Oliver Twist- Charles Dickens

Now, we all know the story of Oliver Twist, so I cannot pretend that this week’s review will be anything ground-breaking. However, I must admit that this is the first time that I have actually sat down to read the Dickens novel. I am unsure (and a little embarrassed) how, as a literature student (aged 21), and Dickens lover, I have managed to overlook this novel until now. Better late than never, I suppose…

Oliver Twist is classic Dickens- hearty and thorough writing, that absolutely brings the characters to life. He does this through both explicit character description, and allowing each character to display their own personality through their speech, accent and dialect. As a result of this, it is really easy to remember who is who, even though there are, relatively, quite a few characters. I love that Dickens situates his narratives so firmly in their location, constantly mentioning the geography, which allows the reader to really follow the narrative, on both a plot and geographical level.

I must admit that I was expecting to feel more sympathetic for Oliver than Dickens necessarily guides a reader to be, which actually makes for an interesting read. Also, in not pitying Oliver at every moment, it allowed me to be more perceptive of other characters and the action in general.

As with the majority of Dickens’ works, Oliver Twist is a very dark novel, and I can almost imagine the Victorian-style lighting under which all of this action is taking place, which makes the sense of threat and fear all the more apparent. What’s more, though Oliver Twist may be one of Dickens’ shorter works, it is by no means any rich in detail and action- in fact, there is something to be taken from every page.

Even though I was already familiar with the general narrative, I was not aware of the small Dickensian details and nuances of Oliver Twist, and reading this novel was an absolute pleasure of the occasion to do just that. If you are looking to get into Dickens, or Victorian literature as a whole, Oliver Twist is the perfect place to begin!

Winter’s Fairytale- Maxine Morrey

It is fair to say that final year of university is taking its toll. It is intense, and I am feeling more stressed than I had ever imagined, so I decided that anything I would be reading for pleasure needed to be lighthearted and cheerful. Given that Christmas is approaching, though it can be hardly tell from the confines of the library, I decided that Winter’s Fairytale could be precisely the type of book I could do with reading!

 

The story might not begin well for Izzy, who has pretty much every bride’s nightmare happen to her, but her luck definitely picks up along the way. Not only does her luck in love change, the story of it happening is filled with heart-warming humour….made even better by the fact that the narrative is set in the run up to Christmas.

I would describe the atmosphere in Winter’s Fairytale as cosy- as horrible as that word might be. This is only because there is so much of a contrast between what really isn’t cosy- being gilted at the altar, getting stuck outside in the snow, and Izzy’s less than homely flat- and the safe, happy spaces that Izzy actually ends up in: Rob’s apartment, the New Year’s Eve party etc. This cosiness definitely contributes to the festive feel of this narrative!

The characters don’t have an awful lot of depth, but that doesn’t seem to matter in this story. The small amount of background information we do gain about each character isn’t all that relevant when all we want, as a reader, is for Izzy and Rob to just get together. Somehow the Christmas magic seems to more than make up for the (perhaps too) convenient resolution of problems within the narrative.

On the same lines of characters, it struck me that Rob’s family feature so heavily, yet Izzy’s really aren’t mentioned a lot. I suppose this might have been a way of highlighting her need for ‘rescuing’, but it might have been interesting to learn more about them- especially towards the end when things looked like they were working out for Izzy.

I think it’s important to mention that, though the protagonist might not have the best luck, we definitely aren’t made to pity her in a Bridget Jones kind of way. Instead, we get the impression that she is really prepared to look after herself, and that she is prepared to make it on her own if she need to. At the same time, though, we do want nothing more than for her to give up her pride.

Winter’s Fairytale is definitely a girly light-hearted light read, which is by no means a bad thing! I couldn’t wait until my bus journeys, just so that I could become a part of the heartwarming story for a little bit longer. I like that the ending is satisfying, but still leaves a little to the reader’s imagination, as it prevents it from appearing a little too obvious. This is most definitely the perfect book to read on the sofa with a hot chocolate as you begin to wind down for Christmas!

How I Lost You- Jenny Blackhurst

On first appearances, How I Lost You ticked all the right boxes: a gripping thriller with a twist.

For the first few pages, I did feel a little confused. I couldn’t quite comprehend who was narrating, and why there were different names floating about..but now I realise that this might have been intended, reflecting the confusion that Susan feels herself.

This confusion meant I didn’t quite understand whether or not I was supposed to identify with Susan, and I held her at quite a distance for the majority of the narrative. In fact, I felt quite ambivalent towards all of the characters in How I Lost You and I was never sure if all was exactly what it seemed, or if they all had ulterior motives. This is by no means a criticism. It was actually very interesting to be kept on tenterhooks as to who could be trusted and who could not.

I think Blackhurst’s use of the parallel narrative, focusing on certain events in the past, was really useful in adding extra depth to the plot in a much more sophisticated way than characters simply discussing the past. It was also quite satisfying in the way that it acted as a tool with which I could start to decode the book’s present and gauge how to react to and understand certain things that are referred to.

Though the main premise of the narrative is a constant theme, and the driving force behind everything that unfolds in the plot, there are also a number of other key themes, which I suppose reflects the real-life nature of the book. Or, at least as real-life as something like this can be….

My criticism would be that the resolution seems to unfold a little too conveniently, with everyone involved only too ready to help, and those who are guilty too easily let off. Having said this, the narrative does end on a semi-cliffhanger, and does leave a lot to be explained which, I suppose, does leave room for further problems to arrive, even if they aren’t addressed directly.

I certainly would recommend How I Lost You, particularly if you are looking for a book that doesn’t necessarily tell you how to feel from the start, and want to work things out for yourself!

Parole de femme- Annie Leclerc

I have always been interested in feminist literature, and feminism as a theory in general. My favourite type of feminist literature is that from the personal point of view, but I don’t appreciate when authors become too righteous as, in my opinion, it detracts from the issue in hand  – I really enjoyed Simone de Beauvoir’s Mémoire d’une jeune fille rangée, for example- the perfect balance of a serious, important message mixed into personal life, with just the right balance of confidence.

I thought Leclerc’s Parole de femme was just as good, if not better than Beauvoir’s Mémoire, strangely because it wasn’t mostly based on in-depth information about her personal life. What I liked most was that I could tell her beliefs come from a deeply personal place, based on important experiences that she had had- and to which she alluded- but she didn’t make the argument entirely about her. Instead, it was about femme as a whole.

Studying French, I am also deeply interested in language and its connotations, and I find myself analysing author’s word choices almost subconsciously and as a matter of habit. But what I loved about this book is that it consciously brought the issue of language to the forefront…I suppose this is hardly surprising given the title…parole. But I loved how Leclerc tore into the meaning of certain words, and how this differed for men and women, but also for different types of women. She repeats this words both explicitly and implicitly- as if she is trying to rid them of meaning- proving that language isn’t really gendered, it is we who make them so.

I genuinely enjoyed the entirety of Parole de femme, and found it one of the most interesting non-fictions I have read, and I really couldn’t get enough of it. I was stuck in the dilemma of wanting to read faster in order to learn more and more, because I have never agreed with any text more, and not wanting to read too quickly so that it didn’t finish too soon.

One of my favourite arguments within the work ( it is not merely a book, its messages and arguments are too important), is that in order for women to be liberated, they must become liberators. I wholeheartedly agree. And not even necessarily just in terms of gender. I feel that, too often, people hold onto the things that hold them back, almost as if they thrive on this inability (as odd as it may sound). It is only when we work to free ourselves and believe ourselves free of limitations that we are able to succeed.

 

I would thoroughly recommend Parole de femme to everyone. Just because it is a feminist work, it hold important messages for men, too (yes- I know men can be feminists). Even though I would have considered myself a feminist before I started reading, it definitely opened my eyes even more, and changed my thinking even more….read it!

Flash- Tim Tigner

From the very first page of Flash  I was hooked. The situation the Troy and Emmy, the main characters, are in is just so unlike anything I have read before. They wake up in an abandoned car covered in blood next to a dead policeman, with no idea as to why. The mystery and bizarreness (is that even a word?!) had me wanting to read more. I wanted to find out why they had no idea who they why and why they were in that care.

However, this wasn’t the only type of discovery in the novel. Yes, Troy and Emmy were on a quest to discover who they were and what had happened to them, at the same time that the police were trying to discover who they were as their unfortunate situation frames them as criminals, and forces them to continue committing crimes in order to try to learn the truth about their memory loss. This idea that anything or anyone could be discovered at any moment meant that tension was high as the novel’s pace did not slow down.

What I liked about the characters is that they weren’t immediately superheroes, ready to accept their fate. Like ‘realistic’ people, they took time to adjust to their new lives, and to their relationship with one another. They don’t immediately get on- understandably given the circumstances in which they meet one another- but it is  this that adds to the suspense of the story: how will and why should their attitudes change?

Flash is very much a ‘just a few more pages’ type of book, which meant that I devoured it in a matter of hours, and I’m glad I had the ability to do so, as I would have otherwise feared that the narrative would have carried on without me and left me behind. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone in search of suspense and mystery without clichés

Diving In- Gretchen Galway

I’m currently away in Germany, and the weather has been amazing, so I have been spending most of my days laying in the park sunbathing. This warm, summery weather has meant that I’ve wanted to keep my reading light and easy to dip in and out of (no pun intended regarding the title of the book). To me this means a book that is based on a love story, with uncomplicated humour and easy-to-relate to characters.

 

This made Diving In  the perfect choice. Set in Hawaii, the location reflects my current summery mindset (though a little more tropical than eastern Germany, I have to admit) and revolving mostly (but not entirely) around accidentally falling in love, this light-hearted novel was exactly what I wanted in a book. However, the narrative isn’t quite as one-dimensional as this makes it sound, as the two main characters both have deeper reasons for being where they are other than chance or coincidence. Nicki, a school teacher with very little happening in her life, finds herself in Hawaii trying to make her life more exciting and trying to overcome some of her paralysing life-long fears. Ansel, a very lucky (yet incredibly generous), is there trying to make something of his life,  too, after threats from his father that he will be cut off from the family wealth out of fears that his easy life has made him complacent.

Both characters are 30, and have worries that they won’t actually amount to anything. But they also share something else, though Ansel doesn’t realise it quite as soon as Nicki, who hasn’t every been very lucky in love.

Not only is  Diving In great for learning how the Nicki and Ansel fall in love- after multiple bumps in the road and attempts at self-control; it is also a story of self discovery. Perhaps not drastic, ground-breaking self-discovery, but simply a matter of overcoming fears and breaking misconceptions the characters had about themselves. This means that when the narrative dénouement is reached, they are both in a good and settled place for the future of the novel to be possible.

Even though the narrative isn’t the most complex, Diving In  is different to a lot of other romance novels in the way that the aim of the narrative is more than just watching the characters change as they evolve into a couple. This narrative is about the characters evolving as their own people in order that they are able to become a couple.

My only criticism would of this book might be that some points of the narrative seemed to last longer than they needed to- so perhaps it could have been a little shorter- though I never really got bored.  However, this minor criticism would not stop me from recommending Diving In to anyone who wanted what I did before I read it: a feel-good summery read.

Le chef d’œuvre inconnu- Honoré Balzac

Whenever I have read Balzac before I have always found it a little bit of a struggle. Now, this is usually because the texts I read are chosen by my university, and I am reading these (very lengthy) novels not just for pleasure, but to obtain specific information that will help me pass an exam or some coursework. When I saw Le chef d’œuvre inconnu  on the bookshelf, I was intrigued at how short (a.k.a accessible) it appeared, and I instantly wanted to read it- giving myself the opportunity to enjoy such a classic French author’s work without slogging through hundreds of pages.

The first thing that struck me, even in the first handful of sentences, was the beauty that is intertwined in the text. Both in the imagery that Balzac creates, and the sheer delicacy of his choice of words and the fluidity of his sentence structure. Also, it is amazing to see how things can change so dramatically in such a short space of pages- and how this change is influenced by something that so many people would never think twice about: art.

It was interesting to see how someone could be so passionate about something that wasn’t simply love with another person and the lengths it could drive them to if it goes wrong. Though, having said that, of course, what would a 19th C narrative be without the influence of a woman’s beauty to shake things up a little?

 

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who has struggled to enjoy a Balzac text before, as it works as a type of stepping stone into appreciating his undeniable skill as an author, and has definitely encouraged me to pick up one of his longer works for fun again!

All That Remains – Hannah Holborn

Having read a handful of romantic novels recently, I was craving something a little more ‘meaty’ and intense. The first few words of the book description was enough to draw me in “Meet detective Harvey Sam” as, like I’ve mentioned before, I am obsessed with the ITV series Broadchurch, and it has seriously whetted my appetite for detective drama- in television or book form.

Firstly, I think it is important to say that I read All That Remains from start to finish in a matter of hours- once I got into the narrative, I couldn’t bring myself to put it down!

From the very first page I could tell that the book was going to be a little on the darker side, mainly because of the confusing, messed-up nature of the criminal. In fact, Willard is so odd that it did take me a little while to properly understand what was going on- especially as Holborn doesn’t make it as clear as possible- which is definitely a good thing as it adds to the feeling of suspense. As the narrative unfolds, the reader begins to learn Willard’s reasoning behind his crime, which does evoke some sympathy- though not enough to condone what it is he has done and continues to do.

In fact, I find it interesting that the entire book forces the reader to ‘feel’ about different characters. For the most part, it is empathy and sympathy that the reader feels towards a handful of characters that wish, ultimately to do well, but past life experiences and circumstances perhaps prevent them from doing to their best potential (for example, Detective Harvey Sam’s family situation influencing his attitude towards his job, and Chase’s ability to do the right thing, out of fear that she will trip herself up and get herself in trouble. However, ultimately, the most sympathy the reader feels is for Gabriel Wheeler, whose mother is so infuriatingly uninterested, who can never see the bad in people, because he has grown up thinking that this ‘bad’ is actually normal.

Holborn is great at creating characters that really make the reader feel, and this is an important factor of any book for me. The narrative wasn’t necessarily the most surprising I have ever read, but there certainly were points that could have let it go either way- and it is these points that kept me turning the pages. I also liked that the narrative resolution wasn’t clichéd- it wasn’t convenient and easy, as often happens with mystery novels, and up to the very end it was unclear how the book was going to end.

I would definitely recommend All That Remains  to anyone with an interest in drama, mystery and suspense. It’s got the suspense without the gore or violence that can often come with these types of novels, which means that it is perfect for those newer to the genre. Also, whilst the base of the narrative is fairly common (a missing child) the other issues in the book, as well as the way the narrative pans out is much deeper and more interesting. A satisfying read for anyone.

Love For Scale – Michaela Greene

One of the reasons that I chose Love For Scale as my next read was that, not only did it seem like a light-hearted, easy-read, romantic comedy novel, the protagonist seemed to have more of an interesting story than similar books. The more I read of the novel, the more I began to appreciate that it really was the characters that made this book so enjoyable.

I finished this book in just a matter of days, not only because it was an easy and enjoyable read, but because I actually really liked the characters. I thought everyone in the book could pass as ‘realistic’, which is an important element of a book for me.

Rachel and her best friend spend their weekends trying on wedding dresses, in spite of the fact that neither of them have any intention (or rather, hope) of getting married any time soon. This, along with Rachel’s rather overbearing Jewish mother, constantly concerned with feeding Rachel and trying to put her marriage in place, contributes to the general humour of the book.

 

Naturally, the narrative follows Rachel’s journey in love. However, this doesn’t happen without a journey of self discovery and growing confidence, which makes for an endearing read. She finally takes control of one of the things that bothers her the most: her weight. The great thing is that Greene actually shows this in a realistic light- joining a weight loss group doesn’t necessarily make for an easy ride, and she shows this in Rachel’s behaviour- towards other people and towards herself. It is also encouraging to see that, although Rachel wishes to change her weight herself, no other characters have any negative perceptions of her weight, and they even reassure her that, even if she weren’t to change, she would still be perfect as herself. I think this is important in a time where, thanks to the media, people are more conscious than ever of their body shapes and sizes.

In spite of the difficulties she does face, it is great to see how Rachel’s weight loss journey helps her to take control of other parts of her life, such as moving out of her parents’ home. Although the news is broken under far from comical circumstances, the way other characters react to her decision manages to add to the novel’s comedic value.

Whilst even at the end of the novel, it is clear that Rachel is not entirely confident in herself, the transition between her character at the beginning is astounding, and incredibly encouraging.  In my opinion, ending on a point that doesn’t show the completed journey helps to give more dimension to the narrative as the reader gets the impression that the characters’ lives continue beyond the pages of the book.

Even though this may not have been the most complex novel, I definitely think it’s worth a read because it is so easy to establish similarities between your own life and Rachel’s. Whether you are on a similar weight loss mission, or a self discovery journey, or not, I think everyone would be able to compare the novel’s characters to people in their own life- which usually means you become more invested in the novel.

 

Beyond Repair- Susie Tate

I chose this book as I choose most of my reads: on the Amazon Kindle Bestsellers list. The book description sounded like the perfect light, comedic read after the more serious narratives I’ve been reading lately, so I was looking forward to getting started.

My first impressions matched my expectations, I liked that it started in the middle of a familial situation, helping to establish a clear picture of who some of the characters are- in terms of their personalities and their relationships with one another. It was instantly apparent that Katie, the main character, was likeable and made me want to continue reading as I cared about what happened to her.

This lasted for a few chapters, until I began to lose interest in the narrative. I’m not sure whether it was that perhaps I hadn’t been concentrating enough, or whether it was simply that the narrative had slowed down. I found myself needing to re-read multiple pages to check that I hadn’t missed anything important to understand the current situation, and most of the time I hadn’t. This inability to remain interested in the narrative continued until around five chapters before the end of the book, where the action seemed to pick up again. Once again I was interested in the relationship between Katie and Sam, and I think it was at this point that the rest of the narrative (where I had lost interest and investment) started to make more sense.

I must say, however, that the end of the narrative was rather cliché, and whilst this isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, I think I was hoping for a little more substance, given the deeper issues in the rest of the book.

I think Beyond Repair does show Tate’s ability to build three dimensional characters in a way that the reader is able to empathise and identify with them. However, I do think that sometimes the detailed description within the book, though useful and effective at points, can distract from the actual action in the narrative- and this is perhaps why I found it difficult to stay focused on what was happening. I did appreciate the short chapter lengths because, as I’ve mentioned before, I read whenever I get the chance (even if it’s just five minutes), which means that I can easily dip in and out of the book, without losing myself midway through a chapter.

This hasn’t been my favourite book by any means, but that is not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it. I think I would just advise potential readers to stay as focused as possible when reading to avoid losing track of what is happening.