“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness

I made this: BookElf at 2:43 pm 0 comments Links to this post

This month I have become a little obsessed with The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, a series aimed at Young Adults (i.e. older children) but I, a woman in her twenties, enjoyed it immensely.

This is a series of six, set in the Stone Ages- before farming, writing or the wheel. At first I was attracted to the series because I have previously loved others set in Ancient Times- notably The Earth’s Children series by Jean Auel also known as The Clan of the Cave Bear Series. And the UK covers are extraordinarily beautiful, textured surfaces with simple, but instantly identifiable illustrations.

To an avid speed reader these are one-book-a-night reads, not only because the writing is so accessible in its descriptions, but because the plots are so fast paced and the first book is gripping from the off.

The plot starts with a death, remember how much controversy there was surrounding the death of a major character in the Harry Potter books? Or how The Lion King is remembered for being the first time Disney showed a dead body? Within the first chapter Torak, the brave and resourceful protagonist who is 12 at the start of the books, sees his father killed by a demon trapped in a bear. This, in my opinion, gives much more credit to the sensibilities of the reader, it is necessary for Torek to suffer such a huge loss at the start in order to explain his reluctance to bond with other humans and his link with a fellow orphan wolf cub, which leads to one of the friendships that shape the series. Torek is soon picked up by a travelling band of the hunter-gathering Raven Clan, including Renn, who becomes his best friend and fellow adventurer.

Each book covers a different part of the landscape which would be familiar in the Northern Hemisphere in the Stone Age, from the deep forests to the blinding whiteness of the tundra, illustrated in the beautiful maps at the beginning and end of the books. The details used in describing the landscape are vivid, but brief. Common plants and animal behaviours are described, and their uses explained, but unlike Auel, Paver expects her reader’s to simply accept and move on from details surrounding the day-to-day life of the Stone Age peoples without overlong explanations or justifications. The landscape is integral to the themes of the novel, and a heavy does of environmentalism runs throughout the books, eloquently showing to young readers how all life forms context to each other. Again, the reader is not invited to critique this attitude, merely accept it. Offering a piece of kill to the spirits and not hurting tress too much becomes obvious to the reader, to the point where, when the ‘baddies’ are baddies for refusing to follow these life-codes, we are equally appalled. Paver has created a world that relies on nature for survival without making a value judgement on how we live out lives now. I have been more conscious of how unconnected I am with the ways of animals and the healing powers of plants through reading these books, and I am sure that many younger readers would seriously consider changing their attitudes to nature through reading them.

The books are essential quest based, Torek, Renn and his Wolf (possibly my favourite character) find and fight the Soul-Eaters, former Mages of the clans who banded together to do evil deeds. Although the series is slightly formulaic- Soul Eater does Evil- Torek fights evil with help from Renn and Wolf- Torek learns valuable lesson about himself/ his family, the stories are so well written and, for want of a better word, exciting, this really doesn’t matter.

I have already bought the entire series for work and leant them to my teenage cousin, and I know they are heavily used by the Boys Into Books challenge, and well-loved by teen readers, but these books are worthy of a wider readership. Unlike other popular YA series, they do not turn into 500 page epics by the fourth book that take me months and months to chew through, each book is a treat, and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Book titles in order
Wolf Brother
Sprit Walker
Soul Eater (my favourite)
Ghost Hunter

And yes, I did cry at the end!

This month I have also been readeing and loving The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters which is proper spooky and good, though has possibly the most boring narrator ever written- to great effect! I have also finished American Gods which I have been reading as part of 1 book 1 twitter, of which more later, and the 3rd Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter book Circus of the Damned.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Millennium Trilogy

I made this: BookElf at 12:36 pm 1 comments Links to this post

Greer once said ‘women will never know how much men hate them’. The Millennium Trilogy seeks to correct this. The books are, in my opinion, an exposé of day-to-day misogyny, as well as violent hatred against women on a grand scale. The male characters who perpetrate the violence or general patriarchal attitudes are either weak willed, old fashioned and out of touch with the modern world, or psychotic. The female characters are all, without question, strong, forward looking women. They are victims of abuse, but, apart from one character who is beaten so badly by her male partner she is brain damaged, they all enact their ‘revenge’ on those who hurt them in various ways, some more shocking than others, by chaining them to a bed and forcing a tattoo on their belly for example, or replying to an insinuation that they should be the ones make coffee during meetings with the reply “That would be lovely, thank you”. I was more shocked with the latter, to be honest. Vigilante violence is all very well, but real courage is asserting your right to be treated equally to everyone else, every day, subtly and appropriately, and without malice. I know plenty of women including myself who would happily smack a man’s face if he called her a whore, but I know full well that I, on instinct, would have also made the coffee. Some great feminist I turned out to be.

So why is the book’s promotion so heavily reliant upon the actions of a single character, Lisbeth Salander? She is the catalyst around all things turn, if the blurb, posters, jackets, advertising campaign focussing on the jacket (I know I am apparently the only person in the world to notice the massive advertising campaign that went with this book upon its release in the UK in 2008, but honest to God I have seen posters with that damned tattoo on them in shop fronts and railway stations, and the books has featured on Waterstone’s front tables for the past two years, as well as being available as a supermarket two for a fiver for the last year) and subsequent film posters are anything to go by. Reviews concentrate on her and the other ‘main’ character Blomkvist almost exclusively. Yet the plot that spins around Salander like a top is multi-structured, with various storylines intertwined, that adds layer upon layer to the main theme like evidence in a courtroom, with the patriarchy on trial.

Why, in the UK and other English speaking countries, are we patronised into following and identifying the books with one character, who from the outset resembles every stereotype of a ‘man hating feminist’ we have forced down our throats by the media (demonstrated brilliantly in the second book with the media trial of the Lesbian Satanists). The first book’s title, ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ not only makes us the reader automatically relate the book’s themes to the protagonist, it also patronises her, she is not a ‘girl’, she is a woman in her twenties. The book’s original title, as decided by the author, ‘Men Who Hate Women’, is far more revealing and relevant to the plot. Are English speaking audiences not considered cultured or forward thinking enough to accept a Swedish best seller that explicitly takes every form of male violence against women, from rape and stalking to verbal abuse and exclusion on the basis of male bias against the female, and exposes them as an unnecessary and irreverent evil, with a title that matches the content, or must we, as closet women-haters all, accept a watered down, character rather that theme driven promotion of, what is, in my opinion, a masterwork?

The second and last two books of the series were, for me, unputdownable. I read the last half of the second book in a night, and a school night at that, which is very bad for me. The plot that runs over the second two books is so well crafted; with mini-plots (such as Berger’s soiree at SMP) keeping us entertained enough to forgive the author for keeping us in suspense of the final outcome of the main. It is just a shame that, for me, the book will be better known for the (entirely understandable) actions of its protagonist, rather than its message, and that the heroine will always be Salander, rather than the other powerful female characters. It was only the second book that kept to its original Swedish title. I believe, the strongest women in the book was Mia Johansson, who devotes her PhD to investigating the trafficking and exploitation through sexual objectification of women. This is the ‘girl who played with fire’ for me.

There is only one reason this series of books would have changed titles, that is to make it more accessible (and therefore more marketable) to its proposed readership. By naming it ‘The Girl’… series, in a country where misogyny is rife, and within the law, as opposed to the Swedish system of accepting that the patriarchy is still there, but should be opposed at every turn (prostitution is legal; exploitation and trafficking, pimping and rape are not. Women must by law make up a certain percentage of board members etc etc) this further re-enforces the view that Britain, and other countries with an English cultural heritage, are still not ready to confront male privilege within the popular media driven publishing industry, other wise you would have massive posters in WHSmith’s windows that expose the misogyny, rather than add to it. Blomkvist says "When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it's about violence against women, and the men who enable it”. Why has it not aloud to be so in my country?

I would like to re-emphasize this is my view, and that I loved the books. I do not speak for other members of Leeds Book Club in my opinion of this matter.

Happy Reading
BookElf xx

Monday, 10 May 2010

Book Club the Sixth - Amended Order

I made this: Unknown at 12:18 pm 4 comments Links to this post
Book Club the Sixth - BOOKELF - 05-05-2010
Agreed on: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (BookElf)
- The Island by Victoria Hislop
- The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Millenium Trilogy by Steig Larsson
Right, down to buzz-y-ness.

As I only completed our first topic book after this session, I will add in my comments under the discussion notes.
  • has actually visited all of the places mentioned in the book, and only wishes that she had read this first!
  • loved it, though admits to preferring the overall themes as opposed to the writing style per se. 
  • did not enjoy the Alexis storyline, finding it to be unnecessary.
  • Spinalonga is exactly as described in the book - there is an aura of sadness.
  • agrees wholeheartedly, especially about the Alexis storyline. 
  • the relationship between the two sisters was very affecting to her
  • and the modern history of Greece was fascinating. 
  • would love to go and visit the island now (road/boat trip anyone?!) 
  • liked the story of the boy who started off as a leper, but ended up a teacher. In a way, leprosy was a gift for some. 
  • approached the book with some trepidation, which was not alleviated at all by the initial chapters. I found the present day storyline to be completely superfulous, only included as a rather awkward device to set up the actual tale. 
  • thought that the history of the leper island was so interesting - and to discover that such an amazing and transformative discovery was made so recently, and literally changed our whole responses to a terrible affliction relatively close by...well, I found that to be very inspiring.
  • I found the structure of the timeline to be slightly offputting. The first year on the island is a good quarter of the book, and then there are jumps with longer and longer period seeming a little more cramped. 
  • As I didn't respond to the present day storyline, I found the morality tale within the tale to be a bit stuck in. The only reason for Anna to turn out to be so one dimersional was to explain why Sofia had never returned. On the other hand, it was interesting that her mother's absense did impact on her behaviour very negatively, so I didn't dismiss it out of hand.
  In the end we voted as follows:
BOOKN00B             8.5/10
BOOKELF         7/10

As we had at this point all completed Karen Maitland's third book, The Owl Killers, we discussed this next.

  • Based on this reading, decided to downgrade Company of Liars to 4/10.
  • Had to work hard to pretend that this novel wasn't linked to the disappointment of the first, though fears only grew after the mysterious child was introduced into the characters list. 
  • Quite enjoyed this books ending, and the book as a whole far more than our first.
  • liked the pagan aspects, but found it difficult to relate to events and people so far back in time; contrasted with the Shardlake series, where the links with Tudor times feel far more tangible - albeit an inherited famial link from her mother. 
  • Also conscious that our scores need to find a natural form of moderation. While this book was enjoyed, it has miles to go to reach the dizzying heights of The Book Thief.
  • First and foremost, whatever else may be wrong with the books, Karen Maitland does good cover. All the artwork seems to fit perfectly the moody vibe of her stories. 
  • And this books is BEL's type of story, so glad to be able to revisit this time period. After all, the first 2/3's of Company of Liars was the sort of writing that dreams are made off - it was the jarring and grating finale that disappointed so completely. 
  • Feels that the author is honing her craft.
  • Loved the religious community. 
  • Hated myself for reading this. For almost the entire book, I was angry - that I had let myself get sucked into a book that is tonally exactly the same as it's predesessor - tension builds, annoying child, superstitions, multiple voices...and evil magical beings. The relief that I felt at the end cannot be put into mere words!
  • To be fair, this book is far superior to Company of Liars, but it is clear that the author has found her schtick and will be sticking to it, though her endings are becoming far more coherant.
  • All agreed that Pisspuddle, Osmana and the educated women were the strongest characters, with the martyr and nutcase being the least developed. 
  • Happy to end on a positive note, I will not be so keen to read another until at least some time has passed...but hypothetically speaking, I will read it!
Scores were:
BOOKN00B   6/10
BOOKELF    8/10

BOOKN00B also rated the most recent Daisy Dalrymple book (8/10), and enjoyed it very much.

She has also started Dracula - ploughing through the first five chapters. Loves it, loves it, loves it! From the gothic tones, to the characters and back again!
In fact, she proposes (and I second) a trip to Whitby.

BOOKELF has been on (yet another!) book bender, and has devoured the following in the last few weeks:

Bess of Hardwick (really liked)
Virgil Doomed Love (oooo)
The Twins - Tessa DeLoo

And lent the following books to BOOKELF:
Wendy Holden by the truckload 
(Simply Divine - ok, Bad Heir Day - alright, Azur like it - bad, Beautiful People - the worst read of the year)



Can you keep a secret?

No seriously, this isn't life or death, it's potential spoilers, and that's way worse!!!

Coz this next bit is to be kept from BOOKN00B's eyes, as she hasn't read them yet.

  • AR - Picked up on a whim (and a buy-one-get-one-free deal) when home over Christmas, I read the three books in about 4 days flat - unable to eat, drink or breath until I had finished them. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but seriously addictive reading. 
  • Enjoyed all three - though the first book does seem to be more introductory than part of the final story. It feels a little like Stieg Larsson was finding his feet, and developing his world. The final two offerings in the trilogy offer a far meatier, interlinked and satisfying read, and are indeed one story, with two different branches, rather than two independent books, while the first is stand alone, aside from bring the characters to life for us.
  • The third book is easily the most satisfying tome. The build up is consistent and maintained, despite the sometimes meandering story, and the characters remain vibrant, and stubbornly elusive. Indeed we had quite the mini-debate on who exactly the main characters were (AR - I felt Salinder and Mickel - thought they are not the driving forces within the book, and much of the leg work is taken care of by others - they remain the lynchpin of the series. Others may start the stories, but its this duo that put the matter to bed! BEL on the other hand, feels that the other female characters are more worthy of the 'main' character title)!
  • Ok - now there was a lot of talk about the feminist themes, and role of the female and so on, and then about marketing and how trying to sell stuff is a bad thing, but to be honest, I think that Jess covered most of it in her blog on the whole thing, and I don't want to get the whole thing backwards, so - I'm just going to note - feminist discussion here, and move on.
We voted 10/10 each on the final two books, and I gave the first one 7/10. Jess refused to rate it - purity of the reading experience and so on.
Don't worry - at some point, she'll be hungover and unable to move, and once paralysed, I'll explain to her the importance of the whole scoring system - in mind numbing detail!!!

Now, off to read The White Tiger...

Original LBC

Meeting 08 - A Chat
Meeting 05 - Firman - Sam Savage

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    The beginning of the end...

    I made this: Unknown at 7:05 pm 0 comments Links to this post
    The first cracks are starting to show...

    After all, we're only as strong as our weakest link...

    And that weak link has betrayed us all...

    Gulp, I haven't read the book. I haven't yet FOUND a copy of the book.

    And the meeting's tomorrow...


    Wednesday, 5 May 2010

    Oh dear...reading the greats

    I made this: BookElf at 10:44 am 0 comments Links to this post

    As part of the Once Upon A Time Reading Challenge I have spent my bank holiday reading Virgil.

    I know this makes me sound like a right clever swot-girl, but in my defence, it wasn't the original poem in Latin or anything like that, but the first four books of The Aeneid, translated for Penguin by WF Jackson Knight (WF Jackson, Knight, surely?) as part of a series called Great Loves, 20 smashing little books with beautiful covers ranging from Abelard and Heloise to John Updike, that was RRP'd at about £100 but I got for £15.00 from the marvellous Book People (www.thebookpeople.co.uk if you want to spend your money on massive amounts of books- plus they come in big red boxes! Excitement!)

    I decided to read The Aeneid (or 'Doomed Love', which is what WF Jackson, Knight, calls his version, after the tragic story of Dido within the fourth chapter) because I know naff all about the Roman myths and legends. When I was a-growing (might as well rename this blog 'BookeElf romanticises about forgotten youth' with the whole 'when I was a lad' tilt of blog postings recently! Sorry!) I loved the Greek myths, my copies of which were by Roger Lancelyn Green. We studied Theseus and the Minotaur at school (Mrs Western, what a legend) and I visited Crete with my family and spent a happy day getting horribly sun-struck at Knossos (the same thing happened when I visited Ephesus, a pattern emerging or just my basic inability to stay in the shade?). I am aware that Rome 'stole' the Greek mythology, and therefore read Doomed Love pernickertably translating all the gods names into Greek. The I stopped.

    Because it is a Roman legend. I did not know anything about The Aeneid before reading this, and all I knew about Rome was the Romulous and Remus legend (something about a boy raised by wolves? Not Kipling?) and the Roman Britain stuff. And I Claudius by Robert Graves...brilliant brilliant book and TV series. But I knew nothing of it's legends considering the founding of Rome and for that Doomed Love makes fascinating reading.

    Other than that, I would not really recommend this book. The story is great, a sweeping epic (bah, horrid cliche I know) that covers poor Aeneas' flight from the burning Troy (really really want to re-watch that film now), around the Med, until he ends up in Carthage where the queen Dido falls in love with him because she is pricked by Cupid's arrow. Aeneas does not get a break, however, in that is is his destiny to found Rome (pesky Gods and Fate and all that) and so leave Dido burning on the pyre to set off yet again across the seas. The writing, now I know its a translation of a classic, so its going to be, is clunky, and I'm sure there are better versions of this out there. But it really is a great legend, and for that reason I'm glad I read it.

    So that's Mythology down. After Fantasy (Percheron series) and Fable (Laxdale Saga) just got Fairy Tale to go...and I see Angela Carter peeking out at me there...Really really enjoying this challenge, it's a great idea and we must run one of our our next year!

    This month I've been reading The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, both by Stieg Larsson, more to come on those as haven't quite finished Hornet's Nest, and The Twins by Tessa de Loo, which N lent me and reviewed in earlier postings. All vg.

    Happy Reading!

    Once Upon A Reading Challenge

    2011 - Book 02 - The Borribles
    2011 - Book 01 - The Looking Glass Wars

    2010 - Book 03 - Reading the Greats
    2010 - Book 02 - The Land of Ice and Fire
    2010 - Book 01 - Percheron it!
    2010 - The Challenge

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