George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake (Classic #5)

George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Classic #5)

Shelved: Classic (children’s, humour)
Published: 1981
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #5
Buy: Foyles
More: Goodreads

This is my fifth post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 450+ other people in reading one classic each month.

George is alone in the house with Grandma. The most horrid, grizzly old grunion of a grandma ever. She needs something stronger than her usual medicine to cure her grouchiness. A special grandma medicine, a remedy for everything. And George knows just what to put into it. Grandma’s in for the surprise of her life—and so is George, when he sees the results of his mixture!

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I wasn’t aware of George’s Marvellous Medicine until I bought my beautiful Roald Dahl box set three years ago. I’ve been slowly (obviously!) making my way through it and it was George’s time.

George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake (Classic #5)WHY I Chose to Read It
Much like with Agatha Christie, it was time for my annual dose of Dahl.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s one of Roald Dahl’s lesser-known novels – a short and eccentric story about what happens when you get a taste of your own medicine.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
George’s Marvellous Medicine was super fun! What happens when an 8-year-old boy tries to kill his horrible old grandma (who he believes is a witch) with a home-made concoction? Chaos!

Most of the story is made up of George brewing his inventive medicine, throwing in anti-freeze, horse tranquillizers, engine oil and much more. I enjoyed seeing what George was going to add next – and I couldn’t help feeling a little terrified! If you did drink his medicine, it would almost certainly kill you. But it was fun seeing what happened when George tried to replicate his potion… including his grandma turning into a really tall chicken. It’s not my favourite Roald Dahl so far, but it was short and sweet.

“Never grow up…always down.”

WILL It Stay A Classic
I’m sure Roald Dahl’s stories will be read for many years to come!

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who have only read Roald Dahl’s most popular books. People who love short, quirky stories.

 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Classic #4)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Classic #4)

Shelved: Adult fiction (mystery/crime, classic)
Series: Hercule Poirot (#4)
Published: 1926 by William Collins and Sons
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics – #4
Buy: Foyles
More: Goodreads

This is my fourth post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 450+ other people in reading one classic each month.

Roger Ackroyd was a man who knew too much. He knew the woman he loved had poisoned her first husband. He knew someone was blackmailing her – and now he knew she had taken her own life with a drug overdose.

Soon the evening post would let him know who the mystery blackmailer was. But Ackroyd was dead before he’d finished reading it – stabbed through the neck where he sat in his study…

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I received it in 2012 for Christmas. I’m not sure why I asked for this one in particular, but it’s likely that I scrolled through Goodreads to see which ones were her most popular (it’s currently her fifth most read book).

“It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.”

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was time for my annual dose of Agatha Christie! I’ve (mostly) read one a year for the classics challenge: Murder on the Orient Express (2014), Death on the Nile (2013) and And Then There Were None (2012).

WHAT Makes It A Classic
Agatha Christie is one of the most well-known and beloved crime writers. If she’s not a classic of the genre, who is? The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of her most popular mysteries, known to have a shocking twist, and apparently had a significant impact on the mystery/crime genre. It was voted by the British Crime Writers’ Association as the best crime novel ever.

“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is narrated by Dr James Sheppard, who lives in the fictional village of King’s Abbot. He’s a great narrator: full of wit, light mockery and surprising vivaciousness. He’s shocked when he receives a phone call saying that his friend Roger has been found dead. Dr Sheppard knows it must have occurred shortly after Roger received a letter from someone who blackmailed the woman he adored into committing suicide – but does anyone else? He calls on as many people as he can (even his gossipy sister!) to help solve the murder. As with previous Christie novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is full of clever detail, interviews with fishy suspects, and a lot of surprises.

It was my third Hercule Poirot and I enjoyed his character a lot more than I have previously. I’ve not found him to be memorable but, this time, the Belgian detective had more of a Sherlock/Watson dynamic with Dr Sheppard – and they worked well together on solving the mystery. Even so, I can’t say I’m a Poirot fan. I’ve not yet come across a Christie that has gripped me as much as And There Were None. I’ll continue to hope I didn’t read the best one first, and try a Miss Marple next…

I’ll have to agree with Robert Barnard: “Apart — and it is an enormous “apart” — from the sensational solution, this is a fairly conventional Christie. … A classic, but there are some better Christies”. I was enjoying the first half until it all got a bit puzzling, with a lot of red herrings thrown in. Even though the ending was a little bit of a surprise (I did wonder at some point, though!), it’s still not my favourite Christie so far. Sorry, Agatha.

WILL It Stay A Classic
I’m sure Agatha Christie will continue to be loved many for years to come! Even if Poirot isn’t my favourite, I’m looking forward to seeing why Miss Marple is a much-adored detective.

“It is odd how, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial.”

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love crime/mystery stories. People who love twists. People who are new to classics.

“The things young women read nowadays and profess to enjoy positively frighten me.”

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Classic #3)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Classic #3)

Shelved: Classic (children’s, fantasy, science fiction)
Series: Time Quintet (#1)
Published: 1962 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics – #3
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my third post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 430+ other people in reading one classic each month.

Out of this wild night, a strange visitor comes to the Murry house and beckons Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a most dangerous and extraordinary adventure – one that will threaten their lives and our universe.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
It’s a children’s classic that I’ve been aware of since joining the book community. It’s super popular in the US, but not so much in the UK. Last year, Puffin got in touch to offer me a bunch of newly redesigned and published Puffin Classics. I couldn’t say no and requested A Wrinkle in Time.

WHY I Chose to Read It
A Wrinkle in Time is not only a highly-regarded classic (it won the 1963 Newbery Medal), but a much-beloved classic. I was excited to finally pick it up.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s a novel that is seen to be for 9 to 12-year-olds and yet tackles highly complex themes. Good vs. evil – illustrated in the story as light vs. dark – and conformity vs. freedom are woven into the plot. It’s scientific and philosophical, and some say religious.

Jean Fulton wrote: “L’Engle’s fiction for young readers is considered important partly because she was among the first to focus directly on the deep, delicate issues that young people must face, such as death, social conformity, and truth.”

“A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I was intrigued, particularly by the concepts of wrinkling time and tessering; folding the fabric of space and time. Meg, Charles and Calvin are promised that they’ll travel from one area of space to another and arrive back home five minutes before they left. As for the characters, I adored 13-year-old Margaret “Meg” Murray and her younger brother, 5-year-old Charles Wallace, who is both a genius and telepathic. They are the key to saving their father, a scientist studying tesseract, who is being kept on the planet Camazotz.

A Wrinkle in Time is one of the few children’s science fiction classics I’ve read. It’s impressive, challenging and ambitious. As my experience of science fiction is limited to dystopia and post-apocalyptic – and so therefore much easier concepts to grasp – I just about got my head around the science. But I appreciate that it was explained. I attended an event about writing children’s science fiction a few years ago and a comment was made that it’s easier to write for children because there’s less to explain. I’m sure Madeleine L’Engle wouldn’t agree. Rather than simply “travelling through time”, the reader becomes more invested in how this might happen and what could go wrong.

Even so, A Wrinkle in Time was often a little too bizarre for me, as someone who generally reads contemporary fiction. I was hoping that I’d get into the story much more than I did. But I thoroughly enjoyed the personal journey that the children went on and it’s one I’d happily give another shot.

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.” 

WILL It Stay A Classic
I’m sure it’ll continue to be popular within in the US, but it may be a little too peculiar to be reintroduced to the UK – but time will tell as a new adaptation is currently being made!

“They are very young. And on their earth, as they call it, they never communicate with other planets. They revolve about all alone in space.”
“Oh,” the thin beast said. “Aren’t they lonely?”

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love science fiction. People who love stories about complex and challenging themes.

“We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

A Book and a Bag / #PackAPuffin A Book and a Bag / #PackAPuffin

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (Classic #2)

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (Classic #2)

Shelved: Classic (Humour)
Published: 1889
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #2
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my second post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 400+ other people in reading one classic each month.

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.”

Suffering from every malady in the book except housemaid’s knee, three men and a dog decide to head for a restful vacation on the Thames. Anticipating peace and leisure, they encounter, in fact, the joys of roughing it, of getting their boat stuck in locks, of being towed by amateurs, of having to eat their own cooking and, of course, of coping with the glorious English weather.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I can’t quite remember but it might have been when I first got my Kindle back in 2011. I downloaded a whole bunch of out-of-copyright classics for free and this was one of them. But it wasn’t until I started the classics challenges that I actually decided to read it.

“We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.” 

WHY I Chose to Read It
I wanted a short, light read and this seemed like the perfect classic! I came across the audiobook on Spotify and started listening to it on the way to work.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s one of the oldest books I’ve read –  127 years old! (That’s 100 years older than myself).

“I don’t know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me.” 

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
Three Men in a Boat was a thoroughly enjoyable classic – and I don’t say this lightly. It helped that I was listening to the audiobook narrated by Hugh Laurie, who was perfect for the story. It’s told with the sort of British humour that I forget how much I enjoy until I hear it – witty, hyperbolic one-liners told in a serious tone. I rarely laugh at any book, but this one had me trying not to giggle on the way to work.

Three Men in a Boat is exactly what it says on the tin (or should I say, cover). George, Harris, narrator Jerome, and a fox terrier called Montmorency (a fantastic name!) take a two-week boating holiday from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford and back again. Even though much of the story is about the everyday experiences of the river journey – from washing one’s clothes to making a pot of tea – it’s made much more enjoyable by Jerome K. Jerome’s expert understanding of the things that tie us all together; it’s like a 100-year-old version of Very British Problems.

WILL It Stay A Classic
Yes – even though it’s an older classic, it still feels funny and fresh. I could quite believe that it was only published this year.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who enjoy British humour. People who want to read older classics. People who want to give classics audiobooks a try.

“But who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.”

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

Shelved: Classic (Gothic)
Published: 1962
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #1
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my first post for the 2016 Classics Challenge (I’m a little late!) – sign up and join 400+ other people in reading one classic each month.

“I remember that I stood on the library steps holding my books and looking for a minute at the soft hinted green in the branches against the sky and wishing, as I always did, that I could walk home across the sky instead of through the village.” 

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I’m not quite sure when I discovered Shirley Jackson. It might have been when I was looking up classic horror stories and came across The Haunting of Hill House. I decided to buy We Have Always Lived in the Castle after it was Waterstones’ Rediscovered Classic.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was included in my Pick My December Classic poll and came second to The Hundred and One Dalmatians. It received such high praise that I made sure to pick it up in January.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s actually a little struggle to think about why this is a classic, aside from that it’s dark Gothic literature at its best. It feels like a story that will never become dated.

“I would have to find something else to bury here and I wished it could be Charles.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I’m not sure what I expected from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Goodreads describes it as ‘horror’, but that doesn’t feel correct to me. It’s a bit Gothic and dark. It’s a bit dreamy, and a little crazy. It hints at something not quite right. But it’s not scary.

Merricat (Mary Katherine) is the 18-year-old protagonist who tells the story of the Blackwoods. She tells us their history and how they came to be. She tells us about life, living with her uncle Julian, beloved sister Constance, and dutiful cat Jonas. She’s honest about her anger towards the rest of the world after her sister was accused (and then acquitted) of murdering their parents. She’s a fascinating character – with one of the best names I’ve come across. Shirley Jackson’s poetic writing works perfectly with Merricat’s often troubling thoughts.

I really enjoyed Merricat’s commentary on day-to-day life. Going into the village; buying groceries; living in an impressive house; and cooking and baking and eating. It’s all wonderfully described and the twists and turns are revealed as plainly, and without drama, as the rest of their daily routine. It’s a calm, dreamy story contrasted with Merricat’s hostility and frustration. As the reader, we shouldn’t understand. Merricat is, after all, incredibly unreliable But we do. When Charles arrives, we feel what she feels. And she is very, very angry.

WILL It Stay A Classic
Yes – Shirley Jackson’s writing still is enjoyed by many. It feels timeless.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who like dark stories with complex and unreliable narrators. People who enjoy beautiful and poetic writing. People who are in the mood for a short classic.

“We were going to the long field which today looked like an ocean, although I had never seen an ocean; the grass was moving in the breeze and the cloud shadows passed back and forth and the trees in the distance moved.”