Book Reviews: Concise edition

Over the past couple of years I’ve been catching up on my reading. Here are some short little reviews (I’ve tried not to let any spoilers in!!) to help you decide what to read next. I might upload some more in-depth reviews later.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy) – a very emotional book centred around the life, relationships and hard times of a young woman. A very frustrating read that is more useful for a message about the society of the times and a challenge on how you treat and affect others than a satisfying read.

Persuasion (Jane Austen)– Not one of Austen’s best works, as it’s shorter and seems a little rushed in places of the plot. However, it is clever in layout and in the development of the characters in their relationships with each other. There are some particularly hilarious characters, and it is a good easy read.

Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens) – Very gory and depressing, but truly amazing. A well developed plot with a couple of twists, but simplistic and artful in its execution (execution… ha…). Jokes aside, a sobering novel set around a couple’s life in the midst of the terrible backdrop of the French Revolution. Likeable and believable well rounded characters draw you into this story and it’s a classic everyone should read.

Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)– A book blatantly about animal cruelty, with a storyline strung together to address different issues in the welfare and mis/treatment of horses. This book is unique in its narrative, and believable in its detailing, showing a genuine and intimate knowledge of horses.

20, 000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne) – A difficult read as it is full of scientific jargon and zoophytes, but particularly amazing as it was one of the first and formative science fiction books. I didn’t realize until almost the end of the book that the title refers to 20, 000 leagues travelled under the sea horizontally, not vertically. As three of the main characters are savants, a word I do not fully comprehend, but have drawn together from the common character traits, it makes the book interesting to read but a little difficult to comprehend as the main narrating character is obsessed with describing and categorizing life forms, but then only briefly describes the more action filled moments in less than half the words. The final adventure was a bit of a down buzz as it was only noted briefly, but a less vague ending might have taken away from the weight of the story. Overall a very enjoyable story, but difficult to digest.

Around the World in 80 Days (Jules Verne)– Unlike Verne’s 20, 000 leagues, this book is full of action and very quick paced. With very unorthodox characters it makes for an interesting and unpredictable read and finishes on a very good note. A very, very good book.

Kim (Rudyard Kipling) – An extremely difficult book, as Kipling’s writing is of very old style and difficult to understand. With many Indian sayings and words that are left untranslated it takes a long time to get used to the book. It has lovable characters and a very good base idea, but the plot is a bit random and comes to an unfulfilling end.

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) – A welcoming introduction to the lives of a family of four girls and their mother while their father is away in the American Civil War. With blatantly imperfect characters striving to improve themselves, it makes for an interesting but obviously moral-promoting read. It’s left me wanting to read the sequel, Little Men.

Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)– A very well thought out story line with well developed characters. I had to at first get past my memories of Muppet’s Treasure Island to take it seriously and actually enjoy the story, but it was a very good adventure book that was both worthwhile in itself and iconic for the development of the typical pirate persona in later media.

Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe) – This book took me two tries, and was a difficult and frustrating read, but definitely worthwhile. I found it very repetitive, and far to detailed in some places while sparing in others – but as the first recognized realistic novel, I think I can forgive the lack of finesse. I was appreciative of the realism and the internal philosophical rambling. Overall it was a mission, but a worthwhile mission.

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) -This is one of the most original books I have read in my life. Although the title makes it sound a little grim, it’s actually mostly lighthearted. It follows the story of an orphan child “Bod” (Short for Nobody) who’s family was murdered when he was a toddler. He by chance ambles into the graveyard, where he is adopted by the ghosts and raised as their own. This book was 20 years in the making and is finely crafted from a well laid out plot to excellent phraseology. Neil Gaiman is a very talented wordsmith, and this is my favourite of his works that I’ve stumbles across so far. This book SHOULD become a classic of the modern age.

Hunger Games Book 1 (Suzanne Collins) – I approached this book after seeing the movie at a youth group, curious about ‘what the youth are into these days’. I actually really like the philosophy, the societal structure and the world in general behind this book, but the actual narrative is a bit of a let down. The author apparently came up with the idea for her story after channel flipping on tv between reality tv and images from actual wars. Being tired, the lines between the two started to blur and she got deeply upset at the whole idea. Hunger Games, therefore is a book set in the future where once a year children are taken from each district to fight to the death on a reality tv show that’s compulsory for all to watch, and is designed as a way of controlling society. The whole story is about a girl who through a series of events manages to undermine the system in a way (partially by her own means, partially as a pawn of others). It’s a very interesting concept and story line but is sadly, due to the emotion-filled first person narrative, seems to be written for an audience of teenage girls. Still, I want to read the rest of the trilogy.

Silas Marner (George Eliot) – I came across this obscure classic completely by accident, but it was an amazing read, and kept me enthused until the end. I regrettably read a spoiler in the introduction from a jerk of an editor who ruined all of the twists for me, but it was still incredible anyway and almost made me cry. The book covers the themes of fate, hope, faithfulness and God, and looks at the things that give meaning to life. It follows the life of Silas Marner, a weaver who is expelled from his tightnit religious community from a false accusation. It’s set just as the Industrial age is setting in, although the main town of the story, Raveloe, is out of the way and largely untouched by the rest of the world. The two difficulties with this book were the length of the paragraphs (which were often more than a page long, and easy to get lost in), and the double distance that we are from the language – It is not only written in old style English, but everybody speaks with an accent which takes a while to adjust to. Despite this, however, the characters are so imperfect and real that it is easy to get emotionally involved in the book and retain interested in the story. I’m hesitant to say anything else lest I ruin the book for you (and strongly urge you not to read any blurbs). All you need to know is that it is about Silas Marner, and he is a weaver. And that you can buy this book for less than $4 at (free postage).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon) – This is a seriously easy read, I chewed through it in a day easily. The book is written from the point of view of a 15 year old special needs kid, but still contains a lot of adult content. The author shows a lot of creative license, for instance, the chapters are numbered with prime numbers instead of the traditional 1, 2, 3 for the sole reason that the author likes them better. The book is unapologetic and straightforward and you feel like you’re really getting inside his head. It gets a little distracting at times, as the author interrupts the narrative to go on random tangents, but they are rarely longer than a couple pages, and it gives the story a little more authenticity. It also had some pretty interesting twists, and I recommend it for an easy read.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) – This was a much shorter piece of literature than I thought it would be. The writing style was more descriptive than the author’s other novel, ‘Treasure Island’, which made the action a little disjointed. It was, however, a very insightful and interesting analysis of the duality of human nature and addressed the struggles of temptation and self discipline in a very enthralling way. This was an enjoyable read, although it wouldn’t make it into my list of favourites, and is worthwhile even just for the purpose of understanding all of the pop culture references.

The Cross and the Switchblade (David Wilkerson) – I don’t understand why I haven’t read this before. It’s one of the greatest inspirational true stories I’ve ever read, and some similarities could be drawn between David Wilkerson and George Muller. This book is full of drugs, gangs and danger and God’s mercy and love in these situations. It follows the stories of teen gang members and druggies, who find God and a new beginning. It’s an easy read, and could easily be finished in a day or two. It’s shamelessly Pentecostal, very American (set mostly in New York City), and written back in the 60s (as some of the slang makes clear) but it’s such an honest representation of these people and their testimonies that you don’t really feel any distance of time or culture. This book is regarded as a modern Christian classic. The ministry which began in this book is still in place today, and you can find the details here: (They even have a centre in NZ!!)

The Invisible Man (H.G. Wells) – This was a very interesting book, but it seemed to be written in a very self indulgent style. That’s the only way I can phrase it, I think. It also reminded me a lot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which in my opinion was better), but it made for a very interesting read. The main character was quite original, and is where I imagine the inspiration for many super villains would possibly have stemmed from. I’m also glad, however, that I read other books, such as Robinson Crusoe first – as this is referenced in The Invisible Man, and gives it a little more intrigue. It’s also quite cool to see how some of the people who are considered the greatest literary minds, are also inspired by the other ‘greatest literary minds’ that preceded them. It builds a sort of conversation within novels.

Anyway, I would recommend this book if you like mystery books. It isn’t that hard to read (at least compared to others) and is very well written. The plot has a good pace, and the ending is very good. The only thing that annoyed me about it was the fact that the author seemed in awe at his own cleverness – people seem to be saying “Oh! An invisible man! How wonderful! How unbelievable! Oh! Oh! Oh!” every few pages, but if you can get past that it’s a good book.

I’d like to see a spin off called “The Invisible Cat”.

The Time Machine (H.G. Wells) – This book was a genious idea, especially for it’s age, but I’ve decided I definately don’t like H.G’s style of writing. The philosophies and ideas tossed around, however, are truly deep. Wells was a student of Huxley, who in turn had strong ties to Darwin, a strain of thought which is evident in Wells’ work. The Time Machine plays with ideas such as evolution, but goes beyond the pinnacle of the Golden Age and explores the decline of humanity. It looks at how the values of society change a people and acts as a warning against injustice and laziness. I wont say more as to the plot, but the ideas and richness of philosophy made it a good read and well worth the time. The plot was tied up well with a satisfactory ending. Even though H.G. still comes across as a very arrogant and self-involved writer, I would still recommend this book.

Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen) – This is definately not one of Austen’s best works literary-wise, and doen’t seem as finished as Pride and Prejudice of even Persuasion. The flow was interrupted several times by little rants by the author on the value of novels, or asides that ran along the lines of ‘I’m going to write about this here so that I don’t have to write three pages of backstory later’, or ‘This person seemingly didn’t exist before, but as the rules of novels say I can’t do that I’m going to tie it in loosely with that thing that happened several chapters ago’, or worst of all ‘she didn’t know that this was going to happen to her near the end of the book.’ Seriously… She wrote little spoilers into her book, which was extremely frustrating. Many f the characters were interesting and well written, however, although several of them seemed a little flat when compared to the depth of some of her characters in other works. I wouldn’t recommend this book, unless you are an avid Austen fan and want to read them all, or unless you are desperate for a semi-gothic romance – Although as far a gothic romances go, Jane Eyre is superior by far in terms of plot, characters and writing.

Ooronoko (Aphra Behn) – A somewhat inaccurate text, and has to be read in it’s context to be understood. It tells the tale of an African prince, and has strong themes of slavery vs freedom and nobility vs degeneracy. It’s a hard read, and has some gory bits which is expected with anything relative to slavery, but it is interesting mostly because of it’s authorship. Aphra Behn is famous in the literary world (although I’d never heard of her before – but now I see her name popping up everywhere!), as she was the first professional English female writer. She also led a pretty extreme life as a spy for King Charles II, but you can read up more on that if you like. It’s worthwhile as a historical literary piece, but unless you’re an intrepid reader I’d steer clear.

South Sea Tales (Robert Louis Stevenson) – This is a collection of short stories and fables written by R L Stevenson (more famous for Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Due to ill health, he traveled to Samoa,  and lived there for the rest of his life. He was disgusted by the previous portrayals of island culture (which depicted them as primitive, with sexy young maidens free for the taking of European sailors and adventurers) Stevenson, in contrast to this, aimed to give the first realistic idea of the islands. He plays with perspectives, and wrote some of his works for an Island audience, rather than English. His fables, such as “The Bottle Imp” are similar to the 1001 Arabian Nights tales which inspired him, and are a very good read. R L Stevenson is one of the easier-to-read authors, although there’s always a fair amount of sailor lingo that you have to get accustomed to.

Mr. Allbone’s Ferrets (Fiona Farrell) – This book is well written, and based on the historical figure of Walter Allbones, although nothing more is known of him than his name, and that he was attached to the importation of approx 350 ferrets, weasels and stoats to New Zealand’s shores in an attempt to control the rabbit population. It is an unusual romance, that depicts realistic scenes of life in England, and on the boats travelling to the New World, but has an unnecessary amount of ferret-sex which would have put me off the book entirely if I didn’t have to read it for my course. There is much talk of Darwinian theories, natural selection, and the impending extinction of creatures such as the Huia. It is an informed piece, but also has so much vulgarity, both blatant and inferred that I would be hesitant to recommend this to anyone. This being said, I haven’t found another book which is as true-to-life while also being entertaining enough to maintain attention, that gives a good description of the passage from England to New Zealand.



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