New book recommendation coming soon…

imbackGreetings everyone, how’s it going? I’ve been binge reading the Hardy Boys series over again and I’m done.  Not that I read the complete series but my nostalgia has been satisfied for now.  It’s been a while folks, but I have a new recommendation for you coming up soon.  It’s an old classic.

I had an aversion to classics for a while simply because analysing them to death in school ruined the enjoyment of reading them.  Thankfully that aversion didnt last and I can still enjoy a good read.  Learning to analyse books wasnt that bad though, I must admit it taught me critical thinking skills and to apreciate literary greatness.  Saying that, I won’t read a book just because its a classic.  I refuse to have dry as dust books on my bookshelf.

Until next time then…

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The Hardy Boys – Franklin W. Dixon

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ThehardyboysWho remembers The Hardy Boys?  If you read the series growing up I reckon it’s been a long age since you’ve read one of the stories and if you’ve never read or even heard of it, now’s your chance!

I hit upon the Hardy Boys for this week’s book recommendation as I was tidying my bookshelf.  I stumbled upon my one remaining mystery story.  I used to have stacks of these blue hardcover Hardy Boys books but over the years I gave some away and lost a few till the pile dwindled to just one – The Shore Road Mystery. Nothing special about that title, it just happens to be the one I’m left with.  The series I grew up reading was the revised volumes; extensively revised to eliminate racial stereotypes and prejudices.  As the series was first published in 1927 I imagine there were a plethora of politically incorrect statements and plot devices which would have been perfectly fine back then.  Of course, the revisions would have changed some of the stories and plot lines but since I never read the originals, it bothers me not.

The Hardy boys suit their name for they sure are hardy!  They would have to be after all the scrapes and tight corners they get themselves into.  Our protagonists are two brothers – Frank and Joe Hardy.  Frank is the elder dark haired brother perpetually 18, and Joe is the blond haired one forever 17.  Their father, Fenton Hardy is a detective and they all live together with their mother and aunt in the city of Bayport on Barmet Bay.  When the boys get involved in a mystery, it’s either because their father asked for their help on the case or they happen upon incidents and criminals connected to the case.

My number one favourite genre in film and books is detective fiction.  How I love detective fiction!  I’ve spent long Sunday afternoons watching Colombo and Miss Marple, Murder, she wrote, Poirot, Monk… the list goes on.  I like my heroes and heroines to have an inquisitive mind and a love of adventure.  The Hardy Boys series satisfies my taste in this way.  It’s simply fascinating and refreshing to read detective stories where technology didn’t get in the way of a good adventure.  There were no mobile phones or the Internet to facilitate the detective work, just good old fashioned sleuthing and getting involved in the nitty-gritty.

There is no need to tell you about The Shore Road Mystery, suffice it to say it’s a detective story with a mystery to solve.  You’ll find all sorts in the series: kidnapping, theft, murder, espionage, smuggling and much more.  So if you’re hankering for a detective story, try The Hardy Boys mystery series.

Interesting Facts:

  • The characters of Frank and Joe Hardy were created in 1926 by Edward Stratemeyer; founder of the  Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book packaging firm.
  • The Hardy Boys mystery stories have all been written by ghostwriters.  Franklin W. Dixon is the collective pseudonym.
  • The original Hardy Boys mystery series ran from 1927 – 2005.
  • In 2005, Undercover Brothers was created; a new series written in first person and with updated characters for the modern times.  It ran until 2012.
  • From 2013 till present, The Hardy Boys Adventures replaced Undercover Brothers.
  • The books have been translated into over 25 languages selling a million copies a year.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

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the count of monte cristoRevenge is a dish best served cold as the saying goes. In the case of The count of Monte Cristo, the dish was served ice cold!  I have never read a better book on revenge.

I say read, but I actually listened to the audiobook read by Bill Homewood – who did an excellent job with the voices I might add.  The audiobook was 52 hours and 45 minutes long.  It took me a couple of days to finish and I was mentally exhausted at the end.  After analysing my thoughts and feelings, I concluded that it was because I was comparing the film to the book.  There have been many tv and film adaptations.  I watched the 1975 film starring Richard Chamberlain and the 2002 one starring Jim Caviezel (I prefer the 1975 one).  Of course, the directors took artistic license with the plot (as I ought to have known), and so when I started the book it was totally different!  The mental exhaustion came from me willing the book to get to the points I had seen in the film and the book taking so long to get to the point!

The story begins in 1815 France, during the turbulent period when Napoleon was exiled to the Island of Elba and Louis-Philippe gained power.  Our protagonist, Edmond Dantès, is a sailor freshly returned from a successful voyage at sea.  He has come home to marry his fiance Mercedes.  He is the happiest man in all Marseille because he has also recently been promoted to captain after the death of the previous ship’s captain.

On the evening of his wedding to Mercedes, Edmond is betrayed.  Danglars, a shipmate jealous of his rise to captain, conspires with Fernand (Mercedes’ cousin who is in love with her) to accuse Edmond of being a Bonapartist based on a package and a letter from Elba he witnessed the former captain entrusting Edmond to deliver. Edmond is arrested and taken to Villefort –  the deputy crown prosecutor for Marseille.  Upon receipt of the letter Villefort promptly has Edmond imprisoned in the Chateau D’If.

Edmond is transformed in his time imprisoned in the Chateau D’If.  From a gentle, cheerful and honest young man into a cold and calculating Count, bent on destructive revenge on the men who betrayed and framed him.  The actors portrayed the cold and manipulative Count well enough but according to what I heard in the novel they still didn’t do him justice.  In fact from the Count’s description in the novel it is no wonder that there is a book titled The Vampire Count of Monte Cristo!

Alexandre Dumas is a French author so the novel was originally in French.  It irks me to think that subtle nuances in wordplay may have been lost in translation, but I am satisfied with what I received in the English version.  Some parts were so gripping that I would often stop whatever I was doing to stand there with glazed eyes completely lost in the magic of the story.  As long drawn out as the revenge was… I wasn’t satisfied with it.  From the suffering Edmond went through… some of these despicable characters got off too easy!  You read the novel and see if you are satisfied with the revenge.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There – Lewis Carroll

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Through the looking glass2015 marks the 150th year of Lewis Carroll’s classic –  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  It has been popular in every generation since it was published in 1865 and looks to stay that way.  To show my appreciation for that wonderful novel… I’m recommending its sequel – Through the Looking-Glass because I believe it ought to be as popular.

Through the Looking-Glass continues Alice’s adventures in which she enters another fantasy world, this time through a mirror.  The story begins with Alice playing with her kittens, Snowdrop and Kitty.  After a while, she starts to contemplate what the world is like on the other side of a mirror.  Contemplation leads to action and Alice climbs up on the fireplace mantle to poke at the mirror hanging there.  All of a sudden, she finds herself stepping through into the reflected world and another strange adventure begins.

If you’ve watched the 2010 Alice in wonderland movie then you would have seen Tweedledum and Tweedledee, this novel is where they came from.  She also meets Humpty Dumpty, the White Queen and let’s not forget the Jabberwocky!  That creature is also from this novel.  In fact, while we’re on the subject, let me share my favourite nonsense poem which is about the Jabberwocky and also found in this novel!

Jabberwocky

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

(Extract from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There)

I learnt this poem in year 6 and I  have never forgotten it!  There’s a beauty in the language of this poem that I have not found in any other nonsense poem.  I love Alice in Wonderland, but I prefer Through the Looking-Glass simply because it has my favourite poem.  It seems to me that even if you’ve never read the book, at least the general story of Alice in Wonderland is known but its a shame this is not true for through the Looking-Glass.  Truthfully now, have you read Through the Looking-Glass?

Interesting Fact:  Jabberwocky is considered to be the greatest nonsense poem ever written in the English language.  It has added some neologisms to the ever expanding English lexicon.  E.g. Chortle, galumphing.

Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl

Boggis, and Bunce, and Bean one fat, one short, one lean. These horrible crooks so different in looks were nonetheless equally mean!”

fantasticmrfoxI recently listened to the audiobook of Fantastic Mr Fox read by Martin Jarvis.  It was very satisfying.  So much so that I just had to recommend it.  Roald Dahl sure knows how to tell a story.

Mr Fox is our protagonist of course, and a very wily fox is he!  All he cares about is looking after Mrs Fox and their four little foxes with the spoils he pilfers from the three farmers; Boggis, Bunce and Bean.  These three are the villains of the story.  Boggis is a chicken farmer, Bunce is a goose farmer and Bean brews cider.

We begin the story at a point where Mr Fox has pinched one too many chickens and the three farmers have had enough.  They are enraged and mean to kill Mr Fox and rid themselves of him once and for all.  Their resolve to kill Mr Fox is so adamantine that when their initial plan to kill him fails, they hire machinery to dig up the fox hole and all the land surrounding it.

The Fox family and the other animals of the wood are in a dire predicament because of the machines.  However, Mr Fox is no ordinary fox, he is a fantastic fox as his wife calls him.  He comes up with a marvelous plan to save his family from those loathsome farmers and also save the other animals from starvation.

I always associate the story of fantastic Mr fox with the fox from the poem The Fox’s Foray.  I had to learn and recite this poem in primary school and I imagined that it was an incident from one of Mr Fox’s forays to get dinner for the family!  Read the book and the poem and I can bet you’ll think so too.

The Folk Keeper – Franny Billingsley

“It is a day of yellow fog, and the Folk are hungry.  They ate the lamb I brought them, picking the bones clean and leaving them outside the Folk Door.” – The Folk Keeper  

The-Folk-KeeperI don’t know about you, but an opening statement like that is like a steel trap to me, my imagination immediately captured not to be let go till my curiosity has been satisfied.  That exerpt is from this week’s book recommendation – The Folk keeper.

Our protaganist and narrator is Corin Stonewall, a fifteen-year-old orphan boy and the Folk keeper at Rhysbridge Foundling Home.  The Folk are wicked, spiteful creatures that live in cellars wreaking havoc in the lives of the people.  Nobody has ever seen them, but their presence can be felt.  They rot cabbages, spoil milk, cause sickness in the livestock and a host of other calamities if a Folk keeper isn’t there to keep them in hand.

Corin is actually Corrina.  She has disguised herself as a boy in order to keep her job as a Folk keeper and she prides herself in her abilities.  She spends most of her time crouched in the cellar with these malevolent creatures, writing in her journal, and pacifying them with offerings of cream, salted pork and other gifts to keep them distracted.

Corrina is one of the best Folk keepers there has ever been and its no surprise as she seems to have unusual powers – she always knows what time it is, she is never cold and her hair grows two inches every night.  One day, Corrina is invited by Lord Merton to become the Folk keeper for the seaside estate of Cliffsend.  This is a major event in her life as Lord Merton seems to know who she is and who her parents were.  Corrina also discovers that for some reason proximity to the sea seems to have thrown her internal clock off…

This book grips you from the first page and holds on until the very end.  I read it in one sitting and sighed with satisfaction at the end.  A wonderfully told story will do that to you especially a fairytale – which this is.  There is something satisfying about a good fairytale wouldn’t you agree?  I was impatient to have the mystery surrounding Corrina explained but at the same time didn’t want the story to end.  Read the Folk keeper, you won’t regret it.

The Enchanted Wood – Enid Blyton

TheEnchantedwoodNow that the warm weather seems to be coming along more consistently, I’m looking forward to sitting out in the sun with a cold drink and a good story.  A story like The Enchanted Wood goes perfectly with the warm weather.  It is the first book in the Faraway tree trilogy.

Jo, Bessie, and Fanny are three siblings recently moved into a new cottage in the Country with a Wood at the back called the Enchanted Wood.  Whilst exploring the Wood, they stumble upon a gigantic tree that seems to stretch up into the clouds.  This is the Faraway tree.

When they climb up the tree, the children discover that it is inhabited by magical creatures.  There’s Angry Pixie, Silky the Fairy, The Saucepan man, Moon-face, and many more they befriend.  At the top of the tree, there’s a ladder that leads to a magical land and there are many of these – good, bad and strange!  Each land moves away from the top of the tree to make way for another one and if you don’t leave the land before it moves, you’re stuck until it comes back to the Faraway tree.  You just know this is a recipe for good adventures and the three children do have some interesting times in those magical places!

The Faraway tree series is a classic that is sure to make you feel nostalgic if it was part of your childhood.  Enid Blyton was a fantastic children’s author.  Her stories are filled with magic and imagination that you can still appreciate as an adult.  If you’ve never read the Faraway tree series give it a try because the story is a fun read.

Little Lord Fauntleroy – Frances Hodgson Burnett

LittlelordfauntleroyLittle Lord Fauntleroy is a predictable read with a happy ending.  There’s nothing wrong with a predictable book now and then and I haven’t spoilt a bit of the story by telling you that.  It’s a classic children’s book that isn’t taxing to read.

Cedric Errol is a young American boy living with his mother in New York in the 1880s.  They are impoverished after the death of his father – Captain Cedric Errol, but relatively happy and Cedric has lots of good friends in his neighbourhood; from a grocery store owner to a boot black.  One day a lawyer from England arrives with a message from Cedric’s grandfather – the Earl of Dorincourt.

It turns out Captain Cedric Errol was an English aristocrat who had been cut off by his father for marrying an American woman.  The Earl despised America.  Cedric’s grandfather wants him educated and living in England as a proper aristocrat for he is now heir to the Earldom.  (The Earl’s two eldest sons had died without issue.)  Now, with the title of Lord Fauntleroy, Cedric and his mother relocate to England where the grandfather and the tenants of the vast Dorincourt estate are in for a surprise from the little American boy!

Cedric is a perfect child in every way, kind, gentle and good natured.  A little unrealistic but then it’s a work of fiction. The fairy-tale like rags to riches is what I like about the story.  I don’t find the book to be mawkish but, it may be a little over-sentimental for some!  You’ll have to be in the mood to read a little sugary sweetness but don’t let that put you off.

Interesting Fact: The name Little Lord Fauntleroy is now used to describe an unnaturally polite, excessively dressed up boy.  In fact, Cedric’s clothes described in the novel became a popular fashion for little boys from the time the story was published in 1885 until the turn of the 20th century.  Fauntleroy suits consisted of knee pants with a velvet cut-away jacket.  This was worn with a fancy blouse with a lace or ruffled collar.

Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson

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KidnappedToday, I’m recommending a historical adventure for you dear readers.  Kidnapped is an adventure novel set during the Jacobite uprising in England and Scotland.

Our protagonist and narrator is David Balfour, a Scottish boy in his late teens who has recently lost his father and is on his way to live with relatives.  And as the title of the book gives away – he is kidnapped.  David is tricked into boarding the brig “Covenant” where he is knocked unconscious and trussed up like a chicken to be sold as a slave in the Carolinas.  The mastermind behind this kidnapping is none other than his miserly uncle – Ebenezer Balfour. (Why do all misers seem to be called Ebenezer?)

Through a series of truly unfortunate incidents, David is made a cabin boy.  It is in this role as a cabin boy that he meets Alan Breck Stewart – A Jacobite in hiding rescued from drowning when the brig smashes the boat he was in.  David’s destiny is changed when he chooses to save Alan from being slaughtered by the ship’s captain and crew who want his money.  You shall have to read the novel to get the rest of the gripping plot.

Kidnapped is a must-read classic, a true adventure novel full of twists and turns, outlaws, wicked men, shipwreck and survival.  I loved David as a character because he is so believable in his readily admitted faults and failings.  If you’ve read Treasure Island, read Kidnapped and let me know which story you prefer.

Interesting Fact: The full title of the book is: “Kidnapped: Being the Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751; How He Was Kidnapped and Cast Away, His Suffering on a Desert Isle; His Journey in the Wild Highlands; His Acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and Other Notorious Highland Jacobites; With All That He Suffered At the Hands of His Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, Falsely So Called. Written By Himself and Now Set Forth By Robert Louis Stevenson.”.  What a mouthful! It rather gives away the book’s plot but trust me, it is worth reading.

Aesop’s Fables – Aesop

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“He that always gives way to others will end in having no principles of his own.” -Aesop

AesopsfablesThat is one of my favourite quotes from Aesop.  There are other more well known quotes such as “Necessity is the mother of invention,” “”Crying wolf” or “Familiarity breeds contempt”.  We all use these memorable sayings often and oft but many may not know their origin or if they did have forgotten.  These are all quotes from Aesop’s Fables – a collection of short stories that illustrate morals and sound advice.

The fables demonstrate different characteristics true of human nature using talking animals and plants and other inanimate objects.  Humans are also present in some of these fables.  At the end of each story, the moral is underlined.

The stories are short but certainly illustrate good advice.  I could not pick out one story as my favourite as they are all equally as important in the particular characteristic of human nature they depict.  I was rereading these stories and it surprised me just how much of the fables and quotes I had forgotten.  There are apparently 584 fables in total but I have never read that many!  Depending on the book you read the fables could be as little as 50 or as much as 200.  Even if you’ve read Aesop’s fables before it wouldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself again.

Interesting Fact:  There is no concrete proof that a real historical Aesop ever existed but references to him in many ancient works seem to indicate there was such a figure.  He was purported to have lived in ancient Greece during the 6th Century B.C. as a slave whose cleverness secured his freedom.  Story telling was mostly an oral tradition and so most of the stories we know as Aesop’s fables were collected and recorded by other authors.  Some of the fables may have been Aesop originals but no doubt many were added and told in his name.