My Review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My Review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Finished on: 8th August 2013
Rating: 4 stars
Book Challenge Number: 48
Sorry for my absence from this blog, I’ve been reading some academic texts for the second year of my degree which have taken up quite a bit of my time. Decided not to review them as they’re difficult to review without lots of understandable historiographical terms, which I have been trying to avoid writing down for as long as possible.
The Book Thief is an interesting novel which is narrated by ‘Death’, which is an odd concept to get your head around. The setting is WW2 era Germany, where ‘undesirables’ are being rounded up and murdered in concentration camps and bombs are falling left, right and centre. Living in a small German town is Liesel, a girl living with elderly foster parents after her brother dies and her parents worry for her future because of their Communist sympathies making them a Nazi target. When her brother dies, this is the first time Death notices Liesel, and this is where the story begins. 
The story continues through the war, with Liesel making friends, hiding in air raid shelters during bombings, assisting her foster mother, learning to read whilst stealing books and food as life becomes tougher in Germany. As the story continues, Death talks about the general climate of the time and how busy he is as he takes people, some of those lives revolving around and close to Liesel.
I really liked this book and didn’t find it took me ages to adjust to the odd concept of Death narrating. This book is well-written and quite easy to get into which is always a bonus for me as I don’t like reading to feel like a chore. I highly recommend it’s book for bringing a new dimension to the usual World War 2 story.

My Review of The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

My Review of The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

Rating: 4 stars
Book Challenge Number: 45
Finished on: 20th July 2013
Sorry it took me a while to write this up and post this, been really busy recently and thought now I have a bit of time before my best friend Amy arrives I would give you my review of The Boleyn Inheritance. Currently in the process of reading a book on Medical Ethics and the Nuremberg Doctors Trial post World War Two, so won’t be posting a review on that for obvious reasons. Once I’ve read my next book (which I hope will be soon) a review will definitely be up!
This story follows on from the well known part of history in Tudor England where Anne Boleyn has been executed alongside her brother for adultery, incest and treason. Left behind is George Boleyn’s wife Jane Lady Rochford in disgrace and trying to work her way back to court. Mainly from her perspective, you see how court moves from the reign of Anne Boleyn as Queen through Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.
This story has 3 main perspectives, from Jane Boleyn to Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard with their view of events surrounding them at court. It begins with Anne of Cleves and an impotent Henry VIII, their divorce and him referring to her as his sister afterwards, moving through to a 14 year old Katherine Howard and her extra-marital liaisons. All the way through, the Duke of Norfolk acts as a manipulative influence who always manages to look after number one, a concept we can relate to even today.
This was written really well and personally, although its fiction, Philippa Gregory builds up the characters in a way that provides an extra layer to cold historical fact. That is the element that I love of historical fiction, it allows for a personal touch.

My Review of The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

My Review of The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Finished on: 11th July 2013
Rating: 4 stars
Reading Challenge Book Number: 44
It’s the story that nearly everyone in the country knows, the divorce of Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon in the 16th century, on the grounds that she was his brother’s wife. But The Constant Princess goes further back, to when 15 year old Katherine, known then as Catalina, the Infanta of Spain is sent to England to marry Henry’s brother Arthur. As he lays dying, he urges Catalina to make a solemn deathbed promise to him, that she will lie about them having consummated their marriage so she can marry Henry and be the Queen she was destined to be without Arthur at her side.
I think this adds a really intriguing dimension to such a well-known story, especially as it has been remarked upon so much as to how honest a woman Katherine was and therefore must have been telling the truth. The Constant Princess shows she’s not that saintly but is not a straight up liar or perjurer, she is simply a confused girl keeping a promise to a man she loved to fulfil the destiny she has been told she has since being a small child. All the way through The Constant Princess, I do feel sorry for Katherine, but I also admire her strength and constancy as well as the moments of vulnerability. She is a master of her gestures and actions which makes her a force to be reckoned with and what nobles would take to be a true royal. She has been abandoned by all those close to her and therefore can trust no one but herself, which in some ways hardens her heart and makes her reluctant to anyone attempting to get close to her.
Is it historically accurate? Probably not. I’ve studied the Tudors in depth and there is not really any compelling evidence to show either way whether the marriage was consummated or not. However, it is an intriguing concept and I think that this is something that historical fiction does well. But do not read this without taking a pinch of salt to the most controversial points, there are many things we cannot really find out about a period so far in the past.

My Review of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

My Review of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Finished on: June 22nd 2013
Rating: 4 stars
Reading Challenge Book: 38

It’s so hard to believe that I’m getting so close to finishing my reading challenge for this year so soon, maybe I will get to 100 again like I did last year.

I moved on from Hannibal Rising to the next book chronologically in Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series, the first book to be published, Red Dragon. This story deals with the hunt for the ‘Tooth Fairy’ serial killer by the FBI, led by Jack Crawford. Hannibal Lecter is at this point incarcerated after being caught some years before by investigator Will Graham, who paid a heavy price for catching him both before the story begins and as it ends.

I have to admit, I’ve seen all of the movies of this and Red Dragon didn’t impress me storyline wise as much as the others. However, the new TV series Hannibal tells the pre Red Dragon story in a very intriguing way which I think provides extra layers into how I interpret the book.

Overall, I still view Harris as a master of this type of genre, the characters are subtle and believable with many complex layers which make them really interesting. I would credit Will Graham as the most intriguing character of this book outside of Lecter himself for being a man so alike to serial killers in terms of psychology and particularly empathy, but so desperate to escape his FBI past in favour of a normal life.

My Review of The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I did have the intention (for all of five minutes) to write a review of War and Peace, but sat down at my laptop and tried writing for god knows how long and it just didn’t work. My opinion on it is that it’s the longest book I’ve ever read and quite dull in places, but the characters are quite loveable and have a subtle quality to them.

Date Finished: 23rd April 2013

Book Challenge 2013 Number: 32

Rating: 4 stars

Anyway, onward to the book I finished today, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This follows characters in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi in the height of the civil rights movement and racial segregation. The main characters are black housemaids Aibileen and Minny and white writer/college graduate Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, and the story is split into their different perspectives on life in this sleepy, segregated town.

You definitely have to admire Minny for her spirit and courage when you find out what she goes through on a daily basis, even if she is cursed with a big mouth and the nerve to use it repeatedly, leading her to be fired 19 times in the same town. The story with the pie will never cease to make me feel sick and make me laugh at the same time. She without a doubt gives as good as she gets and then some, which makes her a bit of a loveable rogue. 

Aibileen is the mother hen of the black help, who has raised almost 20 white children in her career. She’s damn well good at it, and creates a great relationship with little Mae Mobley, who she craves for to learn to be a kind, accepting person who takes people as they are rather than the colour of their skin. Her determination throughout the book leaves me in awe, she’s eternally optimistic and everything pays off.

Skeeter is an interesting character who is constantly driven by the mystery surrounding her old black nanny, Constantine, who she was very close to but who disappeared when she was at college without an explanation. It is this mystery which drives the plot forward as this eternal curiosity and passion to find out what happened leads Skeeter to asking lots of questions and receiving intriguing answers.

If thinking of which character really gets your back up and you want to strangle it’s Hilly Holbrook, an annoying busybody who thinks she runs the town. She isn’t a main character in the sense that her point of view shapes the book like the first three characters I mentioned, but she’s an irritating ideological presence throughout the book, the antagonist to pretty much everyone, especially poor Skeeter towards the end. 

The Help is definitely a book I would recommend, it explores civil rights in a fascinating way whilst giving you characters which make you smile and who you identify with.

My Review of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Date Finished: 16th February 2013

Book Challenge 2013 Number: 13

Rating: 4 stars
It’s definitely going to be a lazy Sunday for me, have for the moment got no immediately pressing work to complete and am feeling a bit rough around the edges. Think I’ll turn to some Shakespeare today for a bit of reading in bed with the IPod on shuffle. 
I Capture the Castle is certainly an intriguing read, following the Mortmain family mainly through the eyes of Cassandra in their old, dilapidated castle. Mr Mortmain took out a 40 year lease on it, hoping it would soothe his chronic writers block after he can’t seem to write anything after his first book. Jacob Wrestling. He lives there with his 2 daughters Rose and Cassandra, his son Thomas, his second wife Topaz and Stephen, who helps out around the house and is desperately in love with Cassandra. Money is extremely tight for them, and Rose in particular craves a luxurious lifestyle. Then the Cotton brothers turn up, Neil and Simon. Simon is the heir to a considerable fortune, which could rescue the family from their dire financial situation…
This book was such a charming one to read, and literary-enthusiast Cassandra makes for a great narrator. I especially love the first line of the entire novel ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’. She tells the story as she sees it, and feels that ‘capturing’ everything around her and learning to speed write will lead to her literary ambitions of becoming an author. 
My favourite character from I Capture the Castle would definitely have to be Cassandra herself, she’s a typical late teenage girl wanting things she can’t have, but she’s not typical in so many ways. She has a lot of burden placed upon her which forces her to mature in order to help out to make life a little easier for the entire family. Their situation isn’t helped by Mr Mortmain himself, who for the first half of the book doesn’t appear to do much.
I absolutely adored the ending, which was a lovely surprise (and I won’t be giving it away). You feel a sense of elation on Cassandra’s behalf and also extremely sorry for poor Simon.
Definitely a recommended read 🙂

My Review of Sir Thomas More: The Play

Finished on: 25th January 2013

6th Book of my 2013 Reading Challenge

Rating: 4 stars

I always thought that Shakespeare had written this play, before doing a bit of research and realising that it was probably written by a multitude of writers, of which Shakespeare may very well have been one of. 

This review will probably be a short one as I am totally useless at reviewing Shakespeare. I only started this today, but as it’s such a short play, I finished it rather quickly, especially after getting so into it. 

It’s a period of history I adore and a historical individual I admire. Sir Thomas More, starting out his career in law and politics before becoming Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, later executed for opposing Henry VIII’s changing of the church and his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. 

The language, especially that which leads to his death, is so emotive and powerful. I want to share with you my favourite passage that I found towards the end, where he is imprisoned and awaiting death for high treason:

Now I will speak like More in melancholy;
For if grief’s power could with her sharpest darts
Pierce my firm bosom, here’s sufficient cause
To take my farewell of mirth’s hurtless laws.
Poor humbled lady, thou that wert of late
Placed with the noblest women of the land,
Invited to their angel companies,
Seeming a bright star in the courtly sphere;
Why shouldst thou like a widow sit thus low,
And all thy fair consolers move from the clouds
That over drip thy beauty and thy worth?
I’ll tell thee the true cause. The court, like heaven
Examines not the anger of the prince,
And, being more frail-composed of gilded earth,
Shines upon them on whom the king doth shine
Smiles if he smile, declines if he decline
Yet, seeing both are mortal, court and king
Shed not one tear for any earthly thing.
For, so God pardon me, in my saddest hour
Thou hast no more occasion to lament,
Nor these, nor those, my exile from the court – 
No, nor this body’s torture, weren’t imposed,
As commonly disgraces of great men
Are the forewarnings of a hasty death – 
Than to behold me after many a toil
Honoured with endless rest. Perchance the Kind,
Seeing the court is full of vanity,
Has pity lest our souls should be misled
And sends us to a life contemplative
O, happy banishment from worldly pride,
When souls by private life are sanctified!

My Review of Grantchester Grind by Tom Sharpe

Finished on: 24th January 2013

5th Book of my 2013 Reading Challenge

Rating: 4 stars

Grantchester Grind is the sequel to Porterhouse Blue, a funny and satirical look at Oxbridge traditions that I really enjoyed. Grantchester Grind follows it’s predecessor with a hop, skip and a laugh into the style of writing that Sharpe has made his own. 

Porterhouse Blue ended with the death of the current master Sir Godber Evans and the election of Skullion as Master, previously the Head Porter. Skullion goes on to suffer from a ‘Porterhouse Blue’, which is the college term for a stroke brought on by the luxurious and rich diet they eat at High Table. Grantchester Grind follows some years later, where Sir Godber’s widow, Lady Mary, is convinced her husband was murdered. She proceeds to create a Sir Godber Evans Memorial Fellow, who, funded by a generous salary, will integrate into the college and subtly investigate the circumstances of her husband’s death. Her choice is Dr Purefoy Osbert, who is not really welcomed with open arms at the fictitious college where a first class degree is a once in a blue moon occurrence and miracle. 

As the investigation of Sir Godber’s death plays out, the Dean of the College takes it upon himself to visit prosperous Old Porterthusians (previous members of Porterhouse) in the hope that one is willing and able to become Master if and when Skullion cannot continue. At the same time, the current Bursar is contacted by an American media mogul who seems to be interested in supporting the college without clarifying what it is he wants in return.

Overall, a great satire of tradition in Oxbridge for the sake of tradition and the focus on tradition and sport rather than academia. Skullion failed to deliver for me this time though, given that his character didn’t really get a chance to shine as he was still in a state from his stroke. He still manages to steal the limelight at the end as he does in the first book, which remarks on what a strong personality he is. And I still laugh at the Chaplain’s controversial opinions and distorted hearing which makes him hear things completely wrong. The character’s are familiar with some new ones filtering in to make the story fresh, and without giving away the ending too much, Porterhouse may finally begin embracing the future but still maintaining their staunch traditionalism of the past that they’ve clung to.