The Pickwick Papers

By Charles Dickens

Rating: 4 stars

This book, Dickens’ first novel, was a bit of a slow burner for me. The early part is an episodic travelogue in which the eponymous Mr Pickwick and some of his friends go travelling around the south of England, and the humorous adventures that they have along the way. Later the style seems to change a bit and, following the intervention of Dodgson and Fogg for Mrs Bardell, the pace picks up and I found myself reading more avidly.

The characters are probably the best part of the book for me, especially the irrepressible Sam Weller, Mr Pickwick’s valet, who’s always ready with a quick wit (especially of the ‘as X said to Y’ variety). Mr Jingle is a great literary invention as well, in his gentle sort of villainy, while Pickwick’s followers are amusing but not really all that interesting.

I know I have a love-hate relationship with Dickens, but I do feel that this is one that I could reread, and maybe even grow to love.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140436112
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year of publication: 1837

Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle, #1)

By Diana Wynne Jones

Rating: 4 stars

This is a reread so I’ll reuse my previous review from the wiki: “The young heroine (Sophie) gets turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste and eventually makes her way to the moving castle owned by the dreaded wizard Howl, where she inspires her own dread by instating herself as the cleaning lady, while she tries to break the spell. This is an excellent book with likable characters and a plot that makes sense (unlike the film). Well worth a read (or two).”

Book details

Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of publication: 1986

Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8; City Watch #1)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 5 stars

It’s been several years since I last read this book and I’d forgotten just how funny it was. Full of bickering secret societies, class warfare and social climbing, dragons, insightful social commentary and humans brought up as dwarfs (well, a dragon and a human brought up as a dwarf) and also laugh out loud funny, Guards! Guards! is our first view of Captain Sam Vimes and his motley crew of city watchmen. Rereading this after some time, it’s like seeing photos of your parents when they were young. It’s slightly disconcerting to think that so many events that I think of as established fact are still in their future, they’re young and full of hope (well, Carrot is anyway) and Pratchett is still gleefully and energetically pastiching all the fantasy he can get his hands on.

Men at Arms will always be my favourite ‘Watch’ book on the Discworld, but Guards! Guards! is still a hilarious introduction to the Discworld, Ankh-Morpork and the City Watch (motto: fabricati diem, pvnc: ‘to protect and to serve’, according to Sergeant Colon).

Book details

ISBN: 9780552134620
Publisher: Random House
Year of publication: 1989

The Golem and the Djinni

By Helene Wecker

Rating: 5 stars

Chava is a Golem, a creature made of clay, created to be a wife for a German merchant, around the turn of the 20th century. Her master/husband dies on the crossing to America and Chava finds herself alone, newly awakened in a strange place. The Djinni known as Ahmad was trapped in a flask and accidentally freed by a metalsmith in New York’s Little Syria. These two beings, from very different backgrounds eventually form an odd friendship, strangers in a strange land.

I loved this book. It certainly doesn’t feel like a first novel. It felt assured, well-written and confident. The world-building was beautiful, we got to know the characters around our protagonists as much as the odd couple themselves. Wecker brought us inside the heads of her non-human protagonists beautifully. Despite being such different characters, driven by different drives and needs, we care for both of them, whether they’re happy, in pain or about to do something really stupid. It was a joy to read, and I suspect will reward re-reading greatly, when I can enjoy the language and the words, without racing ahead to find out what happens next in the story.

The pacing is measured, as befits a book with a 600+ page-count, but never feels slow or unwarranted. Wecker knew how to use each word in the novel and did so to maximum effect. Beautiful, intelligent and moving. Unreservedly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007480197
Publisher: Blue Door
Year of publication: 2013

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