Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens


Hard Times by Charles Dickens

“I entertain a weak idea that the English people are as hard-worked as any people upon whom the sun shines.  I acknowledge to this ridiculous idiosyncrasy, as a reason why I would give them a little more play.”

In celebration of the great man’s 200th birthday on 7th February 2012, a diverse range of literary and other tributes are planned or have already taken place: Claire Tomalin’s new biography Charles Dickens: A Life has been well-received amidst much publicity; the BBC screened a lavish three-part adaptation of Great Expectations over Christmas; and many locations associated with Dickens, such as Rochester, have arranged commemorative festivities.  Oh, and my book group decided to read Hard Times, although unfortunately we’re not able to meet on the date itself.

Hard Times isn’t the first book which comes to mind when I think of Dickens, but it is considered to be one of his best judging by recent collections of his major works.  I actually found Hard Times a lot more accessible than some of his other more famous tomes, not just because it’s his shortest work at a mere 280-odd pages (depending on your edition).  More


Book review: Not So Stupid! by Malorie Blackman

“The Devil seethed with fury; to be summoned in this way was galling but he had no choice.  The Book of Old had been found and the invocation spell had been executed correctly.

‘Your wish?’ he roared.

Mrs Engell, who stood before him, did not flinch.  The sight and sound and smell of the Devil was nothing compared to what she had been through in the last twenty-three years of marriage …”

(From ‘Detail’)

As a child and then as a teenager I read a lot of books by Malorie Blackman and enjoyed them all.  Her stories are exciting, her characters are genuine, and I always felt that her writing voice was speaking to me as to another adult, rather than talking down to a child.

This collection of short stories is one which will never leave my book shelf.  I’ve re-read them many times and they never get dull.  The first story – ‘Skin Tones’ – begins as an imagining of life after death in a sort of hate-filled Purgatory, and the second –‘Dad, Can I Come Home?’ – is set at the end of a futuristic outer-space war, so you quickly become accustomed to expecting the unexpected and opening your mind to the increasingly inventive stories thrown your way.


Book Review: Can You Eat, Shoot & Leave? by Clare Dignall

Can You Eat, Shoot and Leave? by Clare Dignall

“Abuse of the apostrophe is … a symptom of its very character.  It is obedient, enthusiastic, and capable of carrying out many important tasks.  A bit like a spaniel, you might say.  However, that’s where the analogy ends, because we are usually quite nice to spaniels.”

As my loved ones know only too well, I have a bit of a thing for punctuation and grammar.  I often have to suppress a shudder at the over-enthusiastic use of apostrophes.  I can’t send a text message without reading it over twice.  And I sometimes put semicolons in my emails.

But despite the tutting and rolling of eyes at badly-punctuated local newsletters and online reviews, secretly I know that it’s not the be-all and end-all if people get it wrong sometimes.  In fact (big confession time) I’m not sure of the rules myself a lot of the time.   I have a love-hate relationship with those semicolons: I want to use them to jazz up my writing, but I’m terrified of including one incorrectly (yes, I said terrified).  Not to mention that I’ve always been puzzled by where you’re supposed to put the punctuation marks when your sentence ends with speech or a quote: inside or outside the speech marks?


New year, new books, new way of reading…

Happy new year!  I hope all of you who find joy in such things were all given a big pile of books to unwrap and discover this Christmas.  For me, it’s usually the main reason to get excited about Christmas and birthdays, but this year I was forced to give strict instructions to everyone not to buy me any books.  I’ve picked up so many over the year that I genuinely don’t have space for more right now.  So guess what I got instead?  A Kindle!

What’s that?  Do I hear booing and hissing?  A cry of “traitor”?