Modern Classics - are there such a thing?

Literary Blog Hop
A question has been posed - how do you define a modern classic? Answering that question is a lot more difficult than it sounds.

A classic is a classic because it has stood the test of time and something modern (in my view) is something that I can recognise and identify with.

So how can they combine?

In my view, they can if you go back a little further in time to, say, the mid 20th century. Although I wasn't personally around back then, it is still a world that is modern in the sense discussed above - and a book written during that period has had a few decades to prove that it can withstand the test of time and therefore be considered a classic.

Examples that come to mind are Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck or The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (which I recently finished reading).

Anything much later than that period and I don't think that it has had it's chance to prove itself - at most, it might be considered a potential modern classic.

I know that it a very literal and rather structured way of looking at it, but I am a lawyer and I just can't help myself.

The Books of Australia - an exciting new blog that needs your help!


There is a wonderful new blog in town and it's called:


"What is it?", I can hear you all asking.

The Books of Australia is a new blog that I have started which will comprise solely Australian book reviews and other Australian related literary chit chat.

You will find books reviews, information about authors and other useful Australian resources.

But that's not all - this blog is something a little bit different (or, at least, I hope that it will be).

The Books of Australia is a cooperative blog.

This is how I hope that it will work. Anyone who is anyone is welcome to post a review or any other post on The Books of Australia, so long as it is a review of an Australian book, or somehow related to Australia literature.

All you need to do is email me at thebooksofaustralia (at) gmail.com with your post. Everyone gets credit for their own work of course, including a link to your blog in the post and in the sidebar.

Why a cooperative blog?

I am passionate about Australian literature and I want to share that passion with others. Although there are some great blogs out there that look at Australian literature (ANZ LitLovers LitBlog comes to mind), I felt like there was a place for a blog where everyone could share their reviews of Australian books.

A one-stop-shop for great Australian recommendations and resources.

There is more information on The Books of Australia about how you can participate. It doesn't matter if you are Australian or not - what matters is the content.


We need your help!

So head on over to The Books of Australia and have a look. It needs a lot more content and for that I am hoping that I can rely on some of you to share your good work with everyone out there interested in learning a little more about Australia through it's literature.


The Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke (yes, it is as funny as it sounds)

The Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke is a hilarious and modern twist on the nursery rhymes and fairy tales that we all grew up with -  a book for all ages and tastes.

The hero of this story is Mr Pigg, Harry Pigg, Detective. He is the third pig who was sensible enough to build his house of bricks and defeat the evil wolf who so successfully destroyed the homes of his brothers.

Following his success and fame, Harry Pigg opens a detective agency, only to find himself seriously in debt. When his new landlord, Mr Aladdin (the richest man in Grimm Town), asks him to recover his stolen lamp, Harry cannot refuse.

What follows is a hilarious journey as Harry Pigg sets out to locate the missing lamp before he his killed. Along the way we see some familiar faces; Jack Horner whom Harry enlists as his sidekick, one of the Billy Goats Gruff who is Mr Aladdin's body guard and The Wicked Witch of the West-side just to name a few. 

The Third Pig Detective Agency is very small book (running to around 150 pages) but it packed to the brim with action and adventure. It is a hilarious and modern take on the nursery rhymes and fairy tales we all grew up on. It is also full of popular culture references that most people will pick up on. My favourite was the enmity between elves and trolls (a reference to Lord of the Rings).

Harry Pigg has a dry and sarcastic sense of humour that only serves to make Burke's clever adaptation of the nursery rhymes and fairy tales even funnier. Burke has done has a great job of creating a Marolwe-esque (I'm currently reading The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler) detective with all the quirks that being a nursery rhyme character with trotters might entail.

This is easily the most entertaining book I have read all year and I recommend it to absolutely everyone, young or old, regardless of your taste in books.


Summary

What kind of read is this?
Quick and easy but laugh out loud funny

Do I recommend this book?
Yes, to everyone.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
This is definitely one for the book case. I don't think it will ever stop being funny.


Star Rating

7.5 / 8


Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing. Recommend that you buy it.

The final three Sherlock Holmes novels by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle are the final three of the four Sherlock Holmes novels - and they are all well worth reading.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles is my favourite of the Sherlock Holmes novels. Holmes is called in to investigate the strange death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Sir Charles appears to have died from shock, and the story of a gigantic spectral dog that haunts the Baskerville family is thought the be the cause. But is the hound real or are there more malicious forces at work?

The book is told from the perspective of Dr. Watson (as usual) who is sent by Holmes to the Baskverville's Hall to look after Sir Charles heir. The Hall is set amongst the moorland, a stark and depressing landscape that is a perfect setting for this story.

What I like most about this Sherlock Holmes novel is that I found it the easiest to really consider what the solution to the mystery might be. I had read it before and remembered the solution which helped, but there are many clues in this one that make it possible to put two and two together. I also enjoy it because it sticks with Dr Watson for the entire book, unlike A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Death.

The Sign of the Four and The Valley of Fear are both excellent reads as well.

The Sign of the Four

In The Sign of the Four you will find intrigue associated with valuable Indian treasure. This is probably the first book where Sherlock Holme's illicit drug use is very prominent (he loves cocaine) and it is in this book that Dr. Watson meets and marries his wife.

The Valley of Fear

I most recently finished The Valley of Fear, which I enjoyed, but probably not as much as the others. It used a similar technique to A Study in Scarlet, that is, the first half of the book followed the investigation of a very unusual murder and the second half of the book explained how that murder had come to take place. This means that Sherlock and Dr Watson don't feature in the second half of the book. I love Sherlock and Dr Watson, so this always let me down a little bit.

Still I am pleased that I have met my goal of reading all four of the Sherlock Holmes novels this year. Next year I will read all the short stories.


Summary

What kind of reads are these?
Quick, easy, mysterious and definitely page turners.

Do I recommend them?
Who couldn't recommend Sherlock Holmes?

Do I recommend that you buy them?
Not really. Borrow them from the library. I downloaded mine for free as ebooks on my iphones.


Star Rating

6 / 8


Really enjoyable and well written. I would recommend them.

The Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden (Australian YA)

The Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden was an important part of my childhood reading, and books that I would still recommend to adults and children today.

This series has been a popular success in Australia, and I believe throughout the world. It follows the journey of a group of teenagers who find themselves stranded in the Australian bush after their country has been invaded by another nation. They band together and form their own resistance, fighting the invading force with guerrilla tactics, and going through significant personal change at the same time.

These books were an important part of my adolescence, at least, the first three books were. I read the books over and over again as a teenager.

What makes them so popular? Marsden so accurately portrays the reality of teenage hood - even in a war scenario. The girls talk about boys, the boys talk about girls. They start relationships, struggle through their first sexual experiences and deal with relationship complications. It portrays the difficulties of real friendships like how and when to be honest with one another and how relationships change over time.

Then there are the complications of the war. The teenagers have to grow up fast - seeing death and destruction, some of which they cause themselves. For a teenage book, Marsden gives due consideration to the complicated nature of war. The characters resent their countries invasion and do all within their power to cause damage to the invaders - but they are still able to analyse the situation and acknowledge that their ancestors committed similar acts on the Aboriginal population. They are also able to recognise that the invading population is probably doing so out of over crowing in their own country. Whilst this doesn't make it OK, and they don't justify the invaders actions in any way, it makes for good reading watching these young adults give proper consideration to the war.

Then there is the action - these books are action packed. There are bombs, there are chases, there are stake-outs, there are shoot-outs - it has everything and it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Originally the series was a trilogy but now it is a series of seven:
  • Tomorrow, When the War Began,
  • The Dead of the Night,
  • The Third Day, The Frost,
  • Darkness, Be My Friend,
  • Burning for Revenge,
  • The Night is for Hunting, and
  • The Other Side of Dawn.
I have only read the first 4, and it is my current mission to read those again and then finish the series. The reason I only read the first 4 books is because the fourth book Darkness, Be My Friend really let me down. It just wasn't as good as the first 3 and that really put me off reading the rest of the series.

Then as I got older I started reading more age appropriate material and somehow never prioritised reading the rest of it.

So this year I have started reading the series again. I have read the first two books and am currently reading the third. Then I will read the rest of it.

After re-reading Tomorrow, When the War Began I was a little bit disappointed. It just wasn't as good reading it as an adult as it was as a young adult. But once I got that little bit of a let down out of my system I really enjoyed The Dead of the Night and I am really enjoying The Third Day, The Frost.

This is a fun and action packed series of books that I recommend to everyone.

Summary

What kind of read is this?
These books are young adult, so they are not at all challenging and each can be knocked off very quickly.

Do I recommend these books?
Yes, I do. They are an easy but exciting read.

Do I recommend that you buy these books?
Not unless you are a big YA fan. I have been borrowing them from friends and that's been fine.



Star Rating

6.5 / 8


Brilliant, couldn't put it down. I recommend it. 


I would love to hear what you thought of the series if you have read it? Has anyone seen the film? I wonder if it captures the book very well. 


How do you review a series of books?

This year I have made a point of trying to read a few good series of books that I felt I needed to either read or re-visit.

These include The Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden, The Earth's Children series by Jean M Auel, the Sherlock Holmes novels by Arthur Conan Doyle and the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.

As I have been thinking about how I felt about the books and my observations of them, it has seemed that often what I want to say about one equally applies for the others.

So, you will notice over the next week or so that I have written reviews that review the series itself rather than the individual titles. When I have felt that I need to say something specific about a particular book I have done that. Otherwise it tends more toward general discussion of the series, even if I haven't read all the books yet.

What do you do? Do you think review them all separately or together?

The Earth's Children series by Jean M Auel (a GREAT read)

The Earth's Children series by Jean M Auel is an ongoing historical fiction series about cro-magnon man. This series is many things; epic, romantic, dramatic... and frustrating. I recommend it to everyone.

This series of books is very special to me. My mother suggested I read it when I was in high school, and as soon as I read the first one (The Clan of the Cave Bear) I was hooked.

It is an immense saga set in prehistoric times, as cro-magnum's are coming into their own and neanderthals are dying out. Ayla is a cro-magnum, or an Other, but is raised by the neanderthals, or The Clan, after she is found by them as a young girl. The series documents her life; her trials and tribulations. She is made an outcast by the people she was raised by and goes on a journey to discover her true self and her people. Along the way she meets many wonderful characters, including Jondalar - her soul mate.

Ayla is also fated for some bigger role in the development of the human kind. She has some inkling that this is the case, but dreams of living a normal life with Jondalar and hopefully a family.

As yet, we don't know what will happen to Ayla, and that is because the series is incomplete.

There are five books in this series with the sixth and final book scheduled to be released next year. Auel began the series in the lat 1970's, so it is about time that we got to read the end. The novels are:
  • The Clan of the Cave Bear,
  • The Valley of Horses,
  • The Mammoth Hunters,
  • The Plains of Passage, and
  • The Shelters of Stone.
For as much as I love this series of books, I do have a lot of quibbles with it.

The Clan of the Cave Bear was a really excellent book. It had the perfect blend of story and historical information. Unfortunately, as the books progressed, Auel seemed to become more concerned with showing off her knowledge of the era in which the story was based. You are increasingly given long winded descriptions of landscape and social and cultural practices. Not that this isn't interesting, but Auel takes it so far that it makes me feel as if she is showing off her knowledge rather than telling the story.

Another complaint is in relation to the sex scenes between Ayla and Jondalar. Don't get me wrong, I like a good sex scene.... but these are not good. They read as if they are out of Mills and Boon and yet these books should be so much better than Mills and Boon. The sex is just so cheesy and cliche it is difficult to read.

Finally - the fact that this series has been going for so long! I love this series of books (despite my complaints) and it really annoys me that I have had to wait since 2002 for the next instalment of the books.

How can it possibly take someone 30 years to complete a series. It doesn't seem fair to the fans. The cynical side of me thinks that it is because Auel is spending so much time researching it so that she can bore us with limitless detail instead of just getting on with the story of Ayla and Jondalar, which is what we are all reading the series for.

Please don't let my complaints get in the way of you reading this story - I complain because I love the books so much! I re-read this series all the time, and have re-read the first three this year for the umpteenth time. The Mammoth Hunters (the third instalment) is my favourite of all. Truth be told, I often consider naming my first born daughter Ayla after the character in these books.

If you are looking for something interesting and factual whilst being a little bit trashy at the same time - with a good dose of romance thrown in, this is the series for you. No wait.... this is a series for everyone!

Summary

What kind of read is this?
Although each book looks very thick, they are very easy to read. It is historical fiction meets romance, and it is fabulous.

Do I recommend this book?
I recommend all of them, The first and the third in the series are my favourites.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Without hesitation. They are just as good each time you read them.


Star Rating

8 / 8



Everyone should read them - they are totally amazing. I am in love.


Has anyone else read this series? What do you think of them? Did you know that the sixth was coming out next year and that it will be the last? I didn't, but I am very excited about it. I only hope that it ends well and explains everything.