BTT: Endings

Last week's Booking Through Thursday question was about memorable first lines from books. This week's question is quite similar, but I find it a lot more difficult to answer this one.

What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?

A lot of people mentioned last week that they hardly ever notice opening sentences. I look for interesting opening sentences, which is why I made a long list of favourite opening sentences. (Btw, why hasn't anyone recognised that last one? And here I was, thinking it was too easy...)

This question, however, wouldn't make much sense unless we change "final sentences" to "endings". No author is going to worry too much about how the last sentence is going to sound; it's the beginning that might catch (or not) somebody's attention. But endings are still very important, in that sometimes people might end up hating an excellent book just because the ending was bad.

If I really had to mention a famous last line, I'd say nothing can beat "they lived happily ever after", although I don't remember any book that actually ended that way. Nor do I remember one that starts with "once upon a time..." even though you could call it one of the most famous opening sentences. ;-)

Anyway, coming to our question, I can't say I have ever radically changed my opinion about a book because of the ending. There are many books, where I was disappointed with the way things were wrapped up. Bel Canto (review) is a perfect example of that. The book was rather good, but the ending came as something of a shock. The epilogue of the book just didn't fit in with the rest of the story.

A similar case is the last Harry Potter book. I didn't exactly hate the epilogue, but the story was wrapped up well by the end of the final chapter and the epilogue looked rather out of place. But both cases, the endings didn't make me like the books any less.

As for really good endings, I loved the way Nicholas Sparks left room for hope at the end of A Walk to Remember by giving an ambiguous ending.

Frederick Forsyth is an author who writes some great endings. His book, The Devil's Alternative waits till the very last paragraph to reveal the biggest plot twist. Now that's how a book should end.

I couldn't think of any last sentences from books, except for the "all was well" from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Do you remember any last sentences from books? And could a good last sentence have the kind of impact a great opening sentence has?

Review: Dark Tower 1 - The Gunslinger (Stephen King)

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Thus begins the first book of the series that Stephen King calls his magnus opus. And that one sentence almost completely describes the plot of the entire book. Except for occasional flashbacks, the story is mostly about the gunslinger pursuing a mysterious man in black.

The Gunslinger is a mixture of horror and fantasy and is set in an alternative world. Nothing much is said about this world except that it resembles the American Old West and it is described as "a world that has moved on". This book forms the first part of the Dark Tower series.

The title character is Roland Deschlain, the last surviving member in a long line of gunslingers. Stephen King has said that this character was largely inspired by the "Man With No Name", the character played by Clint Eastwood in the western films trilogy directed by Sergio Leone. He has also identified Robert Browning's poem, "Childe Roland and the Dark Tower" as the major inspiration for the Dark Tower series.

The plot of the novel looks disjointed at places, which is because many of the chapters used in the book were actually short stories published earlier by King. The details about Roland's character and his world that this book gives seems inadequate, given that it practically is the introduction to the series that runs into about 3700 pages.

The story moves along very slowly, which isn't a bad thing here really, because it gives us a chance to take in the world that King has created. It's always a pleasure to step into a world different from our own, especially when a skillful author creates it. Although the picture that King has painted of this world isn't complete, it still is good enough to not hinder our enjoyment of the book.

Roland's character is interesting and mysterious, but too complex to be instantly likeable. His motives are never fully explained and his determination to reach his goals, without regard to other people's lives didn't help me feel more sympathetic towards him either.

There aren't too many characters in the story, but one of them, a boy called Jake Chambers, belonged to our world, but went on to Roland's world after his death. He is the only link between the two worlds, but how he got there too isn't explained.

I liked the novel all right, but am not convinced if it was the right way to begin the series. At the end of the book, there are quite a few questions left unanswered. I expected this book to give more of an idea about what is to come in the sequels, but disappointingly, that isn't the case. But then, we can also argue that not revealing much about the series so early is a good way to ensure that the reader is eagerly awaiting the next part.

Rating. 6/10

Review: Confessions of an Ex-Girlfriend (Lynda Curnyn)

The ex-girlfriend is Emma Carter, a woman living in New York who has just broken up with her boyfriend. She works as an editor in a bridal magazine, so she is constantly surrounded by images of wedded bliss and that makes it that much harder for her to accept the fact that she is now an "ex-girlfriend".

Emma herself narrates the story of her life as she gets used to being single again in New York City. Every few pages there are confessions she makes about her lifestyle such as "Confession: I haven't spent Saturday night alone for two years." Her friends Alyssa and Jade try to help her out but they too are facing problems of their own.

The characters were funny and interesting to read about. The tone of the book was sarcastic and it was an easy book to read, but midway through the book I started feeling less enthusiastic about it than I had at first. Reading about three people complaining about their lives all the time starts getting irritating after a while. And it was so easy to guess exactly how the book ends that reading it felt like a waste.

Except for the humour (that too got boring after a while) I didn't like the book all that much after the first few chapters. Most guys won't like it much; it's a book primarily aimed at women who have been in Emma's position at some point. Chick-Lit is the word used to describe this genre. I'm in no hurry to pick up another book of the genre at the moment.

Rating. 5/10

BTT: Memorable First Lines

Here's this week's question on Booking Through Thursday. And thanks Deb, for using another one of my suggestions. :)

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

Many authors try to make a strong first impression for their book with the opening sentence. There are books with great opening sentences that end up disappointing, and some that begin in an ordinary way but are excellent books nonetheless. The opening sentence may not be an accurate indicator of how the rest of the book may be, but it definitely gives us our first impressions of the book.

Moby Dick is the book responsible for getting me interested in the first sentences of books. It had a short yet memorable opening sentence, something that you could always remember. After that I've always kept an eye out for impressive opening sentences and whether or not the book lived up to the standards set by those lines.

Two books I read recently -- The Gunslinger (review) and A Wrinkle in Time -- had memorable opening sentences, and after reading them I decided to post a list of memorable first lines sometime soon, so the timing of this BTT question couldn't be better. Here's a list of 10 of my favourite opening sentences:

  1. "Call me Ishmael!" (Moby Dick, Herman Melville)

    I put this line on top of the list because I started noticing interesting opening sentences after I read this book. Three short words, but words that will always come to my mind whenever I think of memorable first lines.

  2. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

    This one is the reason why I added that last part to the question. I didn't like this book all that much, and I never really got around to reading another Austen book after that, but I couldn't ever forget this line.

  3. "At the age of seventeen, working as a delivery boy at Afremov's drugstore in Chicago was the perfect job, because it made it possible for me to steal enough sleeping pills to commit suicide." (The Other Side of Me, (review) Sidney Sheldon)

    Sidney Sheldon is the kind of author who gets you hooked to the story with the very first line. And he saved his best opening line for his autobiography.

  4. "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." (The Gunslinger, (review) Stephen King)

    I finished reading The Gunslinger a couple of days ago and I feel I'll always remember the book for this sentence, if only because it describes the entire plot of the book perfectly in 12 short words.

  5. "If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book." (A Series of Unfortunate Events 1 - The Bad Beginning, Daniel Handler)

    That's a clever way to get someone really interested in reading the book. Lemony Snicket keeps warning his readers not to read his books. So far the warnings have failed to discourage me from reading the series.

  6. "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J K Rowling)

    Perfectly normal people... that's a great way to start a book about wizards.

  7. "Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her." (The Godfather, Mario Puzo)

    This book has more memorable lines than any other book I've ever read (maybe the Potter books might compete for that spot, but that's because I've read those too many times) and this opening line definitely deserves a place on this list.

  8. "Billions died in less than twenty-four hours." (Autumn, David Moody)

    We're taking billions here, not millions. I'm not sure if I would have been convinced to read the book if I hadn't come across that line first. I ended up liking the book.

  9. "All children, except one, grow up." (Peter and Wendy, J M Barrie)

    I was reminded of this line when I watched the movie Finding Neverland yesterday. I didn't like the book very much when I read it first, but after watching the movie about how the book came into existence, I'm prepared to give the book another chance.

  10. "It was a dark and stormy night." (A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle)

    This line first appeared in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 book, Paul Clifford and has become one of the most famous examples of overly flamboyant prose. Even a Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest was started to recognise the worst extremes of this style. Madleine L'Engle used the same opening line in an allusion to Bulwer-Lytton's novel.

When I made the list I missed one very memorable line. I don't want to leave it out, so I'll type it here and leave it to you to guess which book it is from. It a really easy one, so don't google it before leaving you answer in the comments. Don't cheat, you're not winning any prizes for something this easy. *grin*

"You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings."

I'm already a day late in posting this reply, so I've had the time to go through other replies to this question. The majority feel that the first line isn't all that important; that the rest of the book matters more. Are you among that majority? Or do you believe that the first sentence has an impact on how we remember the book?

Please do leave a comment on what you think of memorable opening sentences and if you have your own blog, use the name/URL option to link to it so that it's easier to visit your blog. :)

Review: The Chinese Assassin (Anthony Grey)

The Chinese Assassin is a spy thriller set in the early 1970s in the backdrop of the Cold War. The plot revolves around the death of the Chinese defence minister and the attempt of Soviet and American Secret Services to uncover the mystery after a Chinese defector contacts a well known sinologist offering him information about the incident.

The first few chapters are a mixture of first- and third person narratives with the description of the events leading to the death of the Chinese defence minister presented as a series of folios written by the defector. This alternates with the events of five years later, when the defector meets the British sinologist. The rest of the book deals with the activities of spies from three countries as they try to outmaneuver each other. At the same time there is a plan to assassinate the Chinese head of state, although this isn't explained clearly until the end of the book.

The reason I didn't like this book all that much was because it was difficult to follow the political aspects of the story. Usually when you read a spy thriller from the Cold War period, you have two clearly marked sides - it's always the Soviet Union and the eastern European countries against the US or UK. In this book, it's difficult to understand who is fighting whom, because China is involved and its relationship with the US and the Soviet Union isn't fully explained.

The book is your average spy thriller which could have been better if the author had give more details of the international political situation of that time. This shortcoming is especially disappointing coming from Anthony Grey who was a correspondent in Eastern Europe and China and therefore would know quite a bit about politics in China.

Rating. 3/10

Books: June 2008

Thanks to exams I couldn't read much in June, but still managed to finish three books. But I could review only one of the three books.
  1. Area 7 (Matthew Reilly) [6/10]
  2. Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia) (C S Lewis) [7/10]
  3. The High Flyer (Nicholas Shakespeare) [2/10]
This month I've finished reading four books and have reviewed three of those. The fourth review will be up soon, I only just finished reading it now. Hopefully I'll be able to post reviews on all the books I read this month.

Review: Twelve Red Herrings (Jeffrey Archer)

Twelve Red Herrings is a collection of twelve short stories by Jeffrey Archer. Each of the stories ends with a twist and hidden within each story is a red herring that Archer challenges his readers to uncover.

I liked the first story in the collection, Trial and Error which is almost like a murder mystery. Then there is Do Not Pass Go, a story of an escaped Iraqi whose plane ends up landing in his homeland. An Eye for an Eye was another story with an ingenious twist at the ending.

The most interesting story in the collection, however, was the story One Man's Meat in which Archer gives us a choice of four endings and we are allowed to choose which ending we want to read, or else read all endings in the correct order. This story shows us how a plot can end in so many different ways.

In short stories it is rather difficult to develop interesting characters because the story ends too quickly, but Archer almost always manages to create such characters with ease. I like his novels very much, and always find the plots twists entertaining. But I feel that his real genius shows up when he is writing short stories. Apart from O'Henry, there aren't many authors I would rate as highly as Archer when it comes to short stories.

I have read two other short story collections by Jeffrey Archer -- A Twist in the Tale and To Cut a Long Story Short -- and liked both of those better than Twelve Red Herrings. But this book is definitely worth reading if you like short stories.

Rating. 7/10.


Review on My Own Little Reading Room


Review: The Manuscript (Eva Zeller)

The Manuscript is a German novella, translated to English by Nadia Lawrence. It is the love story of Bea and Jacob, two people who lost their families during the Second World War.

While cleaning up the attic of the house she inherited from her grandparents, Bea finds a manuscript written by a woman who was with Bea's mother, Ruth, just before her (Ruth's) death. In the manuscript, she describes how she and Ruth, along with thousands of other German women, were captured by Russian soldiers and deported to labour camps in Siberia.

Jacob is a Berlin Jew, whose entire family was killed during the war. Bea and Jacob are both middle aged when they meet each other. In spite of being so fond of each other, they find it difficult to talk to each other about their past, which were so similar. It is during a trip to Russia that they finally manage to speak about their past - something that they had never spoken about to anyone.

This book, apart from being a love story, looks at the two sides of the war. The woman who wrote the manuscript doesn't know that the tortures she and the other German women were suffering was an act of vengeance for the destruction caused by the German army in Russia. She believes so much in the innocence of her country and its Fuhrer that at one point she refuses to believe that Hitler had committed suicide.

This is the very reason Bea is afraid to show the manuscript to Jacob, whose family was destroyed because of Hitler and his army. She is worried that he will be offended when he reads the manuscript of a woman who likes Hitler so much that she writes that she'd gladly have replaced the first 'L' in her surname Hiller to 'T'.

This novella is a good read and short enough to read in a single stretch. It's a beautifully told story, and is definitely worth a read.

Rating. 7/10


BTT: Doomsday

This week on Booking Through Thursday, we have a question that deals with a situation that would give nightmares to many book lovers...

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?

I always borrow books from the town library. The only reason I call it my favourite source of books is because it's the only source available in this town. There aren't any bookstores in town and if the library burns down I'd have to travel 50km to the neighbouring city if I wanted to get some books to read.

Okay, those of you who are who are rolling around laughing at my predicament, stop right now! Grr...!!! It's not funny being the only book blogger in the world who lives in a place that only has one lousy library (most of you guys probably have more books in your homes than that library) and not even one bookstore.

Anyhow, to continue with the post, I don't expect myself to spend three hours on the two way trip to the next city. (I'm too lazy for that.) I'll probably dig out the e-book DVDs that I have and settle down in front of the monitor to read one of the 25,000+ books in that collection. It sounds crazy, but then... we're talking about doomsday, right?

Review: The Testament (John Grisham)

Troy Phelan is an eccentric old man worth 11 billion dollars who is planning to commit suicide. His three ex-wives and 6 children have proved time and again that they do not deserve to inherit that kind of money and whenever they were given any money it was all wasted in a few days.

The title refers to the last will (or testament) that Troy prepares. In it, he leaves all his money to his illegitimate daughter Rachel Lane, who is now a missionary in the remote jungles of Brazil. The other heirs immediately go to court to get their share of the money.

Nate O'Riley, an alcoholic lawyer just out of rehab is sent by Troy's lawyers to find Rachel. His journey through the jungles to locate Rachel forms the major portion of the story.

The last two Grisham books I'd read were completely different from his usual legal dramas and I liked them very much. This book lies somewhere in between, there are plenty of lawyers around and there is some courtroom drama, but there also is some element of an adventure story. Alternate chapters deal with Nate's adventures in Brazil and the legal battle that rages on in Washington.

The plot was interesting, and the ending was quite unexpected. Grisham did a good job balancing the adventure story with the legal drama. The courtroom scenes too were well done -- especially Nate tearing apart the bad guys in the witness stand.

The story seemed to drag a little bit in the portion set in Brazil. For a book that spends such a long time describing the natural beauty of the Pantanal region of Brazil, very little is said about the culture of the natives living there.

I liked the character Nate O'Riley -- alcoholic, drug abuse, twice divorced, a bad father, tax evader -- in spite of all his flaws, he was likeable. As for the other characters, there isn't much to say... very little time is devoted to developing other characters.

Overall, it was a good book. A little bit slow at times, but the ending came as a surprise. It's worth a read if you like Grisham's legal thrillers.

Rating. 7/10.

BTT: Holiday Reading

Today's Booking Through Thursday question:

It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple – What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?

I just finished reading John Grisham's book, The Testament. The library here allows me two books at a time and I've finished both so I have nothing else to read until I pick up the next two tomorrow.

I don't usually plan what I'm going to read, so I don't really know what books I'll be reading in the coming days. But now that I've got at least a month (maybe even three or four) with nothing to do but read, so I'll probably try to finish a couple of series I've started. I've read two of the Chronicles of Narnia books, so that will be the first priority. Then there's David Moody's Autumn horror series where I've read and enjoyed (and been terribly frightened) by the first book.

I've been thinking of re-reading all the books I own because I'll leaving to join my job soon and then I won't have much of a chance to read them again. This won't be too difficult because I only own twenty-odd books, and half of them are children's books. :-)

I've been thinking of writing a post asking for suggestions for reading and luckily I can work that into today's BTT question. This way I'll get even more suggestions. ;-) So what books would you suggest for me? Is there something you read recently that you really loved and think I should read?

PS. If you have your own blog, please use the name/url option in the comment form and link back to your blog. It's a lot easier for me to find your blog that way. :-)