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review 2017-06-18 06:57
The Circular Staircase
The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart

My second read of this book and it's almost as good as the first.  


I continue to like Rachel; I'd like to think she comes closest to how I'd act in a parallel situation.  The humour held up too and I still marvel at Rinehart keeping all the plot points of her story straight.  I've read too many contemporary books that have half the plot complexity and holes you could drive a train through.


But the racism is still confronting enough to take me out of the story; Thomas might have been well respected by the characters, and the story a product of its time, but the descriptions and use of vernacular were the bruises on what would have been a perfect peach of a story in my time.  And on this second read, I marvelled at how anyone believed so pitiful a disguise could have worked so thoroughly for so long.


Still, this is a great story; a gem that shows some things transcend time (in this case almost 110 years): there have always been crafters of labyrinthine plots, there have always been strong women with resourceful intellects, and there is always a place for humour and wit, even in the most extraordinary circumstances. 


I'll continue to heartily recommend this book to lovers of a great mystery.

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review 2017-04-28 03:06
Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë,Jessica Hische

Well, I finally did it.  I finally read Jane Eyre.  


::bracing myself::


It was okay.


I know I'm treading on sacred ground here with many, many fans - and I did like it!  I just didn't love it.  Not like I love Austen, the most obvious comparison to be made by classic lit neophytes such as myself.


I loved the plotting and the story; I loved reading about the path Jane's life took and how she chose to shape her life in spite of circumstances.  I loved the dialog between Eyre and Rochester and if I'd gone into this book having never known the first thing about it, I'd have been left gasping at the church along with everyone else.  That Charlotte Brontë could write is without question.


But the characters....  eeehhhhh....  I'm a character-driven reader, almost to the exclusion of everything else.  Or, at least, I can forgive a lot if I like the characters, but I can't forgive much of characters I don't like.


Jane Eyre - You can't dislike Jane, can you?  I mean, she's not a special snowflake, she's well educated, she's willing to work, and she stands up for herself... eventually.  But her need to please, to be loved, her starvation for affection... while they all came from a very understandable place, it was hard to respect her at times.  Eyre (as narrator) makes a very astute observation early in the book when she says, looking back, that her Aunt could not like her because she was so needy.  And yes, that was entirely the Aunt's fault, the witch, but it's one of those dooming, self-sustaining cycles.  I'd have liked Jane more if she'd done something with that moment when, at 10, she breaks the cycle; I'd have liked Jane more if she'd learned from that experience.


More to the point, I lost a lot of respect for the book and for Eyre when, after all is revealed, not once does she so much as question Rochester's continual charade and methodical lies.  I don't know what I'd have been more pissed about if I were her; the attempted bigamy or the fact that the man who professed undying love to me systematically lied to me while I lived under his roof about the existence of someone who liked setting beds on fire.


Also, I gotta say, the whole "sir" thing got creepy.  Totally to be expected when she was working for him, but after he kissed her?  No, no, no.  Before kiss: sign of respect; After kiss: sign of submission.  Don't care what time period it was, it was creepy.


Edward Rochester - I know that over time, Rochester and Heathcliff have become confused in my mind, but I was expecting someone broodier.  Still, I really liked him and understood the appeal, until the scene in the orchard, where he struck me as hopelessly, delusionally (new made up word), romantic and - again, apologies for what's coming - something of a man-child.  His optimism that he'd be able to marry Jane and keep Bertha in the attic indefinitely was ludicrous.


Question:  If this man was so outstandingly rich, why didn't he just put Bertha in her own house with a nurse somewhere in the back of beyond?  He says he was going to use his other manor house, but that it was too damp (although not too damp for him, apparently); if that's the case, why not just buy another cottage somewhere else?  There were too many alternatives to this disastrous arrangement for me to fully buy into it.


St. John Rivers - What a prat!  I liked him until his proposal, at which point he become one of those religious nuts I particularly loathe; the kind that use faith to manipulate and control.  Brontë flat-out failed here, in my opinion; it seems clear she wanted readers to admire his purity and devotion, but all I really got from him after that scene was an abusive narcissist in the making.


Ultimately, I'm glad I read the book and I'll likely re-read it (although I'll probably skim some of the more verbose bits).  That I don't think it the masterpiece of literature I do Austen's work is entirely down to my personal reading preferences and my own personality quirks.


I'll end with my favourite quote, which, oddly enough, doesn't come from the text of the story itself, but the preface Brontë wrote for the second edition:


"Conventionality is not morality.  Self-rightousness is not religion."





Page count: 514


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review 2017-01-18 23:26
Woman in White
Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

As BrokenTune mentioned in her review here, this was a buddy read we did together after discovering we had each bought the exact same edition in charity shops on opposite sides of the world.  Thank goodness I had her to buddy read with, because I'm not sure I'd have finished it otherwise, and that would have been my loss.


This book was laborious.  There were moments when I would have believed the damn thing was continuing to add pages to itself as I read it.  The book switches POVs throughout, and that helps - I can't imagine it told from a single POV - but I still struggled to pick it back up.


I found the characters in the first epoch exasperating; Walter Hartwright was just so hopelessly romantic.  And by romantic I mean a melodramatic Byron wannabe.  Laura, the character the whole story revolves around, actually left very little impression on me at all, and her sister Marion, of whom I expected strong, rational sense from, let me down when the story's POV switched to hers.


The second epoch was the worst for me though. Marion becomes more the character I expected her to be and I really liked her, and Hartwright was thankfully absent, but the second epoch was all about winding up the tension; subtle, brilliantly done foreshadowing and a slow build up to the inevitable Terrible Event.  


Most people relish this part of the story – that sense of dread anticipation.  I am not most people.  The second epoch nearly killed me: I could recognise the brilliance of the writing and story telling but at the same time, just get it over with already!  I had prepared myself for Percival being a nasty piece of work; the more obsequious he became in the first epoch, the more obvious it was to me that he was going to be an ass.  Fosco though, Fosco was truly the villain in this tale.  The more he smiled and sided with the women, the diabolical he became.  This was the part I had to make myself read.


The third and final epoch was for me the best one because now things were getting done.  The climax of the story, the biggest plot twist (which I did guess before it was revealed) is over with and the third epoch is about fixing things; making the villains pay by searching out and revealing their secrets.  Hartwright's time away did him good and he's not nearly the twit he was in the first epoch; he becomes a believable hero.  Laura just got on my nerves; her special snowflake status from the start makes it hard to properly sympathise with her for her truly horrible experiences in epoch two.


Percival's comeuppance was all about the chase; lots of action, and a secret that when revealed didn't sound like it was worth all his efforts at concealment until the author makes us aware that at the time it was a capital crime.  His final confrontation was excellent though; I didn't see that coming.   But Fosco, Fosco is revealed to be the true threat, the real evil genius.  If Doyle's Moriarty wasn't strongly influenced by Collins' Fosco I'll eat my socks.  At the same time, I got the strong sense that Collins had the most fun in creating Fosco; I'd dearly love to know how much of himself he put into his mad creation.  Fosco's character was just so different in every way to all the others that by the end it felt like the rest of the story was created merely to give Fosco reason for existing.


Both final acts failed to surprise me:


too much attention was made of the scarred man for him to be background, and no way could any author from this time period walk away from a fortune and a title, even on behalf of their characters.


(spoiler show)


but it was a satisfying ending nonetheless.  A brilliant read that I'd recommend to anyone interested in a good story.  So many of the tropes and plot devices used today came from authors like Collins and it's worth reading if only to see them done by a master.  But it's definitely not a quick read.

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review 2017-01-04 11:05
84, Charing Cross Road
84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff

Just a quick re-read of an old classic favourite of mine before going to bed last night.


If there's anyone out there that hasn't read it, please do; it's excellent.


Can anyone recommend the Bancroft/Hopkins adaptation?

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review 2016-12-21 10:33
O Christmas Three
O Christmas Three: O. Henry, Tolstoy, and Dickens - Leo Tolstoy,Charles Dickens,O. Henry

4 short stories from three of classic literature's rock stars, all themed for Christmas.


O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi - I had just read this in a different collection and as I said there, it's excellent.  Short and ironic but absolutely encapsulating the spirit of Christmas.


Tolstoy's Where Love is, There God is Also - This is purely a homily to the New Testament. If the reader is not Christian, I think it would be hard to look past the pure sermonising to the greater monistic message, but it is a beautiful story with a timeless message of charity.


Dickens' The Seven Poor Travellers - This story restored my faith in Charles Dickens after last year's attempt at A Christmas Tree.  I love this story; I thought it was amazing, and another story about what Christmas should mean.  It was moving and humorous and brilliant.


Dickens' What Christmas is As We Grow Older - And I'm back again to thinking Dickens is florid and impossible.  It seems the shorter the story the more impenetrable he makes it; I could not get through this one for the excess of verbosity with which it was written.


Overall a worthy collection, but it would have been brilliant if they'd kept it to the first three stories, all of which I'll read again and again.

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