On The Beach by Nevil Shute – A Review

Nevil Shute’s classic post-apocalyptic novel On The Beach is an unemotional look at the aftermath of a worldwide nuclear war.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute
Post-Apocalyptic
Released July 1, 1957
Published by Vintage International
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach officially wins the award for the most disappointing book that I’ve ever read.

I’ve said a million times that post-apocalyptic fiction is my favorite genre. Books like The Road, Station Eleven, and The Stand always give me chills.

On the Beach is a well-known classic of the genre. I’m honestly shocked that it took me so long to finally read it.

The novel was written after Nevil Shute, both an author and aeronautical engineer, moved from the U.K. to Australia. Set a year after a devastating worldwide nuclear war, a group of survivors in Melbourne, Australia live out their final days as a cloud of fatal radiation spreads across the Earth.

The characters deal with their impending demise in quite different ways. A young couple, Lieutenant Peter Holmes and his wife Mary, make plans for a garden; US Commander Dwight Towers attends to his naval duties, despite the US Navy no longer existing; Moria Davidson spends much of her time drinking; Professor John Osborne fulfills his lifelong desire to drive a racecar.

Shute’s book is very much a character-driven novel as opposed to a plot-driven one. There’s actually very little plot. We follow these characters as they attempt to live their lives as much as they are able to in what little time they have left. Meanwhile, the nuclear apocalypse that has taken place and destroyed the world is little more than an afterthought and plot device.

Nevil Shute
Author Nevil Shute

I found the novel dreadfully boring, and the characters had so little emotion that I was unable to care about them. The entire book felt detached to me. I had gotten my hopes up based on seeing how much praise the book had received. Here’s a paragraph from the book’s Wikipedia page, just to give you an idea:

Historian David McCullough, writing for The New York Times, called On the Beach “the most haunting evocation we have of a world dying of radiation after an atomic war.” The San Francisco Chronicle called it “the most shocking fiction I have read in years. What is shocking about it is both the idea and the sheer imaginative brilliance with which Mr. Shute brings it off.” Daily Telegraph called it “Shute’s most considerable achievement”, and The Times stated that it is “the most evocative novel on the aftermath of a nuclear war.” The Guardian commented that “fictions such as On the Beach played an important role in raising awareness about the threat of nuclear war. We stared into the abyss and then stepped back from the brink.” The Los Angeles Times described the novel as “timely and ironic… an indelibly sad ending that leaves you tearful and disturbed”, and The Economist called it “still incredibly moving after nearly half a century.”

My frustration grew as I read further into the novel. The main reason for this was Shute’s habit of building up an event that’s about to happen and then skipping over it entirely. For example, Commander Towers leads his submarine on a tour of the western coast of the U.S. up to Seattle, where strange radio signals have been detected. No one should have been able to survive in North America. Shute writes about the preparations for the journey, but then literally skips most of the trip until they get to Seattle. We get a brief look at one building in the city, where the radio tower is, and then they’re back in Australia. There’s more time spent on the characters drinking and fixing a race car than on the journey to America or on anything having to do with the apocalypse.

As I already mentioned, this is a character-driven story, so in a way I understand it. However, the characters are so flat that there needed to be some sort of plot to make up for it, and there wasn’t.

One aspect of the characters that I found hard to fathom was their unnatural calmness. They’re the last people in the world, and no one seems all that upset. There’s no rioting in the streets, hardly any crying, and people seem to just not care. I found it extremely unrealistic.

The science in this book is far from realistic, but I can’t hold that against it. Nuclear science and radiation weren’t fully understood in the 1950s when this book was written.

There are so many better post-apocalyptic novels out there, so I can’t recommend this one. I was so sad to discover how plain this novel was and how unemotional the writing felt. There have been two films made based on On the Beach, and I might give those a try, but as for the novel, save your time and read something else.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – A Review

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Horror | Classics | Gothic
Published by Penguin
Released September 21st, 1962
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Shirley Jackson is one of those authors whose books I’ve had on my TBR list for years, but never got around to reading. Which is odd, because I adore Gothic horror. Jackson is also the creator of the popular horror novel The Haunting of Hill House, as well as plenty of other similar books.

I had grand plans for my Halloween TBR, but all that ended up not happening when my bipolar disorder took a turn towards a depressive episode and we had to move at the end of the month. I was determined, however, to at least read some spooky books, and since We Have Always Lived in the Castle is relatively short, under 150 pages, it was a perfect choice.

Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson

I feel the need to preface this review by explaining something about my personality: I have very macabre fascinations and a dark sense of humor. I tend to be attracted to books and characters that have dark or nefarious qualities to them.

That personality trait hopefully explains why I was hooked on this book by the end of the first paragraph:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I disklike watching myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

What a way to start a novel!

The book is about two sisters, Mary Katherine and Constance, who live in their large ancestral home with their Uncle Julian. The rest of their family died many years previously, and Constance stood trial for poisoning them but was eventually acquitted.

After the death of their family, Constance stopped leaving the house and the townspeople actively started to dislike the remaining members of the Blackwood family, even going so far as to create a macabre song to remind them of the murders:

“Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!”

The small family keeps to themselves until things begin to change with the arrival of their cousin Charles. Eventually, there’s a haunting confrontation between the sisters and the townsfolk.

WeHaveAlwaysLivedInTheCastle.jpg
The first edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle

One of the most noticeable themes of this novel is agoraphobia, which is a phobia in which a person cannot leave their home and avoids any sort of uncomfortable situation. While Mary Katerine, nicknamed “Merricat,” heads into the town twice a week in order to pick up groceries and library books, Constance hasn’t left the house since the trial for the murder of her family. The sisters are terrified of outsiders and live in a fenced-off world all their own.

I’m not sure if any Stanley Kubrick fans are going to be reading this, but I was reminded of his films while reading this novel. Not due to the story being at all similar to any of the fantastic films he directed, but because of the anti-people cynicism that pervades the entire story.

Many of Kubrick’s films show the darker side of humanity, such as my favorite of his, Full Metal JacketSo many writers and artists strive to show the good of humanity, where people come together in times of need, overcoming prejudices and fears to embrace kindness and cooperation. Like Kubrick’s films, however, Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle displays how terrible people can be. The townspeople constantly heckle Merricat when she’s in the town on her trips to the grocery store, and there’s a particular scene towards the end of the novel where we are shown just how horrible people can be, especially in a mob setting. At its core, this novel shows how communities ostracize people deemed to be “other” or outsiders, and how it affects those targeted.

We-Have-Always-Lived-in-the-Castle.jpg

In more modern times, fiction has embraced mental illness, showing the struggles of sufferers and focusing on how people overcome these sometimes debilitating conditions to live the lives they desire. This novel, however, shows two sisters who live without treating their mental illnesses, and how their conditions are exacerbated by a hateful community and a lack of resources. It was fascinating to see this other side of mental illness displayed in a novel.

I read this book in less than 24 hours, and I know that this is going to become not only one of my favorite books of all time but one that I’ll read over and over again. The mystery and atmosphere of the novel combined with its themes and characters left such an impact on me that I’ve been almost constantly thinking about it since finishing it. It’s also inspired me to start reading her other works, which I’ve already reserved at my library.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was Shirley Jackson’s final published work before her death three years later in 1965. It’s a masterpiece of a novel to go out on, and a book that will stick around for decades to come.


Have you read We Have Always Lived in the Castle or any of Shirley Jackson’s other works? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!




Don’t forget to follow me on social media:

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Amazon Wishlist

If you would like to support Read Yourself Happy, you can donate through Ko-Fi!

 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – A Review

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott FItzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Classic Literature | Fiction
Published by Scribner
Released April 10, 1925
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

The first time I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby I was in the tenth grade. It was assigned reading for my AP English class. I absolutely hated it. Looking back on that time, I feel that fifteen is too young an age to read this novel. You really need more life experience in order to appreciate it.

In my early-to-mid twenties (I can’t remember exactly), I decided to give this classic American novel a second chance, and I’m so glad that I did. The second time around, I adored it, and I’ve read it multiple times since then. It has become one of my all-time favorite novels.

If you aren’t familiar with the plot of The Great Gatsby, it takes place in the mid-1920s, so it was a contemporary novel when it was released. It deals with a number of important themes, such as the excess of the “roaring twenties,” idealism, and obsession.

93914e37-dc4b-4cf8-bdc1-c713aeb1c383.jpg
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, and “Scottie” Fitzgerald

The story takes place in a fictional part of Long Island, NY. There are two neighborhoods, called West Egg and East Egg, and both are filled with rich, successful people. Our narrator, Nick Carraway, moves to a small cottage on West Egg, next door to a huge, extravagant mansion owned by the mysterious Jay Gatsby.

Jay Gatsby’s past is a topic of much gossip, as his true identity is murky at best. However, this does little to hurt his reputation. He’s a favorite among the higher classes as he throws huge parties frequently at his mansion, and all sorts of rich and famous people flock there every week.

Nick and Gatsby get to know one another throughout the novel, and we discover that Gatsby is in love with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan. Saying that Gatsby is in love with Daisy is a pretty significant understatement – he’s not in love as much as he’s obsessed with the thought of her. They knew one another years before, and Gatsby has built his life around the idea of her, going so far as to build his enormous mansion directly across the bay from her and her husband’s home on East Egg. The rest of the novel involves Gatsby and Daisy finally encountering one another after many years.

Let’s talk about the themes that I mentioned earlier – excess, idealism, and obsession. These all go hand-in-hand with one another. The 1920s in America was a time of extravagance for the wealthy who could afford it, and we see that in The Great Gatsby. Huge mansions, fancy cars, luxurious clothes – the characters in the novel (excepting Nick) are all obsessed with these things, and use them as status symbols amongst their peers. Gatsby, especially, uses his wealth to try to impress Daisy, as that’s really the only thing that matters to him.

The last bit, about Daisy being the only important thing in his life, leads us to the second and third themes of idealism and obsession. Jay Gatsby has literally spent the last five years of his life trying to build himself up to be something that Daisy would fall in love with. It’s his drive in life and nothing else seems to matter to him. He has put Daisy on such a high pedestal that she cannot possibly live up to his idealized version of her. This leads to feelings of Gatsby’s disillusionment and disappointment in the latter half of the novel.

I’m not going to discuss how the story ends despite its being a classic, because I feel that everyone should read this short, important novel. Now that I’ve read this novel as an adult, and have a few unhealthy relationships in my past, I can appreciate this book more than I could have when I was fifteen.

I recommend this novel to literally everyone. I’m convinced that everyone can read this book and take something away from it. If you haven’t read it, please do so.


Have you read The Great Gatsby? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!




Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram | Amazon Wishlist

If you would like to support Read Yourself Happy, you can donate through Ko-Fi!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – A Review

15994711.jpg

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Classic Literature | Romance
Released January 28, 1813
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Pride and Prejudice is the most well-known of Jane Austen’s novels, and the sort of book that most people read in high school. For whatever reason, I didn’t read any of Austen’s novels in school, though, after reading it now, I wish I had.

When I finally picked up Pride and Prejudice a few days ago, I assumed I would appreciate it, but I didn’t know that I was absolutely going to love it. I couldn’t put it down.

Pride and Prejudice is the original hate-to-love story. Our heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, meets Mr. Darcy when his friend Mr. Bingley moves into a large estate near the Bennets. Elizabeth’s mother is an annoying woman obsessed with marrying off her five daughters, and after hearing of Mr. Bingley’s wealth, is convinced that one of her daughters will marry him.

The eldest Bennet daughter, Jane, does indeed catch the eye of Mr. Bingley, and it seems like they are heading down the path to matrimony. During balls and social gatherings, Elizabeth learns to loathe Mr. Bingley’s friend, Mr. Darcy, believing him to be arrogant.

Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr. Darcy becomes even more sour when she meets a soldier named George Wickham, who tells Elizabeth of how Mr. Darcy has kept Wickham from riches promised to him from Mr. Darcy’s late father.

The rest of the story is Elizabeth learning that she shouldn’t make snap judgments about people. She soon learns that Wickham isn’t who he claims to be, and she’s horrified to find out that her first impression of Mr. Darcy is far from the truth.

Elizabeth Bennet is such a wonderful female character, especially once you consider that the novel was written in the early 1800s. At a time when it was expected for women to be meek and dutiful wives, Elizabeth isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She also values truth, honesty, and doing the right thing, all of which are wonderful virtues. I feel as though Elizabeth’s character is one of the reasons Pride and Prejudice is as popular as it is.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

The most important theme in Pride and Prejudice is the idea of marrying for love, rather than to improve wealth or status. In the 1800s when the story takes place, marrying for love was quite rare. The relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is contrasted by the marriage of Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas, who marries a man she does not love simply because she is afraid of becoming a burden to her family, and she is convinced that she cannot afford the luxury of marrying for love.

There was so much I adored about this novel. The language, while archaic, was beautiful, and I loved that the book gives the reader such a grand view of life in the early 1800s. The story is engaging and kept me guessing, although I assume most people have more knowledge of the story than I did going into it (which was essentially none at all). The ending left me smiling.

The day after finishing the book, I watched the film adaptation featuring Kiera Knightly. While I enjoyed the film a great deal, it was far from as good as the novel.

I adored Pride and Prejudice, and it’s made me want to dive into all of Austen’s other works. If you have recommendations for which of her novels I should read next, let me know in the comments!


As an aside, there’s an amazing Thug Notes video about Pride and PrejudiceI recommend watching it.




Don’t forget to follow me on social media:

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram | Amazon Wishlist

If you would like to support Read Yourself Happy, you can donate through Ko-Fi!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling – A Review

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Middle Grade | Fantasy | Classic Literature
Goodreads | Amazon
Published by Scholastic
Released June 26, 1997
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

I was eleven years old when the first Harry Potter book came out in the United States. I grew up with the series, eagerly awaiting each next book. When the 800+ page fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released, I read the entire book in a single day because I refused to do anything else. The series will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope that if I have children one day, I can pass that love onto them.

I’ve been wanting to reread this series for so long. I reread it once in my early twenties, and now that I’m in my early thirties, I thought it would be a good time to do so again. My house burned down when I was 19, so I lost all of my original copies, but I found this set on Amazon of the hardcovers that came in a cute trunk and purchased it.

rae-tian-511905-unsplash.jpg

When I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone this time around,I was worried that I might have outgrown it. These are middle-grade books from twenty years ago, after all. I needn’t have worried, however. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked all over again and felt as intrigued and excited as I did when I was eleven and reading it for the first time.

I’m assuming you know what the plot of Harry Potter is, so I’ll jump straight into the review.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first and shortest book of the collection. It follows Harry and his new friends during their first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

One of the first things I noticed on this reread was my absolute fury towards the Dursleys for the child abuse they constantly throw Harry’s way. When I read the book at eleven years old, I know this wasn’t something that I would have paid much attention to, as I was more focused on the magic and the creatures and wanting my own wand. As an adult, however, the level of abuse shook me. As a result, when Harry gets to leave and go to Hogwarts, despite the protests of his adopted family, I felt a wonderful sense of relief for him.

juniperphoton-716294-unsplash.jpg

The Harry Potter novels are the only books I’ve read by J. K. Rowling, but I’ve always loved the pacing of these books and her writing style in them. Nothing in the books is unnecessary or pointless fluff – every word matters. There’s also a great deal of foreshadowing that you might not pick up on during your first read through. That’s always a trait I love in books and it made the story move at a steady and fast pace.

The story is sad, funny, infuriating, and endearing all at once. Each character has their own distinct motivations and personalities that bring them to life. They’re courageous and imperfect, making plenty of mistakes along the way, but do the right thing in the end. I was reminded in this reread that Hagrid is one of my favorite characters, at least in this first book. His loyalty to Hogwarts and to Harry is wonderful and he’s so full of life.

I knew before reading this that I would be sticking with my rating of five stars. Its status as a modern classic is well-deserved.

This month I’m going to be picking up the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsI can’t wait to continue this journey!




Don’t forget to follow me on social media:

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram | Amazon Wishlist

If you would like to support Read Yourself Happy, you can donate through Ko-Fi!

20 Classic Books for Children’s Book Day

20 Classic Children's Books

Today is Children’s Book Day, which was started by the International Board on Books for Young People in 1967.

I still remember my favorite books from childhood, as I imagine most people do. The books we read as children can stick with us through adulthood.

Here are twenty classic children’s books to celebrate today. Is your favorite left out? If it is, let me know what it is in the comments!


Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

19543

I read this book so many times when I was in elementary school. I reread it last year and it still holds as much magic as it did for me back then. The art in this book is really what makes it stand out.


Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

30119

Aside from The Hobbit, Shel Silverstein’s books were probably the ones I read the most. He writes children’s poetry, and it’s immensely fun.


Charlotte’s Webb by E.B. White

24178

First published in 1952, this book is a real classic. While most of us have seen the movie, it’s worth reading the novel too.


The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

370493.jpg

I obviously can’t include just one Shel Silverstein book. This book teaches an important lesson and is a moving story even as an adult.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

17238358.jpg

Pretty much everyone has seen the movie (the original, not that travesty that came after), but trust me, the book is better.


Corduroy by Don Freeman

231850.jpg

I never read this book as a child, but when I asked my boyfriend what his favorite children’s books were, this was the first one he mentioned.


Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe

281235

I never read Bunnicula as a child. I read it for the first time last year and really enjoyed it. Click here in you want to read my review.


The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

420282

Like Corduroy, this is another book that my boyfriend loved as a child and that I’ve never read. It looks adorable though, so perhaps I’ll give it a read around Christmas time.


The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

233093

What child hasn’t read and loved the most classic of classic children’s books? This book is simply iconic.


Goosebumps by R.L. Stine

125553

Despite the first book coming out nearly thirty years ago, the scary stories contained in each Goosebumps book is still perfect for kids today. Also, does anyone else remember how much fun the choose-your-own-adventure books were?


Animorphs by K.A. Applegate

776877

I’m including the Animorphs series because I was obsessed with these books. I read every single one as they came out, and they were my first introduction to science fiction, which quickly became my favorite genre.


Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

23772.jpg

Another Dr. Seuss classic. Did anyone else’s mother put green food coloring in the eggs after reading this?


The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Debbie Daley

19435

There are so many of these books! I had never read them before my boyfriend told me about them, and I read one last year. They’re adorable books that I would have enjoyed as a kid.


Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

191139

I promise this is the last Dr. Seuss book on the list! It’s so hard not to include all of his books because they are all wonderful and whimsical!


The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright

1001896

Published in 1916, you don’t get more classic than the tales of Mother Goose. These stories are usually some of the first that children are introduced to.


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

157993.jpg

I remember my mother talking about this book, although I’ve never actually read it. From what I’ve heard, it’s a great story for both children and adults.


The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

19321.jpg

When I was really young, my grandparents gave me a three-set collection of the Peter Rabbit books. When my house burned down when I was 19, that set was one of the things I was most upset about losing.


Matilda by Roald Dahl

39988.jpg

Another Roald Dahl book! The film adaptation of Matilda came out when I was a kid, and it was immensely popular in our elementary school. How can you not love a children’s book about a kid who loves to read?


The Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett

Out of all of the books on this list, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden are the books that meant the most to me growing up. I have no idea how many times I read them, but I would always get lost in the story and imagine that it was me living these adventures.


What were your favorite childhood books?