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Beyond the Pages

Super obsessed with books, especially classics. Now spending the next 3 years of my life studying books. So now my life is basically one big mountain of books!

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger Honestly, this book was a disappointment. I hoped I'd like it more, but ultimately, I think the hype got to me a bit, and I know many people who hate it. Although I didn't rate it very highly, Holden didn't piss me off like I thought he would. I think his touching moments with his sister, and his conversation with the nuns really made me think that he's actually an alright guy. Sure, there are times when I wanted to punch him in the face, but ultimately, his character interested me. I'd say I'm quite a focused person, I like planning my life and knowing whats going on - makes me feel secure I guess. I think because Holden is so different: he's happy just to go along in life and doesn't really care about anything, I actually wanted to understand him. What I did like was Mr Antolini's advice. Definitely spoke to me!

Nevertheless, the lack of plot, abrupt ending and overall general disappointment got to me. Hence my rating. While Holden surprised me, the rest of the book did not. On the other hand, I understand why people would love this novel: it's the kind of one people do. But ultimately, Holden isn't the kind of person I am, so, on the deeper level, I didn't connect with the book as much as I expected.

Favourite Quote: Nobody's be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you'd be so much older or anything. It wouldn't be that, exactly. You'd just be different, that's all. You'd have an overcoat this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you'd have a new partner. Or you'd have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you'd heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you'd just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you'd be different in some way—I can't explain what I mean. And even if I could, I'm not sure I'd feel like it.

Manhattan Transfer

Manhattan Transfer - John Dos Passos Bustling, jumpy and intense. For me, Manhattan Transfer was a different reading experience than I'm used to, but in a good way! Looking deep into New York life, you never get a sense that you're standing still, in the moment. There's always things going on around the single bit of narrative you're reading. Dos Passos' writing directly places you there, with fleeting looks at characters and detailed descriptions of the busy city. I, surprisingly, liked the complexity of this novel. It's not every day you get a book that pushes outside the boundaries, goes beyond what typically a novel can do. The wide range of characters either succeed or fail tragicly (Bud's story got to me), and, ultimately, thats just the way the city goes.

5/5 for storytelling, in a mish-mash sort of way. Writing that truly made me go 'wow'.

Favourite Quote: The terrible thing about having New York go stale on you is that there's nowhere else. It's the top of the world.

Dracula

Dracula - Bram Stoker, Maurice Hindle, Christopher Frayling I love it when books surprise you. Not with just a simple plot twist, but when the whole novel surprises you, through characters, the writing style, the plot. And Dracula did this for me.

Saying that, I didn't go in with many expectations. I knew it was a horror classic, often paired with Frankenstein, and of course, everyone knows about the Count. But I didn't expect there to be a whole team of characters each narrating pieces of the story. I expected Lucy to be in far more of the book, but instead we had Mina, a strong woman who, to the end of the novel, battled on and aided the team as much as any of the other characters. There was wise Van Helsing (far less warrior-like than I expected), gallant Quincey, emotional John Harker, gentlemanly Arthur. The team made the story. I'd go as far to say more than Dracula did.

I'm not entirely sure why I went so long without reading this. The immersive writing and, in part, humorous writing really made the novel for me. It led to two 1am nights, where I couldn't quite bring myself to put it down. Although, at first, hesitant about the journal-entry narration from different characters, it worked surprisingly well. It puts the interconnected narration in Game of Thrones to shame.

Definitely a classic, but one that does not seem overly dated. It's still an adventure story, with a faithful team and many heroics.

Favourite Quote:

Dr Seward: I am satisfied that Lucy's body is not in that coffin; but that only proves one thing.
Helsing: And what is that, friend John?
Dr Seward: That it is not there.

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1) - Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Lucia Graves I very rarely pick up random books to try, but browsing through my university library's leisure collection made me want to take a book out. Just a random book. I'd seen this one everywhere, and people had been raving about it all over this site, so I thought 'Lets give it a go'.

All I really knew going into it that it was a book about a book. The premise sounded a lot like 'The Book Thief' to me, a book I thoroughly enjoyed and hence gave it 5 stars. What I didn't expect was for it to be a myriad of genres, flowing together to make a beautifully woven tale. There was elements of mystery, romance, horror, humour, and many more, which really added depth and character to the story.

Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, a 10-year-old Daniel finds a book that consumes his life for the next 10 years. His growing up and his hunt for the author is one story, the second, interwoven one, is the story of the author, Julian's, past, filled with intrigue.

There were many things I loved about this book: how Daniel was slightly flawed, the various characters that were as equally regarded as Daniel in the narrative, and Daniel's own life having remarkable similarities to that of Julian Carax's. It creates a very full narrative, one that I couldn't put down.

I think the one thing that frustrated me with the novel was how the mysteries and intrigues were rather easily and systematically wrapped up in Nuria's narrative section, but regardless, the plot twists within it lessened my frustration at it.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who is just looking for a book to read, with no real preference on genre. It covers everything, and is very very addictive. I even debated whether or not to go to the cinema because I wanted to finish it so badly.

Favourite Quote: The day was turning out to be longer than The Brothers Karamazov. (Who doesn't love a bit of Russian Lit humour?!)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Vladimir Nabokov, Dan Chaon, Robert Louis Stevenson The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was very different to what I expected. I guess I expected the length of the book to be about the internal struggle between good and evil. Instead, the majority of the book followed Mr Utterson, a friend of Dr Jekyll who strives to find out about the mysterious Mr Hyde. It wasn't until I reached the end of the short story that I really enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong, the whole story was wonderful, and definitely exceeded my expecatations. I just only really loved it when we reached the final letter from Dr Jekyll, detailing his descent into evil.

I've never read any Robert Louis Stevenson, and his writing style is excellent. It balances fines with fact, and you can tell every sentence and word is meant, not just placed there randomly. Although the start of the story disappointed me a little bit, only because it was not what I was expecting, the writing by far made up for it.

I think Stevenson's exploration of good vs evil is fascinating, and I know many before me have highlighted on it. The question over whether evil is nature or nuture, is one that Stevenson almost sits on the bench for, or at least offers explanations for both sides. The evil half, Mr Hyde, only appeared out of the taking of the potion, which would suggest nuture. However, Jekyll frequently suggests, in his final letter, that Mr Hyde was part of him, the other half that he strived to open. Oddly, I have no strong belief either way when it comes to the breedings of evil, but reading Dr Jekyll's descent and fear of his other half has sparked me to question it. Even if someone is born evil, would they hate it? Would tehy be scared of part of themselves? Or would they not see themselves as evil?

To me, this short story opens many doors to questions that are perhaps too big for my puny little brain to answer. It does, however, open those doors a crack. While not a phenomenal book, it is one that I believe everyone should read. I'm sure all of you know the gist of the story, but the acutal story is different, yet similar to what you believe you know.

Hard Times

Hard Times - Charles Dickens, Frederick Wakj This novel actually really surprised me. Many reviews on Goodreads liken the title to the reading experience, one of pushing through long details and descriptions. Actually, this book has done the opposite for me. My reading of Victorian books has been few and far between. Middlemarch was a great novel, one which I am glad I read, and I recently bought a 16-book Dickens Collection in an attempt to get some more of his under my belt.

Having only read A Tale of Two Cities previously, I was aware that Hard Times was relatively similar. I admit, I picked it because it was short, and I wanted something to kickstart my Dickens reading again. I wasn't disappointed. A social criticsm on how basing our lives on facts are numbing and remove the humanity within us, Hard Times is Dickens' critique of Utilitarianism. Mr Gradgrind teaches his children, and his students, the importance of facts and how life should be based around them. Living like that, Louisa decides to marry her fathers friend, Mr Bounderby, to aid her brother, Tom, in maintaining his job.

Simulateously, you have the story of Stephen Blackpool, a working-class factory worker who is haunted by his drunken wife. Employed by Mr Bounderby, his only happiness in life is visits from his friend, Rachael. When fired, Stephen is helped by Louisa, and moves away. Tom, however, incriminates him as a thief, instead taking the money for his debts and drinking.

Louisa and Tom act in very different ways to their factual upbringing. Louisa strives to maintain her strict life, ignoring all fancys and emotions until Mr Harthouse arrives. Tom, however, descends into drinking and depression, a fall that is beautifully depicted by Dickens.

As my second Dickens novel, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Hard Times. While not as content-full as A Tale of Two Cities, the depth of Dickens' characters made the novel very enjoyable to read. It has definitely encouraged me to further my readings into Dickens.

As You Like It

As You Like It - William Shakespeare After reading Richard III and Othello recently, this light-hearted comedy seemed a bit tame. As You Like It is typically partnered with Twelfth Night, both known for their cross-dressing. As You Like It revolves around a Duke's banishment by his brother, forcing him into the Forest of Arden where its inhabitants realise the horrendous nature of the court, and the beauty and serenity of the forest, and nature itself.

Of course, Shakespeare's comedy would not be a comedy if it wasn't centred around love. In the forefront of the play we have Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver, Touchstone and Audrey, and Silvius and Phebe. Rosalind, dressed as a young shepherd, tries to teach Orlando the true meaning of love, and aims to remove the courtly, fake love that was instilled in his childhood. Oliver, Orlando's evil brother, falls in love with Celia and changes his ways. Touchstone, the fool, finds his only comfort within the forest in a 'country wench' who supposedly falls in love with him. And Silvius, another young shepherd, tries to win the heart of mean Phebe, who has her heart set on Ganymede. The love story is relatively simple, cumulating into 4 marriages and 4 happy couples.

I'd like to say that I enjoyed As You Like It, but after realising the beauty of Shakespeare's histories, the comedies now seem highly lacking. While they are easy, contently reads, the lack of great scandals and schemes leads to an overall sense of disappointment.

However, there are great parts to As You Like It. Jaque's famous 'All the world's a stage' monologue, and the Duke's opening monologue prove Shakespeare's skill and craft. Like always, the play are wonderfully well written, with Shakespeare showing what he can do. I just wish there was more substance to the play. While the contrasts between the Forest of Arden and the 'painted pomp' of the court provide some interesting simulation, I wish there was more umph to the story.

One Day

One Day - David Nicholls Part of me really enjoyed One Day, the other part found it average, hence the 3 stars.

The characterisation was very good, and that was a big plus for the novel. I expected it to be very weak, considering it was only one day every year we were seeing the characters, but David Nicholls got really deep into the characters and their motivations, and didn't make it a typical, idyllic love story. I expected Emma and Dexter to get together after say the first 2 years, and then it would tell the story of their relationship. Instead, it focused far heavily on their friendship, meaning we only got a few years of their relationship (and marriage) at the end. This worked to the novels favour. It moved itself away from the typical romance books, and focused far heavier on the characters, as individuals and friends, rather than partners. Emma reminded me very much of myself, something that worries me slightly, concerning her future from when she graduated from University in 1988. She, like me, likes vintage things, has strong issues on things, and likes books and writing. Dexter is the typical bad boy, middle class rich boy turned party-er and then eventual failure.

I think that's what made me like this book. It wasn't perfect. From the first pages, the characters were identifying each-other's flaws, how their bodies and attitudes weren't perfect. This removed the idyllic romance I was expecting, and made the books far more enjoyable. Emma's failing career, her dreams, Dexter's depression after his mother died, his failure as a TV presenter, and the misfortunes of divorce that many couples now experience. It was real, at times gritty, and it allowed the book to be far more effective.

However, I feel as if it dragged on a lot. Yes, we went through their lives, and it would have been hard to randomly jump to 10 years in advance. However, I felt things got rather slow in the middle, making it hard to pick up and read. While it was an easy read, I wanted it to be a bit more fast paced. Furthermore, the writing was rather simple. I blame my obsession with classics, I just felt like there was something missing regarding the writing. There were sweet repetitions, 'Em and Dex, Dex and Em' being one of my favourites. However, I felt that there lacked a spark in the writing that really would have made this book excellent.

The story is wonderful (although the ending does crush you), and it provides a deep insight into characters. It' not a typical romance, and it plays to its strengths in that respect. It had the potential to be a really amazing book, if the writing was a little more special.

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood After enjoying Oryx and Crake so much, I thought the series couldn't get any better. Instead, it grew and developed. I'm honestly not surprised. I am a long term admirer of Margaret Atwood's writing, and she was never disappointed me.

The Year of the Flood happens simultaneously to the events of Oryx and Crake. Like Jimmy, both Ren and Toby survived the 'Waterless Flood', now faced with a society destitute and ruined. The Year of the Flood, much like Oryx and Crake, flashes between time frames. Jumping from the 'present day', back to Ren and Toby's time at the God Gardeners, at first was a little confusing, but it quickly added far more depth to the story. We follow their stories, from how they originally met, to their everyday life within the Gardeners, and then their lives after the Flood.

What I really loved about the book was it's subtle, but effective links with Oryx and Crake. We meet Jimmy in his younger days, we meet Crake again, only shortly, but they are there. The 'God Gardeners', a religious group who predict the 'Waterless Flood' are far more focused on in this novel, building on the small mentions in Oryx and Crake. They can, however, be read as completely seperate books, which adds a whole new dimension to the narrative. It's like you know it's part of a series, but you know it's a story in its own right. It adds two dimentions to your reading.

What impresses me about The Year of the Flood is the depth which Atwood went into, especially regarding the God Gardeners' philosophy. As part of the book's release, she performed 14 choral performance of the hymns she wrote for the book. Each section also included a speech by Adam One, allowing for a deeper analysis of the religious philosophy that the book centred around. She knew inside out how she was going to link The Year of the Flood with Oryx and Crake, and answered questions and posed new ones. We found out a bit more of the mysterious MaddAddam, of which the trilogy is named after.

If you haven't read Oryx and Crake, you can read The Year of the Flood. They are independent enough to be read separately, while linked enough to consider them part of the same series, and universe. If you haven't read any Margaret Atwood, it is an excellent introduction to her speculative-fiction, and really highlights her brilliance as a writer. I can't wait to get my hands on the final book in the trilogy, MaddAddam. Many reviews highlight that it wraps up the trilogy perfectly, and I have high expectations.

Middlemarch

Middlemarch - George Eliot I must admit, I haven't read a Victorian novel in such a long time. This was the first in a long list of Victorian novels that I want to read soon (hopefully before Christmas). Middlemarch is a long, rambling story of a typical provincial town, with the typical marriages and deaths and scandals. People describe it as a book about the whole of society: the rich, the poor, the ladies, the gentlemen, the farmers, the bankers, the bachelors, all rolled into one. It provides a lovely oversight of Victorian towns, and Eliot creates this by intertwining three threads of plot: the change in Dorothea from a girl fascinated by knowledge to the lonely Mrs Casaubon, the fall of Lydgate due to the gossip of society, and finally the doomed love between Mary and Fred, that cannot happen because of Fred's hideously awful attempts at keeping money.

If you don't know already, George Eliot is a pseudonym for Mary Anne Evans. She simply wouldn't have gotten published if she retained her actual name, hence it was published under a male pseudonym. This was also used by Jane Austen and all three Bronte sisters. I think the fact it's written by a women is painfully obvious, but adds a nice, pleasant feeling to the read. If you think of Pride and Prejudice, it's a decent length book, but when you think about it, doesn't have much substantial plot, apart from the occasional marriage and minor downfall of characters. This is very much the same with Middlemarch. I'm not saying this is a bad thing at all, it allowed Eliot to explore society through everyday life. She used the connections between people and the surrounding historical contexts to highlight how society really works.

I said that it was a pleasant novel, but there is the undertones of the harsh reality of society. You have Bulstrode's dark past, thrown light upon by Raffles dying talk. You see the harshness of marriage. Dorothea changes from a wonderful girl admiring a man due to his expanse of knowledge, to a widow accepting she will never marry again, and is restricted by her late husband to never marry the man she loves. It's painful, seeing characters evolve, but it's also builds a very clear picture of society. That's why you don't get frustrated with it's length (a whopping 880 pages), because each sub-plot is intertwined so wonderfully that you feel like the society is laid out on a platter, for you to see each microcosm of the impacts of events and personalities. It does lag in the middle, with nothing much happening. Nothing substantial ever happens. You have deaths, you have scandals, but these are almost swallowed up by a move to another sub-plot, or a long, rambling speech about a part of society. To that extent, it can be seen as weak, especially after reading plot-packed, more modern books.

Eliot also have the favourable help of hindsight. She wrote this between 1871 and 72, yet set from 1830-32. It allowed her to see the impacts of vast changes. It was set in pre-Reform England, but Eliot had the advantage of living in post-Reform England. You also see her narration pop through the plot. Occasionally, you see the usage of 'I', making Eliot almost an omniscient being. She knows what happens, she knows the characters pasts, and the future of society. We also hear about the death of King George IV, his successor, and the pathways being made in medical science, but also the want to stick to traditional ways. The wide expanse of characters allows for many different views on a lot of different events and themes, making it a very contextual novel, one that enlightens the Victorian period amazingly. It's ultimately a realist novel, but has elements of a modern novel we know today.

It's a long read, you have to put up with long rambling narration (the worst I've seen so far is in Les Miserables), but it paints a truly wonderful picture of society in the 1830s, and is so clever in it's weaving of plot threads, it's a truly enjoyable read, regardless of it's length. I do, wholeheartedly agree with Virginia Woolf's comment on it: 'the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'.

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake  - Margaret Atwood It's weird how much you can love one author. In your mind, they're miles beyond anything you've ever read, and for me, this is how I view Margaret Atwood. Albeit, The Handmaid's Tale is still my favourite novel of hers, but Oryx and Crake is a close second.

At first, I wasn't 100% keen on it. My view of dystopian novels is very clear - they immerse you into a horrific world that has the potential to be your own. This wasn't fulfilled in Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and this made it a weak novel to me. Nothing was explained. Oryx and Crake was going that way, you were in a world where you didn't understand it's origins. For a lot of the novel (until the closing chapters), there was no suggestions or hints to how the Earth came to be how it is. And this frustrated me. I persevered though. I knew it was written by Atwood, and her writing is so amazing that it kept me going.

The world that the Snowman resides in is seemingly absent of humans. It's only occupants are him, the 'Crakers' (perfect humans designed by his old best friend, Crake), and the weird genetic adaptions of animals left over from the days where humans still existed on Earth. Pigoons are genetically mutated to create organs, kidneys to be exact. Rakunks are a cross between a racoon and skunk, commonly used as pets, with no smell of a skunk. These creations were explained through a very clever writing mechanism by Atwood. Each part contained a few chapters, but it jumped from Snowman's world, to him remembering his old life, as Jimmy. Here we met Crake, and eventually Oryx, the two people Snowman built the new world around.

This building of an explanation of the world was simple. The 'Crakers' knew nothing of the world before, and therefore they do not know what simple things such as 'war' and 'watch' mean. Snowman, knowing that the true meanings would be way too complicated to be explained, he created his own mythology and tradition to explain the world, linking back to the two people he loved most: Oryx and Crake. This is where the novel really has it's meaning. The creation of meanings is completely subjective, and whole-heartedly created out of thin air. It actually links in very nicely with my sociology class. The simple meanings of time and war are defined by us - by no-one else.

I personally preferred the 'Jimmy' scenes compared to 'Snowman' scenes. Within Jimmy's chapters, you saw a world slowly beating the problems that have kept us back, through genetic mutations and cross-breeding etc. I won't give it completely away, but that's ultimately what destroyed the world. Their developments went too far, to where the advancements caused mass death, a 'virus' that was too fast to stop and ultimately, desecrated everything. Should we try and advance ourselves and the world around us, if it could potentially bring about our extinction?

Oryx and Crake is the first in the MaddAddam Trilogy. Lets just say I can't wait to get my hands on the next two.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak I was very weary of reading this book. While odd narration/narrators has proved amazing in several books, it has let many books down in my opinion. *cough* Gatsby *cough*. Hence, when hearing that this was narrated by Death himself, I was slightly put off, but at the same time intrigued. Reading the first few pages of the Prologue made me cautious. The odd little facts that Death puts in the middle of the narration I found odd at first, but this quickly changed. It was different yes, but added far more depth to the narrator compared to what I expected.

First off, this book is very poignant, very beautifully written, and very, very heartbreaking. You get attached easily. You fall in love with Liesel and her innocent journey to understanding the power of books and words. You even, perhaps, pity Death. The knowledge that a man (if he can be described as that), has to look into the faces of dying people and lift up their souls, all day, every day, almost breaks you. Death comes across not as malicious, but an entity that looks on at the world, and wondering how so much death was caused, all because of one man. Hitler.

It's setting, is both in the background and the forefront of the narration. At first, there is only very subtle mentions of the rising power of Hitler and the Nazis. As you go through the book, you get the narration by Death, who is like an omniscient, old grandfather. Who looks on and sees the world destroying itself, and he's the one who picks up after it all. But you also get the innocent story of Liesel, who comes to terms with the harsh reality of the world, while staying in the imaginary universe of her stolen books. It makes the events even more harrowing, as you see two version of it: the narrator's view, and the story itself. The simple, childish acts like discouraging your friend from kissing you, and Death's knowledge that everything doesn't turn out well, leaves you with plenty of emotions. You laugh, you pity the characters, you hate some characters, you smile, you frown, you cry. It's a book that, while labelled as a Young Adult book, holds so much emotion in it that you expect it to be an adult book.

I think for me, it was the writing style that really made me love this book. Some quotes are just amazing, yet so simple that it makes you remember them forever. While it's technically in first person, narrated by Death, it almost comes across as third person. The main story is about Liesel, not Death, yet you get little insights from Death that makes the writing style amazing. You hear part of Death's story, his views of the characters and his views on the world around him, picking up bodies one by one.

I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

I don't know what I was expecting from this book. I'd read a short description beforehand, and I knew there is a film coming out in Jan 2014. Other than that, I knew practically nothing. Usually, I do a lot of research on books, especially when I'm reading classics, but I didn't feel the urge to. Even though I was weary, I persevered. I went on. Because I knew it could be another life-changing book. Cliché, I know, but there are books that stick with you. And this one has stuck.

Rebecca (VMC)

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier, Sally Beauman Honestly, I'm not sure why I decided to read this book. I was at a loose end after finishing Catching Fire, so I thought I'd just stroll through my school library and pick a classic. This jumped out at me. I must admit, it's advertising. I've always thought of Rebecca as a gothic romance novel, and I know it was originally labelled as that to increase sales, but ultimately? I don't think it is. It's reasonably gothic, yes, and there's a small amount of romance in there, but that's it. Albeit, it doesn't fit into any other genre, but to me, it was far more than a girl falls in love and moves to a old dark, scary house.

I really really enjoyed this book. It was slow at first, and I wasn't really sure where it was going. But once you brake into the whole concept of Manderley, it get very readable. For the majority of the start of the book, not a lot happens after the wedding. We see (the new) Mrs. de Winter slowly realise she's struggling to be who she is expected to me, can't run the house, and is ultimately haunted by her predecessor - Rebecca.

This is what I love about this book. Even though you get attached to the narrator, the character that steals the show is Rebecca, the dead wife who is loved by everybody. We never see her, we never have any flashbacks, but she's the embodiment of Manderley, and the novel as a whole. At first, I was confused over why the novel was even called Rebecca. There was hardly any mention of her in the first half of the book, and perhaps that was because it was from the point of view of the new wife. One who's trying to fit in but just sticks out like a sore thumb. The character of Maxim I found to be completely different to what I expected. I either expected him to be a Byronic hero, or a loving, doting husband. Instead, he was a bit of both, somewhere in the hazy in-between, that made him an unpredictable, but haunted character.

The second half of the book however, is where it really heats up. The hope and fall of the new Mrs. de Winter was amusing, if not harsh to read. The slow revelation that there was more to Rebecca's death than meets the eye. The slow unravelling of Maxim and Rebecca's relationship and what actually occured at Manderley during Rebecca's time made it really fascinating. It was more of a mystery than a gothic romance. What I also loved was the very clever use of first person narration. You only know what the new wife knows, and that works very well. It certainly wouldn't have worked in third person, the tension, suspense and intrigue wouldn't have been there.

Ultimately, it isn't what I expected, at all. I expected some kind of ghost haunting when I did some research, but what I get was a lot better. It wasn't a cliché gothic novel, it was a subtle, gothic, intriguing book that makes you want to read. Just because you honestly don't know where it's going to go. The Book People are selling a set of Daphne Du Maurier's books for like £6, and it's definitely going on my Christmas list...

Catching Fire

Catching Fire - Suzanne  Collins I haven't read a Young Adult book in over a year, so for me, this was a weird experience. I decided to read Catching Fire because I know the film is coming out soon, and I wanted to read it before then. If anyone reading doesn't know, Catching Fire is the sequel to 'The Hunger Games', and follows the same characters. It was an interesting read, and was very easy compared to the likes of Crime and Punishment.

I'm not sure whether it was better than the first book or not. It's got everything the first book has: the annoying Katniss/Peeta fake romance, the actual Games, the multitude of interesting deaths, the evil President Snow. But Catching Fire had one thing I really liked: the start of the Rebellion. I love dystopian novels, and I love the idea of rebellions in books, so to me, I liked it. It grew from the end of the first book, and led to a massive rebellion that we are yet to see the full effect of (I'm guessing it will be in Mockingjay (Book #3). It was well done, the subtleness of it made if feel like there was tension, and the minor characters that believed in it was something that Suzanne Collins really did well. You felt for the people of Panem, it was dire.

The problem I have with the book, along with the first one, is that I don't really really feel for any of the characters. I feel for the society hardened by having to give up their children every year, but to me, I don't particularly like Katniss, or Peeta, or even Haymitch. To me, there is no reason for me to really love them as characters. There is no connection. Of course, there should be, the series is written in first person, and in such a situation that Katniss finds herself in, you should feel for her. I just don't feel like that is put across.

It's the same with the deaths. There were only a few that really affected me, and these were really only minor characters, like Mags for example. I honestly wouldn't have cared if even Peeta died. I really wouldn't. I don't have that connection that you need with the characters in a novel, especially a dystopian one.

The whole plot line is ingenious though. The start of the rebellion, the layout of the Games, the control by the Peacekeepers, it all pulls together to make one very satisfying plot. I feel like she cheated a bit when using the Games again? I feel like there should have been more she could have written, that didn't include another round of the Games, which seemed slightly repetitive to me. The ending though, shocked me. It was so subtle that I didn't really understand what was happening until right at the last minute, when it was clear there was a bigger picture. It was a good twist, a good, interesting, uniting start to the rebellion.

I've heard very, very mixed reviews of the final book. Will I read it? Most likely. I want to finish the series, just to see what happens, even if it means forgoing another classic for a YA book. But alas, I need a bit of variety don't I?

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro I'm not going to lie, this book confused the hell out of me. And I'm not sure what to think about it.

I expected it to be a typical Utopian novel, following a group of people through their growing up. Typically with Utopian/Dystopian fiction, you get a very clear sense of the society you're in, how it differs from the current day, and general feelings about it.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. It was wonderfully written, had a touching narrative and was deceptively complex. It addressed some very philosophical issues at the end of the book. This is, for me, what made it enjoyable. The simple story on the outside, following three friends through their life, led to some big questions, ones which were addressed wonderfully in the closing chapters. Is cloning right? Do clones deserve the same rights? And more important, are they human?

One thing I can congratulate Ishiguro on is his creation of his characters, and their friendship. For that reason, it was a lovely book. Without having long character descriptions outlining key traits etc, you got a wonderful sense of their character just through the story of their childhood. Albeit, it was a different childhood, one shrouded in secrecy and constant references to things neither the characters or the reader understood. But it kept you reading, hoping to find out what it was all about, and how they grew up.

Yet this want to find out what happened made the book trouble me. It cleared it up to some extent: the donations, the characters' journey. But it didn't fully explain the society. There was little explanation of it's values, of it's politics or it's creation. Instead, it was vaguely answered, with only references to it's creation of 'students' to donate organs to stop cancer. Yes, this was relevant to the characters, but there was no sense of a wider picture. Hence, my overall disappointment in the book.

For me, any novel I read concerning a differing society to ours, I love to be detailed and complex, one where I understand the society inside and out like it was my own. This shows literature's power at making new worlds. On the contrary, with this book, it ended with half answered questions and lingering doubts in my mind. Why didn't the students rebel against their donations? Why didn't they at all question their position in society? Did they once think towards the part they played, and how they were cast as 'second class citizens'?

It was a beautiful story, and one very well written. But from the point of view of a Utopia/Dystopia reader, it was rather unsatisfying. It could have been so much better in my opinion. I would recommend you read it, but not if you want a deep, different society that is built wholeheartedly. If you want a tale of friendship and love, then I would completely recommend it.

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black - Susan Hill This book was first brought to my attention through the film, and the critically acclaimed play that is the second longest running show on Broadway. I was drawn to it through it's length, I must admit. After getting through Crime and Punishment, I have a temporary aversion to big books. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, I just need a break from 500-page Russian Literature. What makes 'The Woman in Black' by Sue Hill different is that it's written as a traditional Victorian gothic novel. Typical ghost haunting, terrified lawyer, dreary house.

I'm going to say right off, this was an odd read. I don't know if it's because it was so much shorter than Crime and Punishment, it just seemed lacking in some way. It was well written, the tension was there for the majority of the novel that you'd expect from a gothic novel about a ghost. There was some beautiful passages about the gothic house and it's surroundings, and I completely commend Sue Hill on her writing. The problem is that it's a Victorian gothic novel that isn't a Victorian gothic novel. I was painfully aware that it was written in the style of one, and to me, that changed things. It was very stereotypical, very 'following the masses' of gothic literature.

Don't get me wrong, she created a level of tension. The mysterious rocking chair, and the mad, terrifying cries of a child drowning makes it seem horrible, and you really connect with Arthur as Hill describes it magnificently. It's got a level of suspense, as you don't know what's going to happen, who the woman is, or the bac kstory behind Mrs. Drablow's family. In that sense it's a good novel. The problem? It could have done with an extra 100 pages. Kipps leaving Eel Marsh House was too abrupt for my liking. It was sudden, and I certainly expected him to return, to even confront the ghost. Instead, we find out a very rushed back story, one that is both heartbreaking, but not explored really. I got the sense that the author ran out of steam half way through, killed off all tension, and tried to finish it as quickly as possible.

The ending is not all bad though. Although rushed, the epilogue removes me from disappointment. It's a sense of finality. A harrowing finality, but a conclusion to the story. It's sad, but it ultimately ties in the confusion about the difference in his fiancée and his wife we read about at the start of the story. After the abrupt ending of his time at Eel Marsh House, you see how the story ends, how it ultimately connects to him once he's left, and returned back to his normal life. It's certainly not a nice ending, but it was by far the best part of the book. It redeems itself, it rises up from pure disappointment to end on a promising note, one that outshines much of the novel.

Would I recommend reading it? If you want a relatively quick gothic read, with a simple story line? Then I would suggest reading it. It does keep you gripped for the most part. If you want to read a very satisfying, dark, well developed gothic horror, I'd recommend Frankenstein any day over it. It's longer, but the sheer darkness of it is astounding.