Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Title: The Wizard of Oz
Author: L. Frank Baum

ISBN # 1853261122

Publisher: Wordsworth Classics

First Published: 1900

143 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 7/10

When a cyclone hits her
Kansas home, Dorothy and her dog Toto are whisked to the magical Land of Oz. To find her way home, she must follow the yellow brick road to the City of Emeralds, where the great Wizard lives. But first, Dorothy, Toto and their companions, the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, have many adventures on their strange and sometimes frightening journey.

It's lovely to read all the little bits that were left out of the famous film. For all it’s a very short book, Dorothy's epic adventure as she journeys along the road of yellow brick with her new-found friends is as enchanting now as it was when first published over 100 years ago. It's a charming tale that will delight readers of all ages for at least 100 more!

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

Title: The Little Prince
Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
ISBN # 9781853261589

Publisher: Wordsworth Classics

First Published: 1943

109 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 7/10

This parable tells the story of an air pilot who meets a Little Prince when he has to make a forced landing in the
Sahara Desert. The Little Prince tells him wise and enchanted stories.

This is one of those delightful little books that, although it seems simple enough, really makes you think. The wandering adventure of the Little Prince is sweet and touching and reminds readers that the most important things are those that can't necessarily be seen.

There’s not much one can say about it without giving away large parts of the plot; suffice to say, it’s a book that everyone should experience for themselves, whether they read it to a small child (who will undoubtedly love it), or reading it for their own enjoyment.

The Plucker: An Illustrated Novel by Brom

Title: The Plucker: An Illustrated Novel
Author: Brom

ISBN # 0810957922

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams Inc.

First Published: 2005

144 pages

Format: Hardback

Rating: 10/10

The Plucker is a dark and twisted tale about a Jack-in-the-Box, aptly named Jack, who must fight for the life of his human boy owner against an evil force, called the Plucker (because he plucks your eyeballs out and sucks out your life force). One by one the Plucker and his minions, called Foulthings, capture the toys in the boy's room, and carry them off to the bowels of the earth, deep beneath the boy's house. There the toys are tortured and have their mojo extracted. The toy's mojo comes from the boy's love and his belief that the toys are real, so as the Plucker sucks up all the toys' mojo, he begins to take over the boy's body. Only Jack can save the boy, with the help of the boy's nanny, Mabelle, who practices the dark arts. Spine-tingling and creepy, the story is for all ages, but especially for those in love with graphic novels, fantasy, and sci-fi.

This is no book for children! It's dark and it's scary and it's absolutely wonderful! The illustrations are like a nightmare vision of Alice in Wonderland - rich, sumptuous and twisted. It's a real visual experience. Not only that, but the pictures illustrate a fantastic story that is well written with characters that really come alive as you're reading.

There’s something compulsive about this tale of the toys' love for the little boy who breathes life into them, even when they have been forgotten and relegated to the realms of Underbed. There's magic; a battle between good and evil; and a heroic journey involved as the toys fight for their boy. I would dearly love to see this adapted for the big screen by Tim Burton - Johnny Depp would be wonderful as jack, and Christina Ricci perfectly suited to Angel, and Tim Burton's Gothic touch would be perfectly suited to portray this deeply satisfying story.

This is so stunning that I'm going to have to get hold of The Devil's Rose when it comes out in October, as if the few pictures I've seen on the website are anything to go by, it promises to be every bit as exquisite as this.

The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Audio Book)

Title: The Sign of the Four
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Narrator: Robin Cotter

Publisher: Librivox

First Published: 1890

Running time: 4 hrs 17 min 28 sec

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 6/10

The greatest detective of them all is back... 'Down the
Strand the lamps were but misty splotches of diffused light which threw a feeble circular glimmer upon the slimy pavement'. Whilst the seamy streets of London drown in a sea of smog, Sherlock Holmes sinks into a cocaine-induced melancholy, until Miss Mary Morstan presents him with a most intriguing case, leading Holmes into an epic pursuit of the truth...

Don't be fooled by the various screen versions of
Britain's most famous detective - right from the start of this book, Holmes is portrayed as a pompous, egotistical drug addict!

The one thing I don't like about Holmes' style is he seems to make wild leaps in his theories, saying everything is evident, and fair enough, afterwards everything fits together, but he's always so full of himself till he gets to spell everything out to Watson and any other characters who stick with his to the end.

The story is quite fun though, filled with treks across the length and breadth of London as well as having a large part of the narrative set in India (as the villain gives his lengthy version of events).

The actual case involving Holmes and Watson is very short, the larger part of the story being given over to the afore-mentioned “flashback”, which is slightly annoying as most of the story seems superfluous once Holmes has solved the crime, and it smacks of Conan Doyle desperately trying to pad out the story in order to make it to novel-length, rather than the short story it could have been.

Follow Me Down by Julie Hearn

Title: Follow Me Down
Author: Julie Hearn

ISBN # 019275341X

Oxford University Press
First Published: 2003

269 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 6/10

Tom travels back in time to the 18th century where he meets a group of people who are displayed as monsters at Bartholomew Fair. Against a vividly-drawn background, Tom is able to help them tackle some of their difficulties, while at the same time acquiring the strength to tackle his own, modern-day problems.

I wanted to like this one a lot more than I actually did, but from the start, it was a little confused in style and glazed over some aspects and going into detail on other areas, leaving me wishing that something more had been said about something else instead.

It's singularly lacking in description - the "freaks" are mostly left up to the imagination of the reader, but with precious little to begin formulating the picture to begin with. The characters are mostly very two-dimensional and I never really cared much about what happened to any of them.

The ending is left with threads dangling all over the place, leaving me wishing I had wither a big needle to sew it all up neatly, or a massive pair of scissors to shear them all off cleanly!

This story had great potential, but most of the possibilities were left unexplored and ultimately, I was left feeling unfulfilled.

Ronia, the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren

Title: Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter
Author: Astrid Lindgren

Translated by: Patrica Crompton

ISBN # 0140317201

Publisher: Puffin Books

First Published: 1981

176 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 10/10

Ronia is a girl growing up in a castle in the wood in a band of robbers; as the chief's only child, she is expected to become the leader of the band someday. Their castle, Matt's Fort, was split in two parts by a lightning bolt on the day of her birth; soon afterwards, a different robber clan, the 'Borkas', settled one section, resulting in perpetual armed strife. Ronia feels rather out of place in this harsh environment; nearly her only friend is the old man Noddle-Pete, and for a while she hates her father Matt. One day, Ronia sees Birk Borkason, the only son of the enemy chieftain, Borka, idling by the chasm that splits the two parts of the castle. She engages him in a game of jumping across the chasm, a game that ends with Birk almost falling to his death. After Ronia has saved him they slowly start to become friends…

This is one of those books that is absolutely timeless and never loses its appeal; not only that, but it stands up to repeat reading and always feels like visiting an old friend.

The characters are wonderful, the plot is perfect and Lindgren's storytelling style is absolutely wonderful to read - you can read it yourself or enjoy reading it to someone else (or having it read to you!) equally well.

Folklore is blended seamlessly with an enchanting tale of a growing friendship between two children from two families who have long been enemies, and how they beat the odds (and their fiery tempers) in an almost Romeo and Juliet fashion, but, seeing as how this is aimed at children, without much of the tragedy of Shakespeare’s classic play.

It’s a bold, bright, colourful story that will appeal to all readers, both young and old.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Audio Book)

Title: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Narrator: David Barnes

Publisher: Librivox

First Published: 1886

Running time: 3 hrs 8 min 25 sec

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 7/10

Everyone has a dark side. Dr Jekyll has discovered the ultimate drug; a chemical that can turn him into something else. Suddenly, he can unleash his deepest cruelties in the guise of the sinister Hyde. Transforming himself at will, he roams the streets of fog-bound
London as his monstrous alter-ego. It seems he is master of his fate. It seems he is in complete control. But soon he will discover that his double life comes at a hideous price.

This is very cleverly written in such a way that the reader never knows more than Jekyll's friend, a lawyer named Richard Enfield; although it is told in the third person he is our representative within the tale. By using this ploy, Stevenson manages to keep the tension notched right up and spins the yarn so skillfully that, had the story not been so well-known, the revelations would be shocking (oh, how I wish I could have read this when it was first published!).

What is most surprising, at least to this modern reader, is the description of Mr. Edward Hyde - in film adaptations, he is continually depicted as a hulking figure of powerful physical presence, which highlights how little regard the film industry has typically shown to classic literature.

This is one of those tingling tales that should be told round the fire on a cold winter's evening, with the wind howling and the rain lashing...

Faceless Killer by Henning Mankell

Title: Faceless Killers
Author: Henning Mankell

Translated by: Steven T. Murray

ISBN # 0099445220

Publisher: Vintage

First Published: 1991

298 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 7/10

One frozen January Morning at
5 am, Inspector Wallander responds to what he expects is a routine call out. When he reaches the isolated farmhouse he discovers a bloodbath. An old man has been tortured and beaten to death, his wife lies barely alive beside his shattered body, victims of violence beyond reason. The woman supplies Wallander with his only clue: the perpetrators may have been foreign. When this is leaked to the press, racial hatred is unleashed. Kurt Wallander is a senior police officer at Ystad, a small town in the wind-lashed Swedish province of Skane. His life is a shambles. His wife has left him, his daughter refuses to speak to him, even his ageing father barely tolerates him. He works tirelessly, eats badly and drinks the nights away in a lonely, neglected flat. But now winter closes its grip on Ystad, and Wallander, his tenacious efforts closely monitored by the tough minded (and disarmingly attractive) district attorney Anette Brolin, must forget his trouble, and throw himself into a battle against time and xenophobia.

This one seemed to move at quite a sedate pace, but strangely I didn't actually mind, as the writing is so very fine and the characters and situation very real.

I could easily identify with Wallander and his problematic personal life and I enjoyed joining him in his investigations. There are red herrings and clues dotted about the place in a seemingly random order, with loose threads all over the place, but that is exactly what gives this its realism. It all comes together very quickly near the end, but in a way that feels very satisfying.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu (Audio Book)

Title: Carmilla
Author: J. Sheridan LeFanu

Narrator: Elizabeth Keltt

Publisher: Librivox

First Published: 1872

Running time: 3 hrs 17 min 35 sec

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 7/10

When an accident occurs on a road near their castle, Laura and her father take in the stranded survivor. Carmilla and Laura both appear young, beautiful, and innocent. But one is an ageless vampire; the other, an unsuspecting victim. True to vampire rituals involving blood, fear of dying, and obsessive eroticism, Carmilla herself falls victim to the "rapture of cruelty that is love."

The description throughout this is rich and almost exotic, depicting a secluded chateau where a visitor arriving causes a stir, even when the guest is a stranger. Homing in on the hopes and deepest, darkest fears of humanity (hope that there is life after death, but fear of the unknown hereafter), the narrative in a the form of a letter written some years after the fact, strums the nerves and gives a constant sense of foreboding and quiet danger of a most seductive kind.

Some of the plot devices used (I won’t reveal them, as it would spoil things for future readers) are dated and painfully obvious, but it does not detract from the mounting tension as the tale reaches its zenith, and although it is not overtly horrific, with very little in the way of graphic scenes of horror (focusing more on the sensuality of such beings as vampires), it is still more than enough to draw the reader into the narrative and involve them in all that transpires.

It's not quite as dark or chilling as Dracula, but it's easy to see where Bram Stoker took his cues (Carmilla was reputedly one of the greatest inspirations for Stoker’s own Gothic vampire novel). All the elements are there - a lonely, secluded castle; a mysteriously hypnotic stranger; a strange sickness taking hold of a beautiful young woman and causing the death of another; an eccentric "expert" and a tale of tragedy and darkness. It's an enthralling read and a must for fans of Gothic vampire fiction.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (Audio Book)

Title: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Washington Irving
Narrator: Chip

Publisher: Librivox

First Published: 1820

Running time: 1 hr 23 min 23 sec

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 7/10

The story is set circa 1790 in the Dutch settlement of
Tarry Town, New York, in a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow. It tells the story of Ichabod Crane, a priggish schoolmaster from Connecticut, who competes with Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt, the town rowdy, for the hand of eighteen-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of a wealthy farmer. As Crane leaves a party at the Van Tassel home on an autumn night, he is pursued by the Headless Horseman, supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper who lost his head during "some nameless battle" of the American Revolutionary War and who "rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head." Crane disappears from town, leaving Katrina to marry Brom Bones, who was "to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related.”

This was another one read by Chip (who also read parts of Fanny Hill) who has a wonderfully atmospheric voice and is the master of pregnant pauses!

The writing of this story is wonderfully rich and his telling of it was chilling. It's wonderful how the superstitious hero (Ichabod Crane) is chilled by the legend of the Headless Horseman and then becomes a part of the legend himself.

Excellently exciting, even almost 200 years after it was written; this has stood the test of time and is filled with dark humour as well as psychological terror.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Robber Bride
Author: Margaret Atwood

ISBN # 1853817228

Publisher: Virago

First Published: 1993

564 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 7/10

Zenia is beautiful, smart and greedy, by turns manipulative and vulnerable, needy and ruthless; a man's dream and a woman's nightmare. She is also dead. Just to make sure Tony, Roz and Charis are there for the funeral. But five years on, as the three women share an indulgent, sisterly lunch, the unthinkable happens; 'with waves of ill will flowing out of her like cosmic radiation', Zenia is back.

I think I'm missing something - by the accounts of other readers, Margaret Atwood is a great writer, but I just don't see it. I read The Handmaid's Tale and it was all right, but I didn't feel it was anything particularly special. Now I’ve had the same trouble with The Robber Bride.

My main problem, I feel, was with the characters - Charis was insipid, Roz was bland, Tony was timid to the point of cringing, and her husband, West was so painfully fragile that he was hardly a man - certainly not man enough for Zenia who was the only character who shows any spirit. I couldn't blame her for leaving him and despising Tony as they were both so naive I almost felt they deserved to be taken advantage of, if only to wake them up! There was only Zenia with whom I could get on-board, despite the fact that she was a liar and a cheat - at least she had balls!

It did get a little better as I progressed, but it still felt like a bit of a slog and the characters still seemed a bit wishy-washy right to the end. Throughout it all, the only one I had any respect for was Zenia who lied and cheated her way through her life - she was at least interesting and gutsy. It also seemed to just peter out at the end and didn't really go anywhere - I couldn't see what point Atwood was trying to make with this at all.

Still not convinced about Atwood really...

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

Title: The Thief of Always
Author: Clive Barker

ISBN # 0006473113

Publisher: Harper Collins

First Published: 1992

240 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 6/10

Mr. Hood's holiday house has stood for a thousand years, welcoming countless children into its embrace. It is a place of miracles, a blissful round of treats and seasons, where every childish whim may be satisfied. But there is a price to be paid. Harvey Swick finds out about the dark side.

This is a very quick read and one definitely aimed at the younger end of the market (I would guess it would appeal mostly to the 9-12 age-group). It has enough mild scares to keep things going, but even though it was first published as recently as 1992, it still feels slightly dated and I expected a little more oomph from one of Britain's foremost horror writers - yes, I know it is aimed at kids, but it was lacking on the real shivers that many kids love from their scary stories.

I loved the descriptions throughout the book, but kids' "scary" books that are published now seem to be darker and more psychologically creepy, as well as having more "visual" (in the descriptive sense) scares that have the intensity kept up for longer than this one did. I tend to prefer the 12-15+ chillers better, perhaps because they're more involved. I wished that a reason had been given of how Mr. Hood's house came into being in the first place, and also would have liked it to have been made clearer exactly WHEN the other children were from.

The line drawings throughout my copy (drawn by Clive Barker) were gorgeous though – they really added to the atmosphere.

Still, it was an enjoyable enough read and I may be tempted to try more of Barker's work, although I think I'll limit myself to those works he has aimed at the adult market.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Audio Book)

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Narrator: Laurie Anne Walden

Publisher: Librivox

First Published: 1902

Running time: 5 hrs 52 min 59 sec

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 7/10

The ancient legend of the Baskervilles has persisted in the family history for generations. It is Sir Charles's mysterious death in the grounds of Baskerville Hall that brings Sherlock Holmes to the scene of one of his most famous and intriguing cases.

This is arguably Sherlock Holmes' most famous case, and as such nothing is really surprising. Even if one didn't already know the story, by today's crime novel standards, the trail of clues is very easy to follow and one has to wonder why Holmes is the only one clever enough to ascertain who the bad guy is.

That said, it's still a lot of fun to read and is atmospheric from start to finish, and well worth reading just to get it "first hand" rather than watching one of the many film versions which seem watered down by comparison.

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Title: Disgrace
Author: J. M. Coetzee

ISBN # 0099289520

Publisher: Vintage

First Published: 1999

220 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 6/10

A divorced, middle-aged English professor finds himself increasingly unable to resist affairs with his female students. After an impulsive affair with his student sours, and having been discovered by the college authorities, he is expected to apologize to save his job, but instead he refuses and resigns, retiring to live with his daughter on her remote farm. For a time, his daughter's influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to
harmonise his discordant life. He and Lucy become victims of a disturbing attack which brings into relief all their fault lines.

Bit of an odd one this - the story didn't really seem to have a point to it, but it illustrated some of the dangers that people live with every day in countries of conflict while trying to get on with their day to day lives. I did enjoy it, but I can't really put my finger on why.

There were moments where I rather enjoyed reading it, but those were heavily outweighed by the moments where I felt bored out of my scull. None of the characters seems to have any redeeming features and I couldn’t bring myself to actually care much about any of them of their situations. It all seemed very humdrum and as the winner of the 1999 Booker Prize, I feel it reinforces the idea that prize-winning books are generally dry and a little “worthy”, but not so appealing to readers in general, which is a shame, because then the truly wonderful books that won prizes get tarred with the same brush.

I felt that this was severely lacking in anything that would provide an enjoyment of reading it and it inspired nothing much more than a feeling of lethargy as I plodded through the pages. Coetzee is not an author I would want to revisit in the future.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira levin

Title: Rosemary’s Baby
Author: Ira Levin

ISBN # 0965723178

Publisher: The Stephen King Horror Library

First Published: 1967

245 pages

Format: Hardback

Rating: 8/10

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse were delighted at the chance to move into Bramford, one of
Manhattan's oldest and most celebrated apartment houses. Their friend Hutch urged them not to; he knew of too many shadows in Bramford's past - unsavoury tenants like Adrian Marcato, who had practised witchcraft, and the monstrous Trench sisters. But Rosemary and Guy were clear-thinking and not at al superstitious. They dismissed Hutch's warnings and moved in.

At first they were completely happy. Rosemary hung curtains and planned a nursery for the baby she hoped to have some day. Guy pursued his career as a stage and television actor. They met their neighbours, who were friendly and unintrusive. But then, one day when Rosemary was down in the basement laundry room, a girl her own age came in...

Quietly and with a compelling matter-of-factness, Ira Levin tells a story of mounting terror and icy climactic shock in a book that manages to be wildly entertaining as well.

It's a quiet, understated horror, this one. No scenes of blood and gore, no terrifying creatures ripping terrified teens limb from limb - it's all implied, internal terror and rising paranoia culminating in panic and psychological terror as Rosemary slowly pieces together a puzzle to which she does not realise she is the key.

Levin is truly a master of the genre and the introduction by Stephen King speaks volumes of his own respect and awe at the talents of a fellow writer. I'm also pleased that this is a case where a fantastic film (which I've seen and loved many times) has been utterly faithful, right down to the descriptions of clothes and the layout of the apartments. The truth is that if any single aspect had been changed, it would all have fallen apart.

It's so carefully constructed, with the tension building steadily, that I was kept literally on the edge of my seat, despite the fact that I was already familiar with the entire plot. It was definitely worth reading the book!

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

Title: Blood and Chocolate
Author: Annette Curtis Klause

ISBN # 0613228367

Publisher: Laurel-Leaf Books

First Published: 1997

264 pages

Format: Hardback

Rating: 6/10

Vivian Gandillon relishes the change, the sweet, fierce ache that carries her from girl to wolf. At sixteen, she is beautiful and strong, and all the young wolves are on her tail. But Vivian still grieves for her dead father; her pack remains leaderless and in disarray, and she feels lost in the suburbs of
Maryland. She longs for a normal life. But what is normal for a werewolf?

Then Vivian falls in love with a human, a meat-boy. Aiden is kind and gentle, a welcome relief from the squabbling pack. He's fascinated by magic, and Vivian longs to reveal herself to him. Surely he would understand her and delight in the wonder of her dual nature, not fear her as an ordinary human would?

Vivian's divided loyalties are strained further when a brutal murder threatens to expose the pack. Moving between two worlds, she does not seem to belong in either. What is she really - human or beast? Which tastes sweeter - blood or chocolate?

This wasn't at all bad, but, at the same time, wasn't quite what I was expecting (although I'm not quite sure what it was I was actually expecting). There are some nice ideas here and a few brief mentions of the name loups-garoux, (pronounced loo garoo - French for were-wolf), but I would have liked the author to delve further into the legends in this case, as it felt almost tagged-on to have them referred to in this way.

The plot isn't really anything that hasn't been explored previously (and to better effect), but the characters are sympathetically drawn and there are a small handful of them who are fleshed out beyond being pale, two-dimensional caricatures, although there seem to be an entire cast of extras who were brought in just to fill out the crowd scenes and are needlessly named and given one or two lines of dialogue that could have just as easily been distributed between those more established.

It all felt rather inevitable and didn't really hold any surprises, but was a pleasant enough read. However, it really did feel like it was aimed at the younger end of the youth market, and could easily have stood being made a touch darker and more dangerous.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. Salinger

ISBN # 0140012486

Publisher: Penguin

First Published: 1951

220 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 6/10

A 16-year old American boy relates in his own words the experiences he goes through at school and after, and reveals with unusual
candour the workings of his own mind. What does a boy in his teens think and feel about his teachers, parents, friends and acquaintances?

I'm not sure I quite "got" this one, although I really did feel for the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, who seems so out-of-sorts with the world throughout the novel. I felt very sorry that he didn't seem to find any joy in anything at all and felt so cut-off from everyone and everything. That said he doesn't come across as being out-and-out rebellious; just more that he can't find anything to really care about and is mistrustful of those who want him to feel and care more than he does. The only thing he does seem to care about is other people being phony (which, along with a long list of other things, he hates), yet he seems to contradict himself a lot, indicating a certain amount of phoniness in himself.

I actually saw a lot of parallels between Holden Caulfield and characters in some other books I read years ago (Albert Scully in The Dream Watcher by Barbara Wersba, and "Marsh" Mellow in Pardon Me, You're Stepping on my Eyeball! by Paul Zindel - both of which are excellent books), and found him to be quite a sympathetic rendering of a troubled teenager.

At only 220 pages, it doesn't take long to read, and you could pass an afternoon in far less pleasant ways than to read this novel.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Title: The Eyre Affair
Author: Jasper Fforde

ISBN # 034073356X

Publisher: Hodder

First Published: 2001

373 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 8/10

There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where the Crimean war still rages, dodos are regenerated in home-cloning kits and everyone is deeply disappointed by the ending of 'Jane Eyre'. In this world there are no jet-liners or computers, but there are policemen who can travel across time, a Welsh republic, a great interest in all things literary - and a woman called Thursday Next. In this utterly original and wonderfully funny first novel, Fforde has created a feisty, loveable heroine and a plot of such richness and ingenuity that it will take your breath away.

This is intricate, bizarre, clever and devilishly funny. Fforde is a wit to be reckoned with and his knowledge of classic literature, showcased beautifully in full spectrum, is amazing - this is great fun to read. The performance of Richard III in the style of The Rocky Horror Show is absolutely inspired - I'd LOVE to see it done that way myself!

For those who have read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, this is a wonderful addition to the mythos – a “what if”, if you will. Even those who only have the slightest knowledge of the plot of Brontë’s novel will be able to appreciate the care that has gone into capturing the smallest details and subverting them. If you haven’t a clue about Jane Eyre, you can still enjoy this, but I don’t think you’d get quite as much out of it as you could, therefore, prior reading of the classic is recommended, but Jane Eyre is such a good read that I’d recommend it anyway!

It’s a wonderful introduction to Thursday Next and her bizarre world, and is a highly enjoyable romp through an alternative history of the world. If you like your reading material to have some intelligent thought behind it, you would be hard pushed to find an author living today who could top Fforde for his genius!

Fanny Hill; Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Title: Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure
Author: John Cleland

Narrator: Various

Publisher: Librivox

First Published: 1749

Running time: 10 hrs 27 min 30 sec

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 8/10

Forced by the death of her parents to seek her fortune in
London, Fanny Hill is duped into prostitution by an old procuress. In Mrs Brown's bawdy-house the naive young woman begins her sexual initiation - progressing from innocence to curiosity and desire - and soon embarks on her own path in pursuit of pleasure, until she at last finds true love. John Cleland's story of Fanny's rise to respectability was denounced after its publication by the then Bishop of London as 'an open insult upon Religion and good manners', while James Boswell called it 'a most licentious and inflaming book'. But beside its highly entertaining and boisterous depictions of a startling variety of sexual acts, Fanny Hill stands as one of the great works of eighteenth-century fiction for its unique combination of parody, erotica and philosophy of sensuality.

The man who read part one (someone listed only as "Chip") has the most lascivious voice I've ever heard! Fanny Hill is erotic pretty much from the get-go, with the start of the corruption of Fanny's innocence within hours of her arrival in
London (what might be known nowadays as "hot girl-on-girl action", no less!).

Part two (read by Peter Yearsley, whose voice is warm, soft and very suggestive!) continued with Fanny being slowly indoctrinated into life in a brothel (although, as yet, untouched by men). This is pretty steamy stuff and I can see why it caused such a stir when it was first published (leading to the arrest of the author for "corrupting the King's subjects").

I have to admit that listening to this whilst walking around town may not have been such a good idea, as it's rather steamy and I could actually feel myself blushing! That said, it didn’t stop me - this was excellent stuff!

Although it features everything from prostitution to voyeurism, lesbian/gay sex, cross-dressing, group sex and even light BDSM, it's never crass or crude in any way, and is written almost tenderly. Surprisingly enough, it actually has a moral message to impart at the end, despite Fanny's obvious enjoyment of her activities throughout the tale, but it doesn't come across as being trite or forced at all.

I thoroughly enjoyed this from start to finish and can highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a little titillation!