Sunday, 30 May 2010

Book worm reviews

In each 'Book worm' post, I review all the books I have read the previous month, no matter how varied. I am looking forward to discovering what takes my attention in a year. Coming up are the books devoured in April and May 2010:

Calvin and Hobbes - Scientific Progress Goes ‘Boink’
Mr Toppit, by Charles Elton
The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton
The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells
Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie
The Birds and Other Stories, by Daphne du Maurier
The E Before Christmas, by Matt Beaumont

APRIL 2010

Calvin and Hobbes - Scientific Progress Goes ‘Boink’, by Bill Watterson
First published in the USA by Andrews and McMeel 1991
This edition published by Warner Books 1993

Calvin and Hobbes, the comic strip drawn by Bill Watterson from 1985 to 1995, explores very human foibles and dreams through the eyes of the protagonist, six-year old Calvin, and his tiger Hobbes, a toy to everyone except him. It can be poignant yet very funny, and Bill’s artistic talent shines through the panels, almost drawing on German expressionism for the use of shadow and and strange angling. He also is a brilliant poet and executor of words – you don’t often get alliterative haikus within cartoons - and has a very original way of thinking that perfectly suits the nature of Calvin. I absolutely love this comic strip, and although I am sad that Bill Watterson ‘retired’ Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, I am very pleased he didn’t sell out as he surely could have done, and plastered their images on everything plastic that could sell. Very commendable, and I admire his principles.

Mr Toppit, by Charles Elton
First published by Viking 2009
This edition published by Penguin Books, 2009

This is Charles Elton’s debut novel and the idea is excellent – a father writes a fictional book based on his child which becomes a cult way-of-life, but causes destruction for the author's family. There are obvious parallels with how the book of Winnie-the-Pooh affected the life of the real Christopher Robin, and perhaps even how Harry Potter took the world by storm, but although the parallels are there this story stands up nicely on its own, and gives an eye-opener into the book publishing world, as well as a fantasy glance as to how a child might cope with their father immortalising them forever on paper.

But someway along the line this book seemed to morph into something else completely, almost if it was unsure of the original audience/intention and thought it needed to insert a bit of Jackie Collins / chick-lit to liven it up. I didn’t believe in the metamorphosis of one of the characters, Laurie, and actually she was more interesting a character in the first rendition. Likewise Rachel’s character was drawn too paper-thin, and I couldn’t believe (nor care) about her either. Some of the characters’ reactions seemed a bit off to the situations around them; they would say or do things that made me wonder if a real person would really act that way. Sometimes I couldn’t quite tell what year the situations were set in – the surroundings were modern yet the reactions seemed to belong to a much earlier age.

This is me being awfully picky of course, probably because I loved the idea, and as I was reading I was disappointed when the focus seemed to slip and change. But I will read this again at some point, and think perhaps my liking may grow on a second read-through.

The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton
Published by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan McMillan Ltd, 2007

As I finished this book I immediately thought of the film ‘Atonement’ – adapted from the 2001 bestseller book by Ian McEwan. It is an unfair comparison in many ways as this book does stand on its own but there are similarities – however, this could be purely because both are set in the same era in a grand house, and both use water (pond/fountain) as one of the main plot settings. So let’s put that to one side for now.

The sheer size of this book put me off at first – I have not read this author’s work before and to plunge in for 393 pages was a big commitment. I was very glad I did though, as it is a skilfully written book that was a pleasure to read, and definitely helped transport me from the commute to an earlier age of innocence, class, and posh houses in the country. There are a lot of divisions in this book – the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ aspect of life in the grand house, the flicker between present and past as the main protagonist, Grace, tells her story. But it is seamless – nothing jars, everything flows as it ought to, and you find yourself caring about the characters, especially Grace.

My only note of criticism would be that the main plot device - the crux of the actual ‘secret’ - isn’t big enough for the build up. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but I was expecting a bigger secret as the pay off for the length of the book.

I would love to see a film of this book as I think it would be shot so beautifully, but I wonder if that is impossible because of the success of Atonement. It would be a clever director to highlight the differences between both stories on screen. However, as a debut novel, Kate Morton certainly delivers a good story, and I would definitely look out for her name again.


Talli Roland said...

Great review, Jayne. I've been wondering about The House at Riverton, but I haven't tackled it yet. Maybe soon!

Old Kitty said...

Aw - thanks for these fab reviews of books I've not read and may do so in future after reading this post!!

I like Calvin and Hobbs immediately (no surprise there - there's a kitty invovled!!!).

Take care

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for all your marvellous reviews. Lots to think about. Hugs..

Eliza said...

Thanks for your reviews, may have a look at some of those sometime :-)

Crystal Cook said...

I love Calvin and Hobbes!! And Mr. Toppit sounds so cool, I've never heard of it before. I love book review posts :)

Erica Mitchell said...

Great reviews, thank you =D I am so very stuck in the world of YA paranormal/fantasy (as are the people around me in daily life) that I rarely hear about other books and do enjoy reading reviews outside of that genre. One day I will branch out but being a YA writer I gotta know my market! Love Calvin and Hobbs always have. Have a wonderful weekend!

Joanne said...

Thanks for the reviews. It's interesting how even the covers are intriguing, love the last one! So much work goes in to even the covers these days.

Fran Hill said...

I just read some of the du Maurier stories too. The Birds is fantastic.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I did love The House at Riverton. I was a pleasure to read. I enjoyed visiting that world everyday. And you're right, it would make a fabulous movie, wouldn't it? Who would you cast as Grace?

If you liked this one, you should try Ms. Morton's latest... The Forgotten Garden. Again, the central "mystery" isn't too hard to decipher...but it's a wonderful read. Very atmospheric, just like her first.

Happy Frog and I said...

What a lovely idea and great reviewing too. Thank you! :-)

Priya Parmar said...

i just read kate morton's forgotten garden and am about to start the house at riverton. forgotten garden also had a secret that was a bit too insubstantial to carry the heft of the book but the wrting/charcters/atmosphere/setting was so beautifully done that is did not matter. thanks for the reviews!

Donna Hosie said...

I read The House at Riverton a couple of years ago and LOVED it. I would definitely recommend her follow-up: The Forgotten Garden.

Rose said...

I read the house at riverton on holiday last year. I started liking the detail and period but not being gripped, then something happened and I was obsessed for about 2 days. Ultimately I don't think the conclusion quite lives up to the build up as you say but I do remember reading this fondly- on a beach it seemed very English and homely- and actually i wasn't having the best time when I was away because of one of the party so it was a comforting book.

Lydia Kang said...

Nice reviews! The Calvin and Hobbes was unexpected. I loved that cartoon so much!

Aubrie said...

Great reviews! I'm really considering buying The House at Riverton.

Unknown said...

Great reviews! I love how you work them all in, how fantastic! I'm ashamed to say that the amount of reading I have done has been awful, however I have five new books on the way to me... first one being Eat, Pray, Love and I can't wait to start reading!

The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton sounds like one I'm going to want to read! Thanks for sharing!

Susan Fields said...

Those sound like good books! The only one I've read is Calvin and Hobbes - a family favorite! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing these - and I also love Calvin and Hobbs. I always wanted my own box that could be anything from a transmogrifier to a duplicator when I was young.

Hannah said...

I enjoyed House at Riverton but not as much as The Thirteenth was similar to that as well. I have her newest one at home but I have yet to open it.

MissKris said...

Oh, how I miss Calvin and Hobbes! What a great comic strip it once was. Another one I love and miss was Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed. I have been 'missing' lately and I'm coming 'round today to catch up. I've been putting in close to 12 hour days taking care of my grandboys the past couple of weeks and I have no life of my own right now, ha! So I am taking some time this Saturday morning to stop by and say hello.

Jayne said...

Hi Talli. Do try it; I’d be interested to hear what you think.


Hi Old Kitty. Calvin and Hobbes are wonderful! And yes, I probably liked them instantly because there was a kitty involved as well. :)


Hi Carole. Glad you liked!


Hi Eliza. You cannot go wrong with a bit of Calvin and Hobbes to lighten the day!


Hi Crystal. Hee – another vote for C & H!


Hi Erica. I completely understand reading in your market, and YA is a fab market to be in, especially paranormal/fantasy! I am still learning (got so much to learn) about my market, but think it falls into dark comedy / historical romance – at least for this book idea. I have been trying to steer my reading into similar genres, but this year is more for me to go wild and read as much as I can get my hands on!

Jayne said...

Hi Joanne. I am a big (HUGE!) fan of cover art. I studied Illustration at Uni and a lot of my book collection is geared around illustrators / certain cover designs. If buying second-hand the book covers are just as important to me as the story!


Hi Fran. The Birds was brilliant. It was strange to read War of the Worlds, and then The Birds – both dealing with an apocalyptic vision of the future. As ever with du Maurier, I found myself wondering if I’d missed a few pages at the end. I fear she will forever tantalise me with those enigmatic endings!


Hi Pamela. I think it would make a fabulous movie, although it feels shadowed slightly by Atonement. Who would I cast as Grace? Hm... gosh. That is a tricky question! I’d prob cast Kate Winslet. I think she is a marvellous actress. Not sure about the older Grace... a lady with a kind face. Thanks for the recommendation of The Forgotten Garden. I will seek it out!

Jayne said...

Hi Happy Frog, and thank you!


Hi Priya. I probably will read The Forgotten Garden as well, but it is interesting that the main secret again is a bit insubstantial. I think however she writes a fab story, so will probably grow more into her work in time.


Hi Donna. Yes, it sounds like I will have to try it! Thank you.


Hi Rose. Sometimes books are comforting like that, aren’t they? I remember being rather ignored on a holiday and finding Stephen King’s book ‘It’ – after that it didn’t matter at all what happened on the holiday – I was elsewhere, being scared silly by a clown. :)


Hi Lydia. I do like to occasionally read the unexpected! Actually that reminds me of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ – I have that somewhere, wonder where?


Hi Aubrie. I think you’d like it if you did!

Jayne said...

Hi Jen. Aw – thank you! Five new books – gosh, you will be busy! I read a lot as I have a long commute – probably wouldn’t get much of a chance otherwise. I have heard good things about Eat, Pray and Love!


Hi Susan. I adore Calvin and Hobbes!


Hi Cassandrajade. One of the things I love about C&H is how the comic strips incorporate childish dreams and play so easily. I used to love playing with large boxes, but I used to cut out windows and make them into little houses.


Hi Palindrome. The Thirteenth tale sounds interesting! Love the title already.

Hi MissKris. Sounds like you have been a busy lass with your grandboys! Thanks for stopping by and saying hello on your catch up! I have never heard of Bloom County, I will have to look it up.

Laura S. said...

I love Calvin and Hobbes! I'm actually disappointed Bill Watterson didn't "sell out," lol. I'd love to have a Calvin and Hobbes blanket or mug or pencils and notebooks! *Sigh* Oh well. Fantastic comic strip, though!

Great review, as always!

Jayne said...

Hi Laura - another vote for Calvin and Hobbes! I see what you mean - after all I was the girl with the Snoopy lunchbox at school - but I am still glad all the same. :)