March Minireviews – Part 1

I have had just zero inspiration for blogging lately.  These anti-blogging moods come on me from time to time, and no longer really fuss me, as I know the urge will return at some point.  In the meantime, I’ve still been reading aplenty, so I thought I would at least share a few notes on some of my recent reads…

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

//published 1999//

I love reading nonfiction on random topics, and doesn’t get much more random than the tulip boom (and bust) of the 1630’s.  Dash does an excellent job painting a picture of the times, and I was honestly intrigued by what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t get over how crazy the entire boom was, with people buying, selling, and trading bulbs – bulbs!  You can’t even tell if they are really what the seller says they are!  Can you imagine paying more than a year’s worth of wages for one??

This book definitely needed pictures – I had to keep stopping to look up different styles/types/varieties of tulips (most of which no longer exist).  Charts and graphs would have been awesome as well, and could have definitely bumped this book a half star.  Dash also had a tendency to sometimes go off onto rambling trails to Nowhereville, but on the whole usually brought it back around to something at least moderately relevant.  On the whole, a 4/5 for this one, and recommended.  It also made me want to plant some tulips.  I feel like I have really underappreciated them up to this point.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

//published 2011//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While it was creative and not a bad story, it just didn’t have magic.  And despite all the adventuring in the middle bits, in the end it felt like everyone just ended up back where they started, instead of their being some kind of growth.  In the end, 3.5/5 for an alright but rather bland fairy tale.  However, I will say that I originally added to this to the TBR after reading a review over at Tales of the Marvelous, so be sure to check that out for a perspective that found this book more engaging than I did!

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

//published 2016//

This book totally had me glued to the pages when I was reading it, despite the fact that I found Zoe to be rather annoying, and Simon even more so.  (Maybe I found Zoe annoying because she was with Simon?  He just seemed like such a tool!  And her ex-husband was a sweetheart.  I was confused by the creation of a very nice character who is still in love with his ex-wife… but who cheated on her??  The pieces of Matt’s character didn’t always fit together for me.)  I enjoyed having a first-person narration and also a third-person narration instead of all first person, which I think can frequently start sounding very same-y.  I’m sticking with 4/5 for this one because I couldn’t 100% get behind the conclusion – it was like Mackintosh took the twists to one more level, and I couldn’t quite follow her there, so I felt like the conclusion was just barely in the plausible realm, although other people seem to disagree with me, so it’s possible that I just have a different perspective of human character haha Anyway, this one was definitely worth a read and I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mackintosh’s writing soon!

NB: I would 100% be behind another story with Kelly and Nick!

I feel like this book was reviewed by just about everyone when it was first published!  For some other great reviews, check out Stephanie’s Book Reviews, Reading, Writing and Riesling, Cleopatra Loves Books, Chrissi Reads, Bibliobeth, and Fictionophile!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

//published 1877//

This is a definite childhood classic for me.  I was very much into horses as a girl, and still own multiple copies of Black Beauty, each with its own style of illustrations and binding.  My favorite for reading is still the small Scholastic Book Club paperback.  It’s illustrated with line drawings, but doesn’t say who drew them!  I’ve had this particular copy since I was about ten, and have read it many times.  However, it had been several years since I had pulled it out.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although as a more pessimistic adult, I find the ending not as confidently positive as I did as a youngster – after multiple times a sudden change in the life of Beauty’s owners leading to his being reluctantly sold, I was necessarily confident that the same wouldn’t happen again in his retirement.  What a grump I’ve turned out to be!

Of course, the story is quite polemic in nature – Sewell’s entire goal was to expose many of the everyday cruelties endured by horses and other animals (and people) with no one to speak for them.  But everything is presented in such a gentle and loving way that it’s hard to take offense.  It’s just many little stories that collectively remind readers that the power to make the world a better place is within everyone’s grasp, if they are willing to step forward and do their small part.

Despite the fact that much of the tale is a bit out of date as far as societal issues go (I don’t really remember the last time I saw someone forcing a horse to draw a heavy load uphill while using the bearing rein), the overall lessons of kindness, generosity, and always looking out for those who are weaker than you are timeless.

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

//published 2016//

It’s really hard when I don’t feel like writing serious reviews, but then read a book that I really like a lot, and this one definitely falls into that category.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve read about a group of friends that I liked as well as I did Sloane and her group.  Despite the fact that there wasn’t this big urgent plot, this was the book I kept wanting to come back to, just so I could see what snarky adventures everyone was going to have next.  I realized when I was finished that one of the big reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that it is way more about friendship and the importance of having a core group of good friends that you can really trust than it is about romance and falling in love.  The love story was really a small side issue to the main thrust of the story.

This wasn’t a perfect read for me.  It felt like it took way too long for Sloane to “get” that she part of the group, and what that meant she needed to do.  I really liked Sloane’s dad and her relationship with him, but I definitely needed more of Sloane’s mom – she only appears a few times, so she just kind of comes across as this weird grumpy person in the background.  I personally thought a lot of the things she was grumpy about were justifiable, but she never really gets an opportunity to explain her point of view of their family issues, so in the end the entire relationship between Sloane’s parent is still really ambiguous, which detracted from the overall story for me.

But I legit could read like five more books about this gang of friends.  I so enjoyed their banter and loyalty.  I also loved reading a story where one of the main characters is popular and beautiful and nice, as I am really tired of the trope where the girls who are into girly things are empty-headed back stabbers.  Emma Mills has definitely been added to my list of authors whose backlogs I need to find.  In the meantime, if you enjoy funny, engaging YA, I recommend This Adventure Ends.

This book first came to my attention thanks to Stephanie’s Book Reviews, so be sure to check out her thoughts as well!

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February Minireviews – Part 3

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I seem to have a lot of these this month (plus, it’s just been a month of bad weather so lots of extra reading time!) – Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

//published 2016//

Honestly, it’s just been a while since I finished this book, and it isn’t super memorable to me.  It was a decent read that kept me interested, but even after I found out the answers I wasn’t convinced that the villain’s motives made a whole lot of sense.  Still, it was engaging while I was reading it, and while I’m not planning to hunt up more of Kubica’s books, I’m open to reading another one if someone has a recommendation.  For this one, 3.5/5 and kinda recommended.

NB: This book was originally added to the TBR thanks to two separate reviews – one from Cleopatra Loves Books and another from Reading, Writing and Riesling – be sure to check them out!

Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915// or possibly 1911//

I’m attempting to read all of Wodehouse’s works in published order, but it’s made somewhat extra difficult by the fact that Wodehouse published both in the US and the UK, sometimes at the same time, or sometimes earlier in one place or the other.  Sometimes books have the same title in both countries and sometimes different titles.  And then to keep things really interesting, some books didn’t get published in other country at all, and instead Wodehouse would recycle part of a book from one country and incorporate it into a book that was only published in the other.  Of course now, a hundred years later, I can get all the books no matter where they originated, but pinning down an official and definitive “order of publication list” has been difficult, although I am doing my best.

All that to say that the original list I am working from listed The Prince and Betty as being published in 1912 and Psmith, Journalist being published in 1915.  Except a huge chunk of Betty is actually the entire plot of Psmith.  And it turns out that Psmith was actually published in the UK in 1911 (and in the US in 1915), while Betty wasn’t published there until some time later.  WHY.

But really, that’s all just rambling side notes.  The actual point is that Psmith, Journalist is one of my favorite Wodehouse titles.  I just love this story so much.  A lot of people find Psmith to be obnoxious, but he’s one of my favorites, and this entire story with Psmith helping another fellow run a newspaper makes me laugh every time I read it.  Definitely recommended – “Cosy Moments will not be muzzled!”

The Viking’s Chosen by Quinn Loftis

//published 2018//

This is a book I would never have picked up on my own, but because it came in a book subscription box, I thought I would give it a try.  It ended up being an engaging read that I overall enjoyed, but it ended on such a major cliffhanger that it basically felt like the book had just stopped in the middle of the book.  This probably wouldn’t annoy me quite so much if book #2 had already been published, but it HASN’T so I suppose I will just have to bide my time.

Still, overall an interesting story with decent characters, and a pleasantly not-full-of-sex-and-swearing plot.  3.5/5.

NB: This was published by Clean Teen Publishing, which I had never heard of.  What’s nice is that they actually have a content rating for the book, showing the level of swearing, violence, and sex you can expect in the book.  I honestly wish all books would do this!

The Mystery of the Empty Room by Augusta Huiell Seaman

//published 1953// I didn’t feel like this book had nearly as much drama or terror as the cover led me to believe //

This is an old Scholastic Book Club paperback that has been on my shelf for years.  I thought I had read it once, but reading it this time did not ring any bells, so it’s possible that either had never read it before, or found it completely unmemorable!  It’s not really a book that sticks with you, although it’s perfectly entertaining.  There was a lot of fun and intrigue, but I did feel like a lot of the story revolved around the fact that the characters weren’t actually communicating with one another, so everyone had a piece of the puzzle and things didn’t come together under everyone finally collaborated.  Still, an easy 3.5/5 for a somewhat dated but still pleasant story.

Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

//published 1903//

I picked up this collection of 22 traditional Japanese fairy tales as a free Kindle book a while back.  I really enjoy reading fairy tales from different cultures, and was intrigued to see what kind of stories would emerge from an eastern culture.  Like all short story collections (and, let’s be honest, fairy tale collections), there were some stories that were stronger than others, but they were all interesting in their own right.  None of them emerged as stories I loved, but I could definitely see some of them turning into longer and more involved tales.

Like most western fairy tales, there were a lot of evil stepmothers (apparently they are universally hated) and a lot of random – and sometimes quite violent – deaths.  Also talking vegetables, children who arrive inside of various pieces of produce, evil badgers, and a dragon king who rules under the sea.

While I don’t see myself returning to these stories time and again, they were fun for a one-time read.

An Odd Situation by Sophie Lynbrook

//published 2018//

In this P&P retelling, Darcy is thrown from his horse on his way to Netherfield.  Because he has a head injury and is in a coma, he is moved to the closest house – Longbourn.  Despite the fact that he is an unknown stranger, the Bennetts take him in.  The doctor recommends that he not be left alone, and that people talk to him/in the same room as him because some studies have shown that people with these types of injuries respond well to outside stimulation.  The doctor also tells them that Darcy (at this point a John Doe) may or may not be able to hear what everyone is saying.

Of course, Darcy can hear what everyone is saying, and this story involves him listening to all of the many conversations that swirl around his sickbed.  Throughout, he comes to realize that he’s a bit of a snob, and also comes to value the various members of the Bennett family, even the obnoxious ones.

Overall, this was a pleasant and engaging retelling, although weirdly passive.  The entire story is from Darcy’s (third person) perspective, and since he’s in a coma most of the time, there isn’t a lot of action.  It would have been nice to get some idea of what Elizabeth is thinking/doing as well.  And while I liked the way Darcy has a lot of self-realizations and makes good resolutions to be a better person going forward, the implication is that Elizabeth is already perfect and has no lessons to learn.  In the original, it’s important for both of them to recognize their shortcomings, and a large part of what makes the story so excellent is seeing them both grow as people.  In this version, only Darcy has to change.

Still, a 4/5 for an enjoyable (and completely clean) variation, and recommended to others who may be addicted to these types of stories. :-D

January Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Copper-Toed Boots by Marguerite de Angeli

//published 1938//

This was a sweet, gentle children’s book with beautiful illustrations (by the author).  There really wasn’t much of a plot, other than Shad wanting boots and various adventures along the way to his earning them, but it will still a pleasant story.  4/5.

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Conner

//published 2008//

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book.  It’s told from the perspective of 12-year-old Addie, who lives with her mother.  At the beginning of the book, she and her mom are moving into a small trailer.  As the story unwinds, we find that the trailer is owned by Addie’s step-father, who isn’t actually her stepfather anymore since he and Addie’s mom got divorced.  But even thought Dwight ended up with the two daughters he and Addie’s mom had together, he is not blood-related to Addie and couldn’t get custody of her, despite how unfit of a mother Addie’s mom actually is.  The overall book is just about Addie’s life with her neglectful mother – “she’s all or nothing” Addie says, and when she’s “all” she is fun and entertaining and exciting, but when she’s nothing – she’s gone.

My problem really wasn’t with the story, which was genuinely poignant and told very well.  I just don’t a single middle-schooler who would enjoy it or really take much away from the story.  So much of it is told in a sort of euphemistic kind of way that it felt like a book that would need a lot of explaining for a kid to really understand what’s happening – and that feels like it sort of defeats the whole purpose of Addie’s innocent voice telling the tale.

The event (in the backstory) that led to Dwight getting custody of his two daughters is when Addie’s mother left Addie (at the time age 9) and her two half-sisters (a toddler and a baby) unattended for three days.  What I found almost impossible to believe was that Addie wasn’t put in foster care/in her grandpa’s home at the time.  I just can’t believe that a judge would give Addie back to her mother without any kind of probationary period.  On the other hand, I have firsthand experience with just how jacked up the whole system is, so maybe they would.

All in all, while I wouldn’t say that Waiting for Normal was a pleasant read, exactly, it still was a good one, and one that I would recommend to adults, if not to the theoretical target audience of the book.  3.5/5.

The Cat and Mrs. Cary by Doris Gates

//published 1962//

I used to check this book out of the library when I was little, and then, later, I actually found that same copy as a discard on the library’s booksale shelf.  The funny part is, I really can’t explain why I like this book.  It’s not really a book that gives me lots of warm feelings, or one that I have strong emotional memories attached to.  It’s just a fun and happy little book.

Part of it may be that it really isn’t a typical children’s book in that it isn’t particularly about children.  The main character is actually an elderly widow, Mrs. Cary, who has recently moved into a small cottage in a small coastal village.  I think one of the other things that makes me love this book is that when The Cat first talks with Mrs. Cary, she is only momentarily stymied.  From there forward, she’s basically just like, “Huh, talking cat.  Okay.”  And then she rolls with it!

There’s a bit about smugglers that keeps things interesting, too.  It’s just overall a fun story with some nice characters, and everything comes together in the end very well.  The Cat is very cat-like, even when he talks, and never fails to make me snicker.  This book is very fitting for its age – for instance, we never do find out what Mrs. Cary’s first name is!  (Even her nephew refers to her as “Aunt Cary.”)  All in all, this is a 4/5 read for me, one that I still enjoy and do recommend.

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

//published 1913//

This is a classic thriller that I picked up thanks to a review by FictionFan last year.  The story is about the Buntings, and older couple who used to work in domestic service but now have their own lodging house. However, they’ve had quite a bit of bad luck and all of their money is gone.  They’ve been forced to pawn things they never thought they would pawn, and to give up every bit of pleasure, like ha’penny newspapers and a nice smoke.  Things are looking quite dark for them when a strange man appears on their doorstep and rents their rooms – a full month in advance!  Like magic, the money problems are gone – as long as Mr. Sleuth is kept happy.  Luckily, he’s really a very undemanding man, even if he is a bit odd (and arrived without any luggage).  Meanwhile, out in foggy London, women are being murdered by a mysterious man who leaves a scrap of paper on the bodies with his name: THE AVENGER.

There really is a lot of tension built up in this story, and I was completely engrossed.  Lowndes doesn’t make it obvious as to whether or not Mr. Sleuth is also the Avenger, and in fact gives us a perfectly reasonable bit of muddy water around the fact.  On one hand, Mr. Sleuth does have a lot of very strange habits.  On the other – most of these really can be explained by him being rather shy and eccentric.  The Buntings are now completely dependent on their income from Mr. Sleuth, so much of the story is about their moral quandary – should they report their suspicions?  If Mr. Sleuth is innocent, they will be on the verge of homelessness yet again.  But if he’s guilty and they say nothing – does that mean that they are partially responsible for the continued deaths?  It all plays out very, very well, and I honestly had no idea what I would do in Mrs. Bunting’s shoes.  (Well, other than try to not be quite as grumpy.  Mrs. Bunting was a rather cranky character.)

While this book is an easy 4/5, it lacks that final star because it did get a smidge repetitive in the middle and because I felt like the ending was a little rushed.  Still, I was completely engrossed in the Buntings’ dilemma.  Lowndes draws their situation so incredibly well that I felt strangely sympathetic towards literally everyone.  An excellent read and recommended.  (NB I read this as a free Kindle book, which can be found here.  There were also editions that cost money, so I actually had a little trouble finding the free one originally.)

Vertigo // by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

//published 1954//

Despite the fact that I do love a good Hitchcock film, I’ve somehow never actually watched Vertigo – I think possibly because I don’t really care for heights myself, and my least favorite part of any movie is the bit where someone is up high and on the verge of falling.  Going into this book I knew genuinely nothing about the plot – and it turns out that it isn’t really all that much about falling off of something tall (although it does play a part)!

The writing in this story was excellent, and the pacing virtually perfect.  I found myself gradually sucked into the story, and the setting – France at the beginning of WWII – added a perfect level of tension in the background that really gave the story depth.  It wasn’t a story that was incredibly exciting, but I found myself compelled to keep reading nonetheless.  And when the ending was revealed, my mind was genuinely blown.  It was a conclusion that made completely and total sense – but that I would never have guessed.

It was interesting to read a book that was centered on a character who wasn’t really at all likable.  Flavieres is weak and rather sly, and the kind of person who always believes his troubles are because of circumstances beyond his control.  His growing obsession with Madeline was super creepy; I loved it.

Madeline’s story, the possibility that she is her ancestress come back to life, is done so well.  As the reader, you know this cannot be true.  Flavieres knows it cannot be true.  And yet – what other explanation can there be for the things happening to Madeline?  Brilliant.

The ending was completely satisfactory, although I felt like it was a bit rushed.  So much information all at once – and then it was over.  I found myself almost startled that I had reached the ending already.

One annoyance was that, despite the fact that this book was translated from its original French, for some reason the translators didn’t bother translating everything…???  So I would get something like this –

He had only to think of her to lose his sense of proportion.  La femme a la tulipe!

And while I’m pretty sure that that means ‘the woman with the tulip,’ I’ve never actually studied French, and many of the other phrases/words weren’t so obvious.  It was rather aggravating to have to stop and try to find a quick translation from time to time.  Like I got that a lot of those instances were when Flavieres was going off on a flowery ramble and was ‘titling’ a moment of Madeline’s life as though she was portrait, but it seemed like that could have been accomplished in English by using capital letters or italics or both – Woman With a Tulip!  Although maybe it’s because leaving it in French makes it sound much more poetic than our poor prosaic English…

Anyway, Vertigo was well worth the read, and it’s one that I may read again sometime now that I know the trick, to see if I can find the clues that I missed the first time around.

Special thanks to FictionFan, whose review of this classic inspired me to add it to the list!

The Big Sleep // by Raymond Chandler

//published 1939//

I’ve recently subscribed to two book boxes, one of which sends very new books (like the one I reviewed here), but the other, Bookishly, sends an older, used, somewhat classic book every month, along with some tea and other small goodies, like a notecard or notebook.  This one comes from England, and I have quite enjoyed getting some of the very classic Penguin editions that are different from what we have here stateside.

Anyway, one of the books I got was Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler.  When I realized that it was the second book in a mystery series staring a private detective named Phillip Marlowe, one of the founders of the ‘hard-boiled detective’ genre, I decided to start with book one, The Big Sleep.  

I genuinely had no idea what to expect, but was immediately captivated by Marlowe, who is not only the main character but also the narrator.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.  I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.  I was neat, clean, shaven and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.  I was everything well-dressed private detective ought to be.  I was calling on four million dollars.

This book was originally published in 1939, and I can see it offending some, as it contains much of the casual prejudices and racism of the day.  (And honestly, some of the negative reviews on Goodreads had my eyes rolling practically out of my head… why do people read books published almost 80 years ago and then get offended that the people in them have a completely different worldview?!  How ignorant do you have to be to not expect that…???)  But at the same time, its very casualness of those prejudices is incredibly revealing of its time, and an intriguing reminder of how times have changed.  For instance, I don’t think anyone could get away with writing anything like this –

“Don’t kid me, son.  The fag gave you one.  You’ve got a nice clean manly little room in there.  He shooed you out and locked it up when he had lady visitors.  He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men.  Think I can’t figure people like you out?”  …  he swung on me … it caught me flush on the chin.  I backstepped enough to keep from falling, but I took plenty of punch.  It was meant to be a heard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones, whatever he looks like.

But it’s not really an overwhelming bit of the story, and the majority of Marlowe’s narration is genuinely hilarious and Chandler’s knack for writing conversation is brilliant; I found myself snorting with laughter on more than one occasion over bits like this –

Her hot black eyes looked mad.  “I don’t see what there is to be cagey about,” she snapped.  “And I don’t like your manners.”

“I’m not crazy about yours,” I said.  “I didn’t ask to see you.  You sent for me.  I don’t mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle.  I don’t mind your showing me your legs.  They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance.  I don’t mind that you don’t like my manners.  They’re pretty bad.  I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.  But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.”

This wasn’t a story full of action.  Marlowe meanders about making his own observations and doing his own thing, but we’re privy to pretty much everything he knows and does.  Chandler isn’t afraid to kill people off, and there are multiple corpses throughout, but nothing gory and no one dies that you’re particularly sad to see go.

While the old-fashioned prejudices may have been rather offensive, the old-fashioned morals aren’t, and I loved how the language in this book never went stronger than a ‘damn,’ and how a few criminals were running a pornography business, which seemed to genuinely disgust the majority of the characters.  I also really liked the Marlowe didn’t fall into bed with any of the women about – he’s way too crafty to fall for their lures, and it says a lot about his overall character, which is actually rather philosophical and introspective, despite his rough-and-ready exterior.

At one point, Marlowe has apprehended a possible bad guy.  When he confronts the kid, the kid responds with “Go _____ yourself” – blank included in the original text.  And that seems to be this kid’s default response to everything, although Chandler manages to mix it up quite a bit with things like, “He spoke three words to me and kept on driving,” or “the kid shrugged and said his three favorite words.”

Despite Marlowe’s hard image, I appreciated that he was genuinely disturbed by the easy murder of one of the characters, even if that character was a bit of a skunk.  There is so much drinking and smoking in this book that I was cracking up – for instance, I’m not sure if even the leaders of criminal rings these days have their own monogrammed cigarettes.

While I wasn’t racing to the ending in desperate fear of Marlowe’s life, I still really wanted to see how things were going to unwind, and with sentences like, “She’d make a jazzy weekend, but she’d be wearing for a steady diet,” luring me along, I found myself thoroughly immersed every time I picked up the book.

I’m looking forward to continuing Marlowe’s acquaintance.  There are only eight books total, plus a ninth that Chandler had partially written at the time of his death and was later finished by another author.  The Big Sleep was an easy 3.5/5, and a really fun start to a series.

#18 for #20BooksofSummer!

Jamaica Inn // by Daphne du Maurier

//published 1935//

Overall, I wanted to like Jamaica Inn, but just found it too, too depressing.

Mary’s mother has died and Mary is going to live with her only remaining relative, her mother’s sister Patience.  Aunt Patience is married to an innkeeper named Joss.  But when Mary (who is a young woman of 23, not a child, by the way) arrives at Jamaica Inn, she finds it to be a frightening and lonely place that discourages visitors.  Joss is a strong, terrible man, and Aunt Patience is a shadow of her former self.  As the story progresses, Mary discovers various evil and terrible things going on around the inn, but feels unable to speak out against them because of how the destruction of Joss would devastate Patience.

Many of the descriptions are rather melodramatic, but excellent nonetheless.  Du Maurier has a knack of describing people in a way that makes them quite easy to picture – perhaps aided by the fact that nearly everyone in this book is practically a caricature.

In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachelwe are given a first person perspective from a possibly unreliable narrator.  Much of tension from both of those books is not knowing how much of what we hear is actual truth, and how much of it is simply in the mind of the narrator.  But in Jamaica Inn, the story is much more straightforward, a more traditional Gothic novel, with smugglers and dark, sweeping moors, and an innocent young woman caught up in circumstances beyond her control.  It wasn’t exactly boring, but it almost was.  While in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel I was constantly guessing as the guilt and innocence to the very end, I really had Jamaica Inn figured out about a third of the way through; the book felt almost formulaic.

Throughout, I couldn’t tell if du Maurier was trying to make a point about the situation of women in society or what, but she constantly, and I do mean constantly, harps on how hopeless and almost pointless the existence of women is, because they are so dependent on men.  Of Aunt Patience she says –

“You mustn’t mind your uncle Joss,” [Aunt Patience] said, her manner changing suddenly, fawning almost, like a whimpering dog that has been trained by constant cruelty to implicit obedience, and who, in spite of kicks and curses, will fight like a tiger for its master.

And really, that sums up the way both sexes are portrayed throughout.  The women – downtrodden, hopelessly bound by love and loyalty; the men – vacillating between cruelty and indifference.

Even Mary herself, who claims that she will always be independent and strong, and will never fall in love or put herself into a place where a man has control over her, falls in love “against her will” –

And there, in spite of herself, came [his] face again, with growth of beard like a tramp, and his dirty shirt, and his  bold offensive stare.  He lacked tenderness; he was rude; and he had more than a streak of cruelty in him; he was a thief and a liar.  He stood for everything she feared and hated and despised; but she knew she could love him.  Nature cared nothing for prejudice.  Men and women were like the animals on the farm at Helford, she supposed; there was a common law of attraction for all living things, some similarity of skin or touch, and they would go to one another.  This was no choice of the mind.

Later in the same chapter she is thinking about how back at home she would see people in love, but after they married –

…when the lad came home at evening tired from his work in the fields, and calling sharply that his supper was burnt, not fit for a dog, while the girl snapped back at him from the  bedroom overhead, her figure sagging and her curls gone, pacing backward and forward with a bundle in her arms that mewed like a cat and would not sleep.  There was no talk then of the moonlight on the water.  No, Mary had no illusions about romance.  Falling in love was a pretty name for it, that was all.

Just…  ugh.  So hopeless, not just about love, but about life – that all we are is unthinking animals who know nothing better than to find someone to whom we have a spark of attraction that we may breed – no hope of any kind of long-lasting affection or companionship – just drudgery and darkness.

And that’s what this book was, consistently, throughout every page.  Drudgery and darkness.  Complete hopelessness.  In the end, Mary goes off with with this man who stands “for everything she feared and hated and despised” – and there is no sign whatsoever that he is not all of the things she lists off in that paragraph.  And so Mary, despite knowing that her life will probably be miserable, purposefully chooses to go with him!  I had already lost all my respect for Mary about halfway through the book; for all her claims to be strong and saucy, she really isn’t terribly smart and is already completely resigned to a life just as miserable as Aunt Patience’s (even though Mary spends a great deal of time despising her Aunt Patience for her loyalty to Joss).

In the end, du Maurier leaves us with nothing.  Christianity is “built upon a fairy tale.  Christ himself is a figurehead, a puppet thing created by man himself.”  Humans are nothing more than animals who can never expect to be anything better.  Women will forever be subservient to men because they will always choose to be loyal to a man, even if he is cruel – which he will be, because all men are so instinctively, desiring nothing more than to crush all who are weaker than they are.

The picturesque descriptions of the moors and the attempt at a mystery were not enough to overcome the darkness and hopelessness of this story for me.  2/5 and not recommended.

However, I will say that both Rose Reads Novels and That’s What She Read are more generous than I am, so you may want to check out their reviews for some balance.  ;-)

#13 for #20BooksofSummer!

(#12 will be reviewed at the end of the month in July’s minireviews.)

April Minireviews

Usually this space is reserved for books I felt kind of “meh” about, but this time around it’s just a way of trying to catch up on some of the backlog.  I’m ready for summer break!!!

Paper Towns by John Green

//published 2008//

I really was going to write a whole long review complaining about this book, but who has time for that?  I read this book because I felt like I needed to actually read one of Green’s books before dismissing him as a pretentious and condescending guy who just says whatever young adults want to hear so he’ll stay popular.  (These days, they call that “being relevant.”)  Now I can be quite smug about not liking him, because, after all, I have tried his books!

Paper Towns was about what I expected.  The main character was completely unrealistic, a high school senior who cared about grades, grammar, and making his parents proud.  And it wasn’t really those things that made him unrealistic, it was just his entire manner and way of speaking.  He spends most of this book running around trying to solve a mystery, following clues he believes his neighbor/crush has left for him.  I’ve heard Green get a lot of flack for perpetrating the “manic pixie dream girl” method of creating a story, but I’m not sure I buy that.  Like half the point was Quentin realizing that he saw Margo as a manic pixie dream girl (although he doesn’t use those words), and understanding that he’s only ever seen her as a very one-dimensional character instead of an actual person.  Yes, Margo is weird and quirky; and yes, she helps Quentin appreciate his life more fully; and yes, we don’t really get to know her from her own perspective – but I still felt like Quentin’s realizations of her were above the MPDG level.  A little.

Overall, the story was just dumb and kind of pointless.  It was a book that desperately was trying to be poignant and deep, but really just came through as cliched and boring.  I compare that to something like The Scent of Waterwhich doesn’t at all try to be poignant and deep and yet manages just that, and can’t believe that people hail someone like John Green as a genius and brilliant writer.  OVERRATED is the main word that comes to my mind, as this book was desperately boring, the characters were flat, and the entire book read like one long cliche.  2/5.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

//published 1817//

Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading this particular classic, and I’m quite sorry that I waited this long.  While this book didn’t have the character studies of some of Austen’s other works, I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Austen’s wry sense ofhumor was at the forefront of this rather frivolous tale, and I loved the way that she poked fun at all sorts of things, but all in such a gentle and kindhearted way.

I purchased the perfect copy of this book, a wonderfully-sized paperback that I love.  My only problem was the “introduction,” in which I was treated to a ten-page synopsis of the story (complete with all the spoilers) and not a word of actual insight or thought!  I’m really heartily tired of introductions that are actually a CliffNotes version of the book.  Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean that everyone who picks it up has already read it!  I mean really.  If the foreword isn’t going to actually give information, what’s the point?!

But the story itself is adorable and fun, and although this may have been my first reading of it, I don’t anticipate it being the last.  5/5.

Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt

//published 1946//

This is another book in the Famous Horse Stories series, and one that I’ve had on a shelf for years and never actually read.  I wasn’t really missing all that much, as Wild Palomino was a wildly impractical tale from page one through the finish.  At the time that I actually read it I kept thinking, Wow, I should make sure to point out that crazy plot twist when I review this book!  But I honestly don’t remember many of specifics as this was an easily-forgotten story.  It’s perfectly fine, and the younger audience for whom it was written would probably enjoy all the drama and excitement, but it was just too implausible for me to really get into.  2/5.

The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1912//

So I mean, sure, some people complain about Wodehouse’s books being a little samey.  I’ve never found that to be an issue for myself personally, because each one has its own unique charm, despite following more or less a set of guidelines.  But I found myself getting major deja vu when I was reading this book, mainly because it wasn’t my imagination – Wodehouse actually used part of one of his other stories!

The part I haven’t been able to figure out completely is whether or not this book or Psmith, Journalist came first, mainly because of the whole thing where Wodehouse wrote lots of his books as serials before printing them as a book, and also tended to have some of his books published first in the U.K. and then in the U.S.  or vice versa.  Either way, this whole book felt weird because of the inclusion of virtually the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist, including a character named Smith!

The Prince and Betty starts as its own story, with Betty’s rich stepfather (or possibly actually father or possibly uncle, I’m not sure which as it has been a while) deciding that his next big scheme is going to be opening a casino on a small European island country.  Complicated hijinks begin, including the rich guy’s attempt to  make Betty marry the prince of said small country.  Of course, Betty and the prince already knew each other from before (except she didn’t know he was a prince… and neither did he!), but Betty thinks that the prince is just trying to appease her father (or stepfather or uncle), so she gets angry and runs away.  So far, so good.

Except next the story takes a strange turn.  Betty lands a job as a secretary for a small newspaper and – well, insert the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist here!  It’s a shame because I actually love Psmith, Journalist  – like, a LOT – but it didn’t feel like it fit into this book at all.  I’m not sure if it’s because I had already read Psmith, or if it really did read like two different books mashed together.  So yes, both halves were good reads, but they didn’t go well together, but that could have just been me…