Monday, January 16, 2017

She and Allan by H. Rider Haggard

She and Allan
H. Rider Haggard
3/5 stars

Published in 1921, She and Allan brings together Haggard's two most popular characters: Allan Quatermain and Ayesha.  Allan seeks out Ayesha, through the encouragement of the witch doctor Zikali, in hopes of finding answers about dead loved ones.  He becomes involved in the rescue attempt of a young Portuguese-Scotch woman, as well as a battle between Ayesha's followers and her enemies.

I thoroughly enjoyed She, which introduces Ayesha, and am a long-standing fan of the Quatermain books.  I found this one to be sub-par for Haggard, as there is frequent pseudo-philosophical screed that was often mind-numbingly dull for me.  I did like, though, how different Ayesha's relationship was with Allan as compared to that with Leo and Holly.  I also liked that she told Allan a just-sightly different version of her history that than which was told in both She and Ayesha.

 Allan's skepticism, though, kept the preternatural abilities of Ayesha from being fully enjoyed, leaving the reader to figure out the truth in between her speeches and his thoughts.

The action was, as is usual with Haggard, excellent and exciting.  Allan Quartermain is a hero I particularly enjoy reading about, and I think Haggard has done a wonderful job of developing his character.  I also liked getting to know Umslopogaas and wish that I had read his story in Nada the Lilly prior to this, and look forward to reading it later.

Sadly, I can't rate She and Allan any higher than 3 stars, due to the long, dull speeches and explanations of Ayesha.  If one is willing to skim over those bits, though, and focus on the rest of the plot, this is a good yarn.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Fifth Wheel by Olive Higgins Prouty

original illustration by James Montgomery Flagg
The Fifth Wheel
Olive Higgins Prouty
3/5 stars

The Fifth Wheel (published 1915) picks up where Bobbie, General Manager  (my review here) ends, but with Ruth as the main character, instead of her sister Bobbie.  Ruth has been trained to be a mindless debutante, but decides to try a different path and find a job in New York City.

While Ruth's story was mostly enjoyable, I found some of her adventures--and her happy ending--to be improbable.  In addition,  I was disconcerted by the details of events not matching between the two novels.  I also grew tired of the discussions about suffrage and woman's-place, feeling that Prouty used this novel more as a platform to air opinions than to tell a story.

Despite my complaints, it was, as I said, mostly enjoyable; a quick, light read that gives an idea of what life was like during the American Gilded Age.


A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry

A Christmas Beginning
Anne Perry
3/5 stars

A Christmas Beginning is one of Perry's annual Christmas stories that feature less major characters from her two established series.  In this one, Inspector Runcorn (from the William Monk series) is on holiday when he discovers a gruesome murder.

As is the case with many Perry novels, this one is very introspective, focusing more on what Runcorn is thinking and deducing, than on action or conversation.  The mystery itself was interesting, though not difficult to solve.

Having followed the two characters involved in this book's romance from the beginning in the Monk series, I felt that the happy conclusion was both sudden and improbable.

One thing that continued to bother me throughout the novel was the familiar use of first names by Runcorn and others not in the circle of intimate friends.  This did not fit with what I know of Victorian times, and jarred with the atmospheric details.

Overall, this short novel is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, but not memorable enough to make a lasting impression.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Bobbie, General Manager by Olive Higgins Prouty

Bobbie, General Manager
Olive Higgins Prouty
4/5 stars

Bobbie, General Manager is a charming novel written in 1913.  It begins when Bobbie is 16 years old, and gives vignettes of her life during the next several years.  It was Prouty's first novel, and is a not as finely written as Now, Voyager (1941), but the plot is enjoyable and the characters engaging.

The best part of the book, though, is the picture it gives of the life of an upper middle class family during America's Gilded Age.  The customs, manners, daily routines, and clothing descriptions are fascinating to read.    It is, of course, dated, with concerns that seem silly today and marital advice that might appear laughable to a modern woman, but this added to the atmosphere of the novel.

Overall, while not stellar, Bobbie, General Manager was a delightful read and I plan to start the companion volume (about her sister) in the very near future


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Classics Club: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

(about the Classics Club)

Why I Chose This Classic:
It's one that I knew the synopsis of, but had never read.  Since I love sensational Victorian novels, I felt I needed to remedy that.

What It Made Me Think:
My whole thought process during the story was that I wished I did not know the secret, so that I could enjoy the drama and tension of the novel.  I liked it, but I would have loved it, had I been surprised by the tale.

The one thing that bothered me was this: Jekyll talked about how Hyde thought little of him (Jekyll) and truly enjoyed being Hyde. Why then, did Hyde agree to return to Jekyll?

Also, the "good versus evil" scenario that is often depicted when talking about a Jekyll and Hyde situation is not appropriate.  Jekyll was quick to acknowledge that he had many faults, and that Hyde simply amplified and enjoyed those faults.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Happy Birthday, Severus

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness
3/5 stars

A Monster Calls is the emotional story of Connor, as he comes to grips with his mother's impending death.  A Monster in the form of a giant yew tree begins to visit him (in reality or in his imagination is left to the reader to decide), telling Connor that he has come because Connor called him and is there to help.

Ness writes wonderfully, and is an excellent storyteller.  Even when I wasn't enjoying the story, I was captivated by both the tale and the prose.  The character of the Monster was fantastic, wild and gentle at the same time.  I also liked how Ness slowly revealed parts of Connor's life, giving hints for the reader along the way.

I had mixed feelings about this novel.  On the one hand, it is an excellent depiction of grief, and of the unraveling of reality and emotions during a time of extreme stress.  Furthermore, it encourages the reader that it is okay to be angry about situations like this, and shows that fairy tale happy endings don't come about when dealing with terminal illness.

On the other hand, I didn't feel that Connor or the Monster gave the best example or advice for dealing with grief.  The monster is encouraging Connor to act during two episodes when Connor has a mental breakdown and becomes violent.  Encouraging as in urging him on to more destructive actions.  In addition,  this extreme damage to both a person and some property is glossed over, never fully addressed.  "What good would it do?" is the reaction of the adults in his life.  I felt that this was an unhealthy message to present to the target reader.

Granted, this is just my opinion: Patrick Ness won the Carnegie Medal for A Monster Calls, so other responsible adults feel that the lessons being taught are appropriate.