Wednesday, April 27, 2011

20 Classic Novels You Can Read in One Sitting - DailyWritingTips

Reposted from Daily Writing Tips:

You know that in order to become a better writer, you need to become a better reader — and so polishing off some classic novels is in your future. But who has the time?

You do. Nobody’s admonishing you to get your book report in within two weeks. But if you still feel pinched between the hour hand and the minute hand, ease into great English literature with these short novels (most have fewer than 200 pages):

1. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Spectral visitors take miserly businessman Ebenezer Scrooge on a tour of the past, present, and future to prompt his reevaluation of the wisdom of his skinflint ways in this Victorian fantasy that helped usher in the nostalgia-drenched Christmas tradition. To this day, innumerable stage adaptations knock elbows with ballet productions of The Nutracker Suite and singing of Handel’s Messiah. Dickens’s Hard Times is another relatively quick read.

2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

The intrepid young hero, a half-feral but good-hearted boy, flees the deadly embrace of civilization, takes up with a freed slave and a couple of con men, and, with the assistance of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens, makes a library’s worth of observations about the human condition in one thin volume — a triumphant survivor of censorship and political correctness. (The n-word pervades it — quick, hide the children’s eyes and make reality go away!) See also The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which this book is a sequel to, and Pudd’nhead Wilson.

3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

A young girl wanders into the woods and falls down a rabbit hole into a disconcertingly absurd hidden world in Oxford mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s satirical romp, laced with contemporary caricatures and poking at problems of mathematical logic. Like many great works of art, it was a critical failure but a popular success — and, in the long term, the critics have come around. See also the sequel Through the Looking-Glass.

4. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

A modern fable by the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four relates what happens when communism comes to Manor Farm: “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” Orwell (birth name Eric Blair), a proponent of democratic socialism — by definition, the antithesis of Stalinism — wrote the story in response to his disillusioning experiences during the Spanish Civil War, when totalitarianism cast a shadow over socialist ideals. British publishers concerned about the manuscript’s frank condemnation of the United Kingdom’s World War II ally the Soviet Union rejected it, but you can’t suppress the truth down for long.

5. Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne

Fastidious Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg makes a foolhardy wager at his club: He will circumnavigate the planet in eighty days. With resourceful French valet Passepartout by his side and a Scotland Yard detective — who mistakes him for a fugitive from justice — on his heels, he sets out with his fortune, his freedom, and, most importantly, his honor on the line. These and other novels by Verne have, from the beginning, fired the imaginations of readers from all over the world, though poor early English translations led to them being long mischaracterized as juvenile pulp fiction.

6. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

After an introduction to a horrifyingly regimented future “utopia,” readers meet John, a young man who has grown up in an isolated, unenlightened community before being brought back to civilization, which, shall we say, does not match his expectations. Huxley’s novel, one of the most celebrated in twentieth-century literature — and also impressively high on the lists of books targeted for censorship — depicts a future in which hedonism, not repression, is the greatest threat to humanity.

7. Candide, by Voltaire

Everybody’s favorite scathingly funny French philosopher introduces a young man raised in indoctrinated, isolated innocence who is repeatedly blindsided by reality when he becomes a citizen of the world. Anticipating the antipathy with which secular and religious authorities would condemn his work, Voltaire published it under a pseudonym, but everybody knew who had done the deed. Candide was widely banned, even in the United States into the twentieth century — high praise, indeed.

8. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck

A run-down street in seaside Monterey, California, is as colorful a character as any of the people who populate it in this sweet Depression-era story about a community of the world’s cast-offs. This semiautobiographical novel, a warm wash of nostalgia, also serves as a requiem for a lost world the author could never find again. Steinbeck often kept it short and bittersweet: Look also for The Moon Is Down, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, The Red Pony, and Tortilla Flat.

9. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

Reading this mid-20th-century anthem of adolescent angst remains a rite of passage for high school literature students, who get a thrill out of reading one of the most frequently banned books of all time. The narrator’s sour sensibilities and his frank assessment of the world’s crapitude captivate many young readers, although the author (who exacerbated the allure of the book through his notorious reclusiveness) intended the book for an adult audience. Salinger’s other works include novellas and short stories, including Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, and the twofer Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.

10. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

This flashback novel immerses the reader in the tragedy of a romantic triangle, as the title character agonizes over his affection for his sickly wife’s cousin, who has come to live with them and help around the house. Warning: Things don’t end well. The critical reception to Wharton’s work was mixed, but those who praised it recognized it as a compelling morality tale (though based on a real incident and thought to allude to the author’s own unhappy marriage).

11. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

In a dystopian future where firefighters ignite inflammatory books (that is, all of them) rather than suppress conflagrations, one member of the book-burning brigade, increasingly alienated in his decadent society, is lured to the light side. Bradbury initially denied that the theme of the story is censorship, fingering the boob tube for libracide instead, but he later graciously realized he could have it both ways.

12. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

A scientist conceives the idea of creating a man constructed from body parts and bringing him to life but is disgusted by his creation, which, devastated by the scientist’s and others’ rejection as it struggles to learn what it means to be human, exacts vengeance. The novel, written by the daughter of philosophers who began working on it when she was still in her teens, initially received mixed reviews, but its stature has steadily grown, aided by its wealth of classical allusions and Enlightenment inspirations, not to mention its profound psychological resonance.

13. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A young man gets caught up in the world of wealth during the Roaring Twenties, especially that revolving around the enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby, but he discovers how superficial and hollow the American dream is after observing the petty passions of the rich. Fitzgerald’s novel was well received but did not fare as well as his earlier works, and when he died in relative obscurity years later, he believed himself a failure. During and after World War II, however, The Great Gatsby experienced a resurgence, and it is now accounted one of the great American novels.

14. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

A riverboat captain in the Belgian Congo, looking forward to meeting Kurtz, the manager of an isolated upriver colonial station, is devastated when the man he meets turns out to be quite different from the imagined ideal. Conrad’s story, overshadowed by Francis Ford Coppola’s loose film adaptation, the antiwar epic Apocalypse Now, should be read on its own merits. Though much praised for its psychological insight, is also considered one of the most potent criticisms of colonialism in literature.

15. Night, by Elie Wiesel

The author’s harrowing account of his early adolescence spent in Nazi concentration camps — during which his father, with whom he was incarcerated, gradually becomes helpless, and young Elie rejects God and humanity — is full of raw, stark power. Its critical reception was complicated by various factors: It is a memoir that contains a great deal of fiction, and it was published in quite different forms in Yiddish, then a pared-down French translation, from which a further abridged English version was derived. But that form at least is widely acknowledged as great art.

16. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

A beautiful young hedonist sells his soul for the price of agelessness, while a portrait of him painted by an admirer marks his physical dissipation. Wilde’s first novel was attacked for its homoeroticism and the scandalously frank depiction of debauchery but was received more favorably when the author toned down the former. Rich with allusions to, among other works, Faust, The Picture of Dorian Gray stands on its own as a tragic morality tale.

17. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane

A young Civil War soldier overcomes his initial cowardice, but, despite the fact that he acts heroically in a later battle, his humanity is diminished. Crane, who finished the novel when he was only twenty-four (he would die just five years later after a series of debilitating lung hemorrhages), was celebrated for its authentic detail about the conduct of war, though he had never experienced it himself. It was also hailed as a triumph of both naturalism and impressionism, as it realistically portrays the ordeal of battle while achieving allegorical stature.

18. The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Written primarily in the form of a series of letters, this semiautobiographical story relates the tragedy of a young man who falls in love with a woman already betrothed to another. Although it made Goethe’s reputation at a young age, it also precipitated “Werther Fever,” prompting a fad of overwrought young people lamenting the vicissitudes of unrequited love, and Goethe later disavowed it and decried the Romantic literary movement it epitomized.

19. The Stranger, by Albert Camus

This existentialist classic chronicles the nihilistic life of an apathetic man who aimlessly commits murder and, once incarcerated, renounces humanity, which he has passively estranged himself from. Camus’s portrait of a man without a soul was a manifesto of his belief that life is bereft of meaning, and that the efforts of humans to find meaning are futile.

20. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

This complex melodrama about the compounded consequences of acting on selfish and vengeful motives has been overshadowed by Hollywood’s treatment of the thwarted love between a young woman named Catherine and her untamed foster brother, Heathcliff. But the story boasts an unflinching honesty about its deeply flawed protagonists, and though critical response to its publication was mixed, it has lived on as an expression of star-crossed ill fortune.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: MARIE: An Inspector Monde Tale of Strange and Terrible Adventures


An Inspector Monde Tale of Strange and Terrible Adventures

By John Booth

Brilliant! A short story set in Paris, starring the unflappable Inspector Monde, a case of strange ‘suicides’, a missing girl, a seedy bar...and the darkness of the river.

Told with dry precision and underlying quirkiness, John Booth swiftly draws the reader into the underbelly of Paris and keeps you enthralled to the last word.

Definitely worth reading, and I hope John Booth collects all the Inspector’s Strange and Terrible Adventures into one soon!

Elaina J Davidson
April 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Iron Admiral by Greta van der Rol

Iron Admiral

Authour: Greta van der Rol

How to describe Iron Admiral? Sci-fi? Absolutely. Romance? Yep. Adventure? Another yep. This is a quick read (the kind you pick up...and then don’t put down until done!), fast-paced with loads of action and changes and scenery.

Iron Admiral is also cleverly constructed, the details of other worlds, politics and races woven throughout to create a synergy of backstory and tale that never feels contrived (I am somewhat in awe of that!). World descriptions are good, with everything the reader needs without resorting to huge chucks of words. The plot is excellent, from weapons trading and a nasty virus to the shenanigans of politicians and two races in conflict. I am very impressed by Greta van der Rol’s writing style: she uses minimal words to say much and really pulls it off.

Characters are believable. Allysha is a likable heroine and seriously clever. Saarehn is the kind of man we like to read about- strong and capable, but also enigmatic. The lesser characters are colourful, some downright dastardly- but we like that!

I got to the end of Iron Admiral...and wanted to find out what happens next...and that is always a good sign. Can’t wait to read the next one!

Elaina J Davidson
April 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nails in the Fence

There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His Father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next
few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.

He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.

The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.. He said, 'You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. But It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound will still be there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

Remember that friends are very rare jewels, indeed.

They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share words of praise and they always want to open their hearts to us.'

Please forgive me if I have ever left a 'hole' in your fence.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Shrouded Secrets by Joel McGrath

Shrouded Secrets by Joel McGrath

Shrouded Secrets is firmly in the YA category, from home situations between siblings and figures of authority to the daily school routine. Throw in a strange vacation, and you have the interest of your reader...but when that strangeness spills over into ordinary life, you have a tale worth following. I have to insert here that ‘Shrouded Secrets’ is a great title- it certainly grabbed my attention.

The story is good. A world that exists in the dark matter surrounding us, much like Earth...with a few tweaks. A boy able to step through the thinning to help Earth, and a boy from our world able to wield the power of that other place. And a supporting cast both otherworldly and ordinary.

However, I feel Shrouded Secrets needs a little tweaking itself. It reads (to a fellow writer) like a first draft, when we make the mistake of inserting too many adjectives and extra words. There is as well a sense of formality many YA readers may not identify with. The pace is a little slow. From my perspective, I would like to see Shrouded Secrets undergo a thorough edit...and then the tale will shine bright.

April 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's official! Gathering of Rain in Paperback soon!

Friends, I simply have to share the news! Gathering of Rain has been picked up by Night Publishing and will launch July/Aug!

Watch this space for updates and links.

*dances a jig of joy*


Saturday, April 2, 2011


Mirrors make me.

And mirrors break me.
Shards of shiny glass, reflection pond, polished metal, ornately framed, it’s of no import.

As you read this and I play the role of storyteller, a new looking glass rises from the mercury I wade through. I haven’t seen one like it before and, momentarily its existence stumps me. Only momentarily, for a mirror is a mirror and here, now, another lesson awaits.

Allow me to step aside for a while before we peer into this mirror together. You need a little back story, but only a little. Your patience will be rewarded.

Have you tried this? Position two mirrors facing each other and stand between them. Magically you see yourself reflected into what feels like infinity. It’s not magic, of course, it’s science, but it feels as if sorcery could be at work, playing with your perceptions- for a few thumping beats of your heart you are drawn into another space and time. And when the dog barks or someone calls out or a door slams...the spell is broken.

Here’s another one: stare into a mirror, into your eyes reflected back at you. Really stare. Concentrate, focus, block out peripheral images. Look into your eyes...except it’s not you over there, is it? The real you is who others see, the one you see in photographs. But it feels like you and if you stare long enough, you begin to see your soul. The instant you recognise the essence of a presence, you shiver. If it works for you, it is magic; science cannot reveal essence. When the dog barks, etc, you are relieved to have the spell broken. It’s downright scary.

Except, it isn't your soul. It’s the soul of a reflection. Now that can lead to nightmares.

Back to back story. I have dark eyes. Hard to read, people tell me. Not that I believe you read someone’s eyes, that all emotion is on display there- that’s achieved in minute facial expressions. A crinkle at the corner of an eye could be amusement. Slight tightening of lips could be disagreement. An eyebrow lifted just a tick could be get the picture. Eyes are not crystal balls. You disagree? You might have a point and I might be in denial.

You see, I looked into my dark eyes, apparently so hard to read, and recognised that essence I mentioned earlier. Except, something moved in those eyes...and it wasn’t me. When my reflection blinked, and I know I did not, I was utterly spooked.

Couldn't look in the mirror for some while.

I am not one to wimp out long, however, and thus I tried the two mirror trick; safer I thought (well, I did say I was spooked). All gods in all heavens, the sixth reflection turned her head. I don’t know if six has significance, don’t care- she moved. If I was spooked before, imagine what that engendered.

My fascination with mirrors began then. I would see one and shy away. Always made sure I knew where the mirrors were in a new place in order to avoid them. A strange situation. A friend avoids mirrors because she doesn’t like herself; I avoided them because I do like myself...and wanted to keep me intact.

There really is no avoiding your reflection, however. Look into a rain puddle when retrieving something dropped. Windows are wonderful mirrors, did you know that? The silvery side of metallic wrapping, while distorted, can surprise you. And, honestly, it’s not long before you take the risk of a real mirror anyway...after perhaps the second poke of a mascara wand. Ego will force you. And so will self-worth.

And thus I stared one day at my reflection...and everything changed.