2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge, Book Reviews

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park B.C.

I’ve been a Jane Austen fan for a while now. My favorite of her works was Persuasion until I read this book. I absolutely loved Mansfield Park! Like all her other works, there is romance throughout, but not the near erotica of today’s romance. There’s no sex, no innuendo, no open sexual flirtation, just a little hand-holding (rare) or a kiss (very rare), but primarily just the interesting conversation and lively interactions between ladies and gentlemen.

Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price. Fanny was born to a rather poor family with a load of children. When her mother’s older sister offers to raise Fanny, she is sent to live at Mansfield Park at the age of 10, far away from her family and closest sibling, her older brother William. However, she takes of residence with her aunt and uncle Mr. and Mrs. Bertram and their four children – Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. While growing up, she becomes close friends with Edmund and a personal helper to Mrs. Bertram. She is quite content with her second-place role to the rest of the children in the family. Also, there was Mrs. Norris, Fanny’s other aunt and Mrs. Bertram’s sister who is a continual busy-body in their life and reminding Fanny of how grateful she should be for the wonderful life she had been given.

The meat of the story falls just after Fanny turns 18. The elder sister of the Bertram family, Maria, lands a fiance and eventually a husband in the wealthy, but boring Mr. Rushworth. A new preacher moves into the area and his wife brings her younger sister and brother for an extended visit. The sister, Mary Crawford, begins to court Edmund and the brother, Henry, is a player who plays with the emotions between Maria and Julia. Eventually, there is a big kerfuffle at which point Maria’s husband decides to remove himself and his wife to his estate to the north, away from Henry Crawford,  Henry Crawford is essentially banned, and both Crawfords retire to town. Edmund is heart-broken, Fanny is heart-broken for Edmund, Julia is heart-broken, and Maria finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage.  Later, Henry Crawford pops back up when Fanny is visiting family and begins to court her. Fanny attempts to shake off the courtship but cannot seem to manage it. Eventually, Henry returns to town to wait for her he says while Fanny tries to convince Edmund that Mary Crawford doesn’t really love him.

It is a highly emotionally charged book. I loved Fanny and felt a strong connection with her. You felt each one of her emotions as she dealt with her growing emotions and love for different people. Her emotions are so pure and real you cannot help but relate to her. I found myself often yelling at the other characters because you could see what should happen but everyone was messing around. It was a fabulous book that I will be reading again.

My rating:

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2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge, Book Reviews

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This book has been on my to-read list for quite a while. I had downloaded the Kindle book a while ago and when I logged on to Audible, I found I could get the audiobook for free since I had purchased the corresponding Kindle book. I am quite glad that I read the book. I added it to my list of books to read before you die. It quite an uplifting story and would be great for anyone to read.

The story follows 10 year old Miss Mary. She grew up in India with her parents until cholera wiped out her household. When she was little, she was raised by her nurse and was given anything she wanted. Everyone had to listen to her and do what she said. So when everyone was gone, she didn’t really know what to do. She was sent to live with her uncle in England. Her uncle was very hands off and left her to her own devices. Between her maid, the housekeeper, and a gardener, she slowly transitions from a spoiled, bored, sickly child to a rather independent, lively child who enjoys gardening. She is encouraged by everyone to spend as much time outdoors to improve her health and strength. She meets Dicken, her maid’s brother who has a strong affinity for animals and talking to him helps her see the world differently. She finds her way into a garden that has been shut-up and hidden for a decade. Between her and Dicken they begin to bring the garden to life and the changes they make there begin to reflect themselves in the spirits and health of the young ones. Mysterious crying in the house leads to a new discovery the helps to bring the magic of the secret garden completely to life.

I think the story is a great message to everyone. It teaches about the importance of not being spoiled and lazy. It shows acceptance of disabilities and illustrates the power of thoughts. I found the story to be highly enjoyable and engaging. The writing was simple and fun to read. The language was not extremely difficult but it did provide vocabulary that most children now-a-days do not hear very often. It is also told from the child’s point of view so it will be very easy for children to relate to. Even as an adult, I was able to connect with the story. The simple lessons taught throughout that I mentioned before are relevant even to an adult’s life and it helps to see the world through their eyes. I highly recommend this book if you have never read it before.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I have a friend who absolutely LOVES Alice in Wonderland. I’ve never seen the animated movie and I’ve watched snippets of the Sy-Fy Channel’s Alice movie. So when I saw the audiobook on sale in the iTunes store, I thought “Why not?”.

Let me begin by saying the audiobook I downloaded was actually done extremely well. It was made by an acting group – the Wizard Academy Press , so each character had a different voice actor. I loved the narrator and the woman who played Alice. There was music and sound effects as well. For an audiobook, it was very engaging.

I knew it was going to be a little strange going in, but I was quite surprised by how strange. Science Fiction is usually not my thing, not that this is exactly science fiction, but neither is it fantasy. I usually like fantasy, but this book was just not my cup of tea. I do give the author credit for creating a very vivid and crazy world that created a comprehensive story line though. It was well written and to most people probably quite interesting. It did grow on me some the longer I read it, especially once Alice got out of the hallway and to the White Rabbit’s house.

The story follows Alice after she falls down a rabbit hole. She goes through many adventures and meets numerous characters. She initially meets the White Rabbit, following him down the rabbit hole. Then she meets a few animals as she is swimming in the Pool of Tears. There is also the Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, and the members of the pack of cards, with the King and Queen of Hearts as their leaders. Throughout it all, Alice is constantly growing and shrinking to fit the needs of the different environments and situations she ends up in.

If I were to listen or read it again, I would probably go with the written book just to make sure. However, I’m not sure I’m likely to read it again. Like I said, it wasn’t really my version of an interesting book, just strange. Also, the majority of the time I spent criticizing Alice for being idiotic in my opinion. So like I said, not my thing, but I’m sure others really enjoy this book. I don’t think I’d really let children under probably 12 or 13 read it because there are drug references, violence, and some more advanced topics, such as a philosophical discussion on time, that are scattered throughout the book.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I don’t know why, but I really loved it. It is actually quite a sad and depressing story, but it was just so beautifully written and so believable I just like it. I particularly liked the language and vocabulary used by the author. The writing is very eloquent and descriptive. Furthermore, there is a lot of character depth provided to the characters and you feel for everything they are going through.

The book is set in a Puritan settlement of colonial Boston. Mrs. Hester Prin came over from England before her husband in order to prepare a settlement place for them. In a short while she became pregnant, clearly not by her husband. She is imprisoned and her child, little Pearl, is born in her cell. The leaders of the town assign an unusual punishment for her – she must wear a letter A in scarlet on her chest at all times for the rest of her life. She refuses to utter the name of her fellow sinner, the father of her child, and chooses to serve her sentence out peacefully and alone. One the day of her public announcement of shame, her husband appears out of the woods and witnesses her guilt and sentence. He meets with her secretly and tells her she is not to disclose his identity so that he may find and seek revenge upon her lover. The day she is released, Roger Chillingworth, her secret husband, takes up residence as the town doctor. From here, the story follows Hester, Roger Chillingworth, and the Reverend Mister Dimsdale, a public, popular, and dying patient of Roger Chillingworth. You also get to see the growth of Pearl and how she is different from other children because of her behavior and outlook on life.

The story unfolds quickly and never ceases. You get to see the evil in the world, but also the restorative power of repentance. Also, it is a highly religious book, which follows a very precise religion. You may not agree with all the rules and regulations, but you get a clear picture of the world in which these characters are living and how they see themselves in it. There is much self revelation, an example of the power of guilt on a person, and the influence of anger and hatred can have on a person. It is a fabulous rendition of a specific time and way of living that many of us have forgotten. A must read for anyone who likes literature or a good psychological read.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


The first thing that surprised me about this book was the time period it was set in. Usually “classics” are set in times before 1900/1910. This book actually takes place in the thirties, after the invention of cars, telephones, and general connection to electricity. It had a faint Gatsby type quality to it. The second thing that surprised me was that the narrator never gave her name. Throughout the book she is not addressed directly, except as “Mrs. de Winter” after she is married. It was quite interesting for some reason.

The narrator is a young woman you first me working as a companion to an American woman in Monte Carlo. There she meets Maximillian de Winter, a recent widower. The two have a very fast courtship and marry within the month. The return to Manderley, his well-known estate house. As the narrator settles in to married life (and during her courtship), she becomes aware that any reference to Maxim’s first wife Rebecca causing great tension within him. He doesn’t like to talk about her or hear her mentioned. At the house, she feels the anger of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who resents her taking Rebecca’s place. The narrator feels a constant competition going on between herself and the deceased Rebecca. This causes much heartache, pain, and tension through the first half of the book. Everything comes to a head at the Fancy Dress Ball that is held in her honor. Afterwards, you learn a great deal more about the drama that unfolded at the house before her arrival and the previous Mrs. de Winter’s death. The twists and turns the story takes at this point are quite fascinating and you really get to know and like several characters.

As I read it, I could see how it was considered a classic. The story line was quite interesting, but took it a step further by adding twists and turns one never saw coming. It takes a while though to really get into it. I had a feeling like I was reading Wuthering Heights for a while, where you hate (actually feel rage and hate) toward many of the characters in the book. It gives the impression of a twisted love story for a while. After the Fancy Dress Ball there is a marked change in numerous characters that improves the story greatly for the better. You let out a sigh of relief when you discover the different truths scattered throughout Manderley and with the de Winter household. I have trouble deciding whether or not I like the book actually. I really despised the beginning, actually wanted to stop reading it, but my husband assured me it was well worth it to finish. He was quite right. I was glad I finished it, not exactly happy about the way it ended, sort of a cliff hanger, but it ended strong. I chose to go with 4 cheese bits instead of 3 for my rating because I would read it again if I was looking for an interesting, non-traditional story.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

After reading Charlotte and Emily Brontës’ works, I was impressed by their writing and story lines. I was wondering about Anne Brontë because you never hear much about her, so I decided to read (listen to) one of her works. Most of the websites recommended Agnes Grey, but I gravitated more toward The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  I am so glad that I did. It was an absolutely a phenomenal book. She is definitely able to match her sisters for story line and writing strength. I actually think hers was my favorite of the Brontë sisters’ works as it was easy to follow and read.

The story opens following Gilbert Markham, a young farmer. He becomes fascinated by the young widow who takes up residence in the local Wildfell Hall not far from his farm. They have a growing friendship and intimacy that unfortunately ends with her refusing to marry him. The local gossip mongers start spreading rumors about how her son looks very like his best friend Frederick Lawrence and how he visits her at unseemly hours. This comes to a head in an unfortunate set of circumstances. However, the result is she presents him with her diary, which she explains will clear up the whole matter. You then get to read her diary which details the building up of an abusive marriage and her escape.

The story is quite brilliant, with multiple twists and turns. I explained it to someone as an interesting cross between Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice. You feel for Gilbert and cheer him on. You relate easily with Helen (the widow) and find yourself hating her husband. It really pulls you in and makes you want to know more. I enjoyed how you got to learn about the main characters in great depth. You also learn how an abusive relationship starts and grows and how difficult it was for women of the time to escape it, even why they would stay in the relationship. It’s an exact account of the relationship and what many women experience even today.

I highly recommend this book. It was a fantastic read and a read view into the world of women and marriage. Definitely an eye opener and emotionally stimulating read. Anyone who enjoys the classics, especially the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen will enjoy it.

My rating:

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2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, Book Reviews

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I didn’t realize until after I started listening to this set of stories that there were four actual novels before hand. I didn’t know that there are a series of 56 short stories that follow the novels and I happened upon the first set. I will be looking in to reading (or listening to) the actual novels soon. I think they will be much more satisfying than these brief snippets. But for now, here are my thoughts on the short stories I listened to. I may seem a little harsh sometimes, but I usually prefer the longer, more in-depth stories.

A Scandal in Bohemia

I was somewhat disappointed in this story. It is the first Sherlock Holmes story I had read, and it turned out not to be one of his mysteries. It seemed to be a segue story for the reintroduction of Watson after his marriage. The story follows Holmes as he helps a German Count retrieve a compromising photograph of himself and a woman. The story is very short and all Holmes does it manage to find the photograph, but he is outwitted in the end by a woman. There were a few interesting sections where Holmes was making deductions and wearing disguises, but all-in-all not a very impressive story.

The Adventure of the Red-Headed League

This is more of what I was expecting from a Sherlock Holmes story. I did guess a couple of things, but not all. The story follows Holmes after he is approached by the most recent employee of the Red-Headed League. The man had worked solidly and happily for eight weeks when all of a sudden the league dissolved. The man wanted to simply know what happened, but no one else seemed to have ever heard of the league and so he went to Holmes to find out more. I liked the twist of the story and listening to how Holmes deduced what was going on. It really is an interesting way of seeing the world that I hope to start picking up. The smallest thing can trigger his mind into a new conclusion that will solve a mystery.

A Case of Identity

Again, another not to bad short mystery. Holmes is asked to find a missing fiance by a young woman. The woman is currently living with her mother and step-father and would like to begin her new life with her husband. However, he went missing on the way to the church. I was able to figure out what was going on fairly early on in the story, but I was completely off on the motive. I have read similar stories, not quite as short, but with the same idea and I think this is the original idea for the others.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

This story followed Holmes and Watson as they head to the west of England to help solve a murder. Right away Holmes is certain the suspect the police have, the man’s son, has not committed the murder, even though there is a large pile of circumstantial evidence. This was a great way to showcase Holmes’s skills and interesting insights. I had guessed who it was, however, I had no clue about how Holmes would like the person back to the murder. I loved the evidence process that Holmes used and determine the who and why. I was quite surprised by the end conclusions and motive. A good short mystery.

The Five Orange Pips

This story was just depressing in my opinion. Two men in a family had fallen victim to what appeared unfortunate accidents after receiving five orange seeds in an envelope with KKK written on the inside flap. Yes, it is the Ku Klux Klan. The third man goes to Holmes for advice on how to avoid the same fate as his father and grandfather. Holmes uses his standard skills to determine who is killing the men. The story never really comes to a close. It just made me sad.

The Man with the Twisted Lip

I was delighted by this story. Watson stumbles across Holmes in an opium den while looking for one of his patients. He soon is pulled into the mystery of a missing husband. The wife had seen him in a building in London and went in to see him, but he was nowhere to be found. Holmes investigates, but doesn’t use the detail oriented studies that have fascinated me. This was more of a general idea than focusing on details. I had an Aha! moment right before the mystery was solved. Clever little story!

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

This was another story I wasn’t particularly fond of. The mayor had attempted to help a man being attacked by ruffians, but all of them fled, including the poor man. He left behind a hat and a goose he had been taking home for dinner. Holmes worked hard at determining the hat’s owner, which was fascinating to listen to, but the mayor took the goose to cook before it spoiled. Lo and behold there was the Blue Carbuncle hidden in the goose’s stomach, a precious gem that had been stolen shortly before in a highly  publicized robbery. Holmes sets out to find the original robber. It ended quite quickly and without great mystery. Not bad, but not great either.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

This story followed Holmes as he helped a young women escape the same fate of her late sister, who had died shortly before her wedding of unknown causes. As she was preparing to marry soon and had begun to hear the strange whistling that had preceded her sister’s death, she quickly went to Holmes for help. I knew who had done it, but I could not figure out how. The descriptions of the different rooms and such were important, but not to the untrained eye. It was one of the more suspenseful tales in the book, and I liked that. Holmes deductions of the mysterious whistling and death of her sister were quite good. I should have been able to figure it out sooner!

The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb

I’m not sure how I felt about this story. Mostly I felt bad for the young man who had lost his thumb. Watson brings the young man to Holmes to help bring his attackers to justice. The young man tells a story about visiting a house in the country to fix a small mechanical problem, but there are strange happenings going on. I figured out most of the story line, but was disappointed by the ending.

The Adventure of the Nobel Bachelor

This was a more run of the mill story line than some of the others. Holmes is enlisted to help find a bride who had gone missing during her wedding breakfast following her ceremony to a nice older gentleman. No foul play seemed to have occurred, so it was baffling to everyone what could have happened to her. Through a series of interview questions of the new husband, Holmes was able to deduce what had happened to the lady and question and was able to re-unite the two for a discussion. I didn’t like this one as much as some of the others, but it was not too bad either. Definitely suited for a short story, and it would have been tough to draw out.

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

This was a fairly good little tale. It looked cut and dry at first, but of course it was not. I was rather surprised by some of the events in the story. I had guessed who the culprit was, but I was only half correct. There were a few more false leads in this story than in the others which I liked quite a lot. The story follows Holmes as he helps a banker recover a piece of lost jewelry that he believes his son has stolen because he caught the gentleman wrestling with the coronet in the dead of night. However, the jewels were nowhere to be found and his son had been arrested. It was important that he be able to restore his honor with the return of the jewels, so he hired Holmes to find them. I was surprised by the ending, although I should not have been. It was an interesting investigation and one of my favorites from this collection.

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

This story was slightly disturbing in its central idea. Probably the most disturbing part of it was that it could easily happen in real life. A young governess approaches Holmes about a questionable job offer she received in which should would have to cut her hair and occasionally wear certain clothes and sit certain places. Holmes advises her it is not the best situation, but should she take it she would have leave to contact him at anytime to help her. It is shortly after her hire that she contacts Holmes with a strange story of occurrences in the house. Holmes devises a way for him to come to the house and investigate. When they get there, most of the issues come to a head in a frightful scene. In the end all ends well, but it is still an unsettling story.


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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

I ran across this book at work. Our ninth grade honors English teacher had his students reading it and it seemed interesting to me (not so much to the students LOL). I decided to download the audiobook and am glad I did.

This story follows a group of people through the return of King Richard the Lionheart to England. There are several main characters: Cedric, Wamba, Gurth, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Rowena, Rebecca, Isaac the Jew of York, the Black Knight of the Fetterlock, Prince John, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Locksley, and the clerk of Clopmanhurst. There are many other characters that are followed as well, but these are the main people. With the title of Ivanhoe I thought the book would primarily follow Wilfred of Ivanhoe, but it mostly follows the Black Knight. The story is pretty much divided evenly amongst the main characters, but he receives a little more attention, probably because he helps the story move between characters.

You begin with Cedric and Brian de Bois-Guilbert. At Cedric’s castle, you also meet Rowena, Isaac the Jew, Wamba, and Gurth (who are actually the first characters you meet, but it is only in passing). You follow these characters to a tournament at Ashby where Bois-Guilbert and several other nights are meeting challengers in a tournament. At the tournament, you are introduced to the rest of the characters. After the tournament, some of the characters are kidnapped. The rest of the story is how Ivanhoe, Locksley, and the Black Knight save the captives. Not all survive, like any of the old classics. The book ends with Richard returning to England and restoring order to the attempted coup being set up by his brother John.

I am very glad I listened to the book because I struggle with French names and this book is full of them. The audiobook lets you not get distracted by the odd spellings and long names. The language in the book is just short of old English in my opinion. They have long interesting words and the unique phrasing that was common to the period it is written for. I love the old language style, but even I had a tiny bit of trouble in parts following the unfamiliar words and style. Most of the time it was easy enough to follow if you paid attention. It is not an easy read, but it is a rewarding read. It gives you the basis for all of the Robin Hood stories and some of the more modern stories of the return of Richard. It was nice to have a more detailed background of what times were like.

The book also gives a great historical perspective as well that is often lost in the more romanticized versions of Robin Hood and King Richard. The book brazenly demonstrates the persecution of the Jews in England, which I myself had not been aware of. Furthermore, the prejudices between the Saxon English and the Norman French is discussed in depth, particularly since Cedric is Saxon and Brian de Bois-Guilbert is Norman. The dissension between the crown and the Knights Templar also begins to surface near the end of the book. It also points out that at the time of King Richard, the English empire actually stretched across the sea and had possession of parts of France, particularly Normandy. People often forget that the empire was not confined to just the British island at the time. I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the book.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is very in to classical reading. Also, anyone interested in Robin Hood or King Richard would enjoy the book. It would also interest anyone who enjoys medieval history with a slightly romanticized story line. I enjoyed the book, but I probably won’t be picking it up again for a few years. The story line is memorable and interesting, but it will take a while for me to want to focus on the story long enough to take pleasure in the language and phrasing.

My rating:

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