Reviews

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: Review

Minor spoilers in this post.

Wow, okay, so I’m pretty sure that, at just under 1500 pages, this is the longest book I have ever read. In any case it’s definitely the book that it’s taken me longest to read. Due to extenuating circumstances, like a busy schedule and having to return the book to the library and wait several weeks to get it out again, it took me just over two months to finish The Count of Monte Cristo. Even as long as it is it wouldn’t have taken me nearly as long to read it except that it is a really dense book, not the kind of thing I could typically sit and read for hours on end, but something that I’d read a few chapters at a time and then put it down and do something else for a while. That being said, this is the best book I’ve read in a long time.

Where to even start? There is so much going on in this book that there’s no way I’m going to be able to talk about even half the things I have to say about it. To begin with, the structure of the story was pretty amazing. It takes place over many years, 25 or so I believe, and during this long period of time Alexander Dumas tells a lot of stories. The main character is Edmond Dantes, otherwise known as the Count of Monte Cristo, and  the story follows Edmund from when he is an innocent youth on the verge of promotion and marriage, through his false imprisonment, all the way to the end of his quest for vengeance on those who wronged him. Although the story follows Edmund through his various trials and projects, the story is really “about” so much more.

Revolving around Edmund throughout the novel are the stories of many other characters. There are stories within stories within stories in this novel, and yet all of it eventually relates back to Edmund and his quest. The way I think of it is that he’s the linchpin that is keeping it all together, and it is truly an amazing structure for a novel. We get to see so many different people, their circumstances, their history, and yet none of it is superfluous. In the end everything leads back to the Count and all of his plots, plans, and schemes. Just the structure of this complex web of characters and stories and the way it all relates and comes together in the end would be enough to fill half a dozen blog posts or more, but I will restrain myself, not least because the book would not have been half so good without the constant exciting discovery of how everything fits together.

I loved the characters in the book, particularly Edmund Dantes/the Count. From the very first chapters I found myself thinking how intricate the characters were. Everyone has their own plans, their own motives, and Dumas somehow manages to show it all without the reader ever feeling overloaded with too much information. I found the characters believable and engaging, and even the seemingly most minor characters were superbly put together. No one was black and white, and, although everyone served a purpose, not one character felt to me as if they’d been hastily thrown together just to fit a needed role.

One of the best things in this novel, and something that I would love to discus at length, is the moral ambiguity. There are, of course, characters who are clearly good and characters that are clearly bad, but the most interesting characters are much harder to place. The best example of this is the Count himself. I won’t give away to much but the biggest question is whether Edmund Dantes was justified in pursuing his long crusade to get revenge on his enemies. Certainly those who wronged him deserved to be punished for what they had done, but was he right in taking the law into his own hands and the things he does, the plans he sets in motion, to orchestrate their downfall? This question gets even more interesting if you look at how the novel ends (which I won’t talk about here because I refuse to spoil such a good book).

In case all the praise I’ve just heaped on it wasn’t clear enough I would absolutely rate The Count of Monte Cristo a 5/5, and I highly, highly recommend reading it. It is a commitment though, definitely not the book to pick up if you want a quick, light read, but if you give it a try you won’t regret it.

 

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Reviews

Don’t Close Your Eyes (Wake trilogy collection) by Lisa McMann: Review

I got this series for about five bucks from a Half Priced Books when I visited Texas a while ago. I’d never heard of it before, but the story sounded interesting so I decided to give it a try.

Any spoilers will be fairly minor.

The protagonist of this series is Janie Hannagan, a girl cursed to be unwillingly sucked into other peoples dreams. Janie doesn’t know where she got this curse from (because that’s how she thinks of it, as a curse), but she knows that it will always prevent her from having a normal life. How can she be normal when a classmate falling asleep during study hall pulls her into murderous nightmares and sends her body into seizure like spasms? And if that weren’t enough to make her an outsider, her abysmal home life would probably do the job. Nevertheless, Janie is determined to improve her life. She works hard at school and her job so that she can take care of her mother and save money for college. The series follows Janie as her life begins to change after she starts getting sucked into the horrific nightmares of a boy in her school, Cabel, who has a lot of his own problems to deal with.

This series was pretty predictable, but it did have a lot of good elements. I really enjoyed the relationship between Janie and Cabel, although I did get a bit worried in the second book when I thought Cabel might be turning into a psycho stalker boyfriend. I find that I tend to get tired of YA romances because the relationships always seem to go through the same kinds of drama, and after a while it just gets frustrating and boring. But in this series I thought that Janie and Cabel’s relationship was mature and avoided a lot of the typical drama that I get so tired of, though it did certainly have its own unique kind of drama at times.

The thing I appreciated most about this novel was McMann’s writing style. I don’t know if it will make sense explaining it, but in particular I enjoyed the way McMann sometimes states actions. Her way of writing took a lot of the excess drama out, and I especially liked it when she would turn emotions into statements of action. It worked really well in that it conveyed the characters emotions in a powerful and simplified way, especially because she didn’t overuse it.

The formatting of the series was pretty different from anything else I’ve read. I’ve read other novels were sections are dated or things like that, but these novels are not only dated but also split up into time coded sections. I understand why McMann did it that way, and it did work petty well, but it was also a bit frustrating at times because I would constantly find myself feeling like I needed to look back to see how much time had passed between this section and the last section and whatnot.

Of the three books in the series the second was definitely my favorite, and the third one was a bit of a let down as a conclusion. I understand what McMann was trying to do in Gone, the third in the collection, but I don’t think it was the best way to go. The idea, without giving too much away, is basically that Janie has to make a decision regarding the use of her ability. She has two paths she can take and neither of them is particularly good, the whole of the third book is basically her trying to make a decision while loose ends are tied up and questions left from the previous two novels are answered. If it were just left at that I probably wouldn’t have had a problem with it, it still would have been a bit of a let down after the excitement of the second book, but I would have been okay with it. The problem is that at the very end of the book McMann throws in some last minute information that completely changes Janie’s choices and decision. It read a lot like a cop-out to me. The worst thing though was that you could see it coming almost from the beginning of the book. It was pretty obvious to me what was going to happen, and I had a hard time believing that Janie couldn’t see it until the very end. Plus, knowing how things were going to go cheapened Janie’s struggle, I couldn’t bring myself to really care how hard a time she was having trying to figure out what to do when I knew it was all pointless and going to get thrown out in the end anyway.

In the end, this series was probably worth the five dollars I paid for it, but it’s not one I’ll ever read again. It was a really quick read and I enjoyed it, although the characters dealt with some pretty heavy emotional drama at times so I wouldn’t classify this as a ‘light’ read. Would I recommend this series? Yeah, it’s good enough to read, but to be honest there’s better stuff out there. I can’t rate this above a 2.5/5 stars, which is weird to me because I did enjoy it, and there were a lot of good things about it. I don’t know, I think the ending just kind of disappointed me, I feel like there was a lot more that could have been done with it.

Reviews

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: Review

I won’t spoil the mystery, but there will some minor spoilers in this post.

This is one of those books that I would never have picked up if left to my own devices. I generally don’t pick mysteries for myself just because it frustrates me to always be trying to guess how things will turn out, who’s good, and who’s bad, etc. Then I ended up taking detective fiction as my senior seminar in college and my prejudice against mystery and detective fiction was lessened to a certain degree; these days I’ll occasionally pick up an Agatha Christie novel just for the heck of it. So when a woman I met in Madagascar recommended this book to me I decided I’d give it a try even though it’s a genre that I generally don’t read, and I’m quite glad that I did.

My favorite part of this book was the narrator without question. I have rarely ever identified with a character so much in all of my reading experience. To judge by my own experience, as both a reader and a writer, I would say that it is hard to accurately depict shy, socially awkward, and overly self-conscious characters, but Daphne du Maurier did it wonderfully. From the very beginning of the novel I was impressed with how genuine (agonizingly so) the narrators reactions and feelings were in certain situations. I often found myself thinking wow, that’s exactly the kinds of thoughts and feelings I, as a shy and awkward person, have had in similar situations. It was quite an experience being able to read a character like that and, in a way, see myself from an outside perspective. Even better was being able to watch the character grow and learn to live around her shyness and become more confident and comfortable with herself as a person.

You may have noticed that thus far I have not referred to the narrator/protagonist by name, the reason being that I don’t know what it is. Normally that kind of thing would bug me, but in this book it worked so well, particularly with the title of the book being Rebecca and how the narrative is so focused around that name. The only time the narrator’s name is mentioned or discussed is when she is introduced to someone and they make a comment about it being an interesting name, but they never say what it is. The fact that it’s an interesting name, that it is the narrators own name, and that the narrator is almost obsessed with the name Rebecca, and the woman to whom it belongs, works so well with the haunting theme of the novel that, as much as I wanted to know what her name was, in the end, I was happy and satisfied with not knowing. My ending thought was that I was very impressed with du Maurier for using the simple absence of a name to enhance her novel to such a degree.

The mystery in this novel was one of the better ones that I’ve come across. I liked that it was so important, but that it never seemed like it was being overblown or thrown in my face saying SOLVE ME! In fact, for a good majority of the novel, I think you could read it without even thinking about the mystery if you didn’t want to. Honestly, I think that’s what makes me appreciate Rebecca more than a lot of other mystery novels (not that I’ve read that many). The mystery was there the whole time, hovering on the edge of your attention, but it never asked to be solved, and that gave it a very haunting feeling, a feeling that permeated the entire novel in the best way. I really appreciated the way the mystery, or one might be better off calling it a secret, worked in this novel, but, if not being able to guess the answer before the end is what makes a good mystery then I guess this isn’t one. Although I didn’t have enough details to put together the exact circumstances, I was able to guess, in general, probably about half way through the novel, so I wasn’t surprised when the big reveal was made, but I did still find it satisfying.

The thing that I enjoyed least about the novel was the depressing air that was maintained throughout and the less than cheerful ending. On the one hand, had the novel been cheerful and happy it really wouldn’t have worked at all, but, on the other hand, I really like happy endings. The end of Rebecca was actually satisfying as a conclusion to all that had been going on. The mystery was resolved and people were getting what they deserved. Without saying too much (hopefully) I will say that I was happy with the ending in that a truly happy ending would have been false, not to mention unearned. I have so much I could say about it, but I don’t want to give away the ending!

Rebecca is such a well written book, with such an engaging narrator and protagonist that I would absolutely recommend reading it, even if mysteries aren’t your thing. Be warned though that, although there were happy moments, this novel is not a happy read. I’ll rate it as 4.5/5 stars.

Reviews

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die series, book 1): Review

There may be some minor spoilers in this post.

I’m a sucker for stories like this that take classics and make them into a modern, and often darker, version. I usually go more for fairy tale retellings rather than things like this, but when I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble I couldn’t resist. As you can probably tell from the title, this series is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, or, well, more of a sequel really. The premise is that after the end of the story that we all know Dorothy finds herself discontent back in her boring old life in Kansas. In some mysterious event as yet unexplained in the book she manages to get back to Oz, and that’s when things go terribly wrong. Dorothy, drunk on magical power and hailed as a hero by the people of Oz, has taken over the magical realm, draining it of all magic for her own personal use and enslaving its people. Interesting premise right? Right.

When constructing the backstory for this book Paige created a lot of compelling material for herself. Unfortunately, as I all to often find in the YA genre, she fails to make full use of it. Amy, Paige’s protagonist, like Dorothy, is a relatively ordinary girl from Kansas, though one with a significant amount of teenage angst built up from her terrible home and school life. Also like Dorothy, she gets swept off to Oz by a tornado. For reasons that still have not been made clear at the end of  first book in the series this means that she is the only one who can bring Dorothy down and return Oz to the beautiful and happy place that it was before.

Like I said, pretty good premise, and one that I was excited about, but it didn’t take me too long to realize that it wouldn’t be all I hoped. I felt that the beginning of the novel was rushed, like Paige was trying to get Amy to Oz as fast possible without making sure that the reader got to know Amy and get invested in her struggles before thrusting her into them headfirst. That’s pretty much how I felt throughout the novel. In contrast, however, I also started to feel like Paige was trying way to hard to get me to understand and sympathize with Amy. I completely understand (and enjoy when it’s done well) that angst and self discovery are pretty much staples of the YA genre, but in this novel I never really felt Amy’s struggles and emotional turmoil were real. Her struggle to find her own identity felt forced (and I mean literally, there were literally characters in the novel that were trying to force her to figure out who she was), and I felt like her emotional drama was devalued simply from being harped on too much. Through a large section of the novel, and at various other points throughout, it felt like the plot was being moved along only by her emotional outbursts, and, at the same time, the events of the plot were tailor made to  force these emotional outbursts. Like every time the plot was in danger of stalling or getting bogged down something would happen to push Amy over the edge causing her to achieve whatever thing she needed to achieve in order for the story to move on. While the character’s development should absolutely help move and shape the plot and vise versa in this particular novel the two are not working well together.

The thing that bothered me most about the book as a whole is that Amy seems to have that mysterious power that so many protagonists in the past have had, the power of “just knowing.” I can’t tell you how many times the phrase “somehow I just knew” appeared in this novel, mostly because I didn’t count, but it was a lot. Basically it felt like Amy never had to struggle to learn or understand anything, anytime she was confronted with a questionable situation where she might reasonably be uncertain she would “somehow just know” how to interpret such and such, or that such and such person could be trusted, or that this thing or that was the right thing to do. It cheapened her journey and her authenticity as a person. Granted, there are magical powers in Paige’s Oz and possibly this could explain Amy’s sixth sense, but there is never any indication that this is the case.

Okay, so after all that about the bad stuff about this novel you’re probably thinking I didn’t enjoy it. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was disappointed by Dorothy Must Die because I had expected it to amount to much more than it did, but, at the same time, there is a lot about it that was really interesting and that I really enjoyed. For example, the backstory that has brought Oz to this point, as well as the way beloved characters have become twisted into something dark, though still somehow recognizable and believable as themselves, was very well done and one of the best parts of the book. Additionally there were a lot of magical elements in Oz that I found refreshing and unique. I find that I really want to know what exactly brought all of these characters to the point that they’re at, what turned them, in some cases, so evil. And there are characters whose backgrounds and secrets I’m eager to have revealed. By the end of the novel I felt like Amy was becoming more complete as a character and I was becoming more invested in her.

I’m impressed by the Oz that Paige created here, and having, I confess, only seen the movie and never read the original, I wonder how much of it’s completely new and how much she drew from the original story. I can’t help but think that maybe there are subtleties in the novel that I am missing because I don’t understand their origins. If nothing else this novel has convinced me to finally read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I will be continuing with this series. The first book left off with quite a cliff hanger that I’d like to see resolved, and, after finishing the novel, I too am convinced Dorothy really must die. I’ll give this a 3/5 and recommend that you read it if you’re looking for something not great, but fun and delightfully wicked.

Reviews

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: Review

I’ve never really been all that interested in Kafka. I read some of his stuff in university, but never thought I’d pursue his work beyond what I was forced to. Honestly, whenever I thought of Kafka, which wasn’t often, I’d always be reminded of those pretentious kids, you know the ones. It seemed like in every English class I had doing my undergrad there was always at least one student in the class who had somehow managed to read every classic, and form opinions about them, before they even graduated high school. Or so they would make it seem. I can remember one guy in particular who was really into Kafka, and would bring him up all the time. Now, I have nothing against being really into an author, I myself am an avid Jane Austen fan, but you can take things too far. But all of this is beside the point. Anyway, I probably never would have picked up Kafka on my own if it hadn’t been for my failed attempt to read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami earlier this year. I ended up giving up on that novel, but, as one might expect from the title, there were some references to Kafka, even in the small part of the novel I did read, and that got me interested.

I’ve actually been working on a collection of Kafka’s short stories, but I decided my thoughts were too varying throughout to review it as a whole, so instead I’ll be doing a couple of reviews of his more famous works. And now, on to what I actually thought of “The Metamorphosis.”

Well… well, this is on the stranger side of things I’ve read in my life, though actually not the weirdest by far. I had the same problem with this short story as I found myself having with pretty much ever other story in the collection I read, which is that I feel like I’m supposed to be taking some kind of lesson out of the story, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is. Unless it’s that you shouldn’t lock up your son/brother just because he mysteriously turned into a massive cockroach like creature over night. But somehow I doubt that’s what Kafka was going for.

Surprisingly I actually really enjoyed reading “The Metamorphosis” it’s one of those stories that manages to blend realism and the fantastic without detracting from either or making either the more dominant element. I absolutely loved the matter of fact way that Gregor, the human roach, takes everything in stride. It’s both tragic and hilarious in a this-is-so-funny-but-I-can’t-laugh-at-it kind of way. Almost as good, and really very related to Gregor’s take on things, is the way we, as the reader, can see how completely inaccurate Gregor’s interpretation is of the things going on around him, and yet, even though we see the truth, his view seems perfectly valid, if also sadly misguided. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate a narrative like this that is so well written that it is able to give every characters’ perspective without ever actually changing perspective or stating what it’s doing.

There’s not a whole lot I can say in regards to plot. It’s a short story and there isn’t enough of it for me to be able to talk about parts without giving away the whole thing. But, I can say that I wasn’t able to predict the end at all, and, at the end, I was pretty much left with just as many unanswered questions as I had when I started, but somehow I was okay with it. This is absolutely not the kind of story that I would have ever pictured myself reading, much less liking, yet here I am. The whole story is about seventy pages and can be read in just an afternoon, so I would definitely suggest giving it a try. 4/5 stars.

Reviews

The Love Poems of Lord Byron, a Romantics Passion: Review

Lately I’ve been enjoying reading a lot of poetry. My usual is to have a novel and a poetry collection going at the same time so that I can switch back and forth if I should want a break from either. I’ve been interested in Lord Byron’s poetry since I first started learning about him in university, but I had never gotten around to reading more than one or two of his poems until now.

I’ll be honest, I’ve had trouble figuring out how to write a review of this collection of poems, I mean there are a lot of poems in there, and I don’t feel like I can accurately give an overarching review, but I’m going to try none the less.

My biggest overall impression after reading this collection is that Byron was such a player, but that he also had a way with words. He uses language beautifully and a lot of his poems had really good imagery. I also enjoyed reading poetry with more old-fashioned, or one might call it classic, use of rhyme schemes and rhythms, but, at the same time there weren’t that many poems in the collection that really caught my attention and engaged me. There were only a few, like She Walks in Beauty, On Being Asked What Was the “Origin of Love”, Stanza to the Po, and So We’ll Go No More A-Roving that I really enjoyed reading, and the rest I read more out of a sense of duty than anything else.

I can’t say I’m really surprised by my reaction to Lord Byron’s verses. In general I find love poems overdone and prefer more gritty, and witty, poems than I found in this collection. Of course, this collection was lacking some of his more famous, longer works, like Don Juan. Despite the fact that I didn’t love most of the poems in this collection, I am still glad I read it since it’s always good to be expanding my poetic horizons. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that anyone else try this collection. I feel like I didn’t really do justice to this collection while I was reading it or in this review so I’m not going to rate it, but I would absolutely recommend reading Lord Byron because his poems are considered among the classics for a reason.