Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel

Book 92

Clan of the Cave Bear

When her parents are killed by an earthquake, five-year-old Ayla wanders through the forest completely alone. Cold, hungry, and badly injured by a cave lion, the little girl is as good as gone until she is discovered by a group of Neanderthal who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear. This clan, left homeless by the same disaster, has little interest in the helpless girl who comes from the tribe they refer to as the “Others”. Only their medicine woman sees in Ayla a fellow human, worthy of care. She painstakingly nurses her back to health–a decision that will forever alter the physical and emotional structure of the clan.

I had never heard of the Earth Children series before reading this book, which is the first in the series of 6.  This book is set 30,000+ years in the past and with that the author would usually have a license to rewrite history as most readers would have very little knowledge base on life at that time.  However Jean Auel has painstakingly researched everything she could when writing this book and any inaccuracies within the text are mainly due to findings after the book was published.  It is amazing how much detail is in the book regarding the life of the Clan and how all forms of life lived on earth at that time.  There is so many descriptions of anything you may need to understand, yet it never feels like a history lesson.  The story is full of heart and suspense and even though the book has many pages, you can’t help but eat them all up.

What I liked about this book:  The character of Ayla.  Your heart goes out to her at every turn but she is not a damsel in distress.  She has a strong survival instinct but she isn’t headstrong.  She wants to be independent but lives every day trying to conform.  She is such a complex character in the way that she thinks and feels, but on the most natural level possible you understand her as she is more modern thinking than any of the characters around her.  Something else I love about this book is the storyline itself.  It is a story that has been told for generations in a way; the trials Ayla goes through could be taken from her prehistoric time and placed in the 18th or 19th century and still feel true as it is essentially a story of a repressed woman.  The storyline seems quite modern and it’s easy to empathise and sympathise with the heroine of the book.  I think it is that which elevates this book from being an interesting fictional history book to an exceptional read.

What I didn’t like about this book:  There are a lot of characters and they all have short names that sound similar.  For example: Ona, Oga and Ovra.  These are 3 different female characters and I still can’t quite remember how they are related to each other.  All the female characters had names beginning with a vowel and the male characters a consonant, which helps to simplify it a bit.  It also helps that you are drip fed the characters as the chapters progress, rather than being inundated from the very beginning.  But it was still confusing at times and I eventually gave up trying to remember who everyone is.

I loved this book and I would happily read it again.  It had drama and suspense and heart and joy in equal measures and not once became boring or hard to read.  It was nothing like anything I’d ever read before and I look forward to reading the sequels and following Ayla’s journey after this book.

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Book 94

This is the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who dreams of travelling the world in search of treasure as extravagant as any ever found.  From his home in Spain he journeys to the exotic markets of Tangiers and then into the Egyptian desert, where a fateful encounter with the alchemist awaits him.

The Alchemist has all the qualities of a childhood fable; the boy who was helped by older and wiser people to follow his heart and realise his destiny, learning many lessons along the way.  However it is not condescending in the way it teaches; it is a tale about following your dreams rather than a cautionary fairy tale.  The lands Santiago crosses seem rich and vibrant and the third person narrative suits the story, even though it is primarily about Santiago.

What I liked about this book: It wasn’t just a story to me; something about the tale really touched my heart.  I know it’s only a book but I did feel that the lessons learned by Santiago were something that is perhaps missing from more modern literature and films and so I found the book very inspiring.

What I didn’t like about this book: Throughout the story Santiago is trying to find the treasure that he dreamed about so the ending was maybe a bit of an anti-climax for me.

I did enjoy this book immensely although it was maybe on the short side.  If you ever want something to read when life isn’t treating you right or things aren’t going your way, I would highly recommend this book.  It is uplifting and would encourage you to look at your problems in a different light, or at least help you to forget them for a while.

4 Out of 5 stars

Book Review: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Book 100

Midnight's children

Midnight’s Children tells the life story of Saleem Sinai born at midnight on 15th August 1947 at the moment modern India became an independent state. Saleem’s somewhat timely arrival is not a coincidence; our protagonist’s life is destined to follow the ebb and flow of India’s own fortunes. He begins to discover the other children born in the first hour of India’s independence, all of whom have their own gifts, as we follow Saleem from cradle to fatherhood as he relates his story to his lover Padma.

This book is the second book from Salman Rushdie but is well-known as the book that launched his career. It is a fantasy book that has a footing in India’s history, providing as times an alternative reality and slightly contradicting version of the major events in India and Pakistan during the 20th century. I think the genre would be called Magical Realism which is a little ironic as one of the themes surrounding the narrator of the book, Saleem, is he is physically and mentally cracking up and losing his grip on reality, hence his need to write his memoirs.

What I liked about this book: The story line was great. There is so much in this book and absorbing the culture of India and Pakistan was a nice change to what I might normally read. The book continually moves from Saleem’s memories to the present, sometimes without warning, which takes some getting used to. However by doing this, Rushdie created this character that leapt off the page at me. I empathised with the impatience and frustration of his audience, the loyal Padma, as at times this book did frustrate me a lot. However this book is one of a kind, I don’t think you could compare it to anything else you have ever read.

What I didn’t like about this book: Saleem’s main theme is to show not only how the events of his life mirrored and sometimes affected the events of the nation but also how different things recur in his life. This sometimes washed over me as I found it hard to keep up with all the characters with their real names and their nicknames being constantly interchanged. As I said, the story line is great, but it was dragged out of Saleem in such a way that it lessened the magic quality of it for me. If it had been told in a more straight forward way with maybe slightly less character from the narrator, I would have enjoyed it more but then it would no longer be unique.

I think if I had a big enough gap in between to get over the effort required to read Midnight’s Children, I would consider reading another book by Salman Rushdie. He is most definitely a fantastic author, however his writing style is not compatible with my reading style. This should have been a book I could not put down, instead it took me almost 4 weeks to finish. I am just glad that I have tackled Midnight’s Children early on in my challenge as it had the capability to drive me insane. I will never forget this book for good reasons as well as not so good. All I would say to someone planning to read this is that you should, but be prepared.

3 Out of 5 stars

A big sigh of relief

Hi everyone

I know I’ve been a bit lacking in the last few weeks but I plan to do better.  I’ve finally finished Midnight’s Children and have returned it (late) to the library.  I will get the review out tomorrow hopefully as I think it will take me a while.  My next book looks to be an easier read, it’s The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, its only 161 pages long and I’m already 57 pages in as well.  On a slightly different (but related) note, I realised today that I have now borrowed 100 books since I joined my local library in June 2010.  I was quite impressed with myself until I realised that was over 18 months ago and I am trying to read 100 books in a year.  I think I need to start putting a bit more effort in, maybe less cinema and more books?  Or less sleep and more books?  I think it will have to be one or the other otherwise I will not succeed!  Review asap.

Jennie

Rebel with a cause

Hi everyone

As appalled as I am with myself that I have had a book for 3 weeks and not finished it, I have now decided to push my moral boundaries as well by not returning Midnight’s Children to the library. They will penalise me for breaking the rules, which I hope with encourage me to finish the book as soon as possible, but I won’t let that deter me. I know that there are other people waiting to read this book, but they will have to wait for me to finish. My challenge (and what is left of my sanity) is more important! I will follow with a review once I have found my marbles (I think the book is rubbing off on me!).

Jennie

It’s been a while

Hi everyone

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve had a busy couple of weeks.  I’ve been reading Midnight’s Children as and when I can but unfortunately it had to go back to the library as my time ran out.  I’ve just started reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo instead whilst I try to get another copy of Midnight’s Children.  It’s quite short, so I should hopefully have read it in a few days.  Will post again soon with an update on my quest for another copy of Midnight’s Children!

Jennie