Literary Mumblings

A few words about the books I’ve read…

Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers

Posted by Amanda on June 8, 2009

So I suppose I should start with an acknowledgment that I clearly suck at keeping up with a blog. In light of the fact that I am several weeks now without a post and several books behind, I am afraid my next few entries will have to be a bit shorter than I might otherwise try to make them.   But I am going to keep trying and hopefully, anyone who actually reads this will have a bit of patience with how rare anything new shows up here. On to the story!

unnaturalLord Peter Whimsy, how I love you. You have a wit that sparkles and you make me laugh while I am reading so that other people around me give me weird looks. Which I could not care less about because you are cracking me up with some strange monologue, all done as you solve the crime. Who needs some silly Holmes character with an opium addiction, when I have you? (Actually, Mr. Holmes, I love you as well but you have to admit that addiction of yours does detract from your general awesome-ness…)

Unnatural Death is the third novel in the Lord Peter Whimsy series and in this installment, Lord Peter hears of a case where a woman has died, seemingly of cancer and he sets out to prove it was murder and then find out who did it.

While Unnatural Death didn’t really jump out as particularly great when compared with Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness (the earlier stories), it was still a fun read that I enjoyed. Lord Whimsy is highly British in his wit and sentiments and I love it. The mystery is a good one and, while it isn’t the best Whimsy story so far (you should definitely read the first two), I am still looking forward to collecting and reading the rest.

2009-23

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Posted by Amanda on May 4, 2009

fahrenheit451A classic tale.  The story of a fireman – a man whose job it is to burn books.  Because society has grown past them.

Fahrenheit 451 is just one of those amazing classic books that you are always told that you have to read and is, amazingly, as good as everyone says, if not better. I choose to read it during the Read-A-Thon because it was a small book but it is also very interesting and it sort of grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go.

For those of you who have not yet heard of this book, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is about Guy Montag, who works as a fireman in the not-so-distant future. The job of a fireman in this dystopian novel is to start fires where books have been found and Montag is fond of his job but a new neighbor, a teenage girl who is different from everyone else he has ever met, begins to make him question things.

One of the most interesting factors for me was the history of how books came to be banned. Minorities would object to the text of one book and another minority would object to the text of something else and soon, books had to be censored to make people happy. Because that was the only important thing – that people were happy. Please the minority at any cost. And so society banned books and the firemen only enforced that ban.

Even outside of that interesting meditation on society, this is an amazing book. There were some slower parts but all of it comes together wonderfully. This books has earned the respect of people everywhere and there is a reason. If you haven’t read it, go. Get yourself to a bookstore (or a library) and read this one. It won’t take you long and you won’t regret it.

2009-22

Posted in Fantasy/Sci-Fi | Leave a Comment »

The Hawk and the Jewel by Lori Wick

Posted by Amanda on April 27, 2009

hawkSo, occasionally, one just feels the need for a bit of fluff. It’s like candy. Not terribly harmful when it comes in small doses and it can be just the thing you are craving.

Romance novels, or for me, Christian romance novels, are candy. If you haven’t heard of Christian romance novels, it is basically the same idea. As far as the differences go the guy and the girl get married first, there are no descriptions of intimate scenes, and you occasionally have to put up with rather corny conversion dialogues (which I believe are 100% unrealistic, but what in a romance novel is supposed to be realistic?)

I figured that a nice piece of candy would be the perfect way to start off the Read-A-Thon and I was right. The Hawk and the Dove was a wonderful book for my needs. No real profound ideas. No high prose or literary prowess. Not even a terribly original plot. Just a cute story told in decently talented writing where the guy gets the girl after a sufficiently long period of misunderstandings. Which is exactly what one wants on occasion. I enjoyed this one, as I have the ones before it. I will probably go for another of Wick’s books the next time I have a craving for a little piece of candy. And then I will go back to being good and reading “nutritional” books. Goody.

2009-21

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Posted by Amanda on April 13, 2009

ivan

My grandmother has this one used book store that she have been going to for the last couple decades. She goes there regularly and she has brought me there a few times. Each time, I find myself in the classics section because there are so many books there that I can never find in a normal bookstore. I found The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe there and nearly started jumping up and down. I also found some of Solzhenitsyn’s work, which I have been interested in ever since one of my early college classes. At that point, I gave in and selected One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.

One Day is exactly that: one day in the life of a man in the Soviet Gulag, from the early hours of the morning, through the day at the job, till the final lights out. The reader sees Ivan Denisovitch’s life and how the men there struggled with their circumstances and their fellow men to survive.

I have to say, this book was amazing in it’s simplicity. It was rather short but you saw so much. Solzhenitsyn presents this day as a normal day for Ivan Denisovitch but that normalcy is rather devastating to think about. I suppose the proper word is stark, however overused that term may be.

This was one of the books I really just consumed. I read it very quickly and though I don’t think it is quite right to say that I enjoyed a book about a man’s life in the gulag, I think you will understand me if that is the term I use. I also enjoyed this book for it’s historical messages and for the idea of what could happen when the circumstances found in Soviet Russia are set in motion. Simply, a powerful book and one that I think people should read.

2009-14

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Blindness by Jose Saramago

Posted by Amanda on April 6, 2009

blindness1Wow. I am not sure what else you can really say to this book. I had heard a few people talk about Blindness, a book by Jose Saramago, and then it was on the Guardian list. Finally, I found a copy and found out that it also won the Nobel Prize for Literature so I was really looking forward to this book, even though the general idea behind the story is rather frightening.

In this book, a man is driving home one day when he is struck by a sudden blindness: he sees only a milky whiteness. His wife takes him to the ophthalmologist, who is not sure what is wrong with him.   That night, the doctor and several of the other patients who were in the waiting room also go blind and so the government reacts swiftly in an attempt to quarantine the afflicted, trying to protect the rest of society.  When the doctor is taken to an old mental asylum, where they are to be quarantined, the doctor’s wife pretends to be blind so that she can stay with her husband and we see the book through her eyes. What follows in the story of how those quarantined in the asylum react and deal with the circumstances they have found themselves in.

A small element that initially concerned me was Saramago’s writing style. Saramago doesn’t seem to like short sentences. In fact, he has the huge long sentences everywhere and no quotation marks, which can make it difficult to figure out who is speaking. For example:

Once inside the building, the blind man said, Many thanks, I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you, I can manage on my own now, No need to apologise, I’ll come up with you, I wouldn’t be easy in my mind if I were to leave you here. They got into the narrow elevator with some difficulty, What floor do you live on, On the third, you cannot imagine how grateful I am, Don’t thank me, today it’s you, Yes, you’re right, tomorrow it might be you.

These are actually some of the shorter sentences but as you can see, it isn’t your typical writing style. I thought it would bother me, but I suppose one gets used to the sytle one is reading after a while and I had very few problems, though I did have a hard time figuring out who was speaking in some of the conversations.

I feel that I should also warn you that parts of this story are truly horrifying, even more so because Saramago paints a very realistic portrait of the darker side of humanity. Lost in blindness, what would happen when you bunch everyone together? Lost in fear for a disease that takes your sight without the least of warnings, how would humanity react? How will those who can exert power use that power? The answers that Saramago presents are very easy to believe and terrible in that reality. Bad things happen to good people and bad people alike and Saramago makes you think.

Part of me would like to recommend this book because it is great writing and truly thought-provoking – it is a story that reveals one view of humanity and brings up all the emotions that Saramago seems to have been seeking. Much of this book was very touching. Still, the picture he paints is not one that everyone can deal with and I nearly set the book down for good at several points. My point: beware and think carefully before you pick this book up. It has many things to recommend it but whether those outweigh the terrors – that is up to you.

Other (better-written) reviews:
Shelf Love
Gaskella
Book-a-holic
Hey Lady!
books i done read

2009-19

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The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

Posted by Amanda on April 3, 2009

thelovedoneWaugh is one of those classic authors I have heard quite a bit about, even before the recent remake of his most famous book, Brideshead Revisited. I have heard many people say he was a great author, though I can’t seem to remember who any of them were. Anyway, many of his books are also on the Guardian list and so when I saw The Loved One in the used book store my grandmother loves so much, I figured ‘why not?’

The Loved One… Well, I find it difficult to say what this book is about. I suppose the plot mainly revolves around Dennis Barlow, a young Brit who aspires to be a poet but has not been able to write since he arrived in Hollywood. Now, he has taken a job at the Happy Hunting Grounds, a place where you can have your dearly departed pet buried in proper fashion, with a coffin and a minister and all the trappings. When Dennis’s friend commits suicide after losing his job at a production studio, Dennis finds himself at Whispering Glades, a funeral parlour catering to the wealthy, and meets Aimee, a cosmetician he becomes interested in.

I am not really sure how to approach this book. It was well-written and darkly humerous but rather odd. Whispering Glades is practically a monument to death and several of the people who work there seem to be fascinated with the place, far beyond the normal feelings toward a job. I couldn’t really identify with a couple of the characters. Further, there were abrupt jolts in time – for several chapters, we are closely following Dennis as he prepares for the funeral of his friend and suddenly, we are six weeks past the funeral. I suppose part of my hesitation regarding this book is the manner in which it ends. It is rather like going on a journey and when you get to the end, you look back at where you’ve been and wonder how you got there and what the point was. Not exactly like that but I just have the sense of “wait – what just happened here?”

I hope you don’t take this to mean that I disliked the book. I am just unsure of what to think about it, which I suppose is okay. Then again, this has been happening a lot lately and so I wonder if I am looking too deeply into books for something that is not there to find in the first place. Either way, this was a decent classic – not the best I have ever read, but then have my partialities – and I will probably read more of Waugh before making any serious judgment regarding his work.

2009-17

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Posted by Amanda on March 30, 2009

American GodsAmerican Gods is one of those books that people seem to be simply ga-ga for.  I have never really even heard anything negative about this one.   One of my friends heard that I was thinking about reading it and said that I had to read it as soon as possible and that it could save my life.  I still don’t know what he meant by that one but clearly, this book has many admirers and I had very high expectations for it.

Unfortunately, this one just didn’t live up to the hype for me. I feel like every Gaiman fan is growling at me for saying this but I really didn’t think it was all that great.

The story is about a man named Shadow, which I still don’t get. I mean, can’t Gaiman at least give the guy a last name? Anyway, Shadow has just got out of prison and he is expecting to come home and be with the wonderful wife that he loves and work for one of his friends. Unfortunately, he leaves jail to find out that his wife and friend both died in a car accident, and now, he has neither wife nor job. Except that a strange guy named Wednesday has offered him a job as a sort of body guard as he begins to gather the old gods of America.

The idea was interesting and there were a few twists that certainly caught me off guard but I didn’t think it was that great.  I mean, the writing was okay and some of the characters were cool, especially some of the modern incarnations of the old gods.  Still, something about it was just really unenjoyable to me.  I suppose part of that can be attributed to the oddity near the end.  I just didn’t enjoy it for some reason.  I wish I could explain it but sometimes, a book just isn’t your cup of tea.

2009-8

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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Posted by Amanda on March 27, 2009

Please, sir, I want some more.

Please, sir, I want some more.

My latest goal has been to read a number of the books from the Guardian’s “1000 novels everyone must read”. The list has many great books on it but when I saw that Charles Dickens was there (as he seems to be on every list of great literature) I found that childish distaste rising from memories of beating Great Expectations into a sad little pulp in high school, after which I have never been able to bring myself to read another book by him. Squashing down those feelings, I figured it might be time for me to give the poor man another chance and try reading Oliver Twist; after all, high school was a long time ago and I have (theoretically) matured a bit since then.

As most everyone knows, even if you have never so much a seen a copy of the book, Oliver Twist is about a poor orphan in England, immortalized by the phrase “Please, sir, I want some more.” After this terribly wanton request at the workhouse, Oliver is given as a apprentice to an undertaker who shows him kindnes but he soon finds his way to London, where he is drawn into a den of thieves, led by “the Jew,” also called Fagin.

I am terribly glad I gave Dickens another chance because this was a great book. Even while exposing some of the most horrendous hypocrisy and cruelty, Dickens shows a great, dark sense of humor. He mocks those that he found revolting. Of course, I love that even while showing the dark side of life in London in this time period, Dickens still works in a happy ending for all the good guys. The characters were great and Dickens makes you care, he draws you in to the story. I found myself avoiding the book at times, only because I didn’t want to see another terrible thing happen to the poor orphan Oliver.

All in all, this was a great book and I think I will be much more willing to open another of Dickens’ novels in the nearby future.

2009-16

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