Santa got me a Kindle reader!  As a result, I've been downloading millions (ok, not exactly millions...) of books - starting from the free ones, but I've already moved to the regular ones.  Not in a shopaholic manner, my credit card is still intact, but I must admit it's been fun ever since!  I do keep on buying printed books as well however, and I did receive a couple of them for Christmas and birthday.  But here's my discovery:  one can adjust the font of the text on Kindle, meaning that ever so slightly bigger letters are much more easy to the eye, and I'm reading much more quickly J
Reviews coming at a faster pace, I think!!!

Happy New Year to us all!



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