Book Review – Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, it’s been with no small amount of embarrassment that I’ve been forced to admit – until recent years – that I’d never read Jane Austen’s classic love story, Pride and Prejudice.  To be completely honest, it didn’t appeal to me.  First, it was written in the 19th century, so I knew I’d have to get past the barrier of the writing style and speech.  Then, to be honest, it just didn’t sound that interesting to me.  Admittedly, I didn’t really know the whole premise of the story, but some guy named “Mr. Darcy” didn’t sound all that romantically appealing.  But, after a series of other books wherein “Mr. Darcy” or “Elizabeth Bennet” were repeatedly referenced, I figured I better just bite the bullet so that I can at least feel a little bit intelligent.  And so I sat down to read an old, dusty copy of Pride and Prejudice that had been in our family since what felt like the beginning of time.

The first few pages were a slow-go.  It took me several pages to get the rhythm of the writing style but, after about ten pages, I was hooked.  I quickly became immersed in the life of the Bennet sisters and felt the pain of their long-suffering father as he tolerated the drama of his hypochondriac wife.

Pride and Prejudice is really what every good novel should be.  It’s humor intertwined with drama, a bit of suspense, a little bit of sorrow and a whole lot of fun.  Take for example, the egotistical, self-important Mr. Collins.  He’s the distant cousin to Mr. Bennet and the next in line to inherit the Bennet properties.  He has money – which is something the Bennet sisters will be without once their father passes – so “out of the kindness of his heart” he proposes marriage to Elizabeth Bennet.  From this proposal ensues one of the most amusing misunderstandings in this book.  Mr. Collins simply cannot believe that Ms. Bennet would turn him down and so simply chooses to ignore her repeated replies of “no” to his proposal.  All young women must marry; Elizabeth Bennnet will be poor and presumably destitute upon the passing of her father, so why wouldn’t she want to marry Mr. Collins?  For the answer to that, you’ll need to read the book.

Jane Austen

Next you have the youngest Bennet sisters, Kitty and Lydia, whose behavior is so absurd for the time period that you can’t help but feel empathy for the two older sisters who must endure the embarrassment of their unrestrained behavior.  Rather than correct their behavior and rein them in, their mother dotes on them and their father just chuckles at their antics.

Then of course there’s the oldest sister:  sweet, simple Jane.  She’s in love with Mr. Bingley, and this is an obvious match made in heaven since they’re both bitten so strongly by the love bug that there can be no other match for either…though you will wonder for a while whether that match will ever solidify.

And finally – and most importantly – you have Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.  I have no idea what Mr. Darcy’s first name is.  I’m not sure the author ever gives it; or, if she does, it’s just not important.  He’s Mr. Darcy.  A seemingly arrogant and snobbish gentleman and the best friend to Mr. Bingley.  Clearly from the beginning, the reader knows there’s some type of chemistry between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, but how they go from the platform of contempt and dislike of each other is a roller coaster ride involving a whole lot of pride and more than a little bit of prejudice.  Hence the title, Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice is a truly great read and one that would appeal to both young and mature adults.  Surprisingly to me, it is at the top of my list of favorite books of all time.  And to think that I was reluctant to read it!

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy - BBC Version

Since reading this book, I’ve had the opportunity to see both movie adaptations; the Kiera Knightly version, as well as the incredibly well-done BBC version.  For those who wish to see a screen version as part of the experience, I strongly recommend the BBC version starring Colin Firth.  It is the truest book to movie adaptation I’ve ever seen and is well worth the time to watch.  It brings the book to life and does so without changing the heart of the story even a fraction.  Check it out!

YouTube Video:  Mr. Collins Proposes Marriage

Book Review – Rebecca

A Review by Helen McIver

Jonathan Yardley’s publication of Second Reading, Notable and Neglected Books Revisited, inspired me to revisit a few classics and old favorites. There are 60+ book reviews in this collection which had me seek out a few authors I had passed over – I had never heard of Paper Tigers by Stanley Woodward, nor The Fathers by Allen Tate. But when I discovered that most of one of my book groups had never read Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier, 1938), I checked out the Book Group in a Bag at the Library and we started reading.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again,”

I didn’t remember it being so melodraumatic and, reading it now, I was far more impatient with the unnamed non-Rebecca wife. But this is a classic gothic novel, and much of our book discussion centered on that history. Gothic novels have haunted castles or mansions, windswept moors, usually obsessed handsome dark brooding men with defenseless young women, a few family secrets and an atmospheric romantic suspense plot. They are often adored by readers (and bestsellers!) and even more often deplored by reviewers.

Some of the best gothic novels are Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! I would also include works by 19th century writers Wilkie Collins, Bram Stoker and Elizabeth Gaskill.

The physical descriptions of the various settings in this book are vivid and richly detailed. I absolutely love books and/or movies where the house is just as much a character as the people in the book! And I enjoyed learning that the house actually exists, and the success of her book enabled her to renovate the ruin and make it her home for a number of years.  Much of the novel was written while she was staying in Egypt where her husband was stationed, and may also be filled with the longing and nostalgia for home.

Daphne du Maurier

In Rebecca, the plot has the unnamed narrator recall her past: As the companion to a rich American woman vacationing in Monte Carlo, she is courted (apparently unknowingly) by a wealthy Englishman, Maxim de Winter. After a week of courtship (not even recognizing the proposal), she marries him, and they move to his Cornish mansion, Manderley. There she discovers that his first wife, Rebecca, is still alive in the memories of all the estate inhabitants; but especially its domineering housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers –  one of literature’s great infamous female villains. I was actually horrified that the narrator felt relief that Max didn’t love Rebecca when he reveals that he murdered her! (Remember the Hitchcock film has a different ending!) But because of the film, Rebecca has been in print since 1938.

Additional Reading:
I loved the comment that “If I wanted to go to Manderly again, I would just reread Rebecca.” Still, there are several books that have been approved by the du Maurier estate:

  • Mrs de Winter (1993), by Susan Hill is a sequel originally written in the 1980s
  • The Other Rebecca (1996), by Maureen Freely is a contemporary version.
  • Rebecca’s Tale (2001), by Sally Beauman, is a narrative of four characters affected by Rebecca. (My bookclub’s best comment: “Rebecca left no man untouched.”
  • Daphne by Justin Picardine, is also a fascinating fictional account of DuMaurier.

Rebecca won two Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Cinematophotography in 1940 with Alfred Hitchcok as director. Olivier played Max, Joan Fontaine, the unnamed Heroine, and Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers. Rebecca has been adapted for television by both BBC and ITV (then Masterpiece Theatre 1997 with Diana Rigg playing Mrs Danvers).

Author Spotlight and Book Review – Kristin Cashore

Author Spotlight / Book Review
Kristin Cashore
by Helen McIver

Graceling and Fire are two young adult fantasy series by Kristin Cashore, both of which I read one weekend. Graceling won several awards and was shortlisted for so many others that it was on my list to read for some time (2008). I even had the hard cover. Somehow it disappeared under the pile. But then a 99 cent Kindle deal rectified my error; although I still waited until I had read 12 other newly downloaded books. I was absolutely hooked from the second paragraph (why did I wait so long?!). I was utterly grateful the library had the second (Fire, which is actually a prequel of sorts) as an ebook which I instantly downloaded for my planeride home. I impatiently await the third installment, Bitterblue due 1 May 2012.  Could I please have an advance review copy someone?!!

These books have strong female characters in original, innovative, fascinating coming of age stories. And while the characters are 15-17, the books will also appeal to this age group while other readers will be attracted to the vivid story telling, romance and intriguing new world (NB I have been bereft while waiting for the next installment of GRRMartin’s The Song of Fire and Ice, although these are not teen material; Cashore however gives her readers a heady mixture which is well written and will further their readings.) Given the topics of atrocities of war, cruelties of mankind (and nonhuman creatures), independence and sexual freedom, these books are not for preteens. However, there are great discussion points relevant to our times.

Katsa, the main character of Graceling, has the power to kill with her bare hands, and has been a trained assassin since the age of 8. She has, however, spent grueling years learning to control her ‘grace’, and while under command to her king, also begins to develop a moral sense of right and wrong, forming a secret council to create justice.

Fire is half human, half creature (so beautiful that she is in constant danger from man and beast (who would preferentially eat her). The Kingdoms are in the turmoil of war as she wages personal battles and private grief. I found her tale particularly moving.  I am also sure I will be saying “Rocks!” as an exclamation of surprise or delight for some time to come.

Check out the trailer of this book on YouTube

Book Reviews: Short Takes

Short takes –
I have 6 other book reviews coming out in the next few weeks, and there are simply so many interesting books to recommend. SO, here are a few that caught my fancy that you might want to try. All Library books!

I so thoroughly enjoy Alan Bennet’s writing style, whether memoir or fiction. Smut is his recent short story collection (two), while A Life like Other People’s is from his previous book Untold Stories.
Kathy Reichs has started a young adult series, Seizure is the second  (NB I think they need to be read in order, as too much wouldn’t make sense in this second book). I thought the first was quite entertaining and look forward to reading the next installment!
I just don’t know where to place this book – it is by the author of a Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snickett, so I thought this must be fun. It was quite bizarre, being  a series of short stories or essays that are somehow connected. The individual characterisations are priceless, but I am still feeling clueless!

Book Review: Ransom Riggs

Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2011)Are you tired of vampires and werewolves?
Do you also love the “odd little book”?
If you love Lemony Snickett or John Connolly or Adam Gopnick (teen fiction series) this is book is definitely for you. It is quirky fantasy/adventure story combined with unique photography, which made the book utterly fascinating, charming and intriguing, especially for a debut novel. The complex/detailed vintage photographs added an unusual level of immersion with the story, with the reader visualising what Jacob is experiencing. The descriptive writing is so evocative that the unusual photographs interspersed numerously throughout the text, while not crucial to the story, certainly provide an additional element of realism (and surrealism!). Especially knowing that they are actual photos. Wouldn’t you love to make up your own story with these? (NB However, they are difficult to read/view on the Kindle.) The detailed prose creates a rich and magical otherworld of peculiar children and monsters that precariously co-exists with our human world which is all too realistically at war.
In the novel, Jacob Portman is an average, seemingly normal teenager, wanting an adventurous life, as described by his colourful, larger than life grandfather throughout his childhood. Jacob is not popular or overly smart and has one best (and only) friend. But with his grandfather death and the horrific monster that plagues his nightmares, Jacob’s world crashes around him. Then on his 16th birthday a book from his grandfather sets him on a voyage of discovery to an orphanage on a small isolated island in Wales. Once there, Jacob understands more than he ever could have believed about his grandfather and himself. His world is now separated into “Before and After”. He stumbles into time loops and uncovers his peculiar talent that transforms his previous reality. Jacob’s dark adventure turns from creepy to scary, then to a poignant coming of age. It also foreshadows a sequel!

“My grandfather was the only member of his family to escape Poland before the Second World War broke out. He was twelve years old when his parents sent him into the arms of strangers, putting their youngest son on a train to Britain with nothing more than a suitcase and the clothes on his back. It was a one-way ticket. He never saw his mother or father again, or his older brothers, his cousins, his aunts and uncles. Each one would be dead before his sixteenth birthday, killed by the monsters he had so narrowly escaped. But these weren’t the kind of monsters that had tentacles and rotting skin, the kind a seven year old might be able to wrap his mind around – they were monsters with human faces, in crisp uniforms, marching in lockstep, so banal you don’t recognize them for what they are until it’s too late.”
“I gathered up what scrawny courage I had and waded through waist-high weeds to the porch, all broken tile and rotting wood, to peek through a cracked window. All I could make out through the smeared glass were the outlines of furniture, so I knocked on the door and stood back to wait in eerie silence, tracing the shape of Miss Peregrine’s letter in my pocket. I’d taken it along in case I needed to prove who I was, but as a minute ticked by, then two, it seemed less and less likely that I would need it.”

Teen Reads, Kathy Reichs

Mystery writer Kathy Reichs, with her bestselling blend of science and suspense, has created a new series for teens (grades 6-9) called Virals. This is her first venture into young adult literature, and has several elements of her mystery novels, plus additional ‘current’ paranormal ideas. Not quite vampires thank goodness. The niece of the forensic anthropologist, Temperance Brennan (see Bones), Tory displays similar genetic tendencies: science, sleuthing and loyalty when she and her new friends (Ben, Hi, and Shelton) uncover a secret research lab on a remote barrier island in South Carolina. Exposure to a mutant strain of canine parvovirus causes these teenagers to have heightened senses of smell, sight, hearing, which conveniently flare when they are in danger.

*Refreshing snappy pace with realistic, interesting, modern teenagers in an old-fashioned somewhat formulaic, adventure story.

*Villains are a little too simplistic, rather cold-blooded killers, while being no match for teenagers. aka Harry Potter.

*Contains similar forensic details that Reichs is known for in the Brennan novels, geared towards teens. I am not sure I would want young adults to read the rather gruesome details of the Bones series, as there is enough over exposure these days.

*Look forward to the next installment, summer 2011.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

This is a book review by Lily Grebe, one of our young adult reviewers: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay was the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. I absolutely loved it. This whole series has been excellent and this last book is no exception. It is basically  the rebellion and a wrap up of the story. I must admit, the ending is sad. I literally cried! Some parts I didn’t completely like, such as how wimpy Katniss was at some points but then you remember what she went through and you don’t mind as much. I also didn’t like how they didn’t tell us anything about Gale in the epilogue. Perhap, that is understandable.

All in all, Mockingjay is a great (and sad) conclusion to the magnificant Hunger Games Trilogy. I highly recommend reading it.

Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Young Adult Fiction

Young Adult Book Review by Lily Grebe
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
This was a fantastic book. The story line was completely unique and hooking. The main character, a skinny teenage boy named Nailer, is part of a crew of poor teens who live on ruined Gulf Coast beaches scavenging the hulks of stranded oil tankers for salvage. The work is hard and dangerous, and Nailer dreams of escaping a life of back-breaking work, crushing poverty, and an abusive, drug-addicted father to sail on the sleek, hydrofoil clipper ships he reads about in magazines. When one of those ships wrecks on the shores of Nailer’s beach during a huge tropical storm, he might just get his chance to escape.
I generally don’t enjoy science fiction books because they end up all the same or people throw in lame vampires. However, Bacigalupi caught my attention from the very beginning and held it throughout with great characters and hidden meanings. Plus, the storyline wasn’t only unique, but the setting. I love descriptive books and Bacigalupi did a great job. I recommend this book to any teenager looking for a good read.

Young Adult Book Reviews!

Welcome to the first in a series of young people reviewing the books they like! We will post these on the facebook site as well, so you can join in discussions there. ENJOY!

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Gregor the Overlander is an action-packed book with great characters, adventure and funny parts. I loved this book. I would always pass it on the shelf and not get it, but when I finally read it I was blown away. I read all of the five books in this series. I have turned other people on to it and they loved it just like I did!

Gregor is a boy whose family is poor since his father mysteriously disappeared. One day Gregor’s little sister, Boots, falls down an air duct in the laundry room. He follows her and the air currents carry him away. He finds himself in the underground city, Underland, with giant cockroaches, bats, rats, and people with almost transparent skin and violet eyes. Gregor is named the chosen one and has to uncover a prophecy and go on adventures. Is this where his dad disappeared? Will Gregor ever get back home? Will the Underland survive? If you want these questions answered, read this book and you’ll be hooked!

Book Review by Maya Alfred