A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: Review

A while back I decided that I was going to start reading my way through classical literature, even the stuff that never held any interest for me, because I think that classical literature is pretty important. Towards that end I made myself a reading jar in which I put the names of a long list of literary texts that I want to get under my belt. A Tale of Two Cities is the most recent book that I drew from my jar, and I was not excited to read it. I read Dickens’s Great Expectation in college, and I was not a fan. Dickens is, to put it bluntly, very long winded. Rumor is that he was paid by the word, although a quick bit of research seems to indicate that this is not the case and he was actually paid for something like every thirty-two pages that he wrote. Either way, it was in his best interest to write in as lengthy a way as possible, which can make his novels a bit hard to get through.

It’s been a couple years now since I read Great Expectations but I remember it as being ceaselessly wordy, and the story seemed to drag pointlessly on when it all could have been wrapped up so much sooner. You can see why I was dreading A Tale of Two Cities, but I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

Unlike in Great Expectation I found that in A Tale of Two Cities Dickens makes excellent use of his wordy style to create an artful, witty, and engaging narrative. Yes, he goes on at length in certain scenes and about certain occurrences that really could have been abbreviated considerably and still done their job very well; however, his way of talking round and round a subject turns in to a kind of double edged wit where he gets across the point of what he is trying to say without ever actually saying it. It’s this style that really sets the tone for the novel, and I really came to enjoy it. That being said, the convoluted paragraphs and run on sentences did get tiresome and hard to follow at times, but once I got into the style I was able to manage without too much trouble.

The characters in A Tale of Two Cities are also a great improvement on those that I remember from my last Dickens novel. I actually liked a lot of these characters. Certainly they have that quality that you often find in classic literature of being pretty one dimensional and seeming more like caricatures than real people, but that actually worked quite well with the story and the style of the narrative. Without a doubt the best character was Sydney Carton. I liked him right away and was never sure quite where the character would go, out of the whole cast he was the only character that I really felt could surprise me and the one I was most invested in.

The plot itself was interesting, if exaggerated and somewhat unrealistic. For the most part, not knowing much at all about the book before I picked it up, I wasn’t able to predict where the plot would go. In the last few chapters I was able to figure out how it was going to end, and, when I figured it out, I realized that there had been clues pointing towards this very conclusion throughout the novel that only made sense after I figured out what was happening, and I thoroughly enjoyed putting the pieces together. I am still not sure whether I only figured it out so late because I wasn’t paying enough attention, or if Dickens did it that way on purpose. For my pride’s sake if nothing else I’d like to give the credit to Dickens and his top notch story telling.

All together I was very satisfied with this read. The story was interesting, the characters were beautifully crafted, and the writing was very well done. This is a solid 4.5/5 with half a point taken away for being confusing sometimes. I highly recommend you give this a read if you haven’t already, after all, you can never read too many classics.


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.



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.


The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare: Review

As a sophomore in college I took a few theater classes, mostly to get out of speech and debate, but they actually turned out to be good classes. It was during one such class that I was introduced to The Taming of the Shrew. Now, I was one of those people in college who actually did the reading 99% of the time. This time, however, was part of the 1%. In actuality I’m not sure that my professor ever assigned us to read the play, though I do have it so it makes sense that she would have, but we did watch a video recording of a performance of the play. Unfortunately we only made it about half way through before class ended and we never finished it. The play was so good though, and really funny, so I took it upon myself to read the rest of the play and find out how all of the craziness concluded, but with all of my other homework taking up my time, and the amount of mental effort it takes to persevere through reading a play, I didn’t make it any farther in the script than I did in the video. Until now, and I am happy, and quite proud of myself if I’m being honest, to finally be able to say that I have finished The Taming of the Shrew more than tree years after starting it, and read the entirety of one of Shakespeare’s plays for the first time in my life.

So how was it? Tough to say. I love reading old literature, I love the language and the manners and everything about it, but it can be really hard to get through, and even harder to fully understand, and for that reason I don’t recommend trying to read this play without a dictionary on hand. Without the footnotes I probably would have been entirely lost at times, and even with those it was often hard to follow what was going on, but much of that I think is also just due to the format. Shakespeare’s plays, while definitely worth reading in my opinion, were absolutely intended to be watched. It’s hard to keep up with the scenes, who’s talking, and, with the amount of deception and disguise that goes on in this play, it was even tough at times to remember who was who and how they all related to each other. It was certainly a lot of work to read, but worth it, and it didn’t take all that long either. All this being said, I would recommend reading for sure, after all we could all use some more Shakespeare in our lives, but, if you really want to enjoy the play and see the comedy to full effect it needs to be watched.

Now to the plot. Do not read this play if you are an easily offended feminist. The play is basically about breaking a woman to her husbands mastery, and definitely won’t be appreciated unless you can put yourself into the mindset of the time in which it was written. This is another aspect that I think would be made better by seeing rather than reading it, because I think that the performance of the play would enhance the comedy making it the focus over the more sexist aspects. If you’re willing to put away your modern notions it really is a funny play.

Here’s my big issue with this play. The story is set up with a framing, play within a play, type structure, so I expected the whole thing to conclude with a final scene of the original characters (the ones viewing the play within the play) who were having there own sort of drama that I wanted to see resolved, but the play ended with the conclusion of the play within the play, and that left me a little unsatisfied.

Although this play may not be to everyone’s taste, no one could ever call it boring. There is deception, disguises, romance, idiots and gentlemen, not to mention some idiotic gentlemen, so many plots by different people that all play off of each other. I’m so glad that I’ve finally read it, if only because I’ve always been a bit ashamed of myself for never finishing it, and I’m definitely going to try and get my hands on some performed version of it in the near future. In it’s written form I’ll give it a 4/5, but I admit I’m biased by my love of the classics.


The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White: Review

This is one of those books that I looked at for about half a minute at the library, liked the cover, was interested enough by the blurb, and decided to take home with me. The plot is basically thus: Isadora is the mortal daughter of immortal Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. She is disillusioned by her relationship with her powerful mother, feels unwanted by the god of the dead, aka her father, and thus moves to San Diego to live with her mortal brother, son of same immortal gods. Of course, there is also some dark threat looming over the whole family of gods at the same time that all of this is happening. The book is a combination of, angst-ridden-teen comes-to-understand-her-complicated-family and normal-teen-immersed-in-supernatural-world-saves-all-the-supernatural-beings, plus a little romance splashed in.

I did enjoy this book, it was a fast, fun read, with some angst, some romance, and some good friendships. But I have a lot of problems with it. The biggest of these is that even when Isadora finally comes to understand her immortal mother and accepts their relationship for what it is THEY NEVER ACTUALLY ADDRESS THE REAL ISSUE BETWEEN THEM AND IT’S KIND OF A BIG DEAL! And that bugs me, in case the all caps didn’t get that across. The best part of this book is the way that Kiersten White makes ancient gods comes to life with real and interesting personalities, mostly through the medium of Isadora who has a lot of fun stories and anecdotes about her immortal relatives. The details she gives to the gods personalities and the way she shapes their modern day relationships based on their ancient pasts is really interesting and those parts were my favorites of the novel.

I said that this book was a fun, quick read, but it’s quick because everything is rushed. I had a hard time believing Isadora’s transformations and revelations. She hardly seems to struggle, and when she does struggle it’s pointed out so blatantly that it doesn’t feel like she’s really working for it. In short, the emotion of the novel feels forced.

In my ideal world this novel would be rewritten to develop the characters more fully, to give more room for exploring a modern family of immortal beings and getting more in depth into the mythology and magic that allows the book to function, and it would deal with several issues and question that I found were never resolved nor answered to my satisfaction. All in all I’d give this book a 3/5.