Profile for J. Willis > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by J. Willis
Top Reviewer Ranking: 5,604
Helpful Votes: 219

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
J. Willis (London)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-14
pixel
The Age of Innocence (Wordsworth Classics)
The Age of Innocence (Wordsworth Classics)
by Edith Wharton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 1.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine book from a fine writer, 29 Nov 2011
Archer Newland has a happy life. He is a member of New York's most prominent society and is newly engaged to May, a women who on the surface is everything he wants in a wife, beautiful, pure, innocent, and sweet. This is all upset when his fiancés cousin Ellen shows up fleeing her abusive husband.

Newland is drawn to Ellen because she is from Europe (gasp) and as you know, in Europe they do things differently and are therefore exciting. OK so he isn't drawn to her just because she has come over from Europe, but the fact that Europeans do things differently is mentioned about ten times in the novel. While Ellen desires to divorce her husband, her family try to convince her otherwise which exposes Newland to the Hypocrisies and inequities of the society he belongs to.

One of the strengths of this novel is the great detail given of the customs that the characters society demands. I personally found these endless details quite tedious after a while but they did help to establish a claustrophobic atmosphere and created a sense of place very well. As a reader I was surprised the characters have any time to breathe within all their constrictions. The treatment of Ellen by her own family while started promising soon became apparent that they did not care about Ellen as a person and were quite happy to see Ellen either cut off completely or to see her return to an unhappy marriage. I enjoyed that it all became a little sinister (in a subtle way) towards the end and I thought the way the family banded together very clever.

The Age of Innocence is worth a read and is a fine novel but parts of it were dull.


The Awakening (Dover Thrift Editions)
The Awakening (Dover Thrift Editions)
by Kate Chopin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 2.16

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Important but I could not get on with the style of writing, 29 Nov 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This reminded me very much of Madame Bovery as they are both women who are trapped in their marriage by the constraints of their social world and time period.

While Bovary deals with her situation by delving into her own fantasy world, the protagonist in The Awakening, Edna Pontellier also tries to carve her own life away from her roles as a wife and mother. The catalyst for Edna is her own 'Awakening' when she suddenly cannot bear to keep her own passions (either for music, art or sexual) within any longer.

While I can see how ground-breaking the novel must have been and I can sympathise with Edna, I did not enjoy the actual reading experience of The Awakening. I found the prose while quite dreamlike and full of imagery also quite dull and for such a short book I struggled to read to the end.

I didn't struggle to connect with Edna, I could see how she wanted to be something other than a wife and mother in that time period. I could see the point I just didn't enjoy the writing style.


Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics)
Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics)
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be more popular than it is, 29 Nov 2011
The plot for this novel is very simple; George Bowling is a fat, forty five year old man who looks around at his life and wonders just how did he get here? After winning some money which he conceals from his wife, Bowling decides to use it to take a trip down memory lane and revisit his old childhood town.

"It must have been in 1930 that I got fat. It happened so suddenly that it was as if a cannon ball had hit me and got stuck inside. You know how it is. One night you go to bed, still feeling more or less young, with an eye for the girls and so forth, and next morning you wake up in the full consciousness that you're just a poor old fatty with nothing ahead of you this side the grave except sweating your guts out to buy boots for the kids."

The narrative mostly contains Bowling's own observations on his boyhood and British life during the 1930s as he tries to cope with the impeding threat of the Second World War and the changing world he finds himself in. The narrator himself stops the novel slipping into a rose-tinted haze by not being altogether likeable and yet despite this he is very ordinary.

This might all sound thoroughly depressing but it contains some wonderful humour (very cynical humour) as Bowling's gives his observations in his wry way.

"When a woman's bumped off, her husband is always the first suspect--which
gives you a little side-glimpse of what people really think about marriage."

His childhood is looked back on with nostalgia which only causes disappointment when he does finally make his way back to his home town. This novel was published in 1939 but how many of us now can go back to a childhood town and think that everything seems so much smaller and see that the small business where you brought your sweets from has been taken over by a large chain-store? Everything changes including towns and cities and Bowling is uneasy and scared about it, by going back to his youth he believes he can once again be free to breathe.

Coming Up for Air is a real treat and even if you haven't given Orwell a try before I recommend this.

"Is it gone forever? I'm not certain. But I tell you it was a good world to live in. I belong to it. So do you."


Couples (Penguin Modern Classics)
Couples (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Updike
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A novel of its time, 29 Nov 2011
Set in the early sixties, Couples is about a promiscuous circle of ten couples in the small Massachusetts town of Tarbox. For well over 500 pages the reader follows the couples as they holiday and party together while at the same time they discreetly (mostly) sleep with each others partners.

In a voyeuristic way I enjoyed it and was entertained by it. Aside from a few places where Updike suddenly gives long flowery descriptions, the prose is relatively easy to read and there is a wonderful sense of place. The small town, the houses and the time period are well described, as is the kind of social standing that the couples belong to.

The characters are pretty vile all round as are the attitudes the male characters have towards the female ones. All the female characters are home-makers and are only seen as such. Aside from one exception, none of them have jobs and nor are they expected to have one. They spend most of their time doing chores, hosting parties and having affairs out of either sheer boredom or because they feel they ought to. They are at the age where they are still part of the `50s housewife' life but at the same time they are also young enough to participate in the sexual revolution of the 60s within the confines of their marriages.

While there is a lot to think about and enjoy, it has its faults. The novel is too long and ten couples is perhaps too many, one lady in my book group had to write down a list of all the characters along with all their affairs as it got so confusing. In parts the endless sleeping around became monotonous, the male characters comparing the body of their wives to that of their mistress might have been fine at first but after what seemed like the 6th or 7th time of reading about how saggy a characters wife's belly is compared to a mistress (or vis versa) it got boring.

Couples is a book that I enjoyed more than I thought I would, it was a mixed bag for me in many ways but I'm glad I read it. It's not a book I would recommend but I found it an interesting novel of its time, it could not have been written either ten years before or ten years after the time it was.


The Long Song
The Long Song
by Andrea Levy
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A easy read on a difficult subject, 29 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Long Song (Hardcover)
There are a lot of historical novels out there which feature slaves or slave owners as main characters and I've read a fair few myself. The Long Song instantly appealed to me for two reasons, firstly the novel is set in Jamaica, not America, and the slave owners in The Long Song are English. I honestly know far more about the Americas role in slavery than the English's despite being born in Bristol (a major slave port during the eighteenth century) so this novel contained a period of history I know relatively little about.

The novel is spoken in Jamaican English which helps to set the scene and is told by July as an old woman. July was born into slavery and was taken from her mother at a young age to work in her masters house. The novel follows her story as she comes into womanhood and it chronicles the drastic changes her life brings.

July, like many of her fellow slaves, is a survivor and The Long Song is not a tale of pure misery. Slavery is a tough subject to read and I am sure it goes without saying that the slaves life's depicted in the novel is a cruel and brutal one, yet among the tragic there is also humour and strength which shines through. Halfway through the novel the British outlaw Slavery which gives the story and the subject a new angle as the slaves and their masters struggle to adjust to becoming employees and employers.

One minor complaint is the narration which seems to divide reviewers. The older July is narrating the novel and aside from the fact that she seems to narrates sometimes on subjects she cannot possibly know, she also keeps interrupting the story to mostly argue with her son who is making her tell her story. By doing this the reader is made aware of July's strong personality still shining in old age despite all her hardships so I can understand completely why the novel was written in this way. But I did find it interrupted the flow of the story and I found it annoying.

Overall though its a fine book and one which I found enjoyable and surprisingly easy to read.


The Woman in White (Penguin Classics)
The Woman in White (Penguin Classics)
by Wilkie Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars A Thrilling classic, 29 Nov 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This novel more or less opens with a young man who encounters a mysterious woman dressed in white on the road to London. After helping this woman reach her destination, the man becomes embroiled in one very complex mystery.

As The Woman in White is classed as a 'Victorian sensation novel' there is romance, stolen identity's, strange foreigners, a secret society and an asylum. Its all good and intriguing stuff. As the novel is told by different narrators all telling just part of the overall story, the reader is close to the mystery and has to solve it themselves by slotting all the narrators accounts together.

There are parts which rely purely on coincidence and can be a little far fetched but that's all part of the fun and the story is fast paced with injections of humour. That's not to say that it's all fun however. The plight and the treatment of women during that time is described well as is the shear ease of committing a person to a lunatic asylum.

One aspect of this book which did surprise me was the familiarity I had with Sarah Waters Fingersmith, even one of the plot elements. After reading this it is not hard to see how Waters drew inspiration from Victorian literature of this type.


The Reader
The Reader
by Prof Bernhard Schlink
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 29 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Reader (Paperback)
The Reader is the story of Michael Berg. The main protagonist who looks back at a relationship he had at 15 years old with an older woman; Hanna Schmitz. The affair took place over a Summer and ended as abruptly as it began when Hanna disappered leaving no forwarding address.

Deeply affected by this in the years following, Michael, now a law student, comes into contact with Hanna in a unexpected way when he follows her trial for atrocities she committed during the Second World War.

The prose in The Reader is quite sparse, relatively simple and very easy to read. The novel almost hides the fact that the story and themes are far heavier than the prose style and the short length suggests.

The novel looks at Nazi guilt within later generations. How would it feel if your parents, grandparents were there and yet did nothing? Or, even worse, participated in the terrible acts? It is a question that Michael and his fellow students spend a lot of time thinking about. Michael also has to come to terms with the fact that, as in the case of Hanna, not all war criminals are born evil, yet they are evil when they 'go along with it'. This is brought forth with frightening clarity when Hanna questions her judge with 'what would YOU have done?'

I loved the main themes of the book and found them extremely thought provoking and I think this would make a brilliant book club read. However what let the novel down slightly were the actual characters. At just over 200 pages the novel has to fit in huge themes and quite a lot of sex so unfortunately the characters suffered slightly because of this. I never really understood Hanna, she didn't come alive even when seen through Michael's eyes and she was more of an instrument to make a point rather than a three dimensional person with a voice.

The central point of the story is that there are some crimes that are so horrific that a person simply cannot atone for them. This is a powerful message and it really struck a cord with me.


The News Where You Are
The News Where You Are
by Catherine O'Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely likeable characters, 29 Nov 2011
This review is from: The News Where You Are (Paperback)
The News Where You Are is one of those books that is not bad at all, it won't blow anyone away and could be described as a gentle, inoffensive read.

The main character is Frank; a news presenter who has been in the business for 20 years. He is famous for his bad one-liners which he pays someone to write for him earning himself a bit of a fan base among students. When his old mentor Phil dies in a strange accident Frank, in his humdrum way, grieves for his friend while tracking down the relatives of a man, Michael, who died alone.

Frank is one of the good people and so is his wife and daughter and so is almost everyone else in the novel. The themes of loss and change involving buildings, memories and people are very prevalent that they were almost forced onto the reader but unfortunately these themes did not quite satisfy me.

Overall this was an enjoyable enough read filled with likeable characters and plenty of humorous moments. This is not a novel filled with plot, instead it focuses on some colourful characters and Franks musings about the past and renewal.


The Parasites (VMC)
The Parasites (VMC)
by Daphne Du Maurier
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Not her best, 29 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Parasites (VMC) (Paperback)
The Parasites in this novel refer to three siblings Maria, Niall and Celia who are born to famous parents in the theatre. Accused of being Parasites by Maria's husband, the three siblings spend the novel looking back over their childhood and lives and ponder over the insult.

Celia is the only one that shares both parents, Niall and Maria share no blood ties and yet they have the closest bond (to an incestuous level) of all the children. Maria is a successful actress who is more like the parts she happens to be playing than herself, while Niall is a typical musician drifter. Celia is the person that is put upon by her siblings and parents, never being able to chase her own dreams lest they get in the way of her duties.

The backdrop to the novel are the theatres of Paris and London (a world du Maurier would have known well due to her famous father Gerald du Maurier) and they certainly add to the glamorous and bohemian life the siblings lead. But despite the setting and the mysterious bond between the three main characters, I felt very indifferent to the whole thing.

I cannot fault the writing itself although I would have liked more suspense and mystery which I delight in du Maurier's other books. The main problem were the characters who were not rounded enough for me and I failed to connect with them or their motivations. It felt sometimes rushed and I never got underneath any of the characters skin, instead du Maurier just focused on the introductory personality tracts which was used to propel the novel along, which after a while became boring.


Full Dark, No Stars
Full Dark, No Stars
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.18

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for King fans, 29 Nov 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Full Dark, No Stars (Paperback)
Full Dark No Stars is a collection of four novellas which can be read as separate stories since they do not have a common theme or connect in any way.

Two of the stories have supernatural elements but the more terrifying stories do not. Rapists and murderers are scarier than ghosts and animated corpses (even if the corpse in question is your vengeful wife). The action that takes place in the stories is sometimes horrific, certainly dark and are just about thought provoking enough to linger on the mind. A couple of the stories cause the reader to think 'What would I do'? But even in a short Novella there is a little padding to be found. Whatever I found within this book was all that I expected from King.

Fans of Stephen King will not be disappointed in this collection and if you are not a fan then Full Dark No Stars will probably not be the novel that will change your mind.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-14