From the Archive: Enchanted

Sometimes I think I should give this book another chance.  Maybe I was too harsh??  But then I read my review again and think, NO.

Originally posted 17 September 2012.

download (3)by Alethea Kontis

published 2012

This story starts well, with young Sunday making friends with a talking frog by a magical well and you think, Oh, this could be interesting.  But there are TOO MANY STORIES GOING ON IN THIS BOOK.  Every single sibling (and there are lots) has a story; the parents have a story; a couple of aunts have a story; the frog has a story; the king has a story.  The book is super confusing.  By the end of two chapters, we’ve heard about Sunday’s brother who got turned into a dog, her sister who danced TO DEATH, another sister who ran off with a pirate king and is busy robbing people and then sending gifts to her family, another sister who had to take refuge in a stranger’s cabin and then the stranger turned out to be royalty so she got married, and a whole passel of other relatives with complicated stories.

It’s really frustrating because there are so many good elements there, they just don’t come together cohesively.  AT ALL.

Plus: Sunday knows this frog for THREE DAYS and he’s the best friend she’s ever had and she doesn’t know how she’s going to live without him and his disappearance is enough to send her plummeting into depression.  Really?

EVERY SINGLE FAIRY TALE EVER WRITTEN was referenced in this book, and the main character of said fairy tale was probably closely related to Sunday.  This just added to the general chaos of the plot, as the story constantly hares off after some other random tale that has absolutely nothing to do with (what little there is of) the main plot.

This book is also randomly gruesome (the king apparently has been living for hundreds of years by marrying young women and then turning them into geese and EATING THEM!?) and just pointless, pointless, pointless.  It was dreadful; please do not waste your time.  I simply could not make heads or tales out of this book.

In the end, Sunday is upset  because the prince has been lying to her by not telling her that he was the frog so she runs away (and turns into a tree and he picks a branch from the tree not knowing that it’s her and then later the branch turns into her shoe and he’s all like, Haha good thing I only picked a small branch! Could have been awkward there!) and meanwhile, the prince is realizing that his dad is a cannibalistic magic-thief so blah blah blah he turns the king into a giant and the giant chased the prince across the clouds and they climb down the beanstalk that Sunday’s brother who is actually a fairy who has been adopted by their family when he was a baby planted with the beans he got in exchange for their last cow when Sunday was supposed to be watching him but she let him go to the marketplace by himself so she could go chat with her frog ANYWAY the prince climbs down the beanstalk and THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED by this giant and one of the fairy godmothers and Sunday is POUTING because the prince hasn’t come back to apologize!?

Trix rejoined her [Sunday] at the base of the tree with bow and arrows in hand and the rest of the family in tow, all in dressing gowns, save Aunt Joy, who must have been the one keeping the fire in the kitchen company with her confounded tea.  Mama and Friday were both swaddled in blankets.  Sunday should have been cold in  her ancient nightgown and bare feet, but she felt nothing.  She looked up at the beanstalk, at the resolute face of the man whose dreams she shared, and she felt nothing.  He had come, as she hadn’t dared hoped he would.

He had come, but he hadn’t come for her.


Then there’s more about the giant trying to get to the prince and wanting to eat all of them.  Then,

The prince looked as if he’d been beaten and then dragged a few miles down the road.  She yearned to ask him questions, but  now was not the time. She ached to tuck herself under his weary arm and give him comfort, but he stood apart from them and did not meet her eyes.  He had not come for her.

Maybe because the giant is on the beanstalk yelling down to his son, “I CAN TASTE YOUR BONES!” ????

I can’t even go on.  This book was so dreadful.  Sunday was shallow, selfish, and vain.  The prince was stupid and uninteresting.  The king was disgusting and bizarre.  The rest of Sunday’s family was complicated and very, very bad at communication.

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.  If anything, my review is simpler and easier to understand than the actual book.  Seriously.

From the Archive: Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime

The only nonfiction book that I loved so much that I actually wrote to the author to tell him that his writing really impacted my life…  and he wrote back!  Ha!  Originally posted on tumblr 27 August 2012.


by Richard Pipes

published 1994

If you had told me three months ago that when I finally finished reading all 500+ pages of this book about the Bolshevik rise to power, I would actually be sad that it was over, I would not have believed you.  But, it’s true.  I really, really, really liked this book.  So much so that I found the author’s address so I can write him a letter, and I’m planning to actually purchase this book.  Seriously.

Where to even begin?  I read Mr. Pipes’s book The Three Whys of the Russian Revolution first; it was assigned reading for Tapestry.  I was really impressed by the author’s ability to write about complicated situations and theories with clarity. I am no expert on Russia or her history, yet Pipes kept my interest throughout the entire book.  More, he intrigued me and caused me to think about and reassess many of my views of Communism and Russia.

The book was brilliant all the way through.  The beginning is a little rough, as he is describing Russia’s civil war between the Reds and Whites.  There are a lot of names of people and places, and since they all look like Tzagoragphy, it gets a little complicated for English-speaking folks like myself.  But once I got through that bit, things settled out with the main players and places, and it was much easier to follow.

Pipes doesn’t really limit himself to just the history of what was happening in Russia.  My favorite chapter actually looks at the concept of totalitarianism: what it is and where it has existed in recent history.  Throughout the chapter, Pipes compares and contrasts the regimes in Russia, Germany, and Italy.  This is especially intriguing because Germany and Italy are always classified as fascist and put at one end of the political spectrum, while Russia is labeled communist and placed at the other.  Yet Pipes argues that these “governments” had far more in common than most people credit, and he argues the point very well.

In that chapter, too, Pipes talks a great deal simply about the steps to totalitarianism, and how Lenin, Hitler, and Mussolini all worked within and through their legal political systems to gain control.  Fear, Pipes tells us, is the totalitarian’s best friend.  Each of those three regimes chose a scapegoat (capitalists or Jews for example) and then built up fear of that group, until the population was willing to do whatever it took to protect themselves from this threat.  Except there wasn’t really a threat and there wasn’t really a need for protection–but that realization came too late; power had already been given up by the people.

So I don’t know, it was just a lot of food for thought, looking at our government and the many wolves to which they point.  Are the wolves real, or are they merely shadows being used as excuses to take more and more control of our lives?

Anyway, I couldn’t believe how easily this book read.  So many books of this weight are written specifically for people who are already neck-deep in studying the topic, and thus are almost impossible for a newbie to the situation to understand.  Example: I also checked out a book on Mussolini’s Italy.  I gave it up after the first four or five chapters.  The author assumed that I already understood exactly what was going on in Italy and who was in charge and why and how they got there.  Pipes, on the other hand, manages to explain the background thoroughly but not overly, making the rest of what he has to say meaningful, relevant, and interesting.

If you ever have to do any studying of Russia from the point of the Revolution to Lenin’s death, I strongly recommend this book.  If you don’t feel like reading all 512 pages, at least read chapter five, on totalitarianism, and the last chapter, which is a summary of the rest of the book.

This is one of the few non-fiction books that I’ve read lately that I see myself reading again in the future.

From the Archive: A Company of Swans

Sometimes, it’s fun to revisit books I didn’t like at all.  :-D  Originally posted 27 June 2012 on tumblr.


by Eva Ibbotson

published 1985

This story started well…  good plot, interesting characters, although the story was, from the beginning, a bit heavy on the “all conservative people are total jerks who are blind and refuse to see the world as it is” malarkey.  Still, things moved along, and the heroine, Harriet, runs away from the truly nasty people who comprise her home and joins a ballet troupe headed for the Amazon.  (The story, by the way, is set in 1912.)

And again, things go along interestingly as you get to know a few of the other girls, and see what ballet means to different people, and of course you meet The  Man with a Past and he is charming BUT at this point, the story begins to devolve into a very boring romance novel, in which the two main characters are constantly misunderstanding each other (to the point that you wonder HOW, in the long run, will this relationship work if they can’t even have a SINGLE conversation without both people walking away with completely different ideas of what just happened??), and then The Man has to kidnap Harriet to keep her from being kidnapped by someone else, and even though this book is no way graphic, suddenly the two of them are just sleeping together and that is somehow supposed to be romantic, but it’s not, because they STILL don’t understand each other, and so the idea of them sleeping together, besides the obvious, Hey, you aren’t married reflex, also makes you twitch because it’s just not romantic for two people to have sex when neither of them has the remotest idea what the other is thinking about the situation.

Then there are even MORE misunderstandings and MORE confusion and I really had to make myself finish this book because it got more and more unrealistic and ridiculous because Harriet ends up back in England where her father and aunt imprison her in an attic and keep all of her clothes so she can’t run away again and Harriet decides to just starve herself to death because she can’t go on living and when I was able to recover from stabbing myself in the eyes with pointy objects and continue reading, The Man finally rescues her and then, Oh happy ending they get married and all is well.  Or something like that.  Sheesh.

So yes.  2.  Which is a shame, because, like I said, it started well.

From the Archive: ‘Animal Farm’

Originally posted 25 February 2012 on tumblr.

51iSxG6+ixLby George Orwell

published 1945

I hadn’t read this book in years, since early high school, maybe.  I accidentally checked out some anniversary edition, so there were almost as many pages devoted to introductions and prefaces as there were to the actual story.  However, in one of them, a writer was lamenting the fact that Animal Farm is always read in English class now, not for History or Social Studies.  It’s used as an example of an allegory.  Look at the imagery.  How did Orwell get his point across about human activities?  etc. etc. etc.

But when this book was written, it wasn’t being read by bored middle-schoolers in English class.  It was being read by adults, by people who had been completely taken in by Stalin’s words and “vision.”  Orwell was one of the few writers who stood up and declared that what was happening in Russia was very, very bad.

It was amazing to read this book sort of “in context” as I have been reading so much about World War I, Czar Nicolas, the Russian Revolution, Marx, Trotsky, Lenin, Stalin.  This book really came together for me and I loved it in that horrible, creepy, shivery kind of way.  The book is brilliant.

Orwell was a socialist.  He believed in Socialism, believed in the writings of Marx.  But he also saw that what was happening in Russia was not true Socialism.  Animal Farm does not denounce Socialism.  Indeed, the speech given by the old pig who represents Marx is beautiful, poetic, inspiring.  Perhaps part of the depth of passion that fed Orwell’s writing flowed from the fact that he saw something in which he strongly believed being misused and misrepresented.

You should read this book.  It is a tale of tragedy and horror.  It is not a story that ends happily.  But it is a story of depth and thoughtfulness, as the rules are rewritten and the pigs become the very humans they strove so valiantly to overthrow.

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”


From the Archive: ‘Something New’ by P.G. Wodehouse

Sidenote:  This review doesn’t actually review the book at all.  I didn’t mention a single thing about the plot or the characters.  Instead, it’s really just an excuse to talk about how amazing Wodehouse is, and to quote (at length) from the foreword of this tale!

Originally posted on tumblr February 7, 2012.



AKA: Something Fresh

Published 1915

I love P.G. Wodehouse.  A British friend of Dad’s introduced us to Wodehouse several years ago, and I have been incredibly grateful ever since.  I have no idea how my life was complete before the advent of Wodehouse into it.

He is brilliantly funny, managing to contrive plots that seem plausible and yet ridiculous at the same time.  Everyone marries the right people at the end and, somehow, all of the ludicrous plot ends manage to come together perfectly.

While Wodehouse is most famous for his creation of the perfect duo, Bertie and Jeeves, my personal favorite gang is found at Blandings Castle.  Something New, which was Wodehouse’s first full-length novel, and he claims, in the foreword he wrote some fifty-odd years later, that it was accepted by Saturday Evening Postfor serial publication based solely on the fact that Wodehouse sent it with all three of his names written out: Pelham Grenville Wodehouse:

A writer in America at that time who went about without three names was practically going around naked.  Those were the days of Richard Harding Davis, of James Warner Bellah, of Margaret Culkin Banning, of Earl Derr Biggers, of CHarles Francis Coe, Norman Reilly Raine, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Clarence Budington Kelland and Orison Swett–yes, really, I’m not kidding–Marden.  Naturally, a level-headed editor like Lorimer was not going to let a Pelham Grenville Wodhouse get away from him.

If you ask me to tell you frankly if I like the names Pelham Grenville, I must confess that I do not.  I have my dark moods when they seem to me about as low as you can get.  At the font, I remember protesting vigorously when the clergyman uttered them, but he stuck to his point. ‘Be that as it may,’ he said firmly, having waited for a lull, ‘I name thee Pelham Grenville.’

Apparently, I was called that after a godfather, and not a thing to show for it except a small silver mug which I lost in 1897.  I little knew how the frightful label was going to pay off thirty-four years later.  (One could do a bit of moralizing about that if one wanted to, but better not for the moment.  Some other time, perhaps.)

I have perhaps over-quoted  him (especially from a foreword!) but I cannot get over and subdue my enthusiasm for Wodehouse.  If you have never read one of his books, grab the closet you can find, whether it be a tale of Psmith (the “p” is silent), Bertie and Jeeves, the Blandings Castle crew, or one of his many random tales of adventure.  Wodehouse weaves a world of Britain that does not really exist, a sort of made-up time combining the best of several decades into the world that we all wished not only existed in the past, but was still thriving today.

Wodehouse is nearly always a 5, if only  because he makes me laugh out loud when I am reading in public places.

From the Archive: ‘George, Nicolas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I’

So I was thinking the other day about how I used to blog on Tumblr, and how there are a lot of good books over there that none of you have ever read.  I’ll be posting a few every month, just some highlights.  :-D

This was actually my first book review I ever posted online anywhere!  It was originally published on tumblr December 1, 2011.


by Miranda Carter

published 2009

It’s ironic that this is my first book to review here.  I’ve been reading George, Nicolas, & Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins & the Road to World War I for probably close to a month now.

The book is over 400 pages long and intensely dense.  It’s full of rambling stories and random quotes from letters and telegrams and speeches and journals.  The book constantly introduces new characters with complicated names and titles.  Just attempting to even vaguely understand the way that all the royals in Europe were related at the turn of the 20th century is ridiculously involved.

I really, really enjoyed this book.

First off, the year in Tapestry that I am using as a base history study focuses on the 1900’s.  I realized that I don’t actually know a lot about the 1900’s, not even the 1900’s in which I was alive.  (Really…  Reagan was president when I was born…  there were a couple of wars…  cell phones became really common…  ummm…)  So I jumped in and started reading and Week 3 of Tapestry is already hitting World War I and I realized I was just going too fast, because I really didn’t understand ::why:: World War I was happening.

(As a sidenote, you’ll have to realize that when I immerse myself in a time period to study, that time period becomes way more relevant to my life than current events.  I have only the vaguest ideas of what is going on in England, Germany, or Russia right now, but, by golly, I have been deeply entangled in the politics of 1905!)

This book starts with the acknowledgement that King George of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicolas of Russia are all first cousins, all grandsons of Queen Victoria.  When Nicolas would visit England, he and George were confused for each other!  The family ties ran deeply, and it was utterly fascinating to watch the way that the lives of these three very powerful men intertwined and led to World War I.

Honestly, I could go on at length about this.  But I’ll try to remain concise and simply say that I was blown away at how World War I was about virtually::nothing::.  At the end of the war, “eight and a half  million soldiers were dead … and at least another million or so civilians … a further 21 million soldiers had been wounded.”  The state of Virginia has around eight million residents.  Imagine the entire state being wiped out, and then the entire population of Texas  being injured.  The casualties in this war were monumental (not to belittle the current efforts in the Middle East, but honestly, the total deaths in this entire war have tallied up to a remarkably awesome DAY in World War I) and the gains almost nonexistent.  All of those millions died for basically nothing.  Absolutely mind-blowing.

Ennywho, getting ready to roll into some more details of World War I, hopefully in the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, reading this book actually led me to several other questions, especially about the British Empire: seriously, what is up with the histories of India, Ireland, and Canada?  So some “brief histories” are on the stacks now, to hopefully continue to weave together a solid background for World War I, and then World War II.

All in all, I would strongly recommend this book, but only if you have a lot of spare time and a deep interest in European affairs around 1900.  :-D