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Janet's Reading 2011

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Thanks. :D

 

Having problems with my book LJ now. It logs me out after every action, and the coding isn't working, despite the fact that I copied it from the previous entry which works just fine. It's driving me mad! :irked:

 

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Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

The ‘blurb’

 

Inside the little house in the Big Woods live the Ingalls family: Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura and baby Carrie.

 

Outside the little house are the wild animals: the bears and the bees, the deer and the wolves.

 

This is the classic tale of how they live together, in harmony mainly, but sometimes in fear.

 

I adored the TV series “The Little House on the Prairie” that was on in the 1970s and 1980s, so I was pleased to discover that the first book by Laura Ingalls Wilder was published in the 1930s as I thought I could use it for my decades challenge - but after making arrangements to borrow the book, I discovered I’d already covered that decade!

 

Having made the effort to get hold of it, I decided to read it anyway. It was nothing like the TV series. In this book, Laura is only 4/5 and she and her family live, like the title suggests, in a Big Wood. They are isolated, being the only house for miles around - they hadn’t yet made it to Walnut Grove where the programme was set.

 

Laura, Mary and Carrie (who is just a babe in arms and not mentioned very often) had a very traditional upbringing where children were “seen and not heard” - they weren’t even allowed to join in with conversation around the dinner table, having to remain completely silent. Pa tells them stories (many with a strong moral message) and sings songs whilst playing his fiddle, and Ma teaches the girls how to cook and clean and sew! Several times being whipped is mentioned and it happens to Laura once after she slaps Mary - “Then he [Pa] took down a strap from the wall, and he whipped Laura with the strap”. Kind of horrific thinking of a child who has only just turned five years old being whipped, but I suppose that was just a sign of the times!

 

In reality, Laura was only three when the family lived here, but was urged to age herself by two years in the books, so there is a bit of ‘artistic license’ here!

 

It was very interesting seeing how they survived. It seems that food was plentiful and that they lived quite comfortably. It really is a social history, and despite it being aimed at small children I did enjoy it. I spent the following afternoon reliving my childhood by watching clips of the TV show on YouTube!

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I'm fairly sure I posted my thoughts on #37, George Orwell's Why I Write in here already, so...

 

#38

 

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The Screaming of the Innocent by Unity Dow

 

The ‘blurb’

 

One afternoon, a twelve-year-old girl goes missing near her village. The local police tell her mother and the villagers she has been taken by a wild animal. Five years later, young government employee Amantle Bokaa finds a box bearing the label 'Neo Kakang; CRB 45/94'. It contains evidence of human involvement in the affair. So begins an illegal and undercover struggle for justice and retribution.

 

Part of my ‘long-term world challenge’, this book is set in Botswana, where the author was born. Unity Dow is a High Court judge and a human-rights activist who has helped to affect real change in her native country.

 

The novel opens with a snapshot of the life of successful local businessman Mr Disanka. He has a wife whom he loves, and a mistress who he loves equally. He has children who he spoils, especially his youngest, a daughter on whom he showers affection - and food - making her a somewhat chubby child. Mr Disanka is watching a group of children playing but his reasons for doing so are not what the reader might immediately imagine.

 

The action moves forward five years to a young woman called Amantle Bokaa. Amantle is the first person in her family to receive a proper formal education and she wishes to become a doctor. Before she can do this, she has to take part in a compulsory ‘national service’ scheme and finds herself sent to a remote village to work in the health clinic. Feeling very positive about the job, she soon finds that the two nurses in charge are less than enthusiastic about their jobs and the health centre, and rather than teach Amantle anything they make her tidy out the store cupboard. There she finds the box which is to change everything.

 

Frustrated by the lack of information or action on the part of the police, who appear to be closing ranks, she determines to get to the bottom of what the box means - and what happened to young Neo.

 

This is the second book I’ve read recently set in Africa, both of which have been impulse reads and both of which have been excellent. Unity Dow really knows how to write, and the reader is taken not only through the story of Neo’s disappearance, but of Botswana’s culture, and is absolutely fascinating.

 

 

The book is quite harrowing in places as we find out that Neo’s disappearance was not because of any sexual motive, but because of a practise called muti murder - taking human body-parts to make traditional African medicines. There is a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.

 

 

Highly recommended. :)

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Thanks, J, that sounds really good, as well as harrowing! I shall add it to my wishlist as the book for Botswana. My world challenge is likely to be as long term as yours I suspect! Started in September, 5 books out of 224 ticked off :lol:

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Hi Alex - lovely to see you here, my old friend. :hug::)

 

I think I started my World Challenge in 2008! :giggle2: I know you found 'Peanut Butter' a bit of a harrowing read though - this one is quite difficult in places too. :)

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#39

 

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An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

 

The ‘blurb’

 

'I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to one's self.' An Ideal Husband is a comic drama of political and personal deceit. Sir Robert Chiltern is the 'ideal husband' of the play's title, a brilliant young politician, whose eloquence and high principles have set him on the path to high office. His wife, Lady Chiltern, shares his ideals and is a great society beauty. They have the 'ideal' social and political partnership, but Sir Robert has a secret: in order to finance his entry into politics, he once sold confidential information to a sinister international profiteer. Threatened with the revelation of this secret by the glamorous adventuress Mrs Cheveley, Sir Robert turns to his best friend Lord Goring for advice - and thanks to the wit and resourcefulness of this wit and dandy, he has every prospect of being rescued from the revelations that would destroy his social and political career.

 

Prior to this, I’d read Wilde’s only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray and his play A Woman of No Importance - both of which were excellent, and this play lives up to the standard of those. Wilde is simply excellent at social satire, and whilst the subject of the ‘scandal’ in this play seems tame by today’s standards, this does not detract from the enjoyment of it at all. The three works of his that I’ve read so far have all had a pretty amazing twist at the end, showing up the absurdity of some of the upper classes of the time period. Thoroughly recommended and I really want to see this on the stage now!

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#40

 

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F Scott Fitzgerald

 

The ‘blurb’

 

The curious tale of a man who begins his life as an apparent septuagenarian and grows younger every year - much to the bewilderment and consternation of he and his family.

 

When Roger Button goes to meet his infant son Benjamin for the first time at the maternity hospital, he’s horrified and sickened to find an old man in the cot. The hospital staff can’t get rid of the family quick enough. And so begins Benjamin’s backwards life.

 

I had no idea how short this was when I reserved it. How they made a 2 hour 40 minute film out of 52 pages of story, I don't know, although I gather the film isn't the same story as the book and obviously it must be (very) fleshed out! The book, however, is brilliant!

 

One can’t help feeling sorry for Benjamin. It’s not his fault that he was born an old man but people reject him - his father keeps him at arm’s length and is hugely embarrassed by Benjamin - Benjamin’s mother doesn’t appear much in the story.

 

 

As he grows younger, his outlook on life becomes more youthful and energetic and he gains a zest for life. He joins the army, he falls in love and marries a woman called Hildegarde - she’s quite a bit younger than him and some people in society are shocked by this age difference. However, the age difference unavoidably reverses and Benjamin goes on to resent his now much older wife. The younger Benjamin gets, the better he gets on with his father.

 

 

But as is inevitable, he is unable to stop the ‘unaging’ process and the story can only end with one possible conclusion.

 

It’s such a tight story - this copy is only 52 pages long. It is funny in places, sad in others and totally entertaining throughout. I will definitely try something else by this author.

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#42

 

042-2011-Sep-26TheMayorofCasterbridge.jpg

 

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

 

The ‘blurb’

 

In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled 'A Story of a Man of Character', Hardy's powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.

 

I don’t entirely know how I got to my age without having read Thomas Hardy before. Quite probably it was because when I was about 14 years old, and we had a newfangled gadget called a Betamax Video Recorder, my Dad bought home Tess of the D’Urbervilles for us to watch - I found it unbearably dull and therefore assumed that Hardy’s novels would be too! I was quite wrong, because from the opening scenes I loved this and was totally engaged.

 

Under the influence of alcohol, and following a row, Henchard sells his wife at a country fair to a bidding sailor and the wife, Susan and their daughter leave with him. On waking the next day Henchard regrets his actions but is too late to take her back. He resolves not to drink again for the number of years he has been alive – 21 - and heads for the nearest town, Casterbridge, determined to make amends and to try to become a better person.

 

The story then jumps ahead 20 years and Henchard is now a successful hay merchant and the town’s mayor. He befriends a Scotsman who is passing through on his way to America and persuades him to stay on and work for him. But Henchard’s past soon catches up with him when his wife and daughter return, seeking him after the sailor’s death and the world that Henchard has built up starts crashing down.

 

I would definitely like to try some more Hardy – although I’m still not sure about Tess!

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I finished A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens last night - my annual re-read! This is definitely a 10/10 book!

 

The lovely Chrissy bought me a slimline version of it for Christmas last year and it was so handy as I've been to watch my husband sing in several Christmas concerts this year and we always arrive early for their rehearsal and it fits perfectly into my little handbag!

 

I tried to read his The Haunted Man, but just couldn't get into it. :( I think it's because I read ACC first and this seems rather dull/dry in comparison - next year I'm going to try them the other way round! Has anyone read it?

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#44 - read October

 

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Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood

 

The ‘blurb’

 

‘I planned my death carefully; unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it… At first I thought I’d managed it’

 

From fat girl to thin, from red hair to mud brown, from London to Toronto, from Polish count to radical husband, from writer of romances to distinguished poet – Joan Foster is utterly confused by her life of multiple identities. She decides to escape to an Italian hill town to take stock of her life. But first, she must organised her own death…

 

This is my first experience of Margaret Atwood. My Mum and I have a very similar taste in books and she’d read one of Atwood’s others (Oryx and Crake, I believe) and hadn’t enjoyed it at all, so it was with some trepidation that I started on this one and had it not been picked for my Book Club then I’m perfectly sure I wouldn’t have picked it up.

 

Within the group it certainly got very mixed reviews and I think I was the only person who fully enjoyed it. However, from the opening lines I was engaged with it, although now I come to write this review several weeks later I’m struggling to put my thoughts down on (electronic!) paper! It’s a novel of Joan’s relationships and how they influence her life. From her relationships with her bullying mother and loving Aunt Lou, to a Polish count and a dull husband… and how she eventually decides to leave this life behind for a new one.

 

People who like to have all the ends tied up neatly in a novel definitely won’t like the ending of this (this was one of the major criticisms from the other members of my book group), but I thought it was great – although I’m not convinced I want to read anything else by her!

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#45 - read October

 

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Montacute House by Lucy Jago

 

The ‘blurb’

 

News of the dead boy spread as fast as a pig runs from the butcher’s sack. His body was black and blistered, they whispered, like the Devil himself had danced upon it.

 

Death is stalking the land. Bodies, bruised and broken, have been found and no one knows the cause… Except Montacute House seems to be at the centre of the mystery.

 

As a creeping evil takes over the land, Cess’s best friend disappears and she fears he too will soon be dead. But if she is to find him alive, she must survive the terrifying world full of secrets, treachery and danger.

 

A fascinating and compelling story of unbridled political ambition and witchcraft.

 

This is a young-adult book about a young girl called Cecily who lives in Montacute village in Somerset and works as a Poultry Girl at Sir Edward Mortain’s estate of Montacute House. She is illegitimate and she and her mother are scorned by most of the villagers, having been cast out by their family because of the shame of Cecily’s birth. They are forced to live very lowly on the edge of the village and Cess is very lucky to have a position at the big house. She does have one loyal friend - a young boy called William who is also viewed with suspicion due to his affliction of a club foot.

 

On her thirteenth birthday, Cess discovers something valuable in the hen house, and worried that if she hands it in she’ll be accused of theft (for who would believe the word of a lowly servant?), hides it on herself and ponders what to do. The body of a young boy is discovered on the estate and then William goes missing. Cess heads to Yeovil to try to find him and there gets caught up in a dangerous quest. She must overcome her fears and together with the help of a boy she meets in Yeovil and a woman called Edith who is also an outcast, Cess must try to stop events that could have devastating consequences not only for her beloved Montacute, but also for her country.

 

I very much enjoyed this book. It’s fast-paced and very well written and the characters, though not all very likeable, are believable. I went to Montacute House in July and it is simply beautiful. The novel isn’t factual and so although the location exists and is accurately written, the people who really lived there don’t feature in the book - the characters are entirely fictional. I have since discovered that this the first of what will be a three-part story of Cess and her life - I shall very much look forward to the next one.

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Janet

Sounds as if you are getting several last minute books in for your year's total . You have done really well !

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Thanks, Julie, although most of the reviews above are from books I read earlier this year - I'm just very far behind with them!

 

I've just finished (in the nick of time!) Letters from Father Christmas by J R R Tolkien - what a fantastic book! So beautifully illustrated.

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040-2011-Sep-10TheCuriousCaseofBenjaminButton.jpg

 

 

 

I had no idea how short this was when I reserved it. How they made a 2 hour 40 minute film out of 52 pages of story, I don't know, although I gather the film isn't the same story as the book and obviously it must be (very) fleshed out! The book, however, is brilliant!

 

 

It’s such a tight story - this copy is only 52 pages long. It is funny in places, sad in others and totally entertaining throughout. I will definitely try something else by this author.

 

I was also really surprised by the length of the book, or rather the lack there of, when I noticed a copy at the library some time ago. I thought, how can Fitzgerald pack it all in in 52 pages? Having seen the movie, I thought it just can't be done. I must read the book some day. I think we've discussed this before, but I heartily recommend the movie. It's long, some might find it too long perhaps, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and Brad Pitt was marvellous in it. A really touching tale!

 

042-2011-Sep-26TheMayorofCasterbridge.jpg

 

 

I don’t entirely know how I got to my age without having read Thomas Hardy before. Quite probably it was because when I was about 14 years old, and we had a newfangled gadget called a Betamax Video Recorder, my Dad bought home Tess of the D’Urbervilles for us to watch - I found it unbearably dull and therefore assumed that Hardy’s novels would be too! I was quite wrong, because from the opening scenes I loved this and was totally engaged.

 

I would definitely like to try some more Hardy – although I’m still not sure about Tess!

 

Just like with Benjamin Button, I'm sure we've discussed Hardy before as well :giggle: Oh the day of Betamax! I'm happy that Hardy's written something more, well, vivacious? than Tess, which still holds the place as the most boring, irritating, pulling-the-hair-off-my-scalp book ever. I've always held a grudge against Hardy for that, but I've never thought to myself that I'll never give his other books a try. I'm actually quite looking forward to reading the Mayor :) I'm happy you enjoyed the book so much! I bet it would've made a great RC book. Any thoughts on which book of Hardy's you'll try next?

 

Very much looking forward to reading your reviews in 2012 :friends3:

Edited by frankie

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Very much looking forward to reading your reviews in 2012 :friends3:

Thank you, my lovely friend. :hug: I will look forward to yours! :)

 

I will definitely try to see Benjamin Button. As for Hardy, I have Far From the Madding Crowd on my 'to read' pile. My Mum, who loves him, recommends Under the Greenwood Tree, so one of those two next, I expect. :)

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I have read most of Hardy's works and I love him. Although Under the Greenwood Tree is considered a minor work, it is a pleasant read. Far from the madding crowd is an excellent book and I would thoroughly recommend it. One of his most outstanding books for though is Jude the Obscure - so bitterly sweet and a real tearjerker in places - certainly one of my altime classics

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Well I'm definitely looking forward to your views on those novels by Hardy :)

 

I have read most of Hardy's works and I love him. Although Under the Greenwood Tree is considered a minor work, it is a pleasant read. Far from the madding crowd is an excellent book and I would thoroughly recommend it. One of his most outstanding books for though is Jude the Obscure - so bitterly sweet and a real tearjerker in places - certainly one of my altime classics

 

From what I've gathered here on the forum, Hardy seems to be not so popular amongst the members, it's pleasantly surprising to find there are fans as well :) I think Jude the Obscure (among others) is on the 1001 Books list so I will probably try that one as well, I hope it's just as good as you make it out to be, Angel!

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I've just finished Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. This volume included three short stores too - I think I preferred those to the main one!

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I've just finished Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. This volume included three short stores too - I think I preferred those to the main one!

 

Hi Janet

Have you read Capote's "The Grass Harp " ? Wow, it is so beautiful . I even watched the movie,which was a change for me. I'm not a movie fan at all, but this one was so beautiful.The words, the scenery, the people ..wow, Capote may have been a colorful character in life,but he had a magical gift of writing .

It's so amazing to read this book,then go straight into In Cold Blood. Such a very diverse writer ,who can pull those 2 totally opposite stories out and tell them both so well, you feel you are there .

I also remember reading a short story about him writing the story of In Cold Blood. Touring the house, meeting the killers,then getting to know them better . He could actually understand maybe why they turned out like they did. I know this story said that they invited him to their executions. He reluctantly went,and he said he would never be the same again after witnessing it . It affected him very severely ..

Edited by julie

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Hi Julie. I read In Cold Blood several years ago (it's my best friend's favourite book - she lent it to me) and really enjoyed it, but I haven't heard of The Grass Harp. :) I will check it out, thanks. :)

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Aaargh, so behind on reviews!

 

#49

 

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The Cherry Tree by Derek Tangye

 

The ‘blurb’

 

Many people have come to Minack and stood beside the cherry tree, both famous and unknown. They all have in common, a desire to breathe the fresh, invigorating Cornish air and share a little in the peace and contentment of Tangye's life.

 

And their days are filled with enchantment and incident. In spring the daffodils must be picked. There are Fred and Merlin the donkeys to look after, especially when Merlin falls in love. What will be the fate of the first pair of buzzards ever to nest near the cottage? Then there's Cherry, the little black cat Jeannie found curled up at the foot of the cherry tree, starving. Will she be allowed to stay at Minack?

 

This is another book chosen for my ‘decades challenge’. Derek Tangye and his wife Jeannie left the London rat race (she was PR Office for the Savoy hotel group, he worked for MI5) in the 1960s and moved to a small-holding called Dorminack in Cornwall for an improved quality of life.

 

I thought that this book, one of a lengthy series of autobiographical accounts of life in Minack, as their home was affectionately called, might have been along the same lines as Bill Bryson or Peter Mayall, but whilst it was interesting it wasn’t funny like those two authors – there were rather a lot of anecdotes one after another, which made it feel rather lacking in flow and there was a certain amount of name-dropping which became mildly irritating after a while.

 

That said, I did enjoy it and it was an easy light-hearted read about the cat’s exploits, but I don’t think I’ll be trying anything else by this author.

 

This book is currently out of print.

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#50

 

050-2011-Nov-10Waiting.jpg

 

Waiting by Ha Jin

 

The ‘blurb’

 

For more than seventeen years, Lin Kong, a dedicated doctor has been passionately in love with an educated, modern woman, Manna Wu, but back in his traditional home village lives the humble, loyal wife his family chose for him years ago. Every summer, he returns to ask her for a divorce and every summer his compliant wife agrees but then backs out. This time, after eighteen years’ waiting, Lin promises it will be different.

 

Imagine if Romeo and Juliet had been made to stretch out their passion for 18 years, without consummating their love. Now imagine them in China during the crazy bureaucracy of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, unable to talk in private let alone kiss… the insights into Chinese culture and the complexities of human longing are beautiful and compelling.

 

This book is based on a real life event, after Jin and his wife met a doctor at a hospital who had done just what the blurb says. I really enjoyed this – it was an easy read, but fast paced and the characters are well-written and believable. I learnt a bit about what life is like in communist China (our country may be far from perfect, but I count my blessings that we have the freedom we have). This is a novel about love, and about wasted opportunities and about how

 

the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

 

Very enjoyable.

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One of his most outstanding books for though is Jude the Obscure - so bitterly sweet and a real tearjerker in places - certainly one of my altime classics

I think Jude the Obscure (among others) is on the 1001 Books list

 

That's interesting. I loved both Tess and Far from the Madding Crowd but had avoided this one because I was under the impression it was a more depressing read (yes I know this is Hardy we're talking about :P ) I think I'll give it a go now.

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#51 - finished 12 November 2011

 

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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

The ‘blurb’

 

It is when Mr Utterson, a dry London lawyer, peruses the last will of his old friend Henry Jekyll that his suspicions are aroused. What is the relationship between upright, respectable Dr Jekyll and evil Edward Hyde? Who murdered the distinguished MP, Sir Danvers? So begins Stephenson’s spine-tingling horror story, the story of Dr Jekyll’s infernal alter ego, and a hunt throughout the nocturnal streets of London that culminates in some dreadful revelations.

 

 

Jekyll creates a potion that enables him to transform into a character known as Hyde. His purpose for doing this is so that his darker side has an outlet which, being free of conscience is able to act entirely as he pleases. However, as time goes on, Hyde emerges more and more even when not potion has been taken until Jekyll is no longer able to control him. The potion is running out, and in trying to recreate it, Jekyll discovers that one of the ingredients was tainted. Now that this contamination has been discovered and all stocks using it destroyed, Jekyll is unable to make any more. Knowing that Hyde will soon either be discovered and hanged, or will take his own life, Jekyll writes a confession to be opened in the event of his death, and locks himself into his laboratory…

 

 

This is the only Robert Louis Stevenson book I have read and I loved it! It’s very short indeed (just 88 pages long) - the writing is so concise

 

I sort of knew the basic premise - that a scientist did some sort of experiment which meant he ended up with a ‘nasty’ alter ego, but I really didn’t know how the story would pan out. It wasn’t how I expected - I thought that Mr Hyde would be some kind of hairy monster, but although he was a monster in terms of what he did when in that guise, he resembled a normal human, albeit a distasteful looking one! A very clever and slightly chilling tale!

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#52 - finished 22 November 2011

 

(A little bit of the following review already posted in here!)

 

052-2011-Nov-22NeitherHereNorThere.jpg

 

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

 

The ‘blurb’

 

Bill Bryson's first travel book, The Lost Continent, was unanimously acclaimed as one of the funniest books in years. In Neither here Nor there he brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hamemrfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before.

 

Whether braving the homicidal motorists of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.

 

I’ve read a few of Bryson’s books, and like those, this didn't disappoint and I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion! His books are so enjoyable and so easy to read - reading him is like putting on a pair of comfy slippers or having a chat with a mate over a pint and a packet of pork scratchings!

 

This one covers his travels around Europe – a journey almost entirely undertaken on public transport. From Denmark (at a time of year when it was dark nearly all the time) to Sofia, with various stops in between, Bryson describes his experiences with his usual touch of humour. Sure, it’s a little dated now, and some of his stereotyping can seem a little near the mark, but I don’t think Bryson intends to be insulting and if one reads with a large pinch of salt then this is a very enjoyable book!

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