Reviews

Emma by Jane Austen: Review

The first time I read Emma was a couple of years ago while I was doing a semester abroad in Ireland. I was overjoyed when I walked into the first day of class and learned that the major author I was going to spend the semester studying would be Jane Austen. My joy did not last long. That was one of the most disappointing classes I’ve ever taken because it was so incredibly poorly taught. The one thing that I can say in favor of that class is that it finally induced me to read all of Jane Austen’s novels whereas before I had only read Pride and Prejudice. For that reason alone I am grateful to the class.

Although that class familiarized me with all seven novels it did not teach me to like them all. I loved Pride and Prejudice already, and Northanger Abbey was lovable on first sight, but my relationship with some of the other novels started on rocky footing, and Emma is included in that. The professor for that class had some very strange ideas about Austen and her writing, and the way she ran her classes left no room for discussion or debate. So I dutifully trudged through each novel only half appreciating what I was reading because I was reading for stuff I could use to craft essays specifically suited to this professors taste (since she didn’t really leave room for writing any other kind of essay). With all that being as it was, I did not like Emma the first read through. I found the character shallow and unlikable, and I pretty much left the novel behind a quickly as I could. I don’t know if it was because it’s better on a second read through, or just because I’m not reading with that professors ideas looming over my head, but I really loved Emma this time around.

During this read through of Emma I think I finally figured out what I love so much about Austen’s novels. If you’ve read some of my other reviews then you may have realized that few things bother me more in a novel than a good plot with underdeveloped characters. Characters make or break a novel, you can have the best plot in the world, but if you’re characters aren’t well developed and believable it’s not going to be worth reading. Austen’s characters are some of the best I’ve ever read and that’s what I love so much about her writing.

Austen’s novels take place in limited settings, with very little “action” as we would consider it. And yet they aren’t boring, in fact, they’re completely absorbing, and it’s because Austen’s characters are so good. I could go in depth into all of the different characters in all seven novels, but since this review is technically about Emma I’m going to try and restrain myself. I think Emma is actually a superb example, possibly the best, of what Austen does so brilliantly with her characters. What I found during this read through was that the characters were all vivid and alive, all so believable, that I actually felt like I knew them, and, in a way, I do. Austen’s characters are people, real people that we know. The best way I have to explain what I mean by that is that the characters are caricatures, but not just caricatures since that suggests a certain lack of depth and exaggeration, which definitely is not the case here.

It’s as if there are two layers to each character. The first layer is the base, the fundamental caricature of a certain type of person. Then the second layer is the the unique individual traits, background, and feelings that make each character unique. My favorite example is Miss Bates. The character is so simple and so beautifully done, I feel like I know her, like I understand her. Even more importantly, because her character seemed so familiar to me I was able to understand and relate to Emma’s feeling towards her. That’s the second thing that makes Austen’s writing and characters so wonderful. They’re emotions and actions are so believable and relatable that you feel like you know them and can sympathize with or understand their actions.

Those two things, or rather the one overarching thing, the characters, are what make Austen so brilliant and why I love her so much as an author. Her character Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice once has a conversation about how she loves to make a study of peoples’ characters, and I think that was a little bit of the authors personality slipping into her character. I think she must have enjoyed watching and studying people, finding their idiosyncrasies, their faults, their virtues, and working out how those things all fit together to make a person, and she used that. I also think she must have been very good at it, and that, in turn, made her a fantastic author.

I’ve gone on enough about the characters, but really that’s the best part of this novel. That being said the plot is also top notch, and quite funny as well. Without giving away to much the entire plot is basically made up of characters whose faults and failings cause them to get themselves into some unfortunate messes. Watching the characters dig themselves into holes and climb back out again is quite entertaining. Even if sometimes you do want to reach through the pages, grab Emma by the shoulders and shake her until she realizes how foolish she’s being.

I had a pretty good segue I wanted to use here, but, since using it would give away to much of the story, instead I’m just going to make this awkward transition into my last point. In my review of Northanger Abbey I’d said that I was still trying to decide between Henry Tilney (from Northanger) and George Knightly (from Emma) for my second and third favorite Austen hero (Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is obviously my first favorite). Having now reread both novels I’ve decided that Henry Tilney wins out in the end. It was a tough decision. The problem with all the Austen heroes is that they are all so perfectly suited to the heroines that when you read each novel you think that that hero is the perfect guy because of how perfect he is for her, but when you read the next novel you think the same thing all over again. But Henry won in the end because, when I really thought about it, he’s the one I would rather know personally and who I think would be more fun to have a conversation with. Although, when it comes to which one has more merit as a person, I think George Knightly would be the winner.

5/5 in case you couldn’t tell. Also read it, read it, read it. It’s so good.

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Reviews

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: Review

I believe I’ve mentioned in some previous posts how fond I am of Jane Austen and her novels. So it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that I love this one. It’s only the second time that I’ve read it, but this read through confirmed for me that it’s worthy of being my second favorite Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice being the first, of course).

Northanger Abbey is the funniest Austin novel in my opinion. That’s not to say that it’s the laugh out loud kind of funny, but rather that it has a lot of clever jokes and hidden meanings that make it a delight to read because Northanger Abbey is a satire of the Gothic type novel that was very popular during Austen’s time. That being said you don’t have to be knowledgeable about Austen or Gothic novels to be able to enjoy the humor in this satire, yes, there would probably be some stuff that you miss if you’re completely unfamiliar with the genre, but you will absolutely still be able to enjoy the book. I would highly recommend reading the notes as you go though. Normally I’m not a fan of foot notes or end notes unless I’m reading a book for a class, because I feel like always checking the notes to get things explained is an unnecessary interruption, but, in this case, I definitely recommend reading the notes because they help you understand and enjoy a lot more of the humor in the book. For example, if you don’t know what Blaise Castle is, you’re missing out on a big part of the joke in that chapter.

If you’re thinking right now that you shouldn’t read Northanger Abbey because there’s no way you can be bothered to read the notes, I want to change your mind. Even without those extra insights it’s definitely still worth reading. Catherine, the heroine, is the most endearingly naive heroine I’ve ever read. Normally a character like Catherine might get on my nerves, but Austen wrote her so well, and she tries so hard, that I have to love her in the end. Not to mention Henry Tilney, the clever hero who always has something witty to say. He’s definitely in my top three for Austen heroes, and I just need to reread Emma so I can decide between him and George Knightly.

As much as I love the character’s in this novel, my favorite part is actually Austen herself. One might even call her a character in this novel because she breaks the fourth wall on several occasions. In a lot of books that wouldn’t work, but in this one it’s perfect. Northanger Abbey is completely self aware. It’s a satire and it knows that, and the author knows, and the reader knows. Pretty much the only ones who don’t know are the characters, and that’s a lot of what makes it so funny. I’m not going to spend to much time trying to convince you that this is a totally awesome aspect of the novel, because I could never do it justice, and you should just read it for yourself to find out how good it is. I will throw in that the last few pagers are actually my favorite, and the ending sentence is hilarious, specifically because of how Austen breaks the first wall, and sort of makes fun of her own novel and characters.

I could continue to go on at length about this novel, I could write an essay on it, in fact I think I did once. I could even go into my well rehearsed rant about how poorly this book was taught to me in school and how it’s still lovable anyway, but I think I’ve said enough. I give this a 5/5 of course, and highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. Normally I don’t include quotes in my reviews, but today I’m actually going to end with one because of how much I love it:

“we are all hastening together to perfect felicity”  Jane Austin, Northanger Abbey.

Reviews

The Host by Stephanie Meyer: Review

Right, so I’ve spent the last few weeks traveling to Israel on a mission trip with my church, sick, and starting a new job so I haven’t had a whole lot of time to read, but I finally finished this book so it’s review time! (there’s gonna be spoilers in this one)

This isn’t the first time I’ve read The Host, but when I got home from Israel and was spending a day lying around my house trying to get over jet lag I found the movie on Netflix, watched it, and, of course, felt a need to read the book again.

What can I say about The Host, it’s pretty typical Stephanie Meyer. I confess, I’ve read Twilight multiple times, it’s my guilty reading pleasure, not because it’s super good, but because you know that it’s all going to be warm and fuzzy in the end, and there’s something comforting about that to me. But this isn’t about Twilight, although I can’t help but point out that there are a lot of similarities between these two stories.

There’s a girl, she’s pretty ordinary, nothing special about her that anyone can see except that she just can’t seem to fit in anywhere and she doesn’t know why, she just doesn’t for some reason. But she’s special, no really, she’s just fascinating to the people around her, especially that one boy from another species who just can’t seem to not fall in love with her despite the fact that the entire rest of his species is telling him that it’ll never work out. Don’t worry, her inexplicable charm wins them all over in the end. Outside of this the plot consists entirely of situations that force the girl to be self sacrificing in order to save the people she love, which manages to result in her and everyone she loves getting everything they wanted. The end.

Okay, now which story did I just describe, The Host or Twilight? It literally could have been either. I mean, okay, there is some variation between the two, but at the core they are basically the same story. Like I said before, that’s what I like about Meyer’s stories, you always know that their going to have a happy ending. So yeah, I enjoy them despite their flaws. Like the totally dramatic form of love that exists in both stories. Seriously, in both stories emotions just seem completely overblown to me. I really think there is a lot to be said about subtlety when it comes to portraying emotions in writing. It has a lot to do with that old writing cliche “show don’t tell,” something that Meyer has yet to master. And as much as we all might want to believe in that completely overpowering love that she writes about, and as much as it might even exist, I think her very dramatized way of writing about it does not do it justice.

Now, on to other things. It is an interesting concept. Alien and human, living together in one body, coming to know and understand each other. Not entirely original, humans being possessed by little alien creatures that attach to the brain stems and cause their eyes to glow has been done before (e.g. Stargate SG-1), but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room to explore with the concept. The idea of the aliens as invaders and conquerors, but also gentle and, in many ways, mundane was pretty interesting to me. I think the alien’s version of human society was one of the more interesting things in the book, and I have a lot of questions about it that weren’t answered during the course of the novel. There are also some things that we do learn about it in the book that don’t make a lot of sense to me. For example, if the souls justify their occupation of a planet by saying that they’ll take care of it better etc. then why are they all still chowing down on plastic wrapped junk foods and driving cars that are going to wreck the environment and stuff like that? I mean if their whole deal is that they make a planet better then why haven’t they used their superior technology to fix all the problems in human society? Yes, they “come to experience, not to change” but in order to stick with their own propaganda they would need to change some thing, and that doesn’t seem to have happened in Meyer’s world. The devil is in the detail.

What else is their to say? There is a lot that I can criticize in this book, but I don’t see the point in going into more of the flaws because this isn’t, in my opinion, the kind of book that you read in order to get a really good literary experience. It’s the kind of story you read when you want to read something dramatic and happy with a love story that you know has to work out in the end.

I’ll rate this a 3/5 with points knocked of for all of the stuff that I’ve just written a whole review about and am not going to reiterate here, but I have to give it the 3 because I enjoy reading this book every time I pick it up. Mind you, I can’t read it that often or the drama of it starts to get on my nerves, but once every few years I’ll probably give it a read.

 

Reviews

Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die series book 3): Review

(Spoiler warning, but nothing too serious)

First off, I have to say that I’m pretty upset. I thought this series was only a trilogy, not sure why. I mean there were three book on the shelf at the store, I bought the three books, and I expected that to be the end of it. Anyway, this has definitely happened to me before, and I should really learn to start googling these things before I start a series, but I never learn. The point though, is that I’m pretty mad the series isn’t over yet.

If you’ve read my reviews of the first two books in the series you know that my feelings have been mixed. This book pretty much had all of the same problems as the previous two. I’m not going to rehash all of it, but basically the ideas and plot behind the story are interesting and have a lot of potential, but the execution of the story comes across really shallow. On the bright side, sitting here at the end of book three I feel like some of the main characters are finally starting to feel more genuine to me. Of course, it shouldn’t have taken three books for me to start feeling this way. If I were to compare this series to a movie I’d say it’s one of those action thrillers that has a plot, and it follows the plot, but you can tell that it was written specifically to allow for as many explosions, car chases, and gory fight scenes as possible, all at the expense of character development and cohesiveness.

So one reason why I’m upset that this series didn’t end with the third book is because it definitely could have. In fact, it very nearly did. The original aim of the series was pretty much completed in this book, but, surprise, something new happened, a new bad guy made himself known, and now the series goes on. This is something that often bothers me. I don’t like it when a story drags on after its natural conclusion. I mean, yes, I am totally fine with heroes facing more than one villain, and with multiple story arches, and things like that. But there’s a good way to do that, and there’s deciding to throw a new bad guy in at the end just to keep the series going. This series definitely seems like the latter to me. Possibly I would feel differently if I had known that the series went on past the third book, but I don’t think so. The series was set up with a very clear goal, an obvious conclusion, and I really think it should have ended there instead being dragged out.

On the other hand, things are getting really interesting over in OZ. That actually just makes me more angry because I really want to be finished with this series but now I’m to invested and really want to know what happens next. I guess that’s a positive though.

Alright, this third book in the series earns a grudging 3.5/5 from me. The plot is definitely getting interesting at this point, but mostly I’m just glad that the characters are starting to come into their own. This series is worth it if you’re willing to stick it out through all of the shallow characterization and plot devices to get to the interesting stuff.

Reviews

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor (Being the First Jane Austen Mystery) by Stephanie Barron: Review

I need to preface this whole review by saying that Jane Austen is one of my all time favorite authors. I have read every single one of her novels (I’ve read Pride and Prejudice twice already this year bringing my total up to something like fifteen of sixteen). I studied Jane Austen’s literature extensively in school and have written multiple essays about her. This book was actually recommended to me by a professor after I wrote about Jane Austen as detective fiction in his class (it sounds weird, but I pulled it off and got an A no less). It’s taken me a long time to get around to reading this first of Stephanie Barron’s novels featuring Jane Austen as the ‘detective’ because, as much as I love Jane Austen, I’m really not that big a fan of detective stories. Given my background with Jane Austen you might imagine that I had mixed feeling picking up this novel. Would Barron do Austen justice? Would it be authentic to the times? Would the story actually be good or was Barron just trying to attract attention to a mediocre novel by using Austen’s well known and respected name? Having read the novel my feeling are mixed, but enough of this intro stuff, lets get to it.

The first few chapters of the book had me enthralled. I was, to put it bluntly, ridiculously excited, because in a very few pages I began to realize what kind of game Barron was playing at. Sprinkled throughout the pages of this novel are dozens of hints, references, and nods towards Jane Austen’s own novels. Character names, places, the personalities of the characters, there were so many things I could point to and say “AHA! I see which Austen character this is based on!” or “This is the conversation that is supposed to ‘inspire’ such and such scene in this Austen novel.” It became something like a treasure hunt, trying to pick out the specific bits that made direct references to Austen’s own  writing. It was this aspect that really got me reading and remained one of my greatest pleasures in the novel throughout. However, after a while the novelty of what Barron was doing started to wear off and I began to pay attention to the novel itself.

The plot of The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor didn’t hold a lot of interest for me for the first half of the novel or so, but eventually I did start getting invested in the story and trying to figuring out who the culprit was and all that. Unfortunately the story was somewhat predictable, at least in the bigger aspects of the plot. I knew who’d done it, who seemed to have done it but was really innocent, and such and such, way before the big reveal at the end, but I still enjoyed reading the story to see how Barron would have all of her characters figure it out. Still, on the rare occasion that I do read detective fiction I prefer for the plots to be slightly less predictable.

It’s about time that we start coming to my major problems with this book. The novel is written in the form of a journal that was supposed to have been kept by Austen herself and that details the events of the unpleasantness that she is witness to, and involved in, at Scargrave Manor, and that’s where Barron really starts to go wrong. Since the novel is written from Austen’s perspective it, of course, needed to try and imitate her voice, and Barron did a commendably decent job. However, although Barron used Austen’s typical language, phrasing, and syntax relatively well, you could still see the more modern narrative style coming through. Had the novel been narrated from a third person perspective I think this would have been perfectly acceptable, but, since it was supposed to have been written by Jane Austen herself, it ended up seeming false and inauthentic. Even had her writing style been a complete and perfect imitation of Austen’s, Barron’s attempt would still have fallen short because of the necessity of weaving into the narrative information that we, as modern readers, needed to know but that Austen would never have included because of it being perfectly understood in her time without the need for further comment. Barron does save herself from some of this by using footnotes to explain some of the more historical information. At first these footnotes added to the authenticity that she was going for as they were presented in the guise of editor’s notes and explained such things as social class and geography or the like. Then Barron took it too far. The notes started turning to the “history” of Austen’s life. Claiming that this character in Barron’s novel was supposed to be the inspiration for this character in Austen’s novel, and that kind of thing. It was all lies. Had the foot notes been restrained to actual historical information relevant to the story it would have been fine, but I take great issue with Barron trying to twist Austen’s actual life story for her own literary aims. I understand that it’s fiction, and if this had been done to an author that I liked a bit less then I might not care, I might have even thought it was clever, but as it is I found it incredibly wrong that Barron would corrupt the history of an amazing author for her own benefit.

At some point during the novel, around when I started getting more interested in the plot and more frustrated by Barron’s false footnotes, I started trying to read the novel as just another historical novel with a detective plot rather than as anything connected to Austen, her work, or her life. While I could manage to do that I found the story to be a fun read. That, combined with the fun I had picking out all of the little Austen treasures (the real ones based on Austen’s work, not the fake stuff that Barron was making up), kept me from actually disliking this novel. It certainly won’t be ranked among my favorites, and I likely won’t continue with reading the following books in the series, but I did enjoy this book in the end.

Final recommendation. If you like Austen, and you like detective fiction, you should give this book a try. If you read this book without a strong familiarity with Austen’s works then you miss out on a lot of what makes this novel worth reading, but, on the other hand, you could probably enjoy it just for the plot and historical aspect. Final rating 2.5/5 stars. If I were rating just plot or quality of writing then I’d have rated it higher, probably 3.5/5, but I’ve got to take that extra point off for those frustrating footnotes.

Reviews

The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die Series, book 2): Review

There will be some spoilers in the following post.

This second book in Paige’s series picks up right where the first book left of, with Amy fleeing after a failed attempt to kill Dorothy and take back Oz. With their plan unsuccessful and Dorothy in the wind, The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked isn’t doing so well. In fact, Amy can’t seem to find any of the other members. Can you guess what she spends most of the novel trying to do? The Wicked Will Rise
follows Amy as she tries to track down the missing members of the order, while also collection the magical items the Wizard told her she would need in order to kill Dorothy, all while trying to contend with the dark magic that is taking her over bit by bit. Sort of anyway.

I have as many or more issues with book two as I had with book one in this series. We have all of the same reoccurring issues, for example, how every time Amy comes up against a challenge that she doesn’t know how to handle something magical happens and she can “somehow”just do what ever needs to be done, and acquires a handy new magical ability in the process. As a result Amy pretty much never has to actually work for anything, and two-thirds of the way through the trilogy I still can’t get myself to feel invested in Amy as a character. Her successes are magically handed to her, she has very little, if any control over what’s going on around her and her emotional turmoil seems cheap in consequence. In this novel Paige seems to be trying to make use of the every-time-I-need-Amy-to-make-progress-or-the-plot-too-move-ahead-I’m-gonna-make-it-happen-magically-with-no-apparent-cause-or-effort-on-Amy’s-part plot device by making these inexplicable magical interventions and breakthroughs of a darkly magical nature. Basically Amy finds herself tapping into incredibly dark magical forces, the same magical forces that Dorothy used to take over Oz, without knowing why or how, but, hey, they work so she uses them. All the while she worries about what these dark powers mean and weather she could end up being corrupted by them like Dorothy was, but, again, her struggle never seems authentic to me. I think that Paige made a valiant effort to redeem her prodigious use of such a repetitive plot device by trying to turn it into a means for character development, but she doesn’t succeed. Which leads us to another issue common between this novel and the last.

We spend so much of this novel wandering in circles inside Amy’s head. It seems to me that Paige’s writing style is stuck somewhere between close first person and all knowing narrator, and the combination really doesn’t work. It leads to Amy instinctively knowing things whenever she needs to know them for no apparent reason except that she needs to for the plot to move along, and, worse, we get stuck in these endlessly repetitive loops of thoughts in Amy’s head. First, she struggles with the dark magic that she suddenly finds herself wielding, then she decides that as long as she has it she might as well use it even though it’s dangerous, because of some trauma, hardship, etc. from her past that makes her realize that she is a strong person who knows who she is, unlike Dorothy. Until the next crisis comes around and then she starts all over again. It gets tiresome very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand what Paige is trying to do with this story, but her execution just isn’t there yet. To be honest, I know I’m probably being a bit overly critical here, but it’s because a lot of the issues that I see constantly popping up in Paige’s writing are a lot of the same issues that have when I write, and that I have put a lot of hard work into becoming aware of and training myself not to do. It’s just something that I’m so aware of at this point that I can’t not notice it. I do realize though that I am not being completely fair, because there is a lot of good stuff in the novel too.

Paige has a lot of really good magical elements that help bring to life a unique and beautiful Oz. Some of her characters, like Lulu, Pete, and Ozma, are really interesting, and the plot is one that I find highly interesting. There are some elements that have been predictable, but, for the most part, at least in the big ways, I really don’t know what’s going to happen next and I want to find out. That’s what really keeps me reading at this point. What is the origin of Oz? Are we going to find out more about these mysterious faeries that have been discussed? What will happen with Ozma? What exactly has the Wizard’s role been in all this? It’s these questions that are going to keep me reading through the final book in the series.

I’ll give this the same 3/5 as I gave the previous book in the series. I’m tempted to give it a lower rating, but the interesting plot and beautiful magical elements redeemed it somewhat. This series has it’s issues, but it’s a fast read and good if you want a bit a break from harder or more complex novels.

 

Reviews

1984 by George Orwell: Review

I’ve been meaning to read 1984 for about three years now. I took it with me on my very first international flight thinking I’d read it on the plane. Of course, I ended up being horribly sick the whole ten hour flight and didn’t do any reading at all. Then I kept planning to read it, and meaning to read it, and thinking it would be the next book I read, etc. But it never happened until now, and I have to say that the wait wasn’t really worth it.

I was pretty excited about reading 1984. I’d heard it talked about as something like the father of the dystonian genre, which is a genre that I’m generally very fond of, and I was really excited to see what it would be like. At first I was intrigued. I didn’t find Winston to be the most engaging or likable character, but I didn’t hate him, and, as someone who wasn’t completely brainwashed by the Party, I thought he was alright as a protagonist, if not particularly interesting. But the farther I got into the novel the more bored and disappointed I got. I felt like it mostly just went in circles with Winston thinking about the past, and the party, and reality, wash, rinse and repeat. When Julia came in I was ready for things to get a bit more exciting. They didn’t. I could never bring myself to like Julia. Sure, she was rebelling against the Party, but not because she felt that the Party needed to be over thrown, or because she believe that humanity deserved better, but just because she wanted to have sex and the party told her not to. Basically I found her pretty shallow. And, although the “love story”, if you want to call it that, between Winston and Julia was certainly something that could have put a bit of excitement into the book, it ended up just providing different settings for Winston to go on having the same musings that he had been having throughout the book.

As much as I generally disliked the vast majority of this book the ending definitely takes the prize for least favorite part. Maybe I’m just a sucker for happy endings, or maybe I just don’t like a novel that completely undermines the idea that we are all independent people with unique thoughts and experiences who are capable of more than base feelings and self preservation, but, whatever the case, the ending did not work for me.

Of course, I understand that 1984 is meant to make you think about human nature, human society, what makes us ‘us’, what’s true, the importance of the past, human bonds… I could go on. I do understand that. I saw it, and it made me think, which is good, but it tried to make me think to much. I guess it was just too in your face with the message. That being said, I do understand why this book as as highly respected as it is, and I would even say it is worth a read so long as you understand what you’re getting yourself into, which evidently I did not.

Final rating? 2/5 I gotta give it a couple points just because it was well written and it does accomplish it’s purpose in making you think, but I can’t give it more than that because I really just didn’t enjoy it. It was just so depressing. Yes it’s worth reading, but no, it’s not something to read if you want to actually enjoy what you’re reading.