Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Forsyte Saga

Title: The Forsyte Saga
Author: John Galsworthy
List: #123 on BBC Top 200
Worth reading? Maybe.

I am going to admit right up front that I read this book in stages with several interruptions in between because other books became available through my local eLibrary. My review may be somewhat tainted by this disjointed reading. When I finally fished this novel, my initial reaction was a shrug, a “meh,” an “I suppose that was alright.” In other words, I had no inclination to rave about it and was glad to be able to put it aside and cross it off my list. I wonder if part of the problem, other than disjointed reading, was that it was just so incredibly long and never seemed to end.

Let me clarify. There are long books. And then there are long books. In the “long books” category I place Outlander and Les Misérables and Gone with the Wind. Now, I know plenty of people who, at least with regard to the latter two, would put those in the “long books” category. But to me, despite their length (over a thousand pages in the case of Gone with the Wind), these books were driving towards a conclusion. I wanted to keep reading them because I knew there would be something new that would tie into the beginning and make the whole experience worthwhile. And to put this in perspective, and perhaps reveal a bit of my own character, I first read Gone with the Wind when I was ten and even then did not think it was a tiresome slog.

But The Forsyte Saga? It was just long. Now, I realize it is a saga and thus that it will cover multiple generations and that it will be long almost by definition. But this was just too much. The Thorn Birds was a saga too, but it managed to keep my attention. In fact, I think The Forsyte Saga would have been much improved if it omitted the last generation entirely. But this, too, may not be entirely fair because the despair of two members of the last, third, generation covered rests in the opening conflict, introduced towards the beginning of the tome, between members of the second generation. And the story of the third generation completes the struggle and turmoil that I suppose is the main story arc of the book.

But it was just too much. It went on too long. It may have worked if each segment of the saga was a bit shorter, but as it was, by the end, I had no sympathy (at least for the male character of the second generation) and just wanted to scream, “Get over it!” and “Stop whining!” I suppose I might just be tired of the long, flowery prose of the early twentieth century and earlier (even though I adore Jane Austen), which would explain why the modern prose of Outlander was such a welcome respite and why even the straightforwardness of Oliver Twist seemed like a relief. Perhaps it is time to turn towards some of the more modern novels on my list so that I will not feel so hopeless and, I will admit, bored, with novels like The Forsyte Saga.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Title: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
List: #160 on BBC Top 200
Worth reading? Yes!

Outlander, known as Cross Stitch in the United Kingdom, is a book that is hard to classify. In part, its foundation lies in science fiction (or possibly fantasy) because within the first few chapters the main character travels two hundred years back in time. But besides that moment of time travel and the discussion about that event that pops up occasionally, the novel is in large part a work of historical fiction set in 18th century Scotland just before the Jacobite Rising of 1745 (where supporters in the British Isles, including many Scottish clans apparently, were trying to place Bonnie Prince Charlie, aka “The Young Pretender,” on the English throne). The remaining parts of the novel, where the author focuses on the relationship between the two main characters, are perhaps best classified as romance.

Apparently the author wrote this novel as “practice” for writing fiction, which explains why there are so many themes, and never intended anyone to actually see it. But people did see it and now it is part of an eight book series, the last (I think) of which is set to be released in early 2013. There is also a sort of spin-off series (the author says they are actually part of the main series and calls it a “sub-series”), which focuses on a different character and includes one of the main characters in Outlander.

And, based on the first book, I can definitely see why the series has been so successful. It does not matter what type of book Outlander is, what matters is that once you pick it up, it is very difficult to put back down. It is a captivating novel with a fast-paced plot that is written in a very modern manner. And understandably so because the main character and narrator, Claire, comes from 1945 and keeps up her blunt manner of speaking and acting even among the Scottish clans of 1743. Claire is very likeable and part of her charm is that she maintains her independent personality while also trying to fit into 18th century Scottish life.

I think that I can’t go into too much of the plot because I don’t want to give anything away—it was just too much fun to see the story unfold. But I can say the novel includes swordfights and gun battles, bad guys and good guys and okay guys, capture and escape and rescue, injuries and illness and recovery, trust and distrust, daring, bravery, loyalty, sacrifice, adventure, and, of course, lost love and found love.

I think this book is definitely worth the read (and I am planning to read the rest of the series as soon as I have time and they become available at the library). It is fast-paced and attention-grabbing (and holding) and very easy to read. I think the author said it best on her website: "What I used to say to people who saw me sitting outside a store with a pile of books and asked (reasonably enough), 'What sort of book is this?', was, 'I tell you what. Pick it up, open it anywhere, and read three pages. If you can put it down again, I’ll pay you a dollar.' I’ve never lost any money on that bet."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Skeleton Key

Title: Skeleton Key
Author: Anthony Horowitz
List: #150 on BBC Top 200
Worth reading? Yes, but more for kids.

Skeleton Key is the third Alex Rider book out of nine published to date. I found that this one started off a bit slow (especially because the cliffhanger at the end of the second book was not resolved) but got more exciting towards the end. I definitely think kids will continue to enjoy reading the series. However, I am starting to find Alex Rider's reluctance to become involved in new missions kind of annoying. In all three books, there are scenes where Alex says he will never help MI6 again, but every time he gets involved with another mission or manages to get himself into trouble by performing spy-like acts. While this seemed to work for the first two books, I now think it has gotten old and hope that this isn't a theme repeated for all nine books.

One thing I enjoyed in this book is that an overt reference was made to Alex Rider being like a young James Bond. And with the adventures Alex has, the gadgets he is equipped with, and his reputation becoming known in the criminal underworld, it is very apparent that Anthony Horowitz is writing James Bond for kids. As for my further adventures with Alex Rider, I think they will be put on hold for now. Because the books are available on my local eLibrary, I might order a few when I need a light read, but for now, I'm switching back to books for grown-ups!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Point Blanc

Title: Point Blanc
Author: Anthony Horowitz
List: #105 on BBC Top 200
Worth reading? Yes, but more for kids.

Point Blanc reprises the adventures of fourteen-year-old Alex Rider and takes place only weeks after the previous adventures chronicled in Stormbreaker. Like Stormbreaker, this installment is a great adventure story, with perhaps a bit more daring for our reluctant, but brave, hero. It is sure to keep kids wanting more Alex Rider, and even ends with quite the cliffhanger! I have already started the third book in the series to see what happens next...