Monday, 22 September 2014

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley reminds me of a more disturbing and extreme version of 1984. The 20th Century novel is set in London in 2540 (in the book, known as 632 after Ford).  The world is stable; nobody ever suffers, the world is united, the people are happy and everyone is in a job that is satisfactory to them. However, this means controlling everything; the world has a stable population of 2 billion, children are ‘manufactured’ in labs, genetically modified to fit a caste and then educated – almost traumatized/terrorized – to fit into society. The lower castes (the majority of the population) are bred through a process in which one single egg produces up to 96 identical children. When Bernard and Lenina travel to the “Savage Reservation”, they are shocked at the difference between the two worlds. They end up encountering, John, a young man that was born from World State parents but born and raised in the Savage World. John is an outsider due to his appearance in the primitive village, and finds comfort in reading Shakespeare. Bernard decides to take John and his mother back to London. However, John finds the ‘civilized’ society appalling and is still feels as the outsider...

Friday, 12 September 2014

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

“I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle.” 

“If you don't know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.” 

“It is not death that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live.” 

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is the story of the creative minds, the hard workers, the inventors protesting against the corrupt government and society. It is mostly told through Dagny Taggart’s (a railroad executive) point of view. She struggles to follow her moral code and love for her industry while having to sacrifice everything for a society/government that judges her as amoral; taking advantage of her virtues. John Galt becomes the symbol of everything she hates, but mostly everything she loves. Dagny finds a broken down motor which runs on static electricity, as she tries to find the inventor and his reasons for abandoning the motor she begins to find a whole new world and philosophy. Dagny is reluctant to give up her railroad but she begins to see that she is only helping the looters.

As you should be able to tell by my use of three quotes, I really liked the book and what it had to say. I had previously read, We the Living, and I had really enjoyed it so I decided to read another of Rand’s book. I must say, I have found that I really agree with Rand’s philosophy. There were a lot of teachers that did not support me reading this book, they thought it would ‘brainwash’ me; too extremist. I don’t think these teachers had completely read the book, because too me it wasn't just about being rich and selfish. Sure, it justified capitalism and some things were exaggerated; however, it talked about hard work, about only giving and taking what is deserved and about money being important but only the tool and not the means or the end.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

“If an offense come out of the truth, better is it that the offense comes than that the truth be concealed.”  - Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy is set in a small country town in Wessex, at the end of the 19th Century. The Durbeyfields discover they are the descendants of a forgotten noble family – the d’Urbervilles. When the family experiences financial hardship they send their eldest daughter to ask for help from their “kin” (a family that bought the name of d’Urberville). Tess meets Alec d’Urberville her (fake) cousin. While Tess is working for Alec’s mother, he rapes her. The rest of the story is about the struggles Tess faces as a victim of rape in a society that blamed her for her own predicament. Even her mother blamed her for not marrying Alec.

Is this a good book? Yes and no. I didn’t like it; in fact I quite detested it. I didn’t like the ending of the story and I certainly didn’t like the characters, not even Tess. However, if Hardy’s purpose in writing was to draw emotions, even if they are negative, if his purpose was to start a debate on feminist issues then he did a good job with his book. Personally, I like the idea of books as escapism and of stories with happy endings. I did not achieve this with Tess of d’Urbervilles, but I did go on an emotional roller coaster ride as I had heated discussions with all of the characters at one point or another.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Poor Man's Wealth by Rod Usher

"Tourism is too loud for my liking. And it blinds some people . . . Tourism in the end is stare and click, fluids in, fluids out. It makes visitor no longer your guests."

Poor Man's Wealth by Rod Usher is the tale of a sleepy, Spanish-speaking town as told by the mayor, El Gordo. Their main source of income is the tobacco crop. However, as people become more aware of the health consequences, the town begins to slowly die and the town must look into new places for their money. El Gordo has the idea of forming a committee to create a 'hoax' or town legend to attract tourists. 

Gentle - that is the word I'd use to describe the novel, Poor Man's Wealth. I enjoyed reading it, it wasn't too short or long, and it had an interesting idea. But, there wasn't any shocking twists or tense moments - it didn't capture my heart. The book seemed to go on a smooth ride and while Usher added some twists to the story, the characters reacted to them in such a calm manner that I never became anxious about it. In a sense, this created the atmosphere of the town. While reading, I felt I was transported to the sleepy town of Higot and even to the past (as the townsfolk still led old-fashioned lives). Usher was successful in depicting the scenery and creating his world, but as for the story, it wasn't very captivating. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Witch & Wizard : The Gift by James Patterson and Ned Rust

“Knowledge is valuable, but imagination is invaluable.” – James Patterson

 Witch & Wizard by James Patterson is a fantasy series that depicts the persecution of two magical siblings by the new totalitarian government, ‘New Order’. The Gift is the second instalment and it follows Whit and Wisty Allgood as they figure out how to better control and use their magic while trying to save everyone endangered – their parents, Whit’s girlfriend and all the brainwashed children. Meanwhile, the tyrannical leader is on the hunt for the Allgood siblings in order to take their gifts and be able to control everything and everyone.

I received this book as a gift and I’ve really enjoyed reading it. I can’t wait to read the next book, to figure out all the cryptic clues. However, I do feel that The Gift went in a circle; I don’t really know more than I what I got from the first few pages. It seemed that Patterson was trying too hard to extend the plot so that it could become a lengthy series; at one point, the plot became Whit and Wisty running away, then getting caught by the villain then escaping then getting caught – and it just wasn’t going anywhere! Really, none of the answers proposed at the beginning were answered. Maybe, this was because I skipped the first book and went straight into the second; the lack of background information could have hindered my immersion into the story. However, I don’t think this was too big of a problem as I didn’t even realise this was the second book until I started writing this post. Patterson managed to catch all the readers up to the full story quite easily, as there were so many references to the past, which I’m assuming mostly happened in the first book.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

1984 by George Orwell

“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.” 

1984 by George Orwell is a science fiction story that attacks totalitarianism. The book is set in the superstate of Oceania, in the province called Airstrip One. Everything and everyone from the party is monitored all the time by Big Brother, the supreme leader. Anyone who shows any sign of rebelling against IngSoc (the government) is punished, tortured until they confess to all sorts of crimes and then killed. Winston, the protagonist, works in the Ministry of Truth. His jobs are to falsify records. Smith inwardly rebels and finds that there are others like him. However, the Party can see everything and so Winston is not as successful as he thinks and is ultimately betrayed by his co-worker in the end.

Should you read this book? Definitely! Not only is this book a classic and references to it all the time in media, pop culture and everyday life but it is surprisingly entertaining and easy to read. From the beginning, I understood everything and I was actually invested in the story, I say ‘actually’ because the classic novels are not always so accessible to modern teen readers and this was an exception. Although, I have to warn any future readers, that the ending is not a happy one and while this was necessary to prove Orwell’s point, I am never one to be satisfied with a sad ending.

George Orwell uses the novel to warn the readers of that time about communism and totalitarianism in general. George Orwell sets the story in 1984 - only 35 years after the publication date – so to warn the English public that this could easily happen to them if they didn’t ward off totalitarianism. The Cold War at that time had not escalated yet and so there were still some academic supporters. As Orwell put it, “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and for Democratic Socialism as I understand it." Orwell was against the communist up rise in Russia and Spain and so sought to warn the British and Americans of this. Personally, I agree with Ben Pimlott’s introduction (Penguin publication) which stated that this book was also an attack on the direction of the British Labour government, at that time, into state socialism. Orwell may have been a democratic socialist but I don’t think he was pleased with the direction the Labour government was heading in. Mostly, because the name of the government in 1984 was IngSoc, meaning English Socialism in Newspeak. This meant that England/Britain was still the power house of Oceania; it wasn’t another country such as a Russia who had taken over England and turned it communist. [NOTE: Going back now, I really think George Orwell wrote about Totalitarian Russia. As I am studying Russia in Stalin's period, I see more and more similarities about the past Russia and 1984 - it is really shocking. Things like the no persons, trials for people who used to be part of the party and even thought crime occurred in Russia.] 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

JFK: The Smoking Gun by Colin McLaren

“The case is the perfect example of a riddle wrapped in an enigma and shrouded in mystery. And the solution is far more disturbing than any fanciful conspiracy could ever be. “– Colin McLaren

JFK: the Smoking Gun is Colin McLaren’s attempt to solve the mystery of President Kennedy’s assassination. McLaren describes himself as an “ex-detective sergeant/task force team leader”. He spent 4.5 years researching JFK’s death.  The book “proves, once and for all” that Oswald was not the only gunman. According to McLaren, Oswald fired the first shot but it was the shots fired by a novice Secret Service, George Hickey. Hickey was riding in the car behind the presidential limousine and was in charge of the AR-15 gun even though he was only trained as a driver. McLaren argues that the fatal shot was an accident and the Secret Service worked hard to hide evidence to protect its men.

The reason I first picked up JFK: The Smoking Gun was because of the cover. I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but the cover was so pretty and modern that I couldn’t help being attracted to the book! The only troubling thing was that the publisher and Christabella Designs decided to use a quote from Andrew Rule to promote the book. Andrew Rule is a bestselling author, not a historian, not a detective and not someone who seems to have analysed JFK’s assassination extensively. It seemed quite strange for me to use Rule’s words; I don’t think he is the best person to judge a historical book.

Overall, the book was quite easy to follow and comprehend and I quite enjoyed it. McLaren makes very strong arguments when discussing the bullets – the timing of the bullets, the difference in the behaviour of the three bullets and the metal fragments found in Kennedy’s brain. I also liked the use of photos to help illustrate the facts and to give a nice break halfway through the book.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Les Cousins Karlsoon (T.1) - Espions et fantômes par Katarine Mazetti

<< Elles ne parlent pas la même langue mais leurs sourires signifient qu’elles espèrent avoir bientôt l’occasion de se revoir>>

Les cousins karlsson – espions et fantômes par Katarine Mazetti est un livre sur quatre cousins qui ont entre 9 et 12 ans et vont passer l’été chez leur tante. Ils n’ont pas de contraintes ; Frida, leur tante, a donné toute liberté aux cousins. Mais, ils ne sont pas les seuls habitants de l’île et ils vont enquêter sur l’identité de ces mystérieux visiteurs.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Girl in the Steel Corset (#1 The Steampunk Chronicles) by Kady Cross

"No person was entirely good or entirely evil- one side could not exist without the other." Chapter 7

The Girl in the Steel Corset is about a 16 year old girl, Finley Jayne, with a mysterious side to her. Set in 1897, being different wasn't generally accepted in society. Finley has a 'thing' inside of her, something that gives her strength and aggression when she is in danger. Soon, she finds other people each with their own power. Together they try to find 'The Machinist' - the mastermind behind several crimes. All of his crimes seem to be random and  unconnected to each other, but there's one similarity- all of the crimes are done by automatons. And they aren't as random as they seem... all the small crimes are leading into something huge and catastrophic. 

When I first saw the cover book, I already thought it was the style of book I'd enjoy. I know... you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but my assumptions of the book were mostly correct. At first glance, I predicted it would be both historical and romantic. After flipping to the first page, I saw that my first guess was right- it was set in the past. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

“He smiled the most exquisite smile, veiled by memory, tinged by dreams.” 

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is one of the most well known modernist books. The novel was written in a stream-of-consciousness style and it was set in three parts and the plot can be really quickly summed up with:

The Window: Mrs. and Mr. Ramsay with their children and guests spending time in their Scottish holiday home. Six-year-old James wants to go the lighthouse, his mother agrees but Mr. Ramsay states that the weather is not good enough for the boat journey. One of the guests, Lily Briscoe is painting. Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle (two guests) get engaged.
Time Passes: World War 1 breaks out and the house is left abandoned. Everyone dies... Jokes – it just felt like that. Mrs. Ramsay died suddenly, Andrew Ramsay (oldest son) dies in battle and Prue (daughter) dies after giving birth. (Note: the deaths are all told in brackets)
The Lighthouse: Mr. Ramsay with his children (those that are still alive) and two of his guests decide to go back to the house. Mr. Ramsay makes his children go with him to the Lighthouse. Lily goes back to painting and this time manages to achieve her vision.

Personally, the summary that I just gave was exactly what a whole 227 page novel spent describing. But, if you’ve read my review on Mrs. Dalloway, my lack of enthusiasm for Virginia Woolf wouldn’t be surprising. For me, I need a plot that I can invest myself in. However, one thing that I must give to Woolf is her sense of rhythm, like the repetitive and familiar lives of the Ramsays as the waves come and go in their island. Only when I went back to the introduction written by Hermione Lee in 1991 (it was included in the version I borrowed) that I realised how much of a difference her editing and style really made. Read the manuscript version to see for yourself:

Friday, 28 February 2014

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

"This late age of the world's experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears" 

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is written in a stream-of-consciousness form; as were many modernist literature. The story is set in only one day, as Clarissa Dalloway organizes a party. The story reveals her thoughts and ideas. It also explores the interwoven stories of Dalloway's friends and husband. The story is told in parallel with a War Veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Even though the veteran is quite disillusioned he shares Clarissa's feeling of oppression by society. 

Personally, I did not enjoy this book as much as I had hoped to. This is due to my own dislike of the usual modernist style. I much prefer structure and a full narrative. However, I do enjoy analyzing and breaking apart this style of story. The more you analyse the more little 'tricks' and ideas of life and society that were so subtly criticized/analysed are discovered.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

‘There’s a difference between not being afraid and acting in spite of fear,’ Divergent, Ch12

Divergent by Veronica Roth is the first book of a trilogy. It is about a world where it is split into five factions: Erudite, Dauntless, Abnegation, Amity and Candor. Each year, 16 year olds have to choose only one of them to live in for the rest of their lives. Beatrice, one of these 16 year olds, struggles to make her decision, she can’t choose between family and where she feels like she truly belongs. In a world that’s supposed to be perfect, Beatrice sees the real truth. That nothing can stay perfect for long.

Divergent is a very well known book so that’s why I decided to read it. I was a little bit disappointed in the beginning of the book, because it didn’t capture my interest like I thought it would. There have been many positive comments on the book, so my expectations were very high.  The book didn’t get my interest right from the start, but after a few chapters it was definitely a page-turner.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Solace & Grief by Foz Meadows

Solace and Grief follows the story of a 17 year old girl called Solace. She was raised in a foster care, but when she finds out she is a vampire she is compelled to run away. Soon, she finds herself within a group of other strange young adults. They are part of ‘the Rare’ and each one of them has a ‘Trick’, which is a superpower or a supernatural ability. For example, Jess is a psychic reader, and Solace is a vampire. But soon things start to get a little weird... A Faceless man is stalking her and Professor Lukin is a bit too interested in their ‘Trick’...

This is the first book of a series called The Rare. It is set in Sydney, Australia and I found it interesting that Foz Meadows has used real places in the city but added twists to make them supernatural. At the beginning of the book, the story seemed to be droning on to nowhere. However, some things that seemed irrelevant at the start actually ended up being important towards the end. I didn’t like how Solace and her friends went to the Gadfly and got drunk, then stayed home all day. This seemed to happen several times, and I think it stalled the story a bit. Nevertheless I continued reading, and I’m glad I did.
I loved the variety of characters in the book. They all have different ‘Tricks’ and personalities. I found it a bit hard to remember who was who at the start, because a lot of characters are introduced all at the same time.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan

“When individuals have the power not just to dream, but to realize their dreams, they will demand a greater say.” – Bill Clinton

The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan is a long ‘essay’ on the study of geopolitics/economy of the ‘great powers’ after the Cold War. Kagan explores the main foreign policies and aims of the United States, Russia, China, Europe, Japan, India and Iran. According to Kagan, “Autocracy is making a comeback.” And, as the world goes back to ‘normal’ the hopes of the modern democratic world that, “wanted to believe that the end of the Cold War did not just end one strategic and ideological conflict but all strategic and ideological conflict” are diminished.

Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed this book. I say surprisingly because I have never read any book of this style. I had a sort of prejudice in my head before reading that I would find this all very dry and difficult to understand, this prejudice all went away when I started reading, and I found I am really interested in the field of geopolitics.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Paladin by Dave Luckett

“Good if they were good, but they weren't always good... Power goes to most people’s head, you know.” (p. 27)

Paladin by Dave Luckett is the exploration of truth and justice by placing the protagonists into fantasy second dimension/world. Sam and Finny live as outcasts in their city, until they find out that they belong to another world. Both Sam and Finny have magical talents that are needed in to fight evil in another land.

Firstly, the novel was a pleasant short read but it wasn't a great book. Paladin isn't bad but it isn't very good either, it’s just mediocre. While, I enjoyed the hour or two it took me to read I wouldn't recommend this book, simply because there are other fantasy novels that are better. The main reasons for this were that it was very brief and unoriginal. However, there were some nice themes investigated.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

“You will profit by failure, and will avoid it another time. I have done a similar thing myself, in construction, often. Every failure teaches a man something, if he will learn.”

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens is the tale of the intertwining lives of 19th Century British families, from different social and economic statuses. Little Dorrit was born and raised in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison. She meets Mr. Clennam, who had just returned from his travels abroad, after his father died and left a mysterious watch for Mrs. Clennam. After seeing his mother being unusually nice to Little Dorrit he begins to suspect that his mother, the watch and Little Dorrit are all connected. He also suspects that his mother had taken some part in the financial state of the Dorrits. Mr. Clennam, with the help of friends and high powered connections investigate this case. What we find out in the end is a bigger twist to the story than Mr. Clennam ever suspected when he began to investigate.

Like many 19th Century, English classics, Little Dorrit is a humongous text that explores the unfair working of society, the gap in the upper and lower classes and especially, the obsession people have with money. I found this book was sometimes very confusing and at other times very intriguing. The start was very long and it only became to be interesting only a third of the way in, mostly because it was when I started to understand the story – others more proficient in classic literature may completely disagree with me. What I found the hardest to follow were all the jumps from each family every few chapters. However, I didn’t worry about this too much because I had already learnt from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, which followed the same style. And as expected, the confusion all pays off when all the characters come together to form part of just one story.
Warning: This is a somewhat lengthy review  of the ideas on the book and it contains  some spoilers.