Review: To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

GoodReads – To Kill A Mockingbird

Tom Robinson’s a coloured man, Jem. No jury in this part of the world’s going to say, “We think you’re guilty, but not very,” on a charge like that. It was either straight acquittal or nothing.

Atticus Finch

To Kill A Mockingbird is undoubtedly one of the most influential books of all time in highlighting the racial inequalities known especially within southern states of America. Harper Lee has won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird and a further book, Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015, some 55 years later.

I’ll be perfectly honest, this book isn’t at all what I expected. I hadn’t even realised that the story was narrated from the perspective of two young children until I actually opened the book. Truthfully I didn’t think I would get on with this, but actually it was perfect.

Jem (Jeremy) and Scout (Jean Louise) have been raised in the small, largely peaceful town of Maycomb by their father, Atticus Finch. Atticus is a lawyer by profession, but when Atticus takes on his biggest case there is much controversy and trouble for the Finches.

The story is narrated by Scout, who is the tender age of nine in that fateful summer of 1935, in which Tom Robinson is on trial for the rape of a white woman; and her father Atticus is defending him. As I mentioned above, I wasn’t confident that I would like the way the story is narrated by a child, but it is done very effectively. I was wrong to doubt.

Whereas adults quite often are prejudiced and are willing to turn a blind eye to what they know is wrong, children on the other hand are blank canvases. The world is black and white – they haven’t yet learned to see the shades of grey we are willing to paint in between depending on what suits us. They also ask a lot of questions. We’ve also come across those kids, you know the ones… that say anything that comes to their mind. Apparently as I kid I embarrassed my parents by declaring loudly at a supermarket checkout that it smelled very badly right behind the culprit – otherwise known as the Great Unwashed since.

Shameless. My parents are able to laugh about it now. It was true… I just wasn’t afraid to say it.

This to my mind is in direct contrast to the attitudes of adults, who are to willing to allow such segregation and injustice to happen, and it is refreshing to hear people asking the right question – why. Atticus is a fantastic character, who implores his children in times of difficulty to walk “in the other person’s shoes” to try and teach them about perspective. Atticus is like a father to anyone and everyone, and he has many lessons to teach us all. The struggles of morality and conscience also afflict him; despite fighting a losing battle, he couldn’t sleep at night if he didn’t defend the man.

There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads – they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.

Thankfully the general attitude is society is a little better than it used to be, but we have a long way to go. Fear sets in deep. What is said out in public and that behind closed doors can be very different.

Racism makes me angry. Sure, there are times when we can’t help but make prejudgements –  it’s part of our natural survival instincts. It is when these prejudgments are made without cause and we act negatively towards that person (directly or indirectly) – that is what is disgraceful.

I hope through education we an break this awful cycle; if all children had parents like Atticus Finch the world would be a much better place.

 

Review: The Gunslinger – Stephen King

Hi! So we are fast approaching the end of June and that makes us halfway through the year already!! Now isn’t that scary…

As promised in my last post, here is a review of The Gunslinger, the first installment of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Before this, I have only read one other book of King’s, being The Green Mile (I’ve decided this is my all-time favourite book), so I was curious to try some of his other works.

The Gunslinger takes a very Western/Apocalyptic style. We learn about Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger, whilst he seeks the man in black, following him through a quaint little town and expansive desert; danger always looming over him and any that happen to accompany him. The other somewhat prominent characters are Alice, a bar maid, and Jake, a small boy from New York city. The Gunslinger has not met these individuals by chance; the man in black has made sure of that.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the book at first. You are drawn in by the Gunslinger describing his path and you discover he is tracking somebody, described only as the man in black. Very ominous sounding, right? You find out he is his arch-nemesis. Are you biting your nails in anticipation yet? I was.

Then for me when The Gunslinger met Alice it went a bit flat for a while for me. Why, I hear you ask? Because to my mind, if the Gunslinger had been chasing after his nemesis for so long and found himself closer than ever to catching him, WHY WOULD YOU STOP? He had his fill of all his needs, (and I really do mean ALL of them), so then why wouldn’t he carry on? Alas he didn’t, but resulted in some mean shooting action so I shouldn’t complain really. He isn’t called the gunslinger for nothing!!

I didn’t mind so much when Jake came along, as he journeyed with the Gunslinger so progress was always being made. At this point we lose a little of the mystery of this gun wielding, gun flipping dead shot as we discover more about his upbringing and training as a boy. We learn he is the last Gunslinger, yet equally see the human side of him in his love of Jake and the lengths he will go to in order to protect him.

Once Roland leaves Tull the book really picked up for me. Put it this way, I started the book on Thursday night, read some more Friday when I wasn’t at work and I finished it on Saturday afternoon. Despite the “slow” start, I loved it overall and it gets a 4* rating from me. I can’t wait to continue the series!

I also discovered not too long ago that this is being released as a film in the US in November this year, starring Idris Elba as the Gunslinger himself. I couldn’t be happier about this – if anyone has seen the TV series “Luther” (in which Idris Elba plays a slightly unconventional police detective) I think you will agree with me that he is perfect for the role.

That isn’t for another five months yet and not even in the UK, so I’ll have to hold my horses. In the meantime, there is lots of reading to do! My next read, which incidentally I have also managed to get through far quicker than expected is To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I was expecting this to be the last book I squished in this month as I hadn’t originally planned this in by June TBR, but turns out I was as keen as mustard and got through that too!

That being said, I really am squeezing just one more book in before the end of this month – Animal Farm by George Orwell. After this  quick spurt of classics any followers who happen to be fantasy readers will be delighted to know the next three books are of that genre at least. I’m going to publish a full list shortly so watch this space!

Rebecca   🙂

 

Review: Small Gods – Terry Pratchett

Hi guys!

So I wanted to add this little section as we have something to celebrate – I have now achieved reading 30 / 60 books of my challenge with about a week to spare, and that includes having read some epics so far!

My review of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger will follow in the next couple of days; there’s no rest for the wicked as I have started what was the first book on my July List, being To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I’m hoping to sneak this in before the end of the month to give me a head start.

I was dubious when I upped my target from 20 to 60 this year but I’m more confident than ever that I can achieve it, so fingers crossed.

Thanks for everybody who has been supporting me and listening to my impassioned rants about books at home… I know none of you particularly share my love to the extent I do. Thank you to all of my followers too; I hope that you enjoy my reviews and I would appreciate any feedback you can give me. I only strive to improve for you all 🙂

Thanks guys!

***************

So you guys have probably guessed that I have become a Pratchett fan somewhat, as I have read and am gracing you with a review of the next book in the Discworld series, Small Gods.

I have found through reading Pratchett’s books that they often have some underlying message, often by parodying life and our everyday struggles or alternatively, other literature; Equal Rites addresses the issue of gender equality, Wyrd Sisters parodies the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Moving Pictures is a humorous take on Hollywood and the power of media.

Small Gods I think is no exception, introducing the idea that the power of God(s), one or another (there are thousands on the Discworld) are relative to the number of believers they have. In a way can I get behind that idea. I would truly be concerned however if God, Allah, Thor, Loki, Apollo etc all sat in heaven throwing dice and using us mere mortals as pawns for some game we don’t understand the rules of. As well as his ability to address these topics – Pratchett has an extraordinary sense of humour to do it with!

We experience this tale from the perspectives of Brutha and the small god Om. Om was once a powerful God, however true belief in his powers dwindled away as the Church raised in commemoration to him established it’s own hierarchy and the struggles within take precedence instead of the reverence to Om. Acolytes worship out of fear from the Quisition, who torture and kill any man believed to be sinful. The Quisition can NEVER be wrong as Om wouldn’t lead them to doubt the faithful…of course. Please note the sarcasm here.

Om finds himself manifested as a tortoise and sets out to getting himself heard among his “believers”. His only true believer is Brutha, a mere Novice of the church. Brutha attracts attention to himself with the Quisition and upon discovery that he is Om’s Prophet – the Chosen One, he lands himself in a dangerous predicament with the higher powers of the Church.

Corruption in the church is also an issue which is brought up, as the local population with the help of Om attempt to dipose Vorbis, the head of the Quisition with whacky schemes of a million-to-one-chance odds, so it just has to work… right?! Well, nothing ever goes exactly to plan, but the Discworld population are adaptable if nothing else.

This book has some real laugh-out-loud moments, and although I wouldn’t say it was in my top favourites of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, it still holds its own. I’m not a religious person at all, but maybe this would have better resonance with somebody who is? I can’t say for sure, but I did enjoy it nonetheless.

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the book, which I think says a lot of my opinion when it comes to politics:

The Ephebians believed that every man should have the vote. Every five years someone was elected to be Tyrant, provided he could prove that he was honest, intelligent, sensible and trustworthy. Immediately after he was elected, of course, it was obvious to everyone that he was a criminal madman and totally out of touch with the view of the ordinary philosopher in the street looking for a towel. And then five years later they elected another one just like him, and really it was amazing how intelligent people kept on making the same mistakes.

As mentioned above, a review of the first installment of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger will be posted in the next couple of days. I’ll also be publishing my July reading list soon so please stay tuned!

Much love!

Rebecca x

Review: Of Mice & Men – John Steinbeck

I last read this book as part of my GCSE English Literature studies, and I actually just gave myself a mini heart attack thinking that it will have been about seven years ago.

It does not feel like it should have been that long ago… but it was. I might just go and cry in corner now.

Thinking about it, it does actually explain a lot to me. I have managed to read this book in it’s entirety today, in a couple of hours in between doing the housework and laundry. Way back when, I remember really struggling to read this book. I remember that too was a Saturday and I spent all day putting it down and feigning doing something else just to get a break from it. I put it down to a couple of things; firstly, this time I was reading it to enjoy, not to study the crap out of it. I actually wrote a post about my thoughts on this on Monday (link if you’re interested Interim: Book Theme Analysis) I’m also going to say that I think maturity plays a big part in appreciating classics, modern or otherwise. I’m making an effort to read more and I can safely say if I’d set myself the challenge of reading them a couple of years ago, they would never have made it off the TBR pile.

I have no shame in admitting that I wasn’t ready for them. I wouldn’t even commit to saying I was in a position to fully understand and appreciate them now, but I am willing to try. That’s a step forward.

I’m not surprised that now I managed to read this so quickly; having set myself the pace I need to complete my book challenge I do need to read at least 100 pages a day to get through any sizeable books. I had fallen a little behind since reading War & Peace so whilst I knew I wanted to re-read this at some point, I did plan thereafter to read it sooner to help me catch up on my target.

Can I just say that I absolutely love this book! I’m surprised it only has a 3.8 star rating on GoodReads… I thought it would at least just creep over 4. It obviously isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – it wasn’t mine to start with. It’s funny, as much as I struggled to read the book first time round I did actually come to love it by the end and it’s the only book I enjoyed studying at school. I think it also featured in one of my exams if I remember correctly and I might have chosen that question topic to answer.

I like that if you think about it, it brings up a lot of issues relevant to the time. I don’t think it quotes a date but is very reminiscent of the 1930’s and the American Depression. Poverty and the struggle to get work was very real, the attitude towards women and negro’s is also touched upon. You know it’s there, in fact it is so casual that it doesn’t slap you in the face as offensive. I like that about it, as well as how it realistically touches on many social issues of the time and not just any one. And who can’t feel sorry for poor Lennie… he just doesn’t understand his own actions or strengths. I feel sorry for George for having to look after him too, but I think I would have done the same in his shoes. Lennie can’t look after himself and you would never see anyone you know struggle.

Well, I wouldn’t anyway.

This is a book I would implore anybody who hasn’t picked it up to read it at least once. It’s actually a very easy read so please do.

That’s me caught up on reviews for now!! I’m reading Small Gods by Terry Pratchett next and following up with The Gunslinger by Stephen King – for which I am very excited! As I’ve been reading at a good pace I’m also now hoping to sneak another book onto my reading list for June, being To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

 

Review: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – J.R.R Tolkien

Hi!

Anyone who has read my previous post today will know that this week I have been dedicating most of my time to this book.

GoodReads – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

I actually began reading this maybe just over a year ago but I found it hard work and ultimately didn’t finish it. I don’t know about you fellow readers, but I hate abandoning books. I will only do so with very good reason. If I’d rather pluck my eyes out instead of read the book, then I know it’s time to call it a day.

I’m glad I came back to this actually. I recently just watched the film covering the first book and that is what actually made me pick this one up again. I don’t think I’ll be the first to say that his writing isn’t the easiest in the world. Let me know if you disagree however. I find I have to concentrate a lot just so as not to miss anything.

Thankfully, I remembered what had happened for about the first 20 per cent of the book when Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are tracking the Orcs and the hobbits Merry and Pippin across the fields of Rohan. I read up to about 30 per cent (apparently) when the hobbits escaped the Orcs but I truthfully hadn’t remembered that part or anything else thereafter.

A large portion of this book (probably about half) doesn’t even cover Frodo and Sam in their travels to Mordor which surprised me. We meet a variety of other characters and I hope this set up of the movements of the remaining Fellowship members comes to some significance in the Return of the King. A lot happened and not a lot had current relevance from my perspective, if you see what I mean. I can’t decide if Saruman is playing his own games or truly is a servant of the evil one. How will the host gathered together by King Theoden and Gandalf meet the enemy to save Middle Earth?

I feel I have left the book with a lot of questions, but not unhealthy ones. I think this can all be answered in the final installment.

When we finally go back to Frodo and Sam they spend the majority of their time being guided by Gollum (or Smeagol – depending on which side of the good/evil fence he is sitting that day). I found myself spending the entire time praying they would ditch him but alas, if they didn’t follow him willingly he was going to follow them anyway. Why on earth they trusted him I don’t know. Desperate times lead to desperate measures I guess. Credit to him in a way, Frodo and Sam would never have gotten so far without him, but I still don’t like the slimy little creature and never will.

The descriptions as always with Tolkien are fantastic and so detailed – in a way I feel I know more about the landscape of the land than I do about what has happened on it! I love the songs in between too as it almost brings a brief glance of lightheartedness in times of peril. There are small glimmers of joy at least.

I did really enjoy the last chapter and I think it has been written really well. We get to see Sam’s conflict of loyalty and duty, over which loyalty prevails even in the darkest of times yet seen in Middle Earth. I feel things are still going to get darker yet; there is much uncertain about the quest ahead. What will become of the Fellowship, and will their burden be lifted on completion of the task? I will find out in due course.

Review: Lord of the North – Bernard Cornwell

Good afternoon everyone!!

I’ve had a busy week this week and I’m going to be catching up with you all today on the books I have been reading.

I finished Lords of the North last Sunday night and as yet had not made time to post the review – apologies! Goodreads is nagging me because I am behind schedule for my sixty book challenge this year.

I have also been reading Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by none other than J. R. R. Tolkien for the majority of this week – finishing that last night and today I have re-read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, which I initially read at school. I will be posting reviews of all of these books today so please go check them out.

I know some people dislike multiple postings in a day, but hopefully now I am back on track and I won’t have to do it again.

So first I am going to be talking to you about Lords of the North – the third installment in which we follow Uhtred and the war between the English and the Danes, following their invasion of England. Please find the link to the GoodReads page below:

GoodReads – Lords of the North

I made a start on this series this year having discovered that the TV series, which I love, was based on these books! I loved the first series and so when the second series started, I began catching up with the books! This book picks up the beginning of the second series and much to my delight, there aren’t particularly any discrepancies between book and show. The only thing that crossed my mind was that one of the characters on the slave ship in the show (Hallig) was never in the book, but that is literally all. Inevitably comparisons will always be made when shows/films are based on books – some are better than others.

I actually found this book slightly easier to read than the previous two and I think it’s because we could relate to him more. The story flows very well and we get to see a refreshing development of character for Uhtred. As a general rule he is very self-confident, cocky even – he conveys a sense of self-importance and angers at the smallest sleight against him. Admittedly he knows as a Saxon born man who was raised as a Dane; he is in a unique position and knows how to use it.

In this book we see him mature; from the beginning of the book we start with Uhtred as a 21 year old young man, back from war feeling underappreciated by King Alfred… again. Whilst traveling back to Northumbria he encounters Sven and old bitter resentment returns. Throughout the book he endures at least two and a half years in slavery and then returns to England to face the man that put him in chains. Old Uhtred would have gutted that man, regardless of who he was, but I think his time as a slave must have both humbled him and given him time to think because he in fact forgives Guthred and saves him from the clutches of the other lords of the North – including Kjartan, with whom Uhtred and Ragnar have a bloodfeud.

As ever there are epic battles, daring missions and all too human struggles as Uhtred finds himself in the centre of all the conflict. Fate is inexorable, and I cannot wait to see what the three spinners bring Uthred next.

Interim: Book Theme Analysis

Whilst I am working through my reading list for this month I have had something on my mind… And it something I wanted to share my opinion on.

This year I am endeavouring to read a variety of new books as a part of my book challenge, including new authors, different genres and also some classics. 

My reading list has a couple of what I would define as classics on my list; namely Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird are coming up shortly. I also have plans in the not too distant future to read Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. Anyone in my generation (and in the UK particularly) will probably recognise these as the types of books that are currently studied in high school English lessons as part of the literature curriculum. 

For the most part I loved school and particularly English. I left with pretty decent grades at both GCSE and A-Level (not top grades of the class – but still to be proud of) but I can safely say that since leaving school probably about 80 per cent of the topics we covered have gone straight out of my head. Never have I had to analyze a poster or piece of writing based on the themes of gender or power and the development of language in children is not something I have ever had to consider since I left that exam someday in June four years ago. 

Never, in the four years since leaving school, have I had to tear a book to shreds by over-analyzing it and by God am I thankful for small mercies. 

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I’m a great book lover. I love to read… Probably more than a large percentage of the general population, but it is the repeated assignments students have to complete discussing and scrutinizing  philosophical themes of books that really gets my goat.

I’m telling you now from first hand experience, the only thing that achieved for me was getting a grade B in English Literature and a loathing of classic books. 

I can hand on heart say that I enjoyed ONE book I studied at school… and that’s a shame. 

As it happens I have come to realise the reason I disliked the books so much and I’ve overcome it by revisiting them. The books themselves aren’t at fault; its the way the “messages”, themes and concepts are mercilessly rammed down your throat by the teachers and the curriculum that takes all enjoyment out of reading them. Not only that, you then have to regurgitate all that crap onto paper in horrendous detail. 

Yes books have messages, I’m not denying that for a second. To take Of Mice and Men as an example, it is fair to say that the book overall explores theme of the American Dream and how unattainable it is; the Green Mile by Stephen King highlights racial inequality.  On the other hand, arguing the presence of red curtains representing a character’s desire, promiscuity or lust… Now that’s a bit excessive. It is the over-analysis that I loathe and making kids read so in depth into the smallest, pettiest little details is what I think saps all the joy out of a book. To my mind it is a crime to inflict this on the youth of today and the future. 

Yes, discuss philosophical themes, but know where to draw the line. I’m sure authors didn’t even intend half of the rubbish that gets analysed today. Please, for the love of all things sacred, for the love of our beautiful language and the joy of literature, make it stop. 

I know I am not the only person to think this. As ever, I’d love your thoughts too. Do you think the education system has gone too far?