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Search tags: 1000-books-recommended-by-the-guardian
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review 2017-10-24 17:02
Wise Children / Angela Carter
Wise Children - Angela Carter

Dora and Nora Chance are a famous song-and-dance team of the British music halls. Billed as The Lucky Chances, the sisters are the illegitimate and unacknowledged daughters of Sir Melchoir Hazard, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. At once ribald and sentimental, glittery and tender, this rambunctious family saga is Angela Carter at her bewitching best.

 

Read to fill the “Magical Realism” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

The large cast of off-beat characters in this book reminded me strongly of Canadian author, Robertson Davies. And all of the links back to Melchior Hazard, Shakespearean actor, made me think of Station Eleven! But Carter definitely makes this tale all her own, despite the echoes with other authors.

Like the Shakespeare that permeates the novel, there are lots of twins, sudden changes in fortune, costumes, and a lot of uncertain parentage. As the old saw goes, it’s a wise child that knows its own father. Dora Chance, Melchior’s illegitimate daughter and twin to Nora Chance, tells the tale and it unrolls like an article in a gossip rag. Whether you can trust all she says or not is a Chance that you’ll have to take! The Lucky Chances, as the sisters are known, can only be considered lucky in comparison to others in the tale. For instance, they were raised by a woman who seemed to actually care about them, rather than by their biological parents and in this, they seem to come out ahead.

Dora and Nora sound like they would be a lot of fun to have a gin and tonic with, but I wouldn’t want to stay in their house!

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review 2017-10-10 18:58
Northanger Abbey / Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen,Elizabeth Hardwick

'To look almost pretty, is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life, than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive'

During an eventful season at Bath, young, naïve Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine's love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father's mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen's works.

 

I chose this novel to fill the “Gothic” square of my 2017 Halloween Book Bingo.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen turns the gothic novel inside out, having some fun with all of its parts. Catherine Morland, our main character, is not a stereotypical gothic heroine—she isn’t tremendously beautiful, she isn’t sophisticated or educated, and she’s not even too bright! But she does read gothic romances, like The Mysteries of Udolpho to use as a guide for her behaviour. Unfortunately for her, her frenemy Isabella turns out to be a gold-digger, her visit to Northanger Abbey produces no murders nor secret passages, and there turn out to be no impediments between her and the man of her choice. The most ungothic of gothic romances!

I do have to wonder a bit about Henry, who is obviously intelligent and amusing, if only Catherine had the wits to understand him! I’m afraid he will be singularly bored, unless she can be enlivened a bit.

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review 2017-09-26 16:19
The Island of Dr. Moreau / H.G. Wells.
The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells
  I’ve been cataloguing an enormous collection of H.G. Wells for the special collections division of our library, and as a result I’m thinking I need to read a little more Wells. Just looking at the wide spread of his interests is fascinating! It was an interesting exercise to read this tale, which I read in school at about Grade 5, I think, and see how different the experience was.

Wells was a very dedicated socialist and didn’t have much time for religion (although he went through a phase of flirting with the spiritual). I don’t think there’s any doubt that he had read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species before he wrote this story (it was published in 1859 and Moreau in 1896).

Dr. Moreau has set himself up as God on this little island and he has handed down his commandments to the Beast-Men that he has created. Edward Prendick watches as their essential nature pulls the Beast-Men back to their original state—but he sees the same in people, suggesting the Darwinist view that humans are animals too. Moreau never gives any rationale for what he is doing, rather like the Christian God, who has left his creation to its own devices.

The Island of Dr. Moreau seems rather prophetic today, in our days of bioengineering and genetic modification. I’ll be interested to see what other tidbits await me in Wells’ prolific writings.

 

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review 2017-09-26 15:54
Misery / Stephen King
Misery - Stephen King

Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who has finally met his number one fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes, and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also furious that the author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie becomes his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.

Annie wants Paul to write a book that brings Misery back to life—just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an axe. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty.

 

I read this for the “Terrifying Women” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

I suppose Annie Wilkes is a terrifying woman. She is definitely written as mentally unstable and cruel. I suppose that, for a man, she would be terrifying, but in real life women face situations like these far too often. Read books like My Story by Elizabeth Smart or 3096 Days by Natasha Kampusch. Heck, just pay attention to your newspaper—there are frequently abductions and murders of women. And they aren’t fiction.

What truly fascinated me in this novel was a bit of insight (maybe) into King’s writing process. I loved the idea of finding the “hole in the paper” into which the writer could disappear, writing until inspiration left or exhaustion threatened.

Interestingly, the novel also seems to be slightly prophetic—writing about a car accident, including multiple leg fractures and a broken hip, the pain of those injuries, and how uncomfortable is was to write afterwards. But this was published in 1987 and King’s real-life car accident didn’t happen until 1999.

Well structured, well written, but not really my thing.

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review 2017-09-11 16:48
The Killer Inside Me / Jim Thompson
The Killer Inside Me - Jim Thompson

Everyone in the small town of Central City, Texas loves Lou Ford. A deputy sheriff, Lou's known to the small-time criminals, the real-estate entrepreneurs, and all of his coworkers--the low-lifes, the big-timers, and everyone in-between--as the nicest guy around. He may not be the brightest or the most interesting man in town, but nevertheless, he's the kind of officer you're happy to have keeping your streets safe. The sort of man you might even wish your daughter would end up with someday.

But behind the platitudes and glad-handing lurks a monster the likes of which few have seen. An urge that has already claimed multiple lives, and cost Lou his brother Mike, a self-sacrificing construction worker who fell to his death on the job in what was anything but an accident. A murder that Lou is determined to avenge--and if innocent people have to die in the process, well, that's perfectly all right with him.

 

Read to fill the “Serial/Spree Killer” square for 2107 Halloween Bingo.

 

This novel is considered a classic in the crime/noir genre and I think it certainly deserves its place there.  First published in 1952, it may be one of the earlier books that gives the reader a glimpse into the head of a serial killer.  Lou Ford, a deputy sheriff in small town Texas, thinks he can murder his way out of any problem.  He spends his time getting the towns folk to believe that he is just a good old boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly and probably isn’t all that bright—and committing sophisticated crimes which, as a member of law enforcement, he knows how to cover up.  In many ways, he is the predecessor of Dexter Morgan, the cheerful serial killer who works in Miami as a forensic blood spatter technician.  Maybe also to “true crime” books like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

 

The writing is impressive.  If you’re female, you’re going to flinch at Lou’s casual attitude to mistreating and killing women, but it’s all part of his persona.  Not to mention that it is true to life—art imitating reality.  Crime and criminals have been with us forever, but this book helped in the process that brought the awareness of them into current popular culture.

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