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review 2017-05-27 22:17
Review: A Tale of Two Cities
The Annotated A Tale of Two Cities - Susanne Alleyn

Ramblings about the Book

People who follow me may have seen me mention my intent to fit one non-SF&F classic per quarter into my heavily SF&F-based reading diet.  A Tale of Two Cities was my classic reading selection for the second quarter.  Last time, I chose an author and book that was completely new to me.  This time, I chose a book that I had been assigned to read in tenth grade but that I didn’t enjoy at the time and in fact didn’t remember at all about 25 years later.

 

My interest in this story fluctuated a little bit, especially in the first half, but I enjoyed it quite a bit by the end.  The first chapter starts in 1775, and the book was written by Dickens in 1859, so I guess that makes this historical fiction squared. :)  It’s set just before and during the French Revolution, which is a period of time I knew little about.  No doubt we discussed it in my tenth grade class, but those were the types of lessons that usually had me sneaking to read my own book if I was well-positioned to do so without getting caught, or nodding off in boredom if I wasn’t…

 

The characters never really grabbed me, except maybe toward the end.  Lucie in particular was hard for me to appreciate.  Dickens tells us about her impact on others but, for the most part, she just seemed to sit around and act distressed or sympathetic or on the verge of fainting without actually doing or saying much.  It's an interesting contrast with the more vivacious female characters in my previous classic selection, Pride and Prejudice.  Of all the characters, I think Lorry was the one who felt the most genuine to me, and he was the one I liked best.  Carton did grow on me quite a bit too, though.  I didn’t dislike the others; I just didn’t feel too invested in them.

 

Everything is very heavily foreshadowed.  This story didn’t hold many surprises, except for a few small ones, because the author telegraphed everything well in advance.  I was a little over halfway through the book when I finally put two and two together and predicted (correctly) how the book was going to end.  In fact, I felt a little silly for not realizing it at least a couple chapters sooner.  It’s possible that I subconsciously remembered it from 25 years ago, but the book never felt at all familiar to me as I read it.  Well, aside from the opening words anyway.  Despite knowing how things were going to end, I did get really caught up in the story and the emotion of what was happening in the later chapters. 

 

Ramblings about Annotations

Knowing I didn’t like this book as a teen, I was more nervous about reading it than I otherwise would have been, so I decided to get an annotated version.  I think this was the first time I’ve read anything annotated, and I had trouble finding the right balance.  I don’t normally skim when I read books.  If the words are there, I’m going to read them.  If my eyes glaze over and I don’t absorb them, I’ll probably go back and read them again.  So you might be able to imagine how I tackled the annotations at first.  I read every single one of them within the segment where they were presented.  In some of the introductory chapters, there were so many that I lost the flow of the story and had to go back and re-read the chapter afterward.  This may have contributed to my trouble getting into the story, but many of the annotations were very interesting, and I think more historically informative than the story itself, so I did want to read them.

 

On the other hand, the annotations were sometimes repetitive, and many of the terms that were explained were very obvious within the context and didn’t, in my opinion, need explaining. I guess younger teens and/or people who don’t read as much would appreciate them more.  Also, people with holes in their head.  The ones that gave historical context were the ones I enjoyed the most, when they weren’t repetitive.  For example, I got really, really tired of reading reminders that Dickens was using the title “Monseigneur” in a historically inappropriate manner.  I understood it the first time, really!

 

About halfway through the book, I started feeling really bogged down by annotations and I started to lose interest in them.  I finally managed to talk myself into skipping them, and I was glad I did.  I’m sure I missed out on other things of interest, but I had reached my limit.  I wasn’t even tempted to go back and skim through the ones I skipped after finishing the book.  If I read other annotated works, I’ll have to try different tactics to figure out what works best for me.  I think, as people have suggested, reading the story by itself and then going back to the annotations afterward will be the best course of action, with the occasional pause to read an annotation during my initial read if I see one tied to something that confused me.

 

Rambling Summary

Wow, that was a lot of rambling even for me!  I tend to have a rating in mind as I read a book, mentally adjusting it as my opinions change.  This book was no more than 3 stars for quite a while, but it grew on me and I mentally adjusted it to 3.5.  It wasn’t until I finished the book and reflected on how much I enjoyed the last few chapters and the way everything tied together that I realized I couldn’t give it less than 4.  Maybe I didn’t love it as much as many other people do, but I did appreciate it and I hope to give more of Dickens’ work a try someday.

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review 2017-05-27 11:10
His Last Bow (from The Complete Sherlock Holmes)
The Complete Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

A quick adventure that take place on the eve of World War I, His Last Bow is not a mystery at all, but something of a spy caper, as Sherlock Holmes brings down a German spy-master.  It's good because it's Holmes and as always he's the master, but it's bittersweet too as the reader knows both what is coming both for England and themselves, as this is one of the last stories we'll ever have.

 

 

I read this as part of the Memorial Day BookLikes-opoly donation to the jail library.  It was 10 pages in length, and although it has a war theme, it still only earns $1.00.

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review 2017-05-25 20:05
Review: The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis
The Whitby Witches (Egmont Modern Classics) - Robin Jarvis


I would like to thank Egmont Publishing for providing me with an advanced reading copy of this book.

 

I somehow managed to miss this author's books as they were originally released many years before my own children were of age to read them. Last year I happened across his newer series, The Witching Legacy and have since read both books one and two and loved them. So when I saw this one I was eager to delve into it, especially as it's set in Whitby like the newer books.

 

The Whitby Witches was a lot of fun. It was full of adventure, imagination, and danger. I was completely swept along with the characters and their story. The writing was easy to read and the world was vividly described. It was wonderfully dark and atmospheric and a lot of fun all round. Everything was so easily pictured in my mind as I read. It was like being a child all over again, reliving that wonderful sense of adventure, danger and anticipation.

 

The only negative aspect, and it's not something that's particular to this story alone but something that seems to be a trend across many children's stories and books and something I'm more aware of now as a mother, is the fact that the majority of villains or bad guys in children's stories always seem to have some kind of disfigurement or disability. They are always "ugly" scarred or disfigured in some way. Why are we portraying this kind of message to our children? How a person looks doesn't portray whether they are good or bad. Beauty is only skin deep, the outside does not reflect who a person is on the inside. "Monsters" can look just like everyone else and just because someone isn't what most would class as "normal" it doesn't make them the bad guy to be feared. Perhaps that is too scary of a concept in truth for children but it's reality. Anyway, I realise this is a more general comment and not something particular to this book alone but it's something that I found myself contemplating after finishing this one so I wanted to comment on it.

 

All in all, The Whitby Witches was a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm going to have to get my hands on the rest of the series now.

 

 

Reviews also posted to my blog: Scarlet's Web
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review 2017-05-25 19:22
The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting - Anne Trubek  
The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting - Anne Trubek

After a slow couple of months my reading has picked up again: I'm finishing more, and I'm enjoying what I'm reading. The sad aspect of this is that I keep finishing books that I want everyone else to pick up, and mostly no one does.

This is an exception. It belongs on the odd shelf I don't have specifically, but can't resist reading from, called "History of a Thing". While it isn't funny exactly, there is a lightness of tone that makes this a pleasant break from heavier reading, like say, about Nixon and Mao, to pick a topic out of thin air and not off the cover of another book lying around the house. It's fascinating to learn at some depth about a very narrow topic. Not surprisingly, this book is a distillation of a topic Trubek has been teaching in college for years. Specialization is awesome: I've never thought about all the different kinds of writing together until now.

I love this post-book feeling of erudition. Two days after I finished the book I can't recall anything specific that I learned, which isn't really the point. I've grasped the gestalt. I've placed my own flirtation with calligraphy (highly recommended as a means to achieving a legible handwriting) into the appropriate context.

There are a number of people worried about the fact that schools aren't teaching cursive. I'm not bothered. I've done my share of handwriting and it hurts and it's slow, and I'm one of only two people I know who can write a cursive others can read. Admittedly, the time spent learning keyboarding will no doubt also become wasted time at some point in the Offspring's lives, in favor of something newer and easier for more people. That's fine.

Favorite bit: seeing all the different types of clerks/scribes/copyists there were a fairly short time ago. Poor Bartleby and Bob Cratchit!

Library copy

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text 2017-05-25 17:39
The White Album: Essays by Joan Didion $1.99 Love this book!
The White Album: Essays (FSG Classics) - Joan Didion

In this landmark essay collection, Joan Didion brilliantly interweaves her own “bad dreams” with those of a nation confronting the dark underside of 1960s counterculture.
 
From a jailhouse visit to Black Panther Party cofounder Huey Newton to witnessing First Lady of California Nancy Reagan pretend to pick flowers for the benefit of news cameras, Didion captures the paranoia and absurdity of the era with her signature blend of irony and insight. She takes readers to the “giddily splendid” Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the cool mountains of Bogotá, and the Jordanian Desert, where Bishop James Pike went to walk in Jesus’s footsteps—and died not far from his rented Ford Cortina. She anatomizes the culture of shopping malls—“toy garden cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes”—and exposes the contradictions and compromises of the women’s movement. In the iconic title essay, she documents her uneasy state of mind during the years leading up to and following the Manson murders—a terrifying crime that, in her memory, surprised no one.
 
Written in “a voice like no other in contemporary journalism,” The White Album is a masterpiece of literary reportage and a fearless work of autobiography by the National Book Award–winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking (The New York Times Book Review). Its power to electrify and inform remains undiminished nearly forty years after it was first published.

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