Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Invisible Man

Title: The Invisible Man

Author: HG Wells

Number of pages: 150

Started: 28 March 2008

Finished: 30 March 2008

Opening words:

The stranger came early in February, one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down, walking from Bramblehurst railway station, and carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand. He was wrapped up from head to foot, and the brim of his soft felt hat hid every inch of his face but the shiny tip of his nose; the snow had piled itself against his shoulders and chest, and added a white crest to the burden he carried. He staggered into the “Coach and Horses” more dead than alive, and flung his portmanteau down. “A fire,” he cried, “in the name of human charity! A room and a fire!” He stamped and shook the snow from off himself in the bar, and followed Mrs. Hall into her guest parlour to strike his bargain. And with that much introduction, that and a couple of sovereigns flung upon the table, he took up his quarters in the inn.

Plot summary:

With his face swaddled in bandages, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses and his hands covered even indoors, Griffin the new guest at The Coach and Horses is at first assumed to be a shy accident-victim. But the true reason for his disguise is far more chilling: he has developed a process that has made him invisible, and is locked in a struggle to discover the antidote. Forced from the village, and driven to murder, he seeks the aid of an old friend, Kemp. The horror of his fate has affected his mind, however and when Kemp refuse to help, he resolves to wreak his revenge.

Plot summary taken from Amazon

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book and I thought it was a really interesting take on mystery and science fiction. I’m not a fan of science fiction, but I thought this took the ordinary and combined it with something that people at some point in their life have probably though – “I wish I was invisible” - and here we get to see the end result. People probably focus on the fun that could be had through invisibility but what this book shows is a descent into insanity that comes from disappearing. How do you even function – if you wear clothes you are visible, but still have no face, if you want to stay invisible, you’re naked – regardless of the weather and with nothing to protect your feet from the ground. The book showed that even your basic human needs are difficult to meet, so what choices do you make for survival, do you choose good or evil? A really interesting take on the subject and well worth a read.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Love in the Present Tense

Title: Love in the Present Tense

Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Number of pages: 304

Started: 27 March 2008

Finished: 28 March 2008

Opening words:

PEARL, age 13: dying lessons

One night when I was seven I watched a man die. He was on the street under my bedroom window. I was on my knees looking out. The sound, it had woke me. The window was open for air, which there was not much of, and what there was did not move. The curtain did not blow aside, and it was dark in my room, and I knew they could not see me.

The man who was going to die was on his knees. Like myself. Only with his arms out. Not up, like a stickup. Straight out, like Christ on his cross, only with his knees bent. I call him a man because I was only seven at the time. To me he looked big. Now I can remember his face, both before and after, and I know he was maybe sixteen. But I mistook him for a man.

Plot summary:

Love in the present tense is the story of Mitch, Leonard and Pearl.

Mitch is a young unmarried owner of a web design service, who’s having an affair with a married, much older woman, the mayor’s wife.

Pearl is a half black, half Korean teenage single mother who lives next door. She came up from L.A. with her young son Leonard a few years after killing his father, a police officer, minutes after the baby was conceived.

Leonard is a precocious 5-year-old mixed race child, with asthma and a serious eye condition, who makes friends with Mitch from the upstairs window.

Their lives collide when Pearl leaves Leonard at Mitch’s house and never comes back.
The reader knows what Mitch and Leonard initially don’t—Pearl died that night. Leonard knows instinctively. He sees Pearl in candle flames and little sparrows. Mitch assumes Pearl dropped the kid on his doorstep and took a powder. But they grow up together, even though Mitch must eventually surrender Leonard to a two-parent adoption home. Still, their bond as parent and child—though shifting—endures, teaching Mitch the concept of “forever love.” Now Mitch’s dilemma is to keep the teenage Leonard from flirting with mortal danger as a way of following his beloved mother into the beyond.

In the end Leonard is able to answer the questions about his mother’s death and his own background, and to get a look at his classic childhood “bogeyman,” who turns out to be nothing more than a flawed human being.

Synopsis taken from Catherine Ryan Hyde’s website.

You can also watch a video about the book here.

What I thought:

I have read a couple of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s other books and liked those, particularly Pay it Forward. I enjoyed the idealism and innocence of them. In some ways this book had those same qualities to it and had some nice aspects to it, including Leonard’s belief in love that could last forever, even if someone is no longer in your life. It also managed to do this in a way that wasn’t really sugar-coated, it was (in a good way) more matter of fact than that, because to Leonard it was just very simple – you could love someone forever, just because you could.

I did enjoy this book and despite it being 300 pages long, it only takes about 3 or 4 hours to read. I didn’t get as much enjoyment out of it as I did from some of her other books, but I liked some of the themes in it – about love being something that can endure regardless and that despite Leonard being abandoned at a very young age people took him in and he was as much a part of them and their lives as if he had truly been their own. I suspect these themes are better brought out in other books (although none spring to mind) but nonetheless I liked the innocence that this book showed, which is very at odds with a lot of other literature.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Veronika Decides to Die

Title: Veronika Decides to Die

Author: Paulo Coelho

Number of pages: 192

Started: 25 March 2008

Finished: 27 March 2008

Opening words:

On 11 November, Veronika decided that the moment to kill herself had - at last! - arrived. She carefully cleaned the room that she rented in a convent, turned off the heating, brushed her teeth and lay down.

She picked up the four packs of sleeping pills from her bedside table. Instead of crushing them and mixing them with water, she decided to take them one by one, because there is always a gap between intention and action, and she wanted to feel free to turn back half way. However, with each pill she swallowed, she felt more convinced: after five minutes the packs were empty.

Plot summary:

The new novel from internationally acclaimed author Paulo Coelho -- a dramatic story of love, life and death that shows us all why every second of our existence is a choice we all make between living and dying. Veronika has everything she could wish for. She is young and pretty, has plenty of boyfriends, a steady job, a loving family. Yet she is not happy; something is lacking in her life, and one morning she decides to die. She takes an overdose of sleeping pills, only to wake up some time later in the local hospital. There she is told that her heart is damaged and she has only a few days to live. The story follows Veronika through these intense days as to her surprise she finds herself experiencing feelings she has never really felt before. Against all odds she finds herself falling in love and even wanting to live again...

Synopsis taken from Amazon

What I thought:

I’m not generally much of a fan of Paulo Coelho, although I certainly thought this book was much better than The Alchemist, which was a book that I really disliked. As for this book, I thought it was ok, but despite it seeming to want to be a book about someone finding a new zest for life when it is too late, it wasn’t what I would think of as inspirational. It was a bit too trite about things, such as mental illness, to be credible. It seemed to give the impression that people with a mental illness were just people who didn’t meet the social normal, rather than it being something that could be a severe psychological problem that couldn’t just be fixed by an injection of hope.

I also thought it slightly weird that he actually included himself in the story on a couple of occasions right at the beginning. But, as story goes, it was ok. Nothing spectacular but perfectly readable.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Treasure Island

Title: Treasure Island

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Number of pages: 192

Started: 21 March 2008

Finished: 25 March 2008

Opening words:

SQUIRE TRELAWNEY, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17—, and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn, and the brown old seaman, with the saber cut, first took up his lodging under our roof.
I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow; a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pig-tail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the saber cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cove and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterward:

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest —
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and broken at the capstan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of stick like a handspike that he carried, and when my father appeared, called roughly for a glass of rum. This, when it was brought to him, he drank slowly, like a connoisseur, lingering on the taste, and still looking about him at the cliffs and up at our signboard.

"This is a handy cove," says he, at length; "and a pleasant sittyated grog-shop. Much company, mate?"

My father told him no, very little company, the more was the pity.

"Well, then," said he, "this is the berth for me. Here you, matey," he cried to the man who trundled the barrow; "bring up alongside and help up my chest. I'll stay here bit," he continued. "I'm a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain. Oh, I see what you're at — there;" and he threw down three or four gold pieces on the threshold. "You can tell me when I've worked through that," says he, looking as fierce as a commander.

And, indeed, bad as his clothes were, and coarsely as he spoke, he had none of the appearance of a man who sailed before the mast; but seemed like a mate or skipper, accustomed to be obeyed or to strike. The man who came with the barrow told us the mail had set him down the morning before at the Royal George; that he had inquired what inns there were along the coast, and hearing ours well spoken of, I suppose, and described as lonely, had chosen it from the others for his place of residence. And that was all we could learn of our guest.

Plot summary:

Following the demise of bloodthirsty buccaneer Captain Flint, young Jim Hawkins finds himself with the key to a fortune. For he has discovered a map that will lead him to the fabled Treasure Island. But a host of villains, wild beasts and deadly savages stand between him and the stash of gold. Not to mention the most infamous pirate ever to sail the high seas...

Plot summary taken from Penguin Books.

What I thought:

This book isn’t really my general sort of reading and having read this story, I haven’t really changed my mind on that. Whilst the story was ok, it didn’t really spark much interest in me and a lot of the story just drifted passed me because I didn’t really find it very engaging. Not really my sort of book.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Nineteen Minutes

Title: Nineteen Minutes

Author: Jodi Picoult

Number of pages: 512

Started: 17 March 2008

Finished: 20 March 2008

Opening words:

“In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn; color your hair; watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five… In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge.”

Plot summary:

Sterling is a small, ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens -- until a student enters the local high school with an arsenal of guns and starts shooting, changing the lives of everyone inside and out. The daughter of the judge sitting on the case is the state's best witness -- but she can't remember what happened in front of her own eyes. Or can she?

Summary taken from Amazon

What I thought:

I liked this book, although I didn’t think it was one of Jodi Picoult’s best. The subject of a school shooting was quite a good plot and it was interesting to see how the story impacted a whole range of people from those who were bullied to those who were the popular kids at school and everyone in between.

I did slightly struggle with a few things in the book though. The first one was that there was some really poor editing so that in several places in the book words had been elided so that instead of it saying “the cat”, it actually said “theat” and you had to work out what it was actually meant to say. That was such a basic thing to have got wrong that I found it quite irritating. Second, which was more fundamental to the book itself, was that the book showed people as their public persona so, for example they were “Mr Popular” but when you chipped below the surface you saw that actually they were very flawed and when it came down to it, not very likeable. I found it very difficult to really like any of the characters in the book - with the possible exception of the policeman, Patrick.

Whilst it was perhaps possible to relate to aspects of the story, as we have probably all been to school, and it is likely to bring back some recollections (whether good or bad), it was difficult to feel much empathy for any of the characters. Maybe that is more of an accurate (and cynical) view of society, but it did make it more difficult to really care about any of the characters. I did enjoy the book and, as is Jodi Picoult’s usual style, it brought various ethical issues to mind, which is one of the things I like about her writing, but ultimately I didn’t find it as engaging or as believable as I have some of her others.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Murder Must Advertise

Title: Murder Must Advertise

Author: Dorothy L Sayers

Number of pages: 388

Started: 3 March 2008

Finished: 17 March 2008

Opening words:

And by the way,” said Mr. Hankin, arresting Miss Rossiter as she rose to go, “there is a new copy-writer coming in today.”

“Oh, yes,Mr Hankin?”

“His name is Bredon. I can’t tell you much about him;, Mr Pym engaged him himself; but you will see that he is looked after.”

Plot summary:

When ad man Victor Dean falls down the stairs in the offices of Pym’s Publicity, a respectable London advertising agency, it looks like an accident. Then Lord Peter Wimsey is called in, and he soon discovers there’s more to copywriting than meets the eye. A bit of cocaine, a hint of blackmail, and some wanton women can be read between the lines. And then there is the brutal succession of murders—five of them—each one a fixed fee for advertising a deadly secret.

What I thought:

I quite liked this book, but it was not one of my favourites. I read various Dorothy L Sayers’ books as a teenager and remember liking them more than I did this book. I didn’t really like the drug storyline, it just didn’t appeal to me. I did like the advertising agency part of it though, and I thought it was interesting how similar the advertising world is to today. So this book was ok, but not one to rave about.

The Three Musketeers

Title: The Three Musketeers

Author: Alexandre Dumas

Number of pages: 720

Started: 23 February 2008

Finished: 10 March 2008

Opening words:

On the first Monday of April 1625, the market town of Meung, the birthplace of the author of the Roman de la Rose, was in a wild state of excitement. The commotion could not have been greater if the Huguenots had arrived to make a second La Rochelle of it. Many of the wealthier citizens, seeing the women running towards the High Street and hearing the children screaming on the doorsteps of their houses, hastily buckled on their cuirasses and, to give themselves an air of greater assurance than they really possessed, seized muskets or halberds. Thus armed they made for the Jolly Miller Inn, where they found a dense and excited throng of people in from all directions.

Plot summary:

The classic historical adventure novel, set in the 1620s at the court of Louis XIII, where the musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis, together with their companion, the headstrong d'Artagnan, are engaged in a battle against Richelieu, the King's minister, and a beautiful, unscrupulous spy.

The synopsis is taken from Amazon.

What I thought:

This is not really my sort of book, but I ended up really enjoying it. I thought it was very wordy in places but then I discovered that it was serialised in a news paper, which would explain why he felt the need to use quite so many words! I thought it was quite an ‘honourable’ book and the Musketeers were willing to do battle on their friends’ behalf even if they thought it meant death. I wasn’t sure that I believed such people existed but it was an interesting view of the world. It was also interesting to read a book where the English were the enemy and you were meant to be wanting the French to win. An enjoyable read.