The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank is on my list of 50 books to read before I die and will also count on my 2015 reading challenge as a book from my childhood as I first read it when I was a kid. 

I’m sure most of you will know the story of Anne Frank and her family. Anne was a 13 year old Jewish girl, living with her parents and her older sister, Margot, in Amsterdam during World War II. On 6th July 1942, Anne and her family went into hiding at 263 Prinsengracht, soon followed by the van Daan family and later by Albert Dussel. On 4th August 1944, the property is raided following an anonymous phone call to the Security Police. All the inhabitants of the annexe are taken to concentration camps, Otto Frank is the only one to survive. The identity of the person who gave the anonymous tip has never been discovered. The 2 men, Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman, who had been helping them stay hidden are also arrested and questioned. Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl are left behind and manage to rescue Anne’s diary from the annexe and keep it safe until Otto Frank returns.


Anne’s diary starts before the family have gone into hiding and we see a brief glimpse of the struggle faced by Jewish people having to live within the strict laws imposed by Hitler. After the family have gone into hiding we are then given a very personal insight into what life was like for Jews in hiding and the people who help them.  


Anne comes across as an extremely self-aware young woman. I don’t remember being anywhere near as confident as she is when I was 13. Every time I read her diary and read her aspirations for the future I am saddened that her life was so unfairly ended at such a young age. I can’t imagine how proud she would be to see the reception her diary got and how many people all over the world have used her account to better understand the plight of the Jews during that awful time.  


Although I may complain about things that happen in my life, overall I am extremely fortunate and reading Anne’s story always reminds me just how fortunate I am. I cannot imagine being trapped in a secret area of a building 24 hours a day for 2 years like Anne was; constantly fearful of discovery and unable to do any of the things a normal girl her age could do. It’s no wonder Anne feels she matured very quickly during her time in hiding, she had responsibilities that no young girl should ever have. She knew if she made too much noise at the wrong time of day they could be discovered and that the lives of the other 7 people in hiding, as well as their friends on the outside who were helping them stay hidden, relied on her following the rules to the absolute letter.  


I think the writing itself is very good, I know a lot of work has been done in translating the diary but her writing is very descriptive and she manages to paint an extremely clear picture of her time in the “Secret Annexe” and what life was like for her and the others.


I often find myself wondering what Anne would be like if she’d survived and was alive today. What would she think of how the world has changed since the war? Would she have made it as a journalist like she wanted? Would she have changed her diary in any way prior to publication?   I don’t think she could ever have foreseen how important her diary would become. 

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Filed under 50 Books to Read Before You Die, Non-Fiction Reviews 2015

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

After it was mentioned in “Hearts in Atlantis” I decided to re-read William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. I read this as part of my GCSE English back when I was at school but haven’t read it since.   

Maybe it’s because I’m older or maybe it’s because I was choosing to read it this time rather than being forced to read it and having to analyse every word for my GCSE English but I enjoyed this much more than I remember doing the first time around.  


Having read this immediately after “Hearts in Atlantis” I could definitely see the links between the two. I also found myself wondering how much the events of “Lord of the Flies” were a product of the time it was written and whether if it was written now the same story would be as plausible. How would the children of today, who are extremely reliant on social media and computer devices, manage if they were dropped onto an island like that with nothing? Would they know how to build a shelter without being able to Google how to do it? Would they realise they needed to build a fire as a signal because they couldn’t just go on Facebook and alert people to their predicament?


One thing I do think would be the same would be the division within the camp. I don’t want to sound harsh but I think there will always be children who want to elevate themselves above others and pick on people who they see as different. Piggy comes up with most of the good ideas in “Lord of the Flies” but it’s Ralph who the other children elect as Leader and Jack is the only other person who is seen as a challenger for that role. If Piggy wasn’t overweight and asthmatic I have no doubt he would have been taken more seriously. Even though it shouldn’t matter, it’s clear that appearances do make a difference to how people perceive you. Even Ralph, who is the friendliest towards him, betrays him by telling the others the kids at school called him Piggy after he expressly asked that he not be called that. Jack might be the first to instigate bullying against him but Ralph betrays that confidence without so much as a second thought.  


It is remarkable how quickly things devolve on the island. As regular readers will know, I like to keep my reviews spoiler free so I won’t mention too much but I remember being quite shocked the first time I read it at how bad things get and how far some of the kids are willing to go. There’s no real idea of how long they have been on the island but it’s long enough that it’s mentioned that their hair has grown enough that it starts getting in their way.  


Another thing that has always intrigued me about “Lord of the Flies” is what would have happened if there had been girls on the island as well or even if it had been all girls. Would the same issues have arisen and would the outcome have been the same? If you’ve got any thoughts of this let me know in the comments.

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Filed under 50 Books to Read Before You Die, Fiction Reviews 2015

Hearts in Atlantis – Stephen King

My Dad gave me “Hearts in Atlantis” by Stephen King to read after he had read it and said it was very good. It’s a little different from books I normally read in that it is split into 5 stories, with each one shorter than the one before. There is some overlap of characters and there is also a time jump between most of them. 

The first story is “Low Men in Yellow Coats” and is set in 1960. This story introduces the main set of characters who we then see pop up again in the following stories. There are also crossovers from this book to King’s “Dark Tower” series, which I am still yet to read. The main characters in this one really are Bobby Garfield, a young boy living with his Mum, and Ted Brautigan, an older man who has moved into the same building as the Garfields. There are also many supporting characters, most notable Bobby’s Mother, his best friend Sully-John and his girlfriend, Carol Gerber.


The second story is “Hearts in Atlantis” and is set in 1966. This introduces a new protagonist, Peter Riley, but sees the return of Carol Gerber from the previous story.  


The third story is “Blind Willie” and is set in 1983. The only character in this really is Willie Shearman (who also goes by Bill and Blind Willie). Willie was a minor character in “Low Men in Yellow Coats” and crossed paths with Bobby, Sully-John and Carol.  


The fourth story is “Why We’re in Vietnam” and is set in 1999. This is told from Sully-John’s perspective and we see what has happened to him since the Vietnam war.


The final story is “Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling”. This is also set in 1999 and returns to Bobby Garfield’s perspective.  


Throughout the 5 stories we can see Carol’s life change dramatically from the care free childhood she appears to have in “Low Men in Yellow Coats”. This is mainly due to the Vietnam war and the fact that she starts to question why the war is taking place.  


In “Low Men in Yellow Coats” Ted Brautigan gives Bobby Garfield a copy of “Lord of the Flies” to read and the book affects Bobby in a very profound way. You can then see some of the themes of “Lord of the Flies” throughout the other stories in this book. The way people can change, especially in a group, and how violence can easily seem to be a solution. I read “Lord of the Flies” when I was at secondary school as part of my English GCSE but haven’t read it since as I think the level of analysis I had to give as part of my GCSE kind of put me off reading it again. I have decided to give it another go after reading this though as it was obviously an influence on Stephen King.


All 5 stories were very well written and I especially liked seeing the same characters popping up in the different stories. It’s also given me another reminder that I really need to read the Dark Tower series at some point as I have read several of King’s books now that have contained a nod to this in some way.

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Raging Heat – Richard Castle

As I had gotten a little behind on the Castle books I was able to read the sixth book, “Raging Heat”, immediately after finishing the fifth. “Raging Heat” actually has quite a large time skip with it being mentioned that it’s been around 2 years since the events of “Deadly Heat”.   

I really enjoyed this one. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s been my favourite of the series so far. The inclusion of Hurricane Sandy was a nice touch of realism and I liked the little bits that were taken from cases and events on the TV show as well.  


There were parts that caught me unawares as they were completely unrelated to events from the TV show, can’t really say more without spoiling the book for anyone who might decide to read it. I did manage to pretty much figure out who the killer was but didn’t entirely work out the full events surrounding the murder in the case.


I know in the TV show Beckett is quite often in danger but it does feel a little like there is someone with a personal vendetta against Heat in every book and it is starting to get a little old. I’m sure real NYPD Detectives don’t have to have uniformed officers guarding them as often as Heat does in these books.  


I particularly liked that the Acknowledgements at the end were written by an Editor as Richard Castle was “unavailable” this fits with the timeline in the show as Castle went missing for 3 months so obviously he had finished the book but not quite done the acknowledgements yet. I thought that was a nice touch for people who watch the show.  

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Deadly Heat – Richard Castle

“Deadly Heat” is the fifth book by fictional author Richard Castle from the TV show “Castle”, starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. The events of “Deadly Heat” take place around a month after the previous book “Frozen Heat” and are based loosely on the case of serial killer, Scott Dunn, from Season 2 of the TV show.   

As with the previous books it is very well written and the action is fairly fast paced. I love trying to catch all the little “easter eggs” that can be found if you are a fan of the show and the actors in the show. I especially love that there is a Detective Malcolm and a Detective Reynolds who are partners so nearly always mentioned together, fans of Fillion will recognise these names as the name of his character in the incredible Joss Whedon show, “Firefly”.  


There were a few twists and turns and I love trying to solve the case along with the characters and trying to see if I can figure out what the next plot twist will be.  


I’m not going to claim that Castle’s books are the height of literary excellence and the most incredible books ever written but they are fun, quick to read and hold my attention right to the end and some times that is all I want from a book. I would recommend them to fans of the show or people who just like crime fiction as the cases are interesting and well thought out enough to work as stand-alone books so it wouldn’t matter if you don’t watch the TV show.

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How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

I’ve read Caitlin Moran’s non-fiction books so when I saw “How to Build a Girl” on offer in Asda I decided to give it a try and see if it was as good as her non-fiction writing. I wasn’t disappointed. 

Moran confirms at the start of the book that although some parts of the book are familiar to her own early life the events that happen in the book are entirely fictitious. It is easy to see why she has felt the need to put that in, “How to Build a Girl” tells the story of Johanna Morrigan, a young girl from quite a large family in Wolverhampton who goes on to get her first job as a writer for a music magazine. Anyone who has read Moran’s autobiography will know that this is pretty much how Moran started out but, as she has said, that is where the similarity ends and she has created entirely fictional experiences for her characters.


After a slightly disastrous TV appearance, 14-year-old Johanna Morrigan decides the only way to get ahead in life will be to reinvent herself. She changes her style of dress and starts to write music reviews under the pseudonym of Dolly Wilde.


I really enjoyed this book. I think if people are honest with themselves most of us have thought of reinventing ourselves at one time or another and a lot of us have probably done it. As Dolly Wilde, Johanna gets into a lot of scrapes and adventures whilst learning a lot about herself along the way. It was very funny and I loved the dynamic within Johanna’s family.  


It’s a very honest book, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who is a fan of Moran’s work, with Johanna being pretty much obsessed with masturbation and sex and not being afraid to talk about it.  


I’d definitely recommend this, I don’t think it matters if you are male or female as there is something for everyone.

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Mr Mercedes – Stephen King

I picked up Stephen King’s “Mr Mercedes” whilst shopping a few weeks ago and have been desperate to read it since. My Dad has also recently read it and recommended it so I was really excited to get started. 

Whilst I would say this is a crime thriller it is different from a lot of other books in that genre in that we know who the criminal is. The story is told via 2 different narrators; Bill Hodges, a former Detective who has recently retired and is struggling to find the point in his life; and Brady Hartsfield, also known as the Mercedes Killer.  


I know some people don’t like books that have changes in narrator but I actually don’t mind it and in this case it is always very clear who’s narrating at each point. As always with King’s books, I found the characterisation to be excellent and I liked the way he hinted at some things that were happening rather than coming right out and saying it.


The plot was really interesting and I liked the fact that we saw both sides of the story with the 2 narrators, although it did mean that sometimes I almost wanted to shout at Hodges to tell him what was happening!  


I liked the twists and turns along the way and was happy with the outcome of the case. I was also interested to read that King has written another book with three of the characters from “Mr Mercedes” so will be looking forward to reading that when it comes out in paperback.  

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Filed under Fiction Reviews 2015