Book Spines at a site for book reviews and reading ideas for those who love the classics
The Book Gnome
The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for those who love the classics

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - January 2017

The book is so compelling and the writing so skilled that it is difficult to believe that Mary Shelley started writing it when she was only eighteen.

Frankenstein is the story of scientist Victor Frankenstein, determined to find the secret of life and after years of research, discovers it. He creates a being from stolen body parts and one night in the secrecy, brings it to life. He looks at what he has created and is horrified by the monster that he sees.

The naive monster escapes, and in his ignorance of the world, unleashes a campaign of wickedness including the murder of Frankenstein's youngest brother. Justine Moritz, a kind, gentle girl who had been adopted by the Frankenstein household is condemned, and executed for the murder.

Victor grows despondent, guilty with the knowledge that the monster he has created bears responsibility for the death of two innocent loved ones.

The story is both terrifying and profound raising questions still relevant today.

Dracula by Bram Stoker - December 2016

Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish Bram Stoker in epistolary format. The story takes largely in England and Transylvania during the 1890s.

Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, visits Count Dracula in Transylvania to help complete a real estate transaction. In the castle, he encounters three female vampires, and barely escapes with his life.

Dracula moves to England hidden in a coffin and begines to stalk Lucy Westenra, a friend of Jonathan Harker's fiancée.

Lucy begins to waste away, Abraham Van Helsing recognises the cause of her condition. Van Helsing prescribes numerous blood transfusions, and a necklace of withered Garlic Blossoms to be worn at all times but Lucy continues to become worse. The doctors find two small puncture marks on her neck, and eventually Lucy dies.

The celebrated vampire-hunter Professor Abraham van Helsing sets out to find and destroy Count Dracula, leading to a well-told, imaginative story. The novel continues to enchant readers, and with good reason.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - November 2016

The novel follows is eponymous heroine Jane Eyre and is narrated from her perspective. It begins with her difficult childhood living with her aunt and cousins, and follows her through boarding school to adulthood.

Orphan Jane is is emotionally and physically abused by her aunt and cousins before being sent to boarding school where despite her hopes, life is no better. Later, when she becomes governess at Thornfield, she falls in love with Mr. Rochester, a love which dominates both Jane and the novel.

The novel contains elements of social criticism and a strong sense of morality. It provokes the reader to rethink notions about religion, sexuality, class, and the value of women.

Charlotte Brontë draws heavily on her personal experience, family and friends for inspiration. Like Jane, she was a governor and set up a school. The book is enriched by knowing her history.

Visit KS Learning for articles and notes on Jane Eyre to further understand the book, either for personal interest or to assist with schoolwork like A level English Literature.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle - October 2016

Bodies mount with no apparent link other than the word for revenge in German painted in blood near the bodies. The police are at a loss. Dr John Watson is at a loss. Sherlock Holmes is not fooled. Using evidence that no-one else notices, he solves the murders. The book derives its name from a speech that Holmes gives, in which he refers to the case as his 'study in scarlet', referring to the 'scaret thread of murder' running through the murders.

A Study in Scarlet, written in 1886, was the first Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson story, and in contrast to subsequent success, there was very little interest in it when it first appeared. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on to be so successful that when Arthur Conan Doyle, killed off Holmes having tired of the character he created, the public outcry forced him to contrive a way to bring him back to life.

With the many, many TV shows and films, it is easy to overlook the books but they are a compelling read with engaging plots. Once started, 'A study in Scarlet' is hard to put down. It is an example of superb story telling, and will bring delight for many years to come.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations follows the life of the orphan nicknamed Pip, set in Kent and London in the 19th century.

On Christmas Eve, the seven-year-old orphan Pip is in the churchyard visiting the graves of his parents and siblings, when he encounters the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch. He frightens Pip into stealing food and a file for him as.

Pip lives with his severe sister who appears to resent having inherited the responsibility for him upon the death of her parents. By contrast, her husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith by trade, treats Pip with kindness and fondness.

Pip's life changes when he meets Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella. Miss Havisham, a bitter wealthy spinster, arranges for Pip to visit her home, the dilapidated Satis House, where he falls for Estella on sight, and a tale of heartache begins.

Dickens is a skilful author who captures Pip's emotions effectively, taking the reader on a emotional journey with him. Published in 1861, the book is as powerful and relevant today as it was nearly 150 years ago.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

When John Durbeyfield discovers he is descended from a wealthy family and has a relative living nearby, he sends his 16-year-old daughter Tess, who is a simple country girl, and their eldest child.

Tess meets her relative Alec d'Urberville, and he finds her a job with his mother. Shortly after she begins work, he seduces and rapes her.

Tess returns to her family home, where living with her parents, she gives birth to a son called Sorrow, who dies in infancy. While working at a nearby diary, she meets Angel Clare, and falls in love.

She eventually marries Angel, not telling him about her past. After the wedding, the couple reveals their pasts to each other, and while Tess is able to forgive Angel, he cannot doing the same. He is unable to get over the fact that she had a child with another man.

Life treats Tess unfairly. She is raped by a relative, her son dies when very young, and the man she loves leaves her. The story is told with sensitivity enabling the reader to empathise with Tess.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Controversial when first published, The Grapes of Wrath is considered one of the great American novels. Telling the story of the Joad family, it earned Steinbeck the Pulitzer prize in 1962.

Steinbeck writes with a deep sense of social injustice as he recounts the dreadful conditions experienced by immigrant farmhands. He details the social and economic horrors of farming in the American dust bowl, and which drive people to migrate from Oklahoma to the fruit fields of California in search of a better life.

The novel follows the Joad family, dispossessed farmers fleeing dust bowl conditions. At the same time as Tom Joad is paroled from prison, the family loses their farm to the bank. The Joads set out in search of work in California. Nothing goes right. The family is exploited and bullied, and begins to fall apart. Old Ma Joad takes the lead as Tom is linked to another killing and must go into hiding.

It is a story of false hopes, thwarted desires and powerlessness driven by social injustice.

1984 by George Orwell

The novel is a dystopian novel set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war.

Everyone is watched all the time by a ruling class determined to hold on to power. The Inner Party persecutes individualism and independent thinking as "thoughtcrime".

Society is ruled over by Big Brother, the Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality. The Party "seeks power entirely for its own sake. It is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power".

Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party, is the novel's protagonist. He works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue). His job is to "correct" or destroy newspaper articles, so that the historical record always fits with the party line. Revisionism is covered up as corrections to misquotations. Smith secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

1984 reflects on the implications of state control and the loss of personal rights for individuals and society.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

In 1937, Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War. Three years later, he completed For Whom the Bell Tolls, the story of Robert Jordan, fighting in Spain as a republican guerilla.

Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades, joins a small guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, led by Pablo. The republican leadership set him the task of blowing up a bridge but not all the guerillas agree with the plan including Pablo. As a result, Pablo treats Robert with hosility, and Robert suspects that Pablo will sabotage the operation. Their relationship is so fraught that Robert considers killing Pablo at one point.

Also living with the guerillas, is Maria, a beautiful young girl whom they are sheltering. Robert and Maria quickly become lovers. They declare their love for each other and talk of a future together in Madrid.

For Whom the Bells Tolls is a story that weaves together loyalty and courage with conflict and suspicion. It also addresses the love and defeat, along with a deep commitment to ideals in the face of a harsh war. The story is moving, beautiful and brutal all at the same time.

Time Machine by H.G. Wells

A group of people is listening to the Time Traveller discuss the theory that time is the fourth dimension. The next week, they return, and the Time Traveller, looking tired and disheveled, begins his tale.

The Time Traveller travels to the future where he encounters the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are small human-like creatures that live above ground, and are kind and gentle. The Morlocks are pale, ape-like creatures that live below ground, and come out at night to hunt.

When his time machine disappears, the Time Traveller ventures underground into the world of the Morlocks looking for it. Even though, he finds that they are scared of matches, he is still forced to flee. One night, he accidently sets fire to the giant wood and many Morlocks die and an Eloi friend die in the ensuing battle. He finds his time machine, and escapes to the future.

The Time Traveller makes several more stops before returning to the present time, where he tells his story. The next day, he leaves again, but never returns.

The Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was an important and influential American writer. He was the first author to try to make a professional living as a writer. He wrote poetry, short stories, and literary criticism.

Poe's poem "The Raven" made him famous when it was published in 1845. Most famously, Poe transformed the genre of the horror story with his tales of psychological depth and insight not envisioned in the genre before. Stories like "The Tell-Tale Heart","The Cask of Amontillado","The Pit and the Pendulum","The Masque of the Red Death", and "The Fall of the House of Usher" demonstrate his talent at its height.

The brilliance and skill of Edgar Allen Poe are in evidence in this collection. The melancholy and torment of the stories combined with mystery, terror, and humour show why he is one of the most respected of American authors. The collection includes some of his most masterful writing such as The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Purloined Letter.

Crime and Punishment By Fyodor Dostoevsky

War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy

A Passage to India By E. M. Forster

Turkish author Asli Erdogan's detention 'breaches convention on human rights'

The novelist's pre-trial imprisonment on terror charges has been condemned by lawyers and academics, who say there are no grounds for this extreme measure.


'They had issues': Sally Wainwright and Tracy Chevalier discuss the Brontës

Sally Wainwright's new drama To Walk Invisible offers a radical new take on the Brontës. She talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about the siblings' extraordinary lives.


Sexism in publishing: 'My novel wasn't the problem, it was me, Catherine'

Author reveals that submitting her manuscript to agents under a male pseudonym brought more than eight times the number of responses.


The 10 Best Books of 2016

The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.


Leonard Cohen: Canadian singer dead aged 82

Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen's death was announced on his Facebook page.


Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch

Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.


Beryl Bainbridge was nice as well as naughty - and a brilliant novelist

The fictions of Beryl Bainbridge's life were as important to her as the facts. As a novelist, she knew the dramatic exigencies of telling a tale.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

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