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“The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog. […] The dog was called Wellington. […] I wondered who had killed Wellington and why.”

After reading just the first page of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year award, you feel compelled to read more – if only to find out who killed Wellington. That is just how Mark Haddon intended it to be. His rationale was “Who on Earth is going to want to read about a fifteen-year-old kid with a disability living in [Swindon, London] with his father?”

However, as you read on, you find that it is not so much the plot that compels you to keep reading – but rather the extraordinary main character: Christopher Boone, the story’s narrator. Christopher, a 15 year old boy with Asperger’s syndrome, can tell you every country in the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7, 507. But he finds feelings baffling.

The book dives into Christopher’s unusual mind, and much of what makes the book so fascinating is Christopher’s quirks, characteristics, likes and dislikes. This is what makes the book unique. He is a fan of Sherlock Holmes – whose adventures are his motive for telling the story – thus the title of the book is taken from a remark made by Sherlock Holmes’ in the short story “Silver Blaze” written by Arthur Conan Doyle; he is also a fan of prime numbers – the chapters are numbered by prime numbers.

However, when on some pages every sentence starts with “and” you start feel a little annoyed. Yet you can’t help but feel refreshed by it as it adds to the books authenticity. Much of the rest of the book invokes a similar love/hate relationship with Christopher himself and the people around him, which gives you a sense of the way Christopher’s mind works and how differently he feels (or doesn’t feel) in certain situations.

Mark Haddon

Although Mark Haddon used to work with children with autism, it was way back when – when autism didn’t even have a name. Contrary to popular belief, the book was not intended as a book about autism, but started as one about a poodle that was killed by a pitch fork. As he continued writing, Haddon found that it was a funny story, but only because of the voice he was writing the story with – Christopher’s.

Ironically, though feelings confuse Christopher, his story makes many readers feel like crying while reading one page, and laughing while reading the next. It is this effect that makes the book so special, un-put-downable and re-readable – and thanks to this book’s extraordinary insight into a mind so different from our own, after reading this story, you may never see the world in the same way again.

Jane Austen starts off the immortal Pride & Prejudice with the famous words, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Seth Grahame-Smith starts off Pride & Prejudice & Zombies with the same famous words but with a twist, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

On April 1st, 2009, one of the greatest books in the history of English Literature was massacred – literally. Jane Austen (one of the greatest authors in the history of English Literature)’s immortal Pride & Prejudice, was mashed up with zombies. That’s right; Longbourn, Netherfields and Pemberly have all become infested with zombies. And for some (most notably guys), it works.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

For others, it doesn’t. TIME magazine listed the mash up as one of the top five worst inventions of the year. One possible reason for their decision could be that it is somewhat jarring when the some of the beautiful and eloquent paragraphs originally by Jane Austen is summarized in a straightforward and modern way (perhaps to save space) making the book rather choppy at times.

In Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, it is early 1800’s and a mysterious plague has spread all over England. This plague transforms the victim into a brain hungry zombie and unfortunately no one knows where it came from or how to destroy it. But never fear, the dashing Mr. Darcy is here to defend his country, as is our beloved heroine Elizabeth Bennet.

When Elizabeth and Darcy first meet, she is about to slit his throat – but when she attempts to, zombies break into Netherfields and start feasting on the brains of the unfortunate people near them. But when he saves her sister Lydia (who though is a brilliant warrior is still as air headed as ever) from the disgrace of running away from the deceptively charming Mr. Wickham by disabling him for life, Elizabeth warms up to him.

Despite its cover, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is not as gory as one may think. In fact, the grossest part for me was when Elizabeth bites into the still-beating heart of one of Lady Catharine’s ninjas.

The zombiefied cover of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

However, throughout the book, various background characters do get killed off, starting with an abrupt murder of Mrs. Long in the beginning. Fortunately, none of the main characters get killed off. Unfortunately, one of the main characters is Mrs. Bennet, who despite the plague is not at all less determined in the least to get her daughters married off.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is a unique blend of the original Pride & Prejudice and new chunks (I feel it’s appropriate to use that here) of zombies, occasional cannibalism, ninjas, and ultra-violent mayhem. If you have always intended to, but have not yet read the original, I strongly suggest reading it first before reading And Zombies. However, if you never intended to read the original then you may get a chuckle out of And Zombies, because the gory(ish) zombie parts certainly liven things up.

Neil Gaiman opens up this unique book with darkness – a hand with a knife – and a baby.

The baby is a curious boy and while the mysterious “the-man-Jack” murders the baby’s family, the boy escapes from his crib and toddles out of the house unbeknownst to the-man-Jack, thus saving his life.

He wanders into a graveyard where two ghosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, find him. After much contemplation, the residents of the graveyard decide to keep him and to give him the freedom of the graveyard. Bod is, however, not allowed outside the graveyard in case he is murdered by the people who killed his parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Owens will be his father and mother, and Silas, who is the keeper of the graveyard and the only one who can wander beyond the gates of the graveyards, will be the boy’s guardian.

After further contemplation, the residents of the graveyard decide on a name. Thus, Nobody “Bod” Owens is christened. He’s normal boy…well, except for the fact that he lives in a graveyard and all his friends are ghosts.

But all that changes when Bod is about five. He meets a girl named Scarlett Amber Perkins. When Bod and Scarlett visit a barrow – a place where people keep their treasure – they meet the Sleer, a creature whose master went away and promised to return but never did. Three weeks later, Scarlett’s father gets a job in Scotland and she is forced to move.

In what seems like a twist to the story, Bod goes to a normal school. Silas lets Bod go to school on one condition: he is not to be noticed. Living up to his name, he’s a Nobody there; even the teachers have no idea who he is.

In time, the good in him comes out the way it usually does in most fictional and TV heroes. He tries to stop some school bullies by teaching them a lesson, using skills that he learned from the ghosts. It works but people start paying attention to him.

After nearly being arrested for scaring the bullies, Bod stops going to school and life returns to “normal”. However, something has changed. Bod has tasted the outside world and he gets more adventurous.

There are two illustrations to choose from, this is the less scary one.

There are two illustrations to choose from, this is the less scary one.

He visits a part of the graveyard that has been forbidden to him ever since he could remember. There he meets a witch by the name of Liza Hempstock. He befriends her, and makes it his mission to get her a headstone, as witches didn’t get headstones in the olden days. It just wasn’t done.

He gets her the headstone, and Liza develops something of a crush on him, despite him being only about 12. In the process of getting the headstone, he makes his presence known to the Jack-of-all-Trades, a group of assassins whose best assassin is the-man-Jack.

While this book is certainly one of a kind, it has some amount of predictability. Scarlett comes back from Scotland with a Scottish accent that makes her feel very out of place. Heck, it makes me feel out of place for her, just thinking about it.

When Scarlett returns to the Old Town where Bod’s graveyard is, she meets the-man-Jack in said graveyard. She and her newly-divorced mother are charmed by “Mr. Jack Frost”, and when she meets up with Bod, she unknowingly leads Bod to “Mr. Frost” while trying to help him find his parents.

Thus, the chase ensues. The four remaining Jacks show up and they all go after Bod. He cleverly traps each of them to their deaths, until the final one, the-man-Jack is left. Bod finally frees himself from the Jack-of-all-Trades and gives the Sleer their new master – the-man-Jack. Scarlett is really shocked, and wants to never see Bod again. Sadly, they don’t reunite.

This book is certainly a refreshing one to read. It’s well written, the plot is well thought out and it’s realistic. It’s a children’s book in so far as there are no swear words in it. But when reading this book (and possibly losing a night of sleep over it), you don’t feel like it’s a children’s book at all, as there are so many layers to it. It’s certainly a book you won’t regret reading – or losing a night’s sleep over.

Who is your Prince Charming?

Edward Cullen from the Twilight series is likely to be the answer to that question. The only other fictional character, who has been compared to Edward Cullen, and perhaps preferred by the older fans is none other than Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s famous Pride & Prejudice.

How do you top a handsome, wealthy, yet snooty-at-first English gentleman (or perhaps, how do you top a character played by Colin Firth)? For the longest time no one could, thanks to the genius of Jane Austen. Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) was the original chick lit writer, one of the great literary geniuses of her time, even if she didn’t know it then. And if she did, she was supposedly very modest about it.

A Watorcolour Drawn by Austen's sister of Jane Austen

A Sketch Drawn of Jane Austen by Austen's Sister, Cassandra

When her books came out, they generally got good reviews; however, there were some 19th century book critics who claimed to prefer Charles Dickens’ works instead. Perhaps it was because when they were published, the author’s name was simply “A Lady”, seeing as women weren’t taken seriously as authors then. Or as lawyers. Or, really, as anything other than people whose job it was to take care of children.

Despite that, the Prince Regent, George IV of England, and his daughter, were fans. He kept a set of Austen’s books in each of his residences, Austen found out about that when she was invited to visit the Prince’s London residence in November 1815. While she was there, the librarian hinted that Austen should dedicate the forthcoming Emma to the Prince Regent.

She disliked the Prince, but what could she do? She could hardly refuse that request.

But before her fame grew and her books garnered admiration, she had a very interesting relationship that perhaps gave her inspiration for Pride & Prejudice.

Enter Tom Lefroy

Jane Austen’s background is a humble one. Her father served as a rector of the Anglican parishes at Steventon, Hampshire, which is where the Austen family – which consisted of James, George, Edward, Henry, Francis, Charles, Cassandra, her only sister and closest confident, her father (George) and her mother (Cassandra) resided. Money was scarce, and Austen’s father provided the money by farming and teaching two or three boys who at the time boarded in their home.

When Austen was twenty-one, one of the neighbor’s nephew came for a visit. His name was Thomas Langlois Lefroy (8 January 1776 – 4 May 1869) – but he was simply called Tom Lefroy. He was training as a barrister in London, under his uncle who was a high court judge. Their relationship is explored in the 2007 film Becoming Jane starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy.

Thomas Langlois Lefroy

And Older Thomas Langlois Lefroy

Tom and Jane were very close and as one of her letters to Cassandra said “I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together”. It was December 1795 and Austen was working on Elinor & Marianne, later renamed Sense & Sensibility, her first full length novel. It was in the form of letters from one person to another.

Though Tom and Jane may have fallen in love, marriage was impractical, for she had no money and he depended on his uncle’s allowance, most of which he sent to his large family of ten siblings plus his mother and father.

Tom Lefroy left in January 1796 and Austen never saw him again.

Around that time, Austen began working on First Impressions, later renamed Pride & Prejudice; Tom Lefroy is likely to have been the inspiration for Mr. Darcy. The first draft of First Impressions was completed in August 1797, all of Austen’s works were read in front of her family, and this soon became a favourite.

It was when First Impressions was completed that her father made the first attempt to publish one of Austen’s novels. In November 1797, George Austen wrote to Thomas Cadell, an established publisher in London. He asked if Cadell would consider publishing “a Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols. about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina”. Cadell quickly returned the letter marked “Declined by Return of Post”.

Austen may not have known of her father’s efforts. After First Impressions was completed, Austen returned to Elinor and Marianne from November 1797 until mid-1798, revising it heavily and decided to do away with the letter format, going with third person narration instead.

After it had been completed in 1798, Austen started on Susan, later renamed Northanger Abbey, which she completed a year later. In 1803, Henry Austen offered Susan to Crosby, a publisher in London for £10. Crosby bought the copyright and despite promises of early publication, did nothing with it until 1816, when Jane bought it back from him for the price at which it was sold.

The First Move

In December 1800, Rev. Austen announced his unexpected decision to retire from the ministry, leave Stevenson and move the family to Bath. While the older Austens were okay with the move, Jane was shocked to leave the only home she’d ever known.

This move affected her productivity as a writer, for in all the time that she was in Bath she made some revisions to Susan, and started, but never completed The Watsons. In 1804 while still in Bath, Austen received her only marriage proposal from Harris Bigg-Wither. She and Cassandra were visiting their old friends Alethea and Catherine Bigg, and their brother Harris had just finished his education in Oxford and was also at home.

As described by Caroline Austen, Jane’s niece, and Reginald Bigg-Wither, a descendant, Harris was not attractive – he was a large, plain-looking man who spoke little, stuttered when he did speak, was aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless. However, Austen had known him since childhood, and their marriage would offer security for her and her family as he was heir to an extensive family estate. And so she accepted. But by the next morning, Austen realized that she had made a mistake – perhaps it was that she did not love him; and withdrew her acceptance.

Austen biographers Claire Tomalin and Park Honan agree that perhaps the reason Austen stopped work on The Watsons is because of her father’s death in 21 January 1805. Her father had gotten seriously ill suddenly and he died quickly.

Jane, Cassandra and their mother were now in a tough financial situation. Though Edward, James, Henry, and Francis Austen pledged to make annual contributions to their mother’s and sisters’ welfare, the Austen women’s living arrangements reflected their financial situation.

For a while they lived in rented quarters in Bath, and then starting 1806 they lived with the newlywed Frank Austen and his wife in Southampton. Then in 1809, Edward offered Chawton Cottage to the Austen ladies. Jane lived there until she died.

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage

1809 – 1816 was a very productive period for Jane. She successfully published four books: Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma – which was, indeed, dedicated to the Prince Regent. She died in mid-march 1817, with the cause of death tentatively said to be Addison’s Disease by Dr. Vincent Cope in his 1964 retrospective diagnosis. However, the final illness has been said to be Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Henry and Cassandra later published Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in December 1817. Henry contributed a biographical notice, for the first time identifying his sister as the author.

Sales were good for a year, but then at 1820, when all copies had been sold, Jane Austen’s novels went out of print for 12 years. Then in October 1833, Bentley published the first collected edition of Austen’s works, and her books have been in constant print since then.

One of the Stormbreaker book covers

One of the Stormbreaker book cover

The very first Alex Rider book that I read was a behind-the-scenes one about how they made the movie. The second Alex Rider book I read was the graphic novel. After reading those two, I very much wanted to read the first book in the Alex Rider series, Stormbreaker. The only thing that was stopping me was… my brother. He was already reading the book, and he was taking an awful long time.

The Grahic Novel is based on the screenplay written by Anthony Horowitz

Alex Rider: Stormbreaker: The Grahic Novel is based on the screenplay written by Anthony Horowitz

But that was okay, because I wasn’t very “in” to it yet. It was cool. I was like, “whatever, take your time”. Until, you know, I caved and read the book while he was still reading it. He was not amused when his bookmark accidentally fell out while I was reading.

Anyway, once I read the book, I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

About 70 per cent of books in general are made up of description, while the other 30 per cent is usually the storyline. That was my dad’s “excuse” when explaining to my indignant brother why he had skipped so much – he really just wanted to know the storyline.

But it’s true. Anthony Horowitz manages to write in a way that mesmerizes the reader, and you cannot put the book down. It’s only until you bang into a piece of furniture while walking and reading at the same time, because you can’t put it down, that you know it’s a very good book.

While you may think that Alex Rider is for boys, which I did because duh, a teenaged boy that saves the world, it is in fact suitable for girls too. However, one might wonder why a girl would read it when the only females on the “good side” are Mrs. Jones, the head of Special Operations division in the MI6 and Jack Starbright. Jack takes care of Alex from the time his uncle, who is, by the way, MI6’s best agent, dies.

Neither of these two females are kids or teenagers. Although Jack is pretty much like a kid sometimes.

But does that even matter? For the girl who somehow picks it up, she will be hooked on it, and then in Skeleton Key, the third book in the series, Sabina Pleasure comes into the picture. I have to admit, I absolutely loved that. And I am happy to report that Sabina and Alex kissed. Twice!

But until Sabina comes back in Snakehead, currently the last book in the series, I’m not going to be able to put down Ark Angel, so the furniture had better watch out.

May 2020


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