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Great Expectations (Penguin Classics)
Great Expectations (Penguin Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dickens at his finest, 1 April 2009
Read it, read it, read it.... What more can I add its Dickens after all? This is the one of the very few books I have read more than once in my life. I've always followed the principle that there are so many new books out there I simply haven't the time to re-read an old favourite. So if you haven't picked up a copy yet, do so very soon. The first person narrator Pip is looking back on his life and telling his story from childhood to adulthood. It is a realist novel but for me it is the Gothic Elements that stand out the most. Prepared to be horrified at the arrival of Miss Havisham, locked in the past, and Magwitch, an escaped convict, and that's only to name a few characters. As in all Dickens' novels there will be characters a plenty spilling from the pages but for me, aside from Pip, these two have made a lasting impression.

Great Expectations is a novel that deals with social issues, the corrupting power of money, and the value of friendship are just as relevant today as they were back in the 19th Century. You won't be able to help yourself from longing for Pip to find his true self. Every time I read this book I see something new, a true vision of `Little Britain' before the comedy show appropriated the name.

Other books I recommend:
Bleak House (Penguin Classics)


What Was Lost
What Was Lost
by Catherine O'Flynn
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strong debut novel, 31 Mar 2009
This review is from: What Was Lost (Paperback)
I am in a bit of a dilemma when reviewing this book: there is something I really want to say but I don't want to lessen the shock. I will just ask you to focus a moment on the title and consider what the surprise will be, and that's all I am going to say. The book is published by the brilliant Indie Press Tindal Street, they have had many award winners from their ranks so don't be put off by the fact they don't publish the likes of Dan Brown.

Without giving anything away the book opens in 1984 and follows the story of young Kate as she sets up her own detective agency. Kate spies on other people's lives and her investigations become a release from her own tragedies. O'Flynn captures the child's voice brilliantly. I was hooked by this sympathetic outsider and her strange investigations at the local Green Oak shopping Centre. There is then a huge leap of time and character in the book, a brave move by the writer but one she pulls of with panache. The reader suddenly finds themselves in 2003, the same shopping centre but something is missing...

Most of the second half of the novel follows Kurt and Lisa who both work at Green Oaks. I loved the witty descriptions of the soulless shopping centre and the cattle like shoppers. Anyone who has ever been trapped in a shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon and wished they were rather laid up in bed with a broken leg will instantly recognise the writer's sharp character portraits and bleak scenery. This is a carefully planned whodunit. I was gripped from the opening pages but as soon as Kurt, the security guard at the centre, sees a grainy image on the CCTV my stomach flipped and I was sold. This is O'Flynn's debut novel and I can't wait to read more.... I hope she's a fast writer.

Other debut books to recommend:
The Separate Principle
A Breathless Hush in the Close


Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (Penguin Classics)
Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (Penguin Classics)
by Mary Shelley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.79

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great gothic read, 31 Mar 2009
For me `Frankenstein' is the perfect mix of Realism and the Gothic, a firmly established reality but a monstrously heightened one at that. Walton is the framing device for the story both Frankenstein and his Creature relay their stories to him. He is a character to trust, a good solid man and the reader believes the versions that he tells them. But still I can't help having the terrible sinking feeling that history will repeat itself, that the horror is not over.

Shelley presents both her main characters, Frankenstein and the Creature, and asks the reader to judge. Frankenstein's obsessive desire to play god, and yet the tragedy and loss he deals with seem like retribution that has got so far out of hand. The Creature is shown as a tabula rasa, a blank slate at birth. He is not born evil but Society makes him that way. Abhorred and vilified. Yet the scenes where he kills are so graphically cold and cruel it is impossible to justify them despite his pain. Can it ever be right for the abused to become the abuser? Justified no, but explainable, of course, yes.

Shelley's fiction battles with some giant themes: Science, Religion, Nature versus Nurture. Ultimately the books does not offer up an easy answers. This book born of a nightmare Shelley had, just as the Creature is created from Frankenstein's nightmare vision to create a life at any cost. A birth that will cost him so many deaths. I urge you to read the book and decided for yourself, the questions it asks are as relevant now as when it was written, who is the monster in this story. I feel that perhaps we all have monstrousness lurking inside us. This story is a warning to us all.


Lost Boys
Lost Boys
by James Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.42

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but I found it hard to care, 31 Mar 2009
This review is from: Lost Boys (Paperback)
`Lost Boys' by James Miller, not to be confused with the great 80s film starring Corey Haim (whatever happened to him?!) is set against the Iraq conflict. It takes place in an unnamed but presumably present day London. Affluent, mainly white school boys keep disappearing from their homes. The book weaves together the different perspectives and voices all connected with one family to shed some light on these vanishings. The story revolves around the Dashwood family and the disappearance of the oldest son, twelve year old Timothy. The boy tells part of the story himself and it was this young voice in particular that I enjoyed reading the most. There is an authenticity to Miller's evocation of childhood traumas and lonely school days.

A growing sense of unease pervades the narrative, growing with each successive section, secret whisperings that the reader is never fully allowed to hear. Miller treads a fine line between suspense and bafflement but I believe he weaves his way with skill. My only regret is that there wasn't more of the boy's voice although I understand the writer's choice (for me the later emails from Timothy were not so convincing). Miller wants the reader to remain in the dark to a certain extent, and the call that summons the boys is not for adult ears although they are complicit in it.

It is a world full of disillusioned, disenfranchised young boys. The book deals with the decadence and decay of Western Imperialism. A generation brutalised by the wars created by their parents, trained in combat by obscenely violent video games. A true call of the wild beckons them that I as a reader may not be able to understand but I enjoyed the journey nonetheless.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2009 3:16 PM BST


Henry V (The New Penguin Shakespeare)
Henry V (The New Penguin Shakespeare)
by A. Humphreys
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `A little touch of Harry in the night.', 31 Mar 2009
I have seen so many film versions of this, with so many different angles I thought it was about time I took a look at the original text. Henry V isn't an enjoyable play to read but it is rewarding. There is humour, tragedy and love (of a sort). But what I discovered when reading the text is that there are so many versions of the one mad. Henry is King, lover, soldier, orator but is he a good man? On the eve of battle Henry goes amongst his men, talks to them as an equal, and exudes greatness. But he is dressed in disguise and travels at night all clear Shakespearean symbols of deceit and untrustworthiness. And the speech he delivers at Harfleur is guaranteed to make your blood run cold.

The play picks up with Henry as king and holds him up as a man. The youthful indiscretions of Prince Hal are no more (don't worry it is possible to read Henry V without reading the other Henry plays). He has cut his ties with those characters of his youth, and indeed Falstaff is only ever mentioned off stage. We see him justify a battle, win a war and win hearts as well as wreak death and destruction. But one thing I am sure of, Henry V is a great play if not a great man. I would thoroughly recommend `A little touch of Harry in the night.' (Henry V, 4. 1)


The Heat Of The Day (Vintage Classics)
The Heat Of The Day (Vintage Classics)
by Elizabeth Bowen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting picture of a city at war, 31 Mar 2009
Elizabeth Bowen, who stayed in London during the blitz, perfectly captures wartime in the Capital. She vividly creates a city inhabited by the living and the dead. Stella the main character roams through London and lives in strange rented rooms. She like the other people who haven't fled, are drawn into a careless intimacy: causal meetings in cafes and bars, brief encounters in the street. Stella's dead husband is still a shadow over her life but she tries to focus on her lover Robert and Roderick, her son. However things begin to unravel with the arrival of the loitering Harrison. Harrison threatens to disrupt her life and hurt those she loves. Stella can stop him but his silence like everything else comes at price. Stella's life begins to crumble around her.

This isn't an action packed novel of spies and espionage that it might seem but that is all to the book's benefit. Stella and the other characters are all perfectly observed and beautifully portrayed. Bowen's prose draws you into those nights of fear and steaming days of ennui, the `hot yellow sands of each afternoon'. High moments of the story are attached to historical Allied events but this isn't a war story as such, although it does deal with lives irreparably altered by the outbreak of war. I love the rhythm and the delicate nature of the prose, there is a haunting beauty to this book that deserves to be more widely known.

Here's another interesting book about the run up to the Second World War:
The Separate Principle


Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics)
Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics)
by Ivan Turgenev
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A neglected classic, 31 Mar 2009
I love a good Russian saga but haven't got the hours in my life to read `War and Peace' every week. Thankfully `Fathers and Sons' offers a great, if some what neglected, classic in a couple of hundred pages. My copy of Ivan Turgenev's classic is a new translation by Richard Freeborn and some of the slang has been translated into modern idiom. I found this a little grating at first, but soon got into the swing of the characters using words like `dad'. I understand the translator's choice as this really is a book about the youth culture of its time. The two main characters Arkady and Bazarov are young men returning from study to their parents. It is a clash of worlds. Bazarov the nihilist or `new man' stirs up trouble where ever he goes. A man who declares Romanticism to be dead and then promptly falls in love! I wish Nihilism would come back as a valid philosophy. Oh, to be able to say `what's the point' and not to feel bad about it. Arkady has been in his friend's shadow but gradually he frees himself, finding love and compassion along the way.

There is tragedy and love in this brilliant story of the conflict between generations. Both father and son find a happiness and acceptance in marriage, while Bazarov and his neglected family will never find such peace. There is even something about daughters in this book, in fact one of the strongest characters is a woman, Anna, only Turgenev never quite gets inside her mind as he does with Bazarov and Arkady. `Fathers and Sons' offers an insight into Russian society of the Nineteenth Century but it also reflects the timeless troubles and joys of fathers and sons everywhere.


We Need To Talk About Kevin (Five Star Paperback)
We Need To Talk About Kevin (Five Star Paperback)
by Lionel Shriver
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark and complex, 31 Mar 2009
My first confession is that for the first one hundred pages I just couldn't understand what all the fuss was about with this book. I found the narrator annoying and the story slow. But a friend urged me to press on and dutifully I did... can I just say that was the best advice I have ever received. This book is amazing!! (Notice the exclamation marks, I hate them myself but nothing else seems to show how good this book is.) I'm sure that in a hundred years time this book will still be heralded as a classic. Shriver takes that all too familiar story of an American High School shooting and does something brave and horrifying with it. I don't want to give anything away but suffice it to say you think you know what happened on that day Kevin went to school but nothing will prepare you for Shriver's revelations. I was left physically reeling.

Told in epistolary form Kevin's mother Eva speaks of that tragic day and Kevin's childhood. All the letters are addressed to her husband Franklin, and his absence is a haunting forewarning of what is to come. Although Eva will draw you in, and as a reader I was swept along by her narration, there are a few suitable moments when you can't help thinking `is this the whole story?' `Did it really happen that way?' Shriver is a master of suspense, dropping in clues and hints about the past and the future. Kevin's very presence shimmers off the page in all his nasty glory, but for all that he is still just a young boy. Is that any excuse? The genius of this book is that it leaves so many questions. Very rarely does a book stay with me as long as I feel this one will. In fact if I close my eyes and think about that day at the school I can see it all as if I was actually there. Horrifying but totally compelling.


A Breathless Hush in the Close
A Breathless Hush in the Close
by Ann Morgan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.80

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hilarious Winter Read, 16 Dec 2008
George is struggling with his post university life, too cool to live at home, too cool to work in a law firm, his talent and genius remain firmly hidden under a bushel! But as he leads the reader through the hapless journey of his days I couldn't help warming to him and thinking that perhaps I'd only been a bad bedsit away from George's decline myself. It is ultimately a coming of age story, making that adjustment from sheltered university life to surviving in the big bad world. And unfortunately for George, but fortunately for us as it's a great read, this journey to self-discovery does not come easy. The book will have you laughing, and cringing with embarrassment for George. Ann Morgan perfectly captures his voice and rather dubious code of behaviour. A must read on these cold winter nights.


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