Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Title: Of Mice and Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Publication Date: 1937

Review Score: 8/10

One of the most well known novels around the world, Of Mice and Men is a tale of friendship between 2 drifting workers during the 1930s American depression.

George and his large, simple minded friend Lennie are working the farms trying to get enough money together to one day have their own small patch of land and a slice of the American dream. However there is just one problem, Lennie can’t help getting himself into trouble and when the pair find work on a Californian ranch their dream and friendship is pushed to the limit.

Given that it is on the curriculum of practically every school in England, most people have read Of Mice and Men at a young age, when 100 pages took literally forever to read! Unfortunately, or luckily depending how you see it, I didn’t have to read Of Mice and Men at school and so I was able to approach it with fresh eyes and an open mind.

What I found was a truly remarkable book which packs one hell of a punch in such a short time. The characters and friendship created by Steinbeck are remarkable and you feel yourself wanting them to get that piece of land as much as they do.

The final act of their friendship, and the book, is enough to bring the reader to tears and it is the way in which Steinbeck is able to make it so emotional in such a short time that makes it such a great novel and well worthy of its place on the school curriculum.

If you’ve never read it before it’s definitely worth a go, and if you had to read it in school i’d say try it again and see how differently you feel about it second time around.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Author: Lewis Carroll

Publication Date: 1865

Review Score: 8/10

Sitting in the garden on a summer’s afternoon, Alice sees a white rabbit hop past, who seems very worried about the time. Without thinking about how she might get back out, Alice follows the rabbit down the rabbit-hole and tumbles into a strange and fantastical wonderland!

On her journey, Alice encounters animals that answer back, a never ending tea party and a royal family made out of a pack of cards. It also seems that no matter what she does, she keeps either growing to the size of houses or shrinking so small she might disappear!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a beautiful piece of literary nonsense, full of hilarious characters, truly bizarre situations and fantastical ideas that do bring true wonderment to the mind of the reader.

As we follow Alice’s journey into this weird and wonderful world, we get to experience the fairy tale with the same shock, surprise and excitement that she does. And even though so much of it just seems absolute, ridiculous nonsense, it doesn’t matter, as you can’t help but read it with a big grin on your face!

Although a children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can be and is enjoyed by people of all ages and has continued to be popular for generation and generation. It has had so many different interpretations and been re-defined over and over, continually reminding us all of how original, remarkable and enjoyable Lewis Carroll’s wonderful ideas were.

No matter how old you are, I guarantee that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will bring out a childlike smile in you.

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The Island of Doctor Moreau – H. G. Wells

Island of Dr Moreau

Title: The Island of Dr Moreau

Author: H. G. Wells

Publication Date: 1896

Review Score: 8/10

After a collision with a derelict boat, the good ship Lady Vain has sunk and there remains but one survivor adrift in a dinghy. Edward Prendick is lost at sea and facing certain death when he is picked up by a vessel, carrying an unusual cargo of savage animals.

Nursed back to health by their keeper, Montgomery, Prendick soon finds himself on a mysterious island with his rescuer, a pack of strange beasts and the sinister Doctor Moreau; a genius biologist who’s radical experiments in vivisection have forced him from civilisation and perform his work on this uncharted island.

Hearing ghastly screams and discovering unthinkable creatures, it is not long before Prendick starts to piece together the horrific goings on of Moreau and the truth behind his experiments.

When thinking of H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau usually takes a back seat in the mind, with most of the praise being put upon The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, but this novel is equally ground breaking, radical and enjoyable.

Probably Well’s darkest and most twisted novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau paints a picture so vivid of these beast creatures that it is almost sickening to read at times. The book is not just a horror story however, playing on the idea of Darwinism, the novel delves into what it actually means to be human and the taboo around playing God with animals.

First published in 1896, The Island of Doctor Moreau was way ahead of its time, and even now makes the mind slightly fearful of scientific advancements in human biology and animal vivisection.

Creepy, chilling and yet incredibly clever, The Island of Dr Moreau is highly enjoyable from both a sociological and literary aspect, although it’s probably not ideal for the faint hearted reader.

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Casino Royale – Ian Fleming

Casino Royale

Title: Casino Royale

Author: Ian Fleming

Publication Date: 1953

Review Score: 7/10

Introducing the charming, sophisticated and deadly 007. Casino Royale is the first of Ian Fleming’s classic series of James Bond novels and is widely regarded as the greatest of them all.

In this original James Bond story we are introduced to the British spy and follow him on a journey to Royale where he must neutralize a vicious and vindictive Russian operative called le Chiffre.

The mission is simple, find Le Chiffre at the Casino Royale, get into his high-rolling Baccarat game and take him for all he’s worth, leaving him ruined and shamed in the face of his native Russia. Sounds simple, but Le Chiffre is not one to yield easily and refuses to let Bond simply walk away with his money.

Reading this after only ever watching a couple of the films I was surprised to find that James Bond was not who I thought he was. I grew up in the Pierce Brosnan generation and at the time thought he was very cool, charming and charismatic, but having read this I find that the real James Bond is much more harsh, bitter and cold in both character and style.

This was of course a pleasant surprise as the actual Ian Fleming James Bond is much more enjoyable than the Hollywood version. He has a gritty realism to him that is much more befitting to his background and profession.

The character of James Bond is by far the best thing about this novel and if it wasn’t for the unique brilliance of him I feel it might be a very average crime thriller.

The plot is enjoyable but quite basic and apart from the crescendo of the horrific capture and torture scene it is quite slow paced. However, 007 makes this story what it is and for his creation alone Ian Fleming easily deserves his place among writing royalty.

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A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork OrangeTitle: A Clockwork Orange

Author: Anthony Burgess

Publication Date: 1962

Review Score: 7/10

For most people, A Clockwork Orange brings to mind a Stanley Kubrick film rather than an Anthony Burgess book and everyone seems to know about the infamous rape scene which saw the movie banned and achieve cult status at the same time.

The actual story of A Clockwork Orange is actually much deeper than this one horrific scene, although it is hard to think of anything else. The story follows 15 year old Alex and his 3 droogs as they rob, fight and even murder for fun.

They have no cares, they own the night and no one can stop them. That is, until the state steps in to “reform” Alex, using an unconventional technique that takes away his choice to be good and instead forces him to be the “ideal” member of the state.

Even by today’s standards, A Clockwork Orange is very controversial, graphic and downright sickening at times, but with the underlying commentary on socialism, troubled youth and the state it is not just a gore fest but rather a highly political novel that uses violence to emphasise its point.

What’s more, by using the young hoodlum Alex as the narrator of the book and a strange slang that is half cockney, half Russian, Burgess creates a truly unique text and dialogue that is rather addictive.

Altogether, A Clockwork Orange is highly entertaining, brilliantly written and very clever. However, I do have one criticism (and it’s a bit of a big one).

During the novel we are taken to the extremes of both crime and punishment, with both seeming horrific and unjust, but then all of a sudden it ends rather “nicely”. Not only does this not really fit in with the rest of the novel, it seems rather morally wrong, as if everything that’s happened is just suddenly absolved by someone from nowhere and all the rape, murder and crime is just forgiven.

A couple of chapters before the end there is a brilliant moment when all this torture of good and evil comes to a head which would be a perfect time to end a brilliant novel! But instead we are left with this flat, middle of the road end as if it was all just a strange, crazy dream.

I don’t want to take away from what is a fantastic book, but I did feel a little let down by the ending.

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Foundation – Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov - FoundationTitle: Foundation

Author: Isaac Asimov

Publication Date: 1951

Review Score: 9/10

In the first of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, we are introduced to the great planet of Trantor that has sat at the centre of the Galactic Empire for hundreds of years, ruling the unified planets and growing mankind. The entire Galaxy believes in the strength and continuing prosperity of Trantor, well, all except Hari Seldon.

The greatest scientific thinker of his age, Seldon has deduced, through the science of psychohistory, that Trantor and the Empire will soon lie in ruins. Although ridiculed by many, Seldon cannot be ignored and so is given permission to set up the Seldon Project on a far of periphery planet where he can try and secure the future history of mankind.

When Isaac Asimov wrote this novel he probably didn’t realise just how perfect the title Foundation was. Inspiration for hundreds of sci-fi novels, films and comics, the Foundation Series is seen as one of the most influential pieces of sci-fi and in every chapter you can see clear elements that have been used in the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek and are now regular, household aspects of all science fiction.

And why has Foundation been so influential? Simply because it is superb! The ideas are mind bogglingly original, the descriptions are lucidly real and it is utterly gripping from first page to last.

Also, it is worth noting that when I first read Foundation I was by no means the sci-fi fan I am now. This was one of the first books of this kind I had read and although I went into it slightly dubious, it got me hooked.

This is not the cheesy aliens with green skin and big boobs type of sci-fi, this is a stunning work of fiction that has cemented its place in literary history not just as a classic piece of sci-fi but just as a classic.

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Frankenstein – Mary Shelly

Frankenstein by Mary ShellyTitle: Frankenstein

Author: Mary Shelly

Publication Date: 1818

Review Score: 5/10

The last book I read and reviewed was Dracula by Bram Stoker and it seemed appropriate to follow this up with Frankenstein, as the 2 books are often considered the most famous of the classic horror novels. However, I must say I was not nearly as impressed by Frankenstein as I was by Dracula.

The novel tells the tale of the brilliant young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, a man so obsessed with the workings of the human body and the idea of creating life that he decides to create a being out of dead body parts.

After plundering graveyards he has the body parts to fashion a freakishly gargantuan and deformed shell of a creature that resembles a human being. However, after shocking the body into life he instantly realises the horror of what he has created and rejects his creation.

Abandoned, lonely and devoid of any human contact, the creature sets out to force his creator to make him a companion or destroy everything he holds dear.

Looking back over the synopsis I have just written of this book I can only think, ‘the story sounds amazing so why wasn’t it?’ The idea is brilliant, and in terms of horror, Frankenstein’s creature holds its own against the likes of Dracula and Mr Hyde as one of the all time greats, but I still found this novel disappointing.

The sheer incompetence, idiocy and irony in everything Victor Frankenstein does is too infuriating to enjoy. The instant realisation he has made a mistake, his reaction to the death the monster causes and his back and forth attitude to creating a second monster is just annoying.

I understand that he is filled with anguish and swirling emotions but to me it just comes across as drawn out stupidity. The monster as a character and his personal story is a fabulous piece of classic horror literature, but the creator is, in my opinion, to ridiculous to enjoy.

However, I am sure there are many of those who completely disagree, so please feel free to let me know why I am wrong!

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Dracula – Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Title: Dracula

Author: Bram Stoker

Publication Date: 1897

Review Score: 8/10

Dark, chilling and truly horrifying, Dracula is twisted tale of suffering, death and pure evil. Written entirely as journal entries, letters and newspaper clippings, the story follows one Jonathan Harker, a young trainee solicitor, as he travels to Transylvania in order help the mysterious Count Dracula purchase a London property.

However, after witnessing a series of strange happenings, Harker makes a horrific discovery about the Count’s true origin, after which he must escape the castle and flee back home. But by this time Dracula is already on his way to England, where he will wreak havoc amongst the people of London and once again confront the young solicitor.

Although Polidori’s Vampyre is widely cited as the original Vampire novel it is no wonder that Dracula is regarded as the inspiration and birth of all things blood sucking. Dracula is an absolutely stunning novel, and despite being written over 100 years ago, is incredibly chilling even by today’s standards.

The writing style of letters and journal entries gives the book an incredible level of realism, whilst the gradual build up to the Count’s disturbing secret makes it thoroughly absorbing. Even though I knew the story before reading it, like with many classics, at the end of every chapter I still couldn’t wait to find out what happened next!

The way in which Dracula’s movements and mannerisms are described paints a picture of pure evil, and I must say I can’t think of another character that is so captivating and revolting at the same time.

I think the only thing that tainted the book for me was having seen so many adaptations and vampire based spin offs growing up, making it hard not to picture Gary Oldman or Christopher Lee coming out of the coffin!

 

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The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

Title: The Great Gatsby

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Publication Date: 1979

Review Score: 7/10

Regarded as one of the great American novels, The Great Gatsby is a commentary on the glitz and glamour of the 1920s and the underlying sleaze and shallowness of the Jazz Age. It is also a love story and a tale of one man’s rags to riches.

Through the narration of Nick Carraway, we are taken into the rich, colourful excess of the Long Island party scene of the 1920s, where we encounter Nick’s cousin Daisy, her macho millionaire husband and the one and only Jay Gatsby, a man shrouded in hushed rumour and dark mystery.

What annoys me most about this book is that I actually enjoyed it. I was sure this was going to be another Catcher in the Rye where nothing really happens and it is simply an insight into one period of time in America. And, in fact, for large parts of the book this is exactly what it is, a commentary on house parties, hotel room excess and the flippant cares of the wealthy.

However, although ignorant, frustrating and at times downright annoying, the characters in The Great Gatsby and incredibly absorbing, and although the actual story of a great man’s attempt to recapture a lost love takes an age to get going and then ends incredibly abruptly, it is still brilliant and highly charged with raw emotion.

As a pure story the plot is simple and bland, but it is the characters placed within these happenings that makes this book what it is. If nothing else, The Great Gatsby gives us Jay Gatsby and it is worth reading simply for him.

This is definitely a novel that splits people’s opinions, and as you can tell it split mine several

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Candide – Voltaire

Candide by Voltaire

Title: Candide

Author: Voltaire

Publication Date: 1759

Review Score: 8/10

Despite being over 250 years old, Candide by Voltaire wrestles with an idea that is still as pertinent now as it’s ever been; “why do bad things happen to good people?”

After becoming somewhat dissolution by the devastating loss of life in the Seven Year’s War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, Voltaire wrote the novel exploring the ideas of misery, pain and suffering befalling people who are essentially good.

The novel follows a young orphan named Candide who is taken into the care of a rich Baron and brought up in a noble household in which his tutor has instilled in him the mantra; “all is for the best!” However, when Candide falls in love with the Baron’s daughter he is cast out of the house to make his own way in life.

So, with his love lost and nothing to his name he sets out across the world to make his fortune and hopefully one day be with the Baron’s daughter once again. But during his search for fortune Candide is continually struck by misfortune, hardship and disaster that fully tests his instilled belief that “all is for the best!”

What Voltaire has done with this novel is create not only a fantastic adventure story that holds its own against the likes of Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and Nostromo but also plunges the depths of philosophy and beautifully analysis mans believe in God, people and good things.

At times, the story is rather gruesome and not for the faint hearted but this simply ads to the power of the underlining ideas and realism of the tale.

How Voltaire packs all this into just 100 short pages I don’t know, but he does wonderfully and this is definitely a must read for any lover of philosophy, adventure tales or truly intelligent literature.

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