Category Archives: Blogging

The Count of Monte Cristo: Chapters 1-4

Greetings, dear reader. I wrote in a previous blog that it was my plan to read Alexandre Dumas pere‘s classic adventure novel The Count of Monte Cristo over the course of the next couple of months, taking it three or four chapters at a time. Well, the time has come. Today, I will focus on the opening four chapters of this mammoth 118 chapter long novel. As stated earler, the edition I’m reading from Canterbury Classics, and was published in 2013. I picked it up from Amazon before Christmas for about $15. It has a soft faux-leather cover, and it’s pretty.

The story begins on the morning of February 24, 1815. The date itself is important for historical reasons, but it’s not yet apparent to the characters we meet in these initial chapters why this is. Edmond Dantes disembarks the merchant ship Pharaon at Marseilles. He’s had an eventful journey which took in unscheduled stops at the islands of Monte Cristo and, more importantly for the story, Elba, where a certain former emperor of France lies in exile. Dantes lands there because his fatally ill captain, Leclere, wishes to deliver a package to Napoleon’s marshall. In return he is to take a letter to Paris. Dantes, out of fealty to his captain, agrees to continue this mission when Leclere passes away from a brain fever. Dantes is a good man, but he doesn’t ask the obvious question, and this lands him in huge trouble on home soil.

In double quick time, we meet the Conspirators, and their individual reasons for wanting Dantes out of their lives. Because Dantes acquitted himself well when his captain died (he’s the ship’s mate when we’re introduced to him), his employer wants to make him captain. For one so young (Dantes is barely in his twenties), this is a dream come true. M. Danglars, the supercargo (representative of the owner on board the Pharaon), took a dislike to Dantes from the off and is none too pleased about this rapid promotion. When Dantes goes to see his elderly father, he is horrified to find out that the money he left with his dad to take care of himself while Dantes was at sea, was given instead to their neighbour Caderousse, a drunkard, because of a debt he and Dantes had. The elder Dantes was forced to live on 60 francs for three months. There’s not even a bottle of wine in the house. When Caderousse finds out that Edmond is back, he sees another opportunity to squeeze the man and his father for more money.

Edmond is still unaware of how his return to land and his apparent rise up the ranks sits badly with some of the men around him. No sooner has he said hi to his dad, he’s away to Catalan to meet up with the love of his life, Mercedes Herrera. Unfortunately for Edmond, he has a rival for the young woman’s affections, her cousin Fernand Mondego. He urges Mercedes not to marry outside her Catalan community, but she’s not having it. She practically falls into Edmond’s arms when he interrupts their awkward conversation. Mercedes expects the two men to become fast friends, but neither men like the cut of the other’s jib (and that’s putting it mildly).

As Edmond and Mercedes look at each other all doe-eyed and begin planning a quick wedding, Fernand, Caderousse, and Danglars drown their collective sorrows over several bottles of wine at a nearby tavern. So how do they solve a problem like Dantes? Simple: they plan to set him up. They realise killing him is out of the question because Mercedes implies that if anything were to happen to Edmond, she would take her own life. Danglars forges a letter to the king’s attorney, telling of Edmond’s planned trip to Paris to deliver a letter on behalf of the usurped emperor. Fernand takes the letter and heads off to the capital, ready to accuse the young man of treason.

So we’re off to a flying start, and we’re only 28 pages in. Dumas wastes very little time in setting up his tale of adventure, betrayal, and revenge. We know Edmond is in for a boat-load of trouble, and we’re unable to warn him and Mercedes. The plot is afoot, and the next few chapters await us.

2020 and All That.

2020 has been the most challenging year many of us have ever faced. Even if we haven’t lost someone close to us, we know someone or a family who has. It’s been a lot. But while the new year won’t bring us a hallelujah moment immediately, it’s important to note that although the light at the end of the tunnel is still far away, we’re moving ever closer to it. We still have to take care of ourselves and those around us, and not do anything silly that could jeopardise our futures.

I’m not going to get all introspective. We each have our own stories to tell about year about to pass, some more heart-breaking than others. But we’re still here. We survived so far. And 2021 is right around the corner.

I’m not one for New Year Resolutions. In fact I got very little done during the year, and it was only in the last month that I put myself in front of my laptop and created this blog. I count that as a win. I read plenty of books, and my TBR pile is gargantuan. But I’ll get through most of them.

Authors and their agents have begun emailing me and DMing me on Twitter, politely requesting reviews for their currently published and upcoming books. I’m cockahoop with joy about this. I intend to get through as many as I can, taking into account I’ve got my own stuff to do this year. (Yes, 2021 will be the year I finish my own novel’s first and, if I’m diligent, second draft of the novel that’s been in my head and computer for years.) I owe it to myself to do this. So, I’ve plenty to look forward to. I think we all need a goal for 2021, even if that goal is personal rather than professional.

I hope that we can, sometime in 2021, go see a movie, eat out at restaurants, and be close to family and friends. We’re human, and there’s nothing more human than being around other people who make us feel good. A lot of us haven’t seen our parents, grandparents, andsignificant others for a long time. But we need to hold out just a little while longer. The wait, I know, will be worth it. We have to do better for ourselves and each other. Also we need to be kind to ourselves and each other. Events of the last year have changed us: it is my hope that they’ve changed us for the better. Time will tell.

So, for my part, I will continue to read, write, and take better care of myself. I have a feeling 2021 will be a banner year for me and the people I love and care about. Let each of us do our part. Live. Learn. Love. Read. Listen to music. Dance and sing. Let us be responsible. Let us welcome in 2021 with hope, but never forget the lessons of 2020.

Happy New Year to you and yours. I’ll see you on the other side for more book reviews, book-related essays, and of course, my attempt to read The Count of Monte Cristo a few chapters at a time. Stay tuned.

Gotta Read A Classic

Back in 1982, Adrian Gurvitz, a British singer-songwriter, recorded a song called Classic. If you remember the 80s well (and I do), you might know this tune. In it, Gurvitz says he’s going to write a classic novel, in his attic, as a way of dealing with his broken heart. It’s a nice song, and it sat with me at the time. I too longed to write my own classic, having had my heart broken so many damn times. I may still do, though my heart is set fare, fully mended and settled with Her Ladyship.

Going back further in time, I’m sure most of you had to read classic novels as part of your curriculum. I recall drudging through Charles Dickens’ Hard Times in particular. But one English teacher recommended the class read John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and Richard Adams’ Watership Down as side exercises. I enjoyed these better. Since school, though, I’ve found it difficult to read literature from bygone eras. My attempt to read Moby Dick failed more than once, and the less said about James Joyce’s Ulysses the better. I hadn’t the stomach for either of these classics.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I would like to, at some point, read Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m sure we’re all reasonably familiar with the basic story. Edward Dante is wrongly accused and convicted of treason by jealous rivals, and sentenced to life imprisonment on the island of Chateau d’If. Following a brave escape, he comes into great wealth, takes on a new identity, and then spends a number of years plotting revenge against those who betrayed him. I’ve seen the 2002 movie version and I enjoyed it. Now, 18 years later, I’m about to take on the book itself.

I ordered a copy online and it arrived yesterday. The edition I have was published in 2013 by Canterbury Classics, and is 1,055 pages long. The book contains 118 chapters, and if I get through it, it will be among the longest titles I’ll have ever read. (I think the longest book I’ve read is Stephen King’s complete and uncut edition of The Stand, which clocked in at 1,152 pages.)

So here’s the plan, dear reader and follower: I would like to read The Count of Monte Cristo along with you, if you’d like. I will read at least two or three chapters at a time, then post my thoughts and review each time. It’ll be a challenge that will kickstart 2021, and if I’m successful in my endeavours, I will continue the trend with another novel, many one that some of you will chose for me. There will be a post at least once a week, aside from my regular reviews and articles. I’m looking forward to it, as well as being slightly daunted by what’s ahead. But at least it’s not Ulysses. Come along for the ride. I would appreciate the company.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a safe, merry, and healthy Christmas. Watch out for each other. Don’t do anything foolish, and I’ll see you all on the other side. Take care and be well.

James

Childhood Christmas Books

I think I was about six or seven years old when I found out there was no real Santa Claus. I shrugged when the realisation hit me. It came about when I found a bag of books and toys hidden in my parents’ wardrobe (don’t ask me what I was looking for at the time; I can’t remember). My mother found out and came clean. To be honest, I was more interested in the books.

I can’t recall what titles they were. I just know that at the time I read pretty much everything Enid Blyton wrote, from The Famous Five to The Secret Seven, and beyond. (I stayed away from Noddy because he just wasn’t my thing.) I loved the adventure, the derring-do, and the sheer upper-class Britishness of Blyton’s books despite me being Irish, and I don’t think there was an Irish writer at the time who did what Blyton was doing. I am ready to be corrected, though. This is just my memory.

Every Christmas I would get books from my parents. About a month before the holidays I was given x amount of money to spend on books, and I would walk up to a nearby shopping centre where the only bookstore within a manageable distance was located. The store was called Books Unlimited and there I found a corner of joy in a world that was at the time, in the mid-to-late 1970s, going mad. (SPOILER: It’s still going mad.) As the seasons passed, my reading tastes changed. I left Enid behind and graduated straight to adult class literature. Smugglers Top was replaced by the Orient Express and mysterious goings-on at Styles. I devoured Agatha Christie, who is to this day, the best-selling crime novelist of all time. My wife and I would listen to podcasts dedicated to Dame Agatha’s books, particularly All About Agatha, hosted by Kemper Donovan and Catherine Brobeck. My wife would also listen to Christmas themed stories on audio at night time. (I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard Hercules Poirot and The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding this month.)

Later years would see me pick up every action thriller written by the great Alistair MacLean. I’m sure many of you will have seen the movie adaptations of some MacLean’s books, especially The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare, but the books are where it all began. He was a prolific writer, and while his characters and dialogue would be considered tropish in this day and age, you can imagine the thrill I got when I started a new story. At the time, there was no writer like him, even if the likes of Len Deighton and Hammond Innes were, without question, better at the craft.

Then, with the popularity of horror fiction coming in the wake of the blockbusting success of The Exorcist and The Omen, I read books of terror and dread into the small hours of the morning. I discovered Graham Masterton, who still publishes to this day. (In fact, I have a new book by Masterton on my NetGalley shelf, which I will read and review ahead of its publication this coming February.)

So, for me, Christmas was as much about new books as it was about food and family. And I love to think back to how it all started, with Enid, with Agatha, with Alistair, and how I looked forward to finally getting my hands on the books that had been bought by me and for me in the run up to Christmas Day. This year I can’t wait to open up the present I bought myself. More on that later.

My Year in Books and Sudoku: 2020

As we’re just weeks away from throwing 2020 into the trashcan, many websites and media outlets are doing what they can to throw a positive spin on what has been a tumultous time for citizens of this planet of ours. It’s a hard task, I know. Many of you reading this will have been directly affected by the pandemic that wreaked havoc on the way we live our lives. Some of you will have lost someone dear, and are still unable to grieve properly because of national and international social restrictions. Life hasn’t been fair, and while we see a chink of light in the near distant future, we’re still anxious as hell.

(Image: Literary Hub)

But we found ways to cope. For me, while I was apart from my family in the US, I gained solace in three things. I put a lot of effort into cooking and baking, not just for me but for my family in Ireland. Cooking for others is a sure-fire way of showing love and gratitude, and it’s something I’ve done quite a lot of this year. The second thing to give me comfort just when I needed it is a YouTube website called Cracking The Cryptic. Thanks to an article from The Guardian in May, I came across two English gentlemen, Simon Anthony and Mark Goodliffe, who live solve complex puzzles twice daily. During the course of this year, they picked up so many subscribers to their channel that they now have over 303,000 followers, with one particular video attaining over 2.1 million views. They work hard on their content, and are a joy to watch. Because of them, I now attempt theNew York Times Hard Sudoku a few times a week. We take our comfort where we find it, and if it ends up being good for our brain, well, all the better.

Thirdly, and just as important, there wasn’t a time when I wasn’t reading a book. I started the year finishing off Stephen Donaldson’s Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and began my journey to more than 40 books read in a calender year. Not a record, though: a few years back I managed over 50. One of the highlights of my reading year was James S.A. Corey’s science-fiction series The Expanse. I read books two through eight consecutively, touching nothing else until I was done. Now, like all Expanse fans, I wait for the new season to drop on Amazon in a matter of days, and the release of the ninth and final book in the series, Leviathan Falls, next year. Right now, I’m reading Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark‘s new novella. I’ll post a review of this brilliant piece of dark fantasy in a future blog.

Throughout the short life of this blog, I’ve written about many of the books and authors I’ve encountered this year. Very few, if any, let me down. And I read everything I started, including the bad boy of the bunch, Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery, a book with a reveal so racist and disgusting, it will be a long time before I try anything from that era again. But it did lead me to Martin Edwards and his Rachel Savernake series, so at least some good came out of it. I enjoyed books mainly in the mystery, thriller, and sci-fi/fantasy genre. It was the kind of year where I needed the escapism, and I doubt 2021 will change my approach. Hooking up with NetGalley allows me to request books pre-publication, and I have Caldwell Turnbull’s hotly anticpated follow-up to The Lesson, No Gods, No Monsters, to look forward to early in the New Year.

So, do I have any favourites, any book I would urge you to read right now, out of all the ones I’ve read this year so far? Well, I’ve written about Anthony Horowitz twice already, so his books and series are always a good place to start. Mary Robinette Howal’s Lady Astronaut series will always have a special place in my heart, combining science fiction and alternate history with some whip-smart and hard-hitting social commentary. Get on these if you haven’t already. Steve Cavanagh continues to knock it out of the park with his Eddie Flynn series: Fifty-Fifty was yet another stunning legal thriller that very much kept to the high standards of previous instalments. Shout-outs to Kellye Garrett and Rachel Howzell Hall for providing me and their fans with a hefty dose of LA-centred crime fiction. Their characters and prose kept me up and entertained many a long night this year. I especially loved Rachel’s And Now She’s Gone, but I can’t wait to see what Kellye has in store for us in 2021.

For the year that was in it, Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe quartet was a dream to read, and a nightmare to contemplate. I still want Rudy to cook all my dinners, though.

I hope to read at least 50 books in the forthcoming year, and it will give me great pleasure to talk about them on this website. I would appreciate the company, but with the world being the way it is right now, we’re all we’ve got and we need to stick together. Let’s live, love, read, and enjoy, and never stop caring for each other. Well done for making it through so far. I’ll see you on the other side.