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…

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Jane Fairfax

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by Joan Aiken

Published 1990

Jane Fairfax was the second Emma sequel that I wanted to read.  I vaguely remembered reading it a long time ago, but really couldn’t recall any of the details.

I have always liked Jane, and been intrigued with her.  And to me, hardly anything illustrates Emma’s immaturity and selfishness more than her treatment of Jane.  And that poor, poor Jane must be railroaded into a friendship with the dreadful Mrs. Elton…!!!  Such tragedy!

Aiken does a truly wonderful job telling Jane’s story.  Her writing is very plausible, and the story intriguing.  And it is quite nice to be reminded that Emma was not the only heroine who was rewarded with a happy ending.

4/5, and a must-read if you at all enjoyed Emma.

Emma & Knightly

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by Rachel Billington

Published 1996

So, part of the reason that I read Emma was so I could read this sequel (and Joan Aiken’s Jane Fairfax).  Frequently, Jane Austen sequels/rewrites are basically pornographic novels, which is quite depressing.  However, Emma & Knightly was a delightful little read.

Billington explores the the most obvious potential pitfall of the marriage between these two characters–the fact that Knightly has grown up regarding Emma as his personal young charge, to admonish and guide.  Through the story, they learn to relate to each other two adults, husband and wife.  Old characters appear, and even Mr. Woodhouse has his opportunity for romance.

I would give this happy story an easy 3/5.  It would be a 4, except for Frank Churchill, whose part in the story spiraled completely out of control–

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Emma

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by Jane Austen

Published 1815

So, I had stumbled across a couple of sequels to Emma and wanted to read them, but it had been a while since I read the original.  This old Dover copy (I love Dover books!  They used to be a dollar everywhere; I would agonize over which ones to purchase every year at the home school convention) is exactly the way I like to read Austen’s book: It’s just her book.  No notes, no one else’s thoughts, just Austen’s story, plain and simple.  Commentary has its place; that place is very rarely while I’m actually reading a story.

Anyway, I enjoy Emma, but Emma herself is not my favorite heroine.  I just want to give her a good shake most of the time.  She annoys the bejeebers out of me.  And while most of Austen’s other heroines end up understanding and working to rid themselves of their flaws, I never get that feeling with Emma.  Yes, she realizes that she’s an arrogant, self-centered, indolent person, but her regrets about not befriending Jane Fairfax, her attempts to make things up to Miss Bates, her realization of how amazing Knightly is–none of these things really impress me as actual changes in her character.  One hopes that she will go forward and be less annoying, but I’m not really confident about that.  Perhaps Knightly will have a good influence on her.  One can only hope.  But between her and Mrs. Elton (!!!!!!!!!! horrid woman!!!!!!!!), Emma is a book I pick up every few years, but not one that I miss in between.

3/5.