Monday, 25 October 2010

The Woman in White ~ Wilkie Collins

(The copy of this book that I read was published over 90 years ago, so it had no cover art. Instead I used a painting from the novel.)

Walter Hartright is a teacher of drawing. He takes a position in a private household, instructing two sisters. On the eve of his departure to begin his new job, Walter happens to meet a strange woman on the road; a woman clad in all white. Her eerie behavior makes an impression on Mr. Hartright, and he decides to help her. After they part ways Walter learns the woman has escaped from an asylum, and he aided her escape! Thinking that was the last time he would ever see her, Walter begins his teaching position. Low and behold one of his students bears a remarkable resemblance to the mysterious Woman in White. Unknowingly the Woman in White will dictate the rest of Walter’s future.
I have high praise for this book. From the beginning of the tale I was drawn into the story. One aspect I enjoyed was how the narrative switched from person to person, looping all the characters together. It began with Walter, and then when Walter left the scene the story was taken up by someone else. Thus the character development was well done. This story is a gothic mystery, and the mystery side was certainly emphasized. I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted to know what would happen. The story is a long one, though. But if you don’t mind lengthy books (and you enjoy 19th century literature) then I would definitely recommend reading The Woman in White.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Dear John ~ Nicholas Sparks

The book starts (prologue) in the year 2006.  It's first person, from the perspective of John.  He explains that he's sitting on a hill waiting for Savannah to walk out of her house, so he can see her.
He gives a little background before chapter one begins and we're flown back six years earlier.
The story is about how John and Savannah fall in love at first sight.  John is in the army and he's on his two week leave before he has to return to Germany.  In the two weeks spent together both John and Savannah know they want to spend the rest of their lives together.
John goes back to Germany and he and Savannah write and call each other frequently.  Neither of them could even guess that 9/11 would happen.  The tragedy that no one saw coming will now test and pull their love.  Will their love survey the distance and the stress of war?

Personally, I'd never read anything by Sparks before.  I'd heard that this movie was supposed to be good and I need a book to read so I thought I'd try it.  I wasn't impressed.  The story line was catching, yes, but I didn't like the way it ended, and obviously Sparks' theology is at best sketchy. There were a couple swear words and an adults scene (not a graphic, detailed one but it was there none the less).
I don't necessarily recommend this book.

The Jungle ~ Upton Sinclair

If you’re a little frightened by the cover of this book you’re not alone. It took me several seconds to realize what the red “thing” was: a piece of meat. But that’s what this story centralizes on--the Chicago meat-packing district in the early 20th century.

Throughout the book we follow the life of Jurgis and his family. They are immigrants to the U.S., coming here in pursuit of that ever elusive American Dream. Looking for work in NY, they are urged to travel inland to Chicago and find jobs at the huge slaughter houses. Jurgis takes this advice, and soon he and his family are caught in the trap of slaving away for the giant companies who do nothing but work them all to their literal deaths. And the reader gets to read about the corruption within the business and the swindling that most of the immigrants fell prey to as well. The story highlights one misery after another that Jurgis endures until finally the tale turns into a political advertisement for Socialism.

This famous novel brought about laws and changes to the way our food was handled in the U.S. Some of the things that were done to consumable food would turn your stomach. I have a very difficult time reading and watching human misery stories, and this book was full of it! It seemed like an endless trial for poor Jurgis, and sadly, his dealings were true to life of what many people who worked in that industry experienced. That made it all the more difficult to read. I was determined to finish the book, but I would never read it again. It’s one of those tomes that you read once and that stays with you for awhile afterwards. Not sure if I’d recommend reading it or not.

Cranford ~ Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell’s book is about a little town called Cranford. The village is filled to overflowing with old women and very little men (so it would seem). The ladies know everyone and all their business, and we learn about each and every one of the gossipy gals through the writings of one of Cranford’s former frequent visitors: Mary Smith. As Mary ages she finds it her to duty to recall and record some of the more memorable events that took place in Cranford because the world around the town is changing, and the way of life the older women enjoy is no longer relevant. But she doesn’t want others to forget her beloved friends.

I watched the BBC miniseries of this book this summer, and it moved me to tears--ones of joy and sorrow. I was so enthralled with the story-line and the characters that I was saddened when I came to the last episode. I knew then that I had to read the book as I was convinced that it would be every bit as good as the film version.

Unfortunately I was disappointed. Yes, the book contained many of the colorful antics of the inhabitants of Cranford, but the central story-line that I so enjoyed in the movie version--that of Sophie and the young Doctor--were not included in the novel. I felt slightly unfulfilled after I finished reading. Read the book for sure as the writing is very good, and the little stories are humorous and touching. But afterwards be sure to watch the BBC production.

The Adventures of Jack Lime ~ James Leck

The title character Jack Lime is a high school student at Iona High. He is new to the school having moved from Los Angeles. Wanting to be noticed by his fellow classmates Jack tries his hand at private investigation. Voilá! A new-age Sherlock Holmes is born. Jack’s antics get him into trouble and often bruised, but he always solves his case.

This junior fiction novel pays homage to 1940s film noir detective stories. I loved the classic PI language: “a dame walked into my life”, “I should quit the business”, etc. It had me laughing out loud! James Leck writes the book as several of Lime’s cases compiled into one novel. Each mini story was enjoyable and left me hoping that this debut novel won’t be Leck’s last. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read something light-hearted, quick, and purely for entertainment.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Christy ~ Catherine Marshall

Christy, a young, ambitious, passionate girl, is sitting at a meeting where a missionary is describing a new school he has opened and is calling for a volunteer teacher.  The speech grabs Christy and she jumps at the opportunity.  Everything happens so fast and before she knows it she's on a train headed to the Cutter Gap missionary school.
But when she arrives things are much more primitive then she ever expected and she questions her choice.
Is she cut out to be here, in the wilderness mountains?  Can she really teach these children?  Can she survive without the comforts of the home she knew?
As she begins to settle in she comes in contact with two very different men.  One makes her angry and feel like a child ... yet something interesting about him draws her.  One she falls in love with ... or so she thinks so.
Can she stay and teach?  Can she love this man?  Will she turn and run?

This book was very well written.  Marshall is a very good writer and I loved how she describes things!  Yet, this book didn't "grab" me until about half way through.  It was fun to read, but there wasn't anything that really made me feel like "I just have to find out what happens" until, as I've mentioned, about halfway through.  But maybe it was just me.  Although after I got to that point where I "just had to know" it was very interesting and attention grabbing. And, just from my point of view, it ended just like I wanted. :)
There were times in the book where I felt like each chapter was just a different story about the same people.  Sometimes she referred back to things she talked about in the earlier chapters, but not often, until, again, about halfway through.
I do recommend this book.  Be wary though, there are some parts that could have been left out.  They are not terrible, but questionable.

The Pursuit of Holiness ~ Jerry Bridges

"Be holy, for I am holy," commands God to His people.  But holiness is something that is often missing in the Christian's daily life.  According to Jerry Bridges, that's because we're not exactly sure what our part in holiness is.  In this book, Bridges helps us see clearly just what we should rely on God to do - and what we should accept responsibility for ourselves.

This was the second time I've read this book and it was so helpful both times. Very convicting yet extremely helpful at the same time, as I already mentioned.  Bridges is very easy to understand and his writing flows very smoothly. I highly recommend this book.

A Study in Scarlet ~ Arthur Conan Doyle

This is the first story in the series of writings starring the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. In his tale Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduces the reader to Mr. Holmes and his crime-solving companion Dr. Watson. The good doctor has returned to London after a stint in Afghanistan, having served for the military. While on his tour of duty he is injured, and now he is in back in the U.K. to recover. Watson lives on a fixed income and yet he needs a place to live. A friend introduces him to an acquaintance who is in a similar predicament: Sherlock Holmes. The two men become roommates, and it doesn’t take long for Dr. Watson to notice Mr. Holmes’s eccentricities and his unbelievable skill of deduction. Watson accompanies Sherlock on a case aiding Scotland Yard. A murder has been committed, but there is no sign of the killer. In the end the crime is solved by Mr. Holmes, of course, much to the amazement of Watson and Scotland Yard. Thus Holmes begins his lucrative detective practice. The rest, as they say, is history. J
I LOVED this story! I thought it was so fantastic that I couldn’t stop reading it. From the very moment the reader is introduced to the character Sherlock Holmes you just HAVE to keep reading about him and his peculiarities. The manner is which the author writes him is just amazing and draws you in. I was baffled as to how Holmes found “his man”, but then Arthur Conan Doyle takes the reader back and explains it all, and his explanation kind of added a twist to the narrative. No wonder readers 100 years ago were clamoring for more stories featuring the unique character. My only minor complaint is that Doyle uses many words that modern readers (well, at least me) might not be familiar with. Recommended.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Shutter Island ~ Dennis Lehane

My brother read this book, and he asked me to read it, too, so he could have someone to talk about it with. I had seen the previews for the movie, and thus I knew that this was a thriller and/or scary book. Normally I don’t read books in that genre. Okay, I NEVER read books in that genre or watch movies either. But I figured I’d give it a try for my brother’s sake.
U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels has been assigned a mission to locate a missing woman at Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane on Shutter Island. He and his partner Chuck soon learn that things are not what they seem at the hospital. During their investigation more questions arise than are answered. On top of that a hurricane is raging around them. Will Teddy and Chuck discover the secrets regarding the island and its hospital? Will they ever leave??
Surprisingly I kind of enjoyed this book. It certainly held my interest. There was also a plot twist at the end of the story. Unfortunately there was some bad language. And since the hospital housed criminally insane people there were some disturbing scenes. Would I recommend this book? Probably not. Will I read a novel from this genre again? Probably not.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow ~ Washington Irving

Ichabod Crane is a school teacher who enjoys telling and listening to ghost stories. And the part of New England where he resides, Sleepy Hollow, is filled with tales of spooks and specters and most famous of all: a headless man who rides on a horse at night.

Ichabod tries to court the most sought after beauty in the county: Katrina Van Tassel. Ms. Van Tassel is warm to Ichabod’s feelings, but she is also being wooed by “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, Ichabod’s rival.

Both Crane and Van Brunt are invited to a party given by Katrina’s father. Many scary stories are told the night of the autumn festival, and Ichabod was rather skittish when he left the Van Tassel farm. Not long into his journey home he finds that he is being pursued by the notorious Headless Horseman himself! Ichabod is so frightened by his late-night encounter with an actual ghost that he leaves Sleepy Hollow, never to return.
Because of this book’s history, and the fact that it is so famous, I was expecting a long story filled with adventure and intrigue. You can imagine my surprise then when I discovered that Mr. Irving’s well-known tale is a short story! Its lack of pages though was no indication of its plethora of words. Washington Irving used so many archaic terms that I had to have a Post-It note and pencil next to me at all times so I could write down all the unknown words I found to look up later. And his style of writing is out-of-date which made it difficult to read. I would only suggest reading this story so you can say, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? Oh, yes. I’ve read it.” You’re probably better off just watching the movie.

Rebecca ~ Daphne Du Maurier

This story follows the life of a young female attendant to a wealthy matron. The young lady and her employer are vacationing in Italy when they meet a famous Englishman, Max de Winter. Two weeks later Max and the young woman are married, and he brings his new bride back to England to his stately home, Manderley. But all is not blissful for the newly married couple as the new Mrs. de Winter soon discovers that life at Manderley is haunted by the shadow of Max’s first wife, Rebecca. The mystery of Rebecca’s death grows throughout the summer. Finally, all of Mrs. de winter’s questions are answered through a series of startling events.

This famous 1938 gothic novel completely surprised me (in a good way). I was puzzled by the story right up until the very end. But I enjoyed reading this book because it had such a fantastic twist, and Daphne Du Maurier is an excellent descriptive writer; the reader can easily picture everything that is happening. One other thing that was unique about this tale is that you never find out what the new Mrs. de Winter’s first name is. She is only called by her surname. This was an interesting novel for adults.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

P.S. I Love You ~ Cecelia Ahern

I started reading this book and got to the third chapter, I believe, but I couldn't finish it.  There was so much swearing that it was hard to over-look.  I know the story is sweet and I was interested to see how Cecelia actually wrote the book but I couldn't read it.  I don't recommend this book for that reason, since I didn't get too far into it, I obviously don't know much about the rest of the book and cannot rate it on the rest of the contents.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Catcher in the Rye ~ J. D. Salinger

Maybe you are like me in that you have heard of this novel, but you've never read it. It's fame has also piqued your interest. Well, that is how I decided I was going to read this book. And that is also how I found out that this book is not worth reading. :)
Here's the gist: the novel chronicles a weekend in the life of prep school attendee Holden Caulfield. He has been kicked out of another school, but he doesn't want to go home to his soon-to-be disappointed parents. Instead he spends the weekend in New York City. There isn't a real strong plot to the story. It is told in the first person point of view, and the entire book is basically just Holden giving you his thoughts on life. He has been committed to a mental institution because he has had a nervous breakdown, and it seems that he has been instructed to write down the events that led to his breakdown.
This novel is filled with very frank observations regarding people, and Salinger uses a lot of coarse language. A lot. I understand that he was trying to convey a strong character, and when you read the book it does come across that Holden would speak that way. But it was beyond excessive. Also, because Holden is only sixteen, and the novel is written in a manner that Holden himself is telling the story, there is a lot of repetition of words and phrases.
I will give Salinger credit in that he certainly makes the reader believe that a 16 year-old is telling a story rather than a 25 year-old writer. But the bad language makes this book one to be avoided.

Pauline's Passion and Punishment ~ Louisa May Alcott

Synopsis: The title character, Pauline, has been wronged in love, and she uses her womanly wiles to seek revenge against the offending man. With a hunger that is almost demonic, Pauline stops at nothing to make the man atone for what he has done to her.
After reading A Long Fatal Love Chase I vowed that I had to find more of Alcott’s lesser known thrillers. I was intrigued by that book because it was such a stark contrast to Little Women and its subsequent novels, and the ending was very surprising.
I hunted around and found the massive book Louisa May Alcott Unmasked: Collected Thrillers at my local library. I was specifically looking for the short story Pauline’s Passion and Punishment. And it IS a short story: only 30 pages long. But don’t let its lack of length make you think it was brief in plot development. I found this tale to be unusual, and I don‘t mean that as a bad thing. It was an expected story of love and revenge. I thought I had the ending figured out, but Alcott surprised me once again.
I will definitely be reading more of these suspenseful stories. Alcott is truly a versatile writer.

Atonement ~ Ian McEwan

Robbie and Cecilia grew up together in a manner house in England. He being the son of one of the servants and she the privileged daughter of his mother’s employer. And as usually happens in stories the two fall in love, despite their circumstances in life. But fate decreed that the two lovers should not be together, and Robbie is falsely accused of a crime the very night he professes his love. Robbie is sent to prison for several years, and after his release he joins the military to help fight the second World War. Cecilia joins the war effort as well, as a nurse. They meet up with one another before Robbie leaves for France, and they vow that they will be together when he comes back. But both will become victims to the war, and their love will be unrequited.

I watched this movie a year ago, and I was so moved by the story that after it ended I sat staring at the television while the tears flowed down my face. I watched the DVD extras and discovered that the movie was based upon a book of the same title. Naturally I put the novel on my “must read” list.
Well…it’s NOT a must read. I couldn’t even finish this book. It was excessively wordy and descriptive. McEwan gives the reader so much back-story, and it was just unnecessary information. I tend to like to skip ahead to the dialogue, but there was very little conversation during the first seven chapters. I put the book down to take a break from it, and even two weeks later I dreaded the thought of picking it back up again so much that I decided not to. I already knew the entire plot so what was the point?
This was one of those rare instances where the movie was better than the book. Skip it.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Monday Morning Faith ~ Lori Copeland

40-year-old Johanna is comfortable with the life she's built for herself. A librarian who lives at home to take care of her aging parents. The only thing that bothers her, an aunt who thinks Johanna should be married and makes her opinion known.
But when "Tom Selleck" appears and steals her heart, she's beginning to think maybe her life has turned around and she's not sure if she likes it.
The only thing "wrong" with "Tom Selleck" is that he's headed to Papua New Guinea to be a missionary Dr.
Johanna tries to convince herself she's not in love with him. But when he asks her to go with him, she knows she does actually love him.
Rather shocked and unsure, she finds herself on her way to Papua New Guinea, even though she's 100% sure God's will for her life is not to be a missionary.
Life there, for three weeks, is so totally different from everything she's ever known, reassuring her (or so she thinks) that God's will for her isn't for missions and she starts to question why she's there. She is so far from her comfort zone.
Struggle after struggle tests her faith and when an unexpected tragedy strikes, she knows what she must do ... even if it means "Tom Selleck" is not for her?
Can she really trust and follow the God these missionaries love so dear?
This is another one I enjoyed. Maybe not as much as "A Mile in My Flip-Flops" but it was a good read. There were a couple parts in this one that had me giggling, as well.
I recommend this one, too.

Stranded in Paradise ~ Lori Copeland

Is it possible for almost everything that could go wrong to actually go wrong? It is if you're Tess Nelson.
Tess is a successful, in control of her life business woman.
But when things start to crumble and things she can't control happen, she panics.
She decides she needs a break and flies to Hawaii.
But problem after problem is piled onto her stressful life.
Then to top it off, a handsome, kind of annoying man, also on vacation in Hawaii, keeps crossing her path.
Event after event pushes them together and she keeps seeing that this man has something she does not, a true reliance on God.
When a hurricane that is headed straight for the island throws them together again, she realizes just how strong his faith is and the peace and joy God brings.
Can she truly give up control of her life and trust this God to take control?
I enjoyed this book. Copeland did a good job of keeping the story interesting and exciting. I would recommend this book.

A Mile in My Flip-Flops ~ Melody Carlson

Gretchen, abandoned a few weeks before her wedding by her fiancée, is depressed, gaining wight, eating ice cream to her heart's delight and learning everything about house remodeling and construction ... or that is, everything that one can learn from watching reality T.V. 24/7 in her cramped little apartment with her over sized dog who loves to eat expensive shoes.
Deciding something has got to change, she decides she's going to buy a house, fix it up and sell it. A house flip! Just like on T.V.!
Everything goes great ... at least, that is, until the loan goes through on the house and she starts to work.
Maybe things aren't as easy as they look on the T.V.. Her father, a retired contractor, helps in anyway he can, but things happen and he calls a buddy of his to help out.
Gretchen isn't sure about her father's friend but the deadline on the house is inching closer and she seems to have no other option.
Can she finish the house in time and overcome the ache and pain in her heart at her failed "happily ever after"?
There was one scene that could have been left, but over all I just loved this book! I liked the way Carlson wrote in this one. I thought it was sweet, but also funny. Several times it had me laughing right out loud.
I recommend this book.

The Atonement Child ~ Francine Rivers

One dark evening, as Dinah is walking back to college from work, her mind and heart are thanking God for His goodness to her. A child of God, she praises Him for saving her. For giving her wonderful parents and a godly, amazing fiancée.
Her life seems perfect, until that night she's raped and to her greater horror, she becomes pregnant.
Will she have the abortion her family and friends are pressing her to have? Does God care about her any more?
This well written book is full of surprises in the form of secret after secret that are revealed in the characters.
This book is overly descriptive in some parts, but nothing tragic.
I was getting frustrated with the character's "faith" in the beginning and middle of the book, but was relieved and happy with how they all end up responding to God in the end.
I enjoyed this book the first time I read it and also this time through as well. Definitely a book for adults, however.

My Utmost for His Highest ~ Oswald Chambers

A devotional for one year, this book is a quick read each day. Although Oswald is sometimes hard to understand with how He writes, most of the time he's fairly easy to understand.
I will say, although I learned quite a bit from him, there are many things that I disagree with him on.
But over all it was a good book.
I would recommend reading this book, as long as you are careful to not swallow everything he says without knowing what the Bible says.

Elizabeth Prentiss 'More Love to Thee' ~ Sharon James

Reading "Stepping Heavenward" made me a fan of Elizabeth Prentiss. So when this biography of Elizabeth Prentiss, by Sharon James, was given to me, I was excited to get started.
It was well written and very educational. The one thing that kind of was interesting to me was that James was not afraid of showing a few points where Elizabeth missed the mark. She showed that Elizabeth was, in fact, human.
Reading about Elizabeth was hard, as sorrow upon sorrow seemed to be heaped upon her, but also very encouraging because James made sure to point out Elizabeth's unending, strong trust in Jesus.
Quoiting many things from Elizabeth, James gently shows us the heart of Mrs. Prentiss. I highly recommend this book.

Eight Cousins ~ Louisa May Alcott

Orphaned as a young girl, Rose goes to live on the "Aunt Hill," the hill endearingly called so by those in the area. Her six aunts live on this hill, each with their own family. Each, also, have their own ideas of how to raise her and as she has no parents, and her guardian uncle is on his way back from across the seas, she is subject to obey them.
But soon, Dr. Alec, her guardian uncle, comes and blows her aunts ideas out of the water.
Adjusting to the new care instructions underway she also is trying to figure out how she, an only child, feels about her 7 rambunctious boy cousins.
I really enjoyed this book. I was quite taken with all the characters. I wholly recommend it to any one. I think a young child could even understand it, if it was read to them. It's just a sweet story.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Christmas Carol ~ Charles Dickens

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge: the miserly, selfish old fellow who doesn't care about mankind except if they aid in his business of making money. As to his feelings towards Christmas? Well, “Bah. Humbug!” he eloquently declares when his nephew mentions the holiday. Because of his faulty attitude towards others, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts: the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Together they will take him on a journey through events from his life and present to him what kind of death awaits him if he continues on his current course. Ebenezer cannot help but be horrified by what he sees, and he learns a moral that alters him, and his enjoyment of Christmas, forever.
Let me state for the record that I am NOT a Dickens fan. I have read several of his novels (albeit a few were the Reader’s Digest Condensed Versions), and I haven’t found one that I enjoyed…until now. From the very first paragraphs I found I liked the story. I can only describe Dickens’ writing in this book as easy and cheerful. Even the more morbid parts were still beautifully described. Maybe it was because the book was so short that I found the story so easy and engaging; one could read this book in a few hours. And what I liked best about the book was that it ended happily, but the reader didn’t have to endure chapters upon chapters of depressing events in the main character’s life like in Dickens’ other novels. If you’ve ever thought of reading this popular Christmas story I would encourage you to do so.

Arch Enemy (Looking Glass Wars Series #3) ~ Frank Beddor

This is the third and final book in The Looking Glass Wars Series. What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of them? Well then let me give you a synopsis: Remember the book Alice in Wonderland? Young Alice Liddell has a fantastic dream about falling into a world where rabbits can talk but can’t keep adequate time, odd men wearing hats perpetually have tea, and queens are vile women who try to have their disobedient subjects murdered at every turn. Great story.

Now, take that fantasy world that Alice imagines, and pretend for a moment that it is a real place called Wonderland. Alyss Heart is a princess and is the next in line to the throne. But her mother’s reign is cut short due to a coup by Alyss’s aunt, Redd Heart. Redd wants to rule Wonderland, and she will use her gifted imagination and her lethal army of Card Soldiers to achieve her dream. First on Redd’s agenda: kill Alyss Heart. Accompanied by her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, and through the protection of an army of Chessmen, Alyss escapes Wonderland through a magical portal of mirrors. She ends up in our world, in London, where she must live for the next decade of her life. But all the while Alyss retains a hope that she will one day return to her home world and claim the throne that is rightfully hers.
This series is decent overall. The books are geared towards young adults so they are relatively easy to read, but they are interesting enough to enthrall older readers as well. I really like the premise of the book--Wonderland being a real place, etc. It was fun to read how Beddor borrowed characters and ideas from Lewis Carroll’s books and tweaked them for this series. I enjoyed books one and two, and I was looking forward to this final novel and the conclusion to the whole story. I was disappointed though. Book three wasn’t as good as the other two, and it seemed rushed; as if the author didn’t put as much effort into the writing. In trying to tie up all the loose ends from the previous novels Beddor jumped around a lot, and he included events that just didn’t seem to fit with the previous books. But I liked the series as a whole, and I would recommend them to teen and adult readers who enjoy the fantasy genre.