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Mini Reviews: 1001 books to read before you die

We have quite a backlog of reviews so to clear the backlog and keep us on track for our regular posts, we’ve decided to do a few mini reviews to share our abbreviated thoughts on some of the books we read last year. Here is our first installment focused on 1001 books. Our next series of mini reviews will be for non-list books. Let us know if any strike your fancy.

783505Embers by Sandor Marai.
Reviewed by Book Worm: 4 stars
This is a classic of modern European literature that begins 41 years after a significant event causes an estrangement in the lives of two men who used to be the closest of friends. The narrative is told nearly entirely in the form of an almost monologue from “The General” who has waited 41 years to ask his friend Konrad for the answer to a question that has troubled him for all that time. As The General reveals his story, we learn what happened on that fateful day 41 years ago, the events that lead up to it, and what has happened in the intervening years.

Embers is a slow-paced story and the clues are all there for the reader to understand what has actually happened. It is a book about relationships (specifically male friendship) and understanding yourself. I really enjoyed this book but if you asked me to define why I would not be able to tell you, I would have to say read this for yourself and see if you can find the same magic.

Verdict: Read it!

79930That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern
Reviewed by Book Worm
McGahern is considered to be one of the best contemporary Irish writers. In this novel he tells the story of the people living in a contemporary Irish village that is trapped between modern changes and old traditions.

There are slow-paced novels and then there are novels like this that are so slow paced you feel you are going backwards. You might have guessed I was not a huge fan of this slow writing style. It did have one benefit however and that was as soon as I read a sentence containing the name “Jamesie”, my eyes started to feel heavy and my head lolled forwards. I have not slept so well in ages.

There were some interesting things that happened but they were so well hidden in all the dull details that looking back nothing really jumps out at me as memorable. There were not  even any characters that you could feel strongly about, either to love them or to hate them they were just boring.

Verdict: Pass

54258The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth
Reviewed by Book Worm and Jen
The Radetzky March charts the history of the Trotta family through three generations spanning the rise and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Book Worm
 This book sounded like one that would really appeal to me. I love a good family saga, especially when the reader follows the family down through the generations. However I never really got into the story of the Trotta family. I read a translated version of the book and with any translation I always wonder what has been lost of the original. In the case of this book I found the characters and the action to be flat. What happens to the family is told in matter of fact statements with no emotional connection between me as a reader and the story.
Jen: I have to agree with Book Worm. I found the style tedious and in fact I was so bored that I don’t really remember any of the details about this novel at all. I had to reread the goodread synopsis in order to remember anything.
Verdict (unanimous): Pass.

53061Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Reviewed by Book Worm and Jen
Synopsis from Goodreads:  Death in Venice tells the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging writer who follows his wanderlust to Venice in search of spiritual fulfillment that instead leads to his erotic doom.
Book Worm: I found this to be a beautifully written short missive about the seductiveness of human beauty. While Aschenbach may desire the young Polish boy, there is never any actual contact between them and his desire to me was ascetic. He desired the perfect boyish form not the boy himself. What could have been a seedy story is instead a story about an artist’s (in this case a writer’s) appreciation of the human form and the enjoyment that can be had merely by sharing the same location as the divine object. I choose the word divine here as the story is full of comparisons with mythology and the Gods of old.
Jen: Once again, I completely agree with Book Worm. This could have been the sort of book I normally dislike but the writing was exquisite and it was an interesting exploration about the nature of beauty. My first experience with Mann and I look forward to reading more.
Verdict (unanimous): Read it!


The Island of Doctor Moreau by H G Wells
Reviewed by Book Worm and Jen
Synopsis from Goodreads: Ranked among the classic novels of the English language and the inspiration for several unforgettable movies, this early work of H. G. Wells was greeted in 1896 by howls of protest from reviewers, who found it horrifying and blasphemous.

While this riveting tale was intended to be a commentary on evolution, divine creation, and the tension between human nature and culture, modern readers familiar with genetic engineering will marvel at Wells’ prediction of the ethical issues raised by producing “smarter” human beings or bringing back extinct species.
Book Worm: 4 stars. Wells creates a terrifying atmosphere for the reader. The story is made all the more creepy by the advances in science since it was first published and it is quite amazing to me how authors like Wells and Verne managed to “predict” so much of what is happening in the world now. This is pure escapism and it keeps the tension building while at the same time allowing a place for humanity and for questions about morality and how other living beings should be treated. I really enjoyed it.
Jen: Ugh, I disliked it. 2.5 stars. I’m fairly convinced that Wells is simply not the type of author I enjoy. I found the Time Machine deadly boring and I didn’t think Invisible Man was anything special. If found this story ridiculous and didn’t really find it creepy or horrifying. I could appreciate the impact this book had, I just simply didn’t care for it.
Verdict: Split


The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Reviewed by Book Worm and Jen
Synopsis from Goodreads: Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s masterful portrait of desire and betrayal during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York, a time when society people “dreaded scandal more than disease.”
Book Worm: This is a well written and thoughtful book that captures a very specific time and place and while the central theme of unfulfilled love is universal, the things that prevent it are no longer relevant in society today.  It is not a fast moving book. It was a 3 star read for me.
Jen: I came to appreciate Edith Wharton’s books relatively recently after trying to read them in my teens and feeling bored. I have since visited her  former estate in Western Massachusetts and come to love her books. Her books are relatively slow in their pacing but she is an expert in capturing a sense of time and place and The Age of Innocence is no exception. I really enjoyed it and it was a 4 star read for me.
Verdict: Split

1615370Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
Reviewed by Book Worm
Synopsis from Goodreads: Expelled from Oxford for indecent behaviour, Paul Pennyfeather is oddly unsurprised to find himself qualifying for the position of schoolmaster at Llanabba Castle. His colleagues are an assortment of misfits, including Prendy (plagued by doubts) and captain Grimes, who is always in the soup (or just plain drunk). Then Sports Day arrives, and with it the delectable Margot Beste-Chetwynde, floating on a scented breeze. As the farce unfolds and the young run riot, no one is safe, least of all Paul. Taking its title from Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Evelyn Waugh’s first, funniest novel immediately caught the ear of the public with his account of an ingénu abroad in the decadent confusion of 1920s high society
Book Worm: While I did find parts of this book incredibly funny, I more often than not found the satire dated. I also ended up rolling my eyes several times at the unbelievable situations in which the characters found themselves. That said, this was a light hearted and fun read. So if you need a break from reality this could fit the bill.
Verdict: Read it


We want to hear from you! Have you read any of these books? Which ones and what did you think of them?


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. The Reading Bug #

    Wow you have covered a lot of ground here. I enjoyed Age of Innocence more than I expected to, but Decline and Fall is superb. Everything Waugh wrote is worth reading, he couldn’t write boringly if he tried.

    Liked by 1 person

    January 10, 2017
    • I haven’t read Decline and Fall but I did love Brideshead Revisited. The credit for so much ground covered goes to Book Worm who read the majority of them!

      Liked by 1 person

      January 10, 2017
      • The Reading Bug #

        Brideshead is obviously a bit more serious than Decline, but definitely still worth reading.

        Liked by 1 person

        January 10, 2017
  2. great format!

    Liked by 1 person

    January 10, 2017
  3. Tracy S #

    I have to split with BW on That They May Face the Risind Sun- I loved the quiet writing style! And I was surprised to like Age of Innocence, since I really didn’t like Ethan Frome. My favorite of this group has to be Decline and Fall- it was a hoot!

    Liked by 1 person

    January 10, 2017
  4. I have The Age of Innocence to read – I am sure I have read it once but it couldnt have made much of an impression if I did….


    January 11, 2017
  5. I read Decline and Fall in secondary school and loved it. It’s the book that awakened an abiding live for Evelyn Waugh’s writing. I read A Handful of Dust, Scoop!, and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold at the same time, all equally brilliant.

    I love Edith Wharton. Ethan Frome is one of my favourites. I’ve read The Age of Innocence, and also two other society novels – The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country. I have Shari Benstock’s biography of her, as well, which is excellent.

    Death in Venice was only okay for me. I didn’t warm to the central character and it felt like Mann was more interested in appearing clever than in writing a novel.

    I like the sound of Embers.


    January 17, 2017

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