Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Another Break by G

As you may have guessed, that isn't a real book.  I'm taking a break from reading the classics, and, consequently, writing about them.  I don't know how long this break will last, but I will start posting again when it's over.

In the mean time, I will accept guest entries, if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas

This is the last book in the series that starts with The Three Musketeers.  I haven't read any of the books in the middle, just the first and last in the series.

Even though it's titled "The Man in the Iron Mask", don't let that fool you.  Said man is only a minor character.  He isn't in half the book, and doesn't have an iron mask for most of the part of the book that he is in.  This book is about the four musketeers that we got to know in the original book.

I really don't have any beef with any part of this book.  Sure, it was confusing at times, especially when the characters talked about politics to no end.  I also didn't understand some of the character's motivations for doing the things they were.  Even so, it really felt like a quick read.  At the same time, I didn't feel involved or really that interested in the story at all.  It was sort of nice to get a window into the lives of these characters such a long time (35 years!) after the initial book.  For that reason, I can only somewhat recommend this book.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

King Solomon's Mines by Henry Rider Haggard

Here's another African adventure story by Mr. Haggard.  If I'm remembering my Wikipedia reading from a long time ago, this book was basically written as a response to Treasure Island.  After reading Treasure Island, Henry thought that he could write an adventure book such as that.  If I remember correctly, this book actually was more successful than Treasure Island.  I haven't read TI, yet, but I think this one was pretty good.

It begins with our narrator, a Mr. Allan Quartermain, being approached by someone, a Sir Henry, trying to enlist him on a search for his brother in the heart of Africa.  Allan had met the missing man before, and knew the area he had been heading toward.  An area said to contain inexhaustible diamond mines. He had actually been given a map by someone who had tried to get the treasure in the past.  A picture of the map can be found below.
From Wikipedia

Allan is an aging elephant hunter, and knew that the adventure he was being asked to embark on would almost certainly lead to his death.  He hadn't managed to amass any sort of fortune during his life, and has a son who was studying medicine in London.  When considering whether or not he would go on the expedition, he thought only of his son.  He knew that he wasn't likely to live much longer anyway, as he's far outlived the average lifespan of an elephant hunter, and Sir Henry was offering to fulfill any terms required to get Allan to go with him.  Given this opportunity to provide for his son, Allan agrees to go with Sir Henry.

The account of the adventure, written in the first person by Mr. Quartermain.  He mentions that he's a hunter, and not a writer at several points in the book, but I found it to be pretty well-written all the same.  Although, given that it is written in the first person, you know that Allan gets through the story alive.  He also mentions in the beginning that he is wealthy, which implies a successful expedition.  Although, given the terms he gave to Sir Henry, there are different levels of success that may have been achieved.

This book has quite a few similarities to The People of the Mist, which Haggard wrote later.  There's a lost civilization, which a member of the expedition happens to be from.  This civilization has access to incredible wealth.  And it can only be reached by an extremely perilous route (this time through the desert and over some mountains).  When the civilization is finally reached, the adventurers are taken for gods.  There's also a little bit of racism in the book, but it is treated very similarly.  There's the status quo that almost nobody questions, although the main characters don't really behave as racists.

I won't go into any more detail on the plot, or other events in the book.  I will say that some of the events seem a little too convenient.  Also, at one point, Allan details all the equipment they're taking with them.  Then later, the characters go and use something that wasn't on that list.  Not only wasn't it on the list, I can't imagine what possible reason they would have thought to bring the item in question.  This may just be a sign that it's the man's first book.  These issues aren't enough to diminish the quality of the read too much, however.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book.  It is a great adventure story and the pacing was good. I recommend it.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker

It's been a while since I finished reading this book, so I apologize that I can't go into the detail that I sometimes do.

The book opens with the narrator being woken up in the middle of the night.  He's a lawyer who is summoned to a friend's house because her father was attacked.  There is no sign of the attacker, but it was obvious that they were trying to get into his safe.  While her father is alive, he appears to be in some sort of hypnotic state.  The narrator, the Dr., the police, and the daughter all work to solving the mystery.

Most of the book is spent working toward figuring out who the attacker was, and how they were managing to do so, undetected, despite two people being in the room when the attacks occur.  This is by far the strongest part of the book.  As answers are discovered, I feel like the book got weaker.

Since this is a Bram Stoker book, it's obvious that there is something supernatural going on.  Unfortunately, I feel like the book would have been much better if there wasn't.  If it were a regular crime/detective novel, I think it would have been a much better book.  As it stands, I feel like the ending was the worst part.  I feel like the characters were acting in a very short-sighted manner and I couldn't quite understand their motivation for throwing caution to the wind in order to achieve their goal.  Then it all ended with disappointment for me.

I want to make a couple of notes before wrapping up this post.  Firstly, before I lived in London, I would have found it very strange to read that the sun was rising slightly after 3am each morning.  However, during the summer, the sun does, indeed, rise that early in the morning.  Secondly, there are a lot of references to a star constellation they refer to as the Plough.  Apparently, this is what the British call the Big Dipper.  The more you know, right?

I was all set to recommend this book while I was reading it.  I really had to downgrade it once I finished, though.  I can only somewhat recommend this book.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This is a story about a good-looking young man who posed for a picture one day.  From that day on, his appearance never changed, but the painting did.  This is also one of the worst books I've read.  I contemplated putting it away but I didn't want to let it win.

This book is filled with obnoxious and nonsensical rants that go on for not just pages, but for chapters.  Sometimes it's one of the character's rants, sometimes it's the narrator's.  It doesn't matter who the rant comes from, they're all the same, really.  I take notes while I read the books, to remind me of things for when I write these entries.  I'm going to quote one of them now, "Oh, God!  It isn't over yet!".  I made that note after 3 other notes in the same chapter remarking about how much the author sounds like a raving lunatic on the street corner and I wish he would just get on with the story. If you find yourself reading this book for some crazy reason, you should probably just skip chapter 11, it's ridiculous.  To make it worse, every rant was chocked full of similies and metaphors that even a high school literature teach would have found them beyond tedious.

The worst character in the book is named Lord Harry Henry.  He's a bit of a know-it-all character who produces the most non-sensical statements, calling them facts.  He believes that he's an expert in everything because of his birth.  He's the type of guy who tries to influence people and meddle in their lives just to see what happens.  He thinks of it as conducting experiments.  While I found him to be the most despicable character in the book, I did actively hate pretty much every single person in it.

The book also ended in an entirely predictable manner. It was total crap from beginning to end and I highly recommend you stay away from this book.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The People of the Mist by Henry Rider Haggard

Here's a book about a man's adventures in Africa, looking to make his fortune.  Luckily, he's more complex than your average generic treasure hunter.  His name is Leonard, and he actually grew up as part of a rich family.  In the beginning of the book, his father has brought the family to ruin. As a result, he loses his love and home.  During this stage of the book, you get a really good feel for how Leonard's life has been changed and have insight into his emotions.  The night everything they had owned is sold, he and his brother swear an oath to each other that they will leave England and not return until they win back their home.  So, they go to Africa seeking their fortune.

The years pass, and the book next focuses on the death of the main character's brother.  They're in a crudely constructed hut in their gold digging site.  The death scene really makes you sympathize with Leonard.  He lost his home, and led a hard life in Africa only to lose his brother as well.  Before he dies, his brother has a vision of him winning back their home with the help of a woman.  Leonard just needs to stay at the dig site for a while after he passes.

A while later, they discover a frantic woman who tells them that her mistress was kidnapped by slavers and begs bribes Leonard to help rescue her.  To entice him, she gives him a large ruby and tells the tale of her people who have many such gems.  She says she'll help him acquire those stones if he helps her.  Leonard agrees, and the adventure begins.

I don't want to get too much into the rest of the story, but I do want to mention that most of the primary characters have complex emotions.  I think it really added to the story, especially during the action sequences.  I constantly found myself wondering how they were going to get themselves out of that mess (and if all of them were going to survive it).  Which brings me to my first complaint about the book.  During some parts of the book, the author basically gives away part of the outcome of the scene.  I found that annoying, since it kills what would otherwise been a tense moment. 

Then there's a few times where the characters are having a good conversation that is abruptly ended by one of them proclaiming that they're going to sleep.  It just ended up being jarring and disappointing.  It's disappointing because you're learning some very important things and then all of the sudden, there's a poorly written stop to it.  Although, to be honest, those two things are the only problems I had with the book.

Since this is an old book, set in Africa, there's bound to be a bit of racism involved.  I actually thought it was all handled pretty well, really.  There was heavy institutionalized racism.  The European characters thought themselves superior to the African characters.  Most of the African characters also thought themselves inferior to the Europeans.  However, the way the characters were portrayed in the book, every one of them had their strengths and weakness.  The characters were well rounded and really cared for each other, regardless of race.  It wasn't awkward like in Lair of the White Worm.

I just want to mention one more thing.  I really didn't think the book would end the way it did.

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where's the Book?

I'm going to come clean.  I've gotten a bit behind on my reading, and I don't have an update for this week.  So, because of this, I'll be taking a brief break from posting each week, and will return to the regular schedule during the first week of December.  Hopefully, I'll have enough posts queued up to not have to break the schedule again.

In the meantime, if anyone would like to write some guests entries, please let me know.  They can be about a new book, or what you thought of a book that I've already written about.  It's whatever you like.  If I can get a few guest writers, then I will still be able to have updates every week.  How awesome would that be?  And who would be bringing that awesome?  That's right, you!