Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells

January’s Book for The Very Informal Classic Reads Book Club Challenge 2021…


Quick Review (read on for full review)

A thought-provoking read which poses questions still relevant today. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Ranked among the classic novels of the English language and the inspiration for several unforgettable movies, this early work of H. G. Wells was greeted in 1896 by howls of protest from reviewers, who found it horrifying and blasphemous. They wanted to know more about the wondrous possibilities of science shown in his first book, The Time Machine, not its potential for misuse and terror. In The Island of Dr. Moreau, a shipwrecked gentleman named Edward Prendick, stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious Dr. Moreau, confronts dark secrets, strange creatures, and a reason to run for his life.

While this riveting tale was intended to be a commentary on evolution, divine creation, and the tension between human nature and culture, modern readers familiar with genetic engineering will marvel at Wells’s prediction of the ethical issues raised by producing “smarter” human beings or bringing back extinct species. These levels of interpretation add a richness to Prendick’s adventures on Dr. Moreau’s island of lost souls without distracting from what is still a rip-roaring good read.

Favourite Quote

‘I hope, or I could not live.’

(From The Island of Dr Moreau by H. G. Wells, page 142)

Review

As I read The Island of Dr Moreau, I couldn’t help but think H.G.Wells was ahead of his time, and I came away with the over-riding view that this story was a cautionary tale whose message is: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

This is not a story of science at its most exciting and awe-inspiring, but rather at its most strange and horrifying. And, the most terrifying aspect of the book is not the strange creatures of the island, but rather the scientist behind them, a man who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to do what he does.  Yet, the fact that he has to do it on an island miles away from any other human being because he’s been shunned by his own community should have given him a clue as to why he shouldn’t be doing it.

The book poses some very interesting questions, ones which still are relevant today, regarding the ethics of science and the experimentation on other sentient beings. If I had known the story was going to deal with issues such as these, I’m not sure I would have chosen it, as prior to reading, all I knew about it was that it was a Victorian horror story.  And, I’m not sure I would read this one again. That being said, I’m glad I read it the once. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it was interesting and it did keep me gripped.

Rating


February’s Book for The Very Informal Classic Reads Book Club Challenge 2021 – Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon…

Book Review: Agatha Raisin and The Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and The Terrible Tourist is the sixth book in the Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fast-paced and entertaining cosy mystery, which held my attention to the very last page.  Pure escapism! 4.5 / 5

Summary (from goodreads)

Agatha Raisin leaves her sleepy Cotswolds village of Carsely to pursue love – and finds murder. Spurned at the altar, she follows her fleeing fiance James Lacey to north Cyprus, where, instead of enjoying the honeymoon they’d planned, they witness the murder of an obnoxious tourist in a disco. Intrigue and a string of murders surround the unlikely couple, in a plot as scorching a the Cypriot sun!

Favourite Quote

‘People think high tragedy belongs to the Greeks and Shakespeare, but mark my words, Aggie, it’s alive and well in the suburbs of England.’

(From Agatha Raisin and The Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton, page 222)

Review

It took me a little while to get into this one, and I feared my love with these books had come to an end.  The reason? When the book opens, I couldn’t quite credit what Agatha was doing. It wasn’t so much unbelievable rather that it made me cringe too much to read it.  However, I put it aside for a few days and then when I picked it up again, I couldn’t put it down!

We get to see a different side to Agatha in The Terrible Tourist as she comes face-to-face with her own self-worth. I liked Charles Fraith who we met before in The Walkers of Dembley (you can find my review here). He’s a bit tight and a bit of a cad but he also says the nicest things to Agatha, things which she needs to hear, so I’ll forgive him.  James is even more awkward than he was before, which is exacerbated by his jealousy.

As for the other British tourists they meet, they are all pretty much unlikeable, but they did not feel out of place in the story. The setting was wonderfully described and I particularly enjoyed the way the geography and historical context of the places they visited was fed through the story – by being read aloud from a tourist guide.

All-in-all, a fun and entertaining read which, once it got going held my attention until the very end. An easy, enjoyable read.  pure escapism.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Book Review: The Brands Who Came For Christmas by Maggie Shayne

The Brands Who Came For Christmas is the first book in The Oklahoma Brands by Maggie Shayne.

Quick Review

A sweet romance and an engaging read with a cast of interesting characters. I would happily read more from this series and this author. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Caleb didn’t know that one night of bliss last spring with small town beauty Maya Brand had resulted in a pregnancy, until the blackmail attempt arrived on his desk in an unmarked envelope, complete with photos of Maya with a belly out to there.

When he learns the truth, Caleb rushes back to Big Falls, determined to make it right despite what the scandal will do to his high profile career–the family legacy he had never truly wanted.

All he wants is Maya, and their child.

But can a girl whose father abandoned and betrayed her, ever truly believe in the goodness of a man who left town the morning after their one night stand? How can he convince her that he hasn’t stopped thinking about her since then, much less, do so with the whole world watching? He has to prove himself to a woman he’s not even sure he’s worthy of. But he has no idea how.

Favourite Quote

“But honey, it’s that experience of getting it wrong that make me know what’s right.”

(From The Brands Who Came For Christmas by Maggie Shayne)

Review

A sweet romance with an engaging read with a cast of interesting, unpredictable characters. I’m not sure I understood the motivations of some of the characters (e.g. why Maya is so fixated on being accepted by the church ladies when they look at her whole family with such disdain) or how Caleb never managed to find a spare evening to sneak away to Big Falls in months when he couldn’t stop thinking of Maya…but that is what creates the conflict. I certainly felt the tension and awkwardness from both POVs when they are brought back together.

With the fact that it is a romance, you know how the story is going to end, but I had no idea of the route the story would take to get there. Selene was my favourite character – witchy with a love of tarot, herbals potions, etc.  I thought she was magical! I also thought Bobby was a fun character. He could really find the silver lining in the darkest of stormclouds, I’m sure.

I would happily read more from this series (The Oklahoma Brands) as well as more from this author.

Rating

Book Review: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories is a collection of four Christmas-themed stories by P.D. James.  I have reviewed each of the four stories in turn…

Summary from Goodreads

P. D. James was frequently commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write a short story for Christmas, and four of the best have been drawn from the archives and published here together for the first time. From the title story about a strained country-house Christmas party, to another about an illicit affair that ends in murder, plus two cases for detective Adam Dalgliesh, these are masterfully atmospheric stories by the acknowledged ‘Queen of Crime’.

Overall Review

Expertly written, engaging and atmospheric, this collection of four short stories are a wonderful addition to a wintry reading list! Highly recommended! 4.5 / 5

A note on the cover: I loved the cover. My copy was paperback, printed on very thick cardstock. Rather wonderfully the cover was double-sided with lino print-style artwork.

Overall Rating

4.5 / 5

The Mistletoe Murder

Summary

When an RAF pilot is shot down and killed early in WWII, his widow is invited to her estranged grandmother’s for Christmas. Looking for peace and healing, she accepts, but it is not quite the holiday she hoped for.

Favourite Quote

Bereavement is like a serious illness.  One dies or one survives, and the medicine is time, not a change of scene.

(From The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James)

Review

Expertly written.  All the information needed to solve the crime was there from the beginning, yet it is not until the very end when you realise its worth. Clever and atmospheric, you could feel the tension in that country house that wartime Christmas.  Only once I finished the story did I realise how evilly the main character had been used by her own family, using her grief to their advantage. But equally, there’s no getting away from the fact the victim was the worst sort of person, and there is little sympathy to be found for such a man.

Rating

 

A Very Commonplace Murder

Summary

Ernest Gabriel takes atrip down memory lane, quite literally, by visiting his former place of work and recalls a local-interest crime story that unfolded before his very eyes…

Favourite Quote

He was surprised and a little disappointed by the court. He had expected a more imposing, more dramatic setting for justice than this modern, clean-smelling, business-like room.

(From A Very Commonplace Murder by P.D.James)

Review

Another cleverly written story, which on the face of it looks surprisingly bland, yet the mystery is actually terribly sinister. We are presented with a very interesting and remarkably accurate look into human reasoning and thought.  “I will do this because I am a good person…but…” Cue the reasons why doing the right thing is not a good idea or can negatively impact the person trying to be good.  Sigh.  But a great read!

Rating

The Boxdale Inheritance

Summary

Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh goes to visit his godfather Hubery Boxdale and is asked to look into a murder which happened in 1902…

Favourite Quote

It was only surprising that the Canon had managed to live to seventy-one in a carnivorous world in which gentleness, humility and unworldliness are hardly conducive to survival, let alone success.

(From The Boxdale Inheritance by P.D. James)

Review

I’ve neither read one of P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh novels nor seen any of the TV adaptations, but I quite enjoyed this story and the next one. In The Boxdale Inheritance we are introduced to quite an eccentric cast of characters, and an interesting, engaging story. I guessed the culprit but it was an entertaining read to see if I was right.

Rating

The Twelve Clues of Christmas

Summary

Adam Dalgliesh is on his way to his Aunt’s Suffolk coast home for Christmas, when, a few miles from his destination, a stranger steps out in front of his car.  He needs the police…his uncle has committed suicide.

Favourite Quote

They took it remarkably calmly. Anyone would think people in this county kill themselves routinely at Christmas.

(From The Twelve Clues of Christmas by P.D. James)

Review

This story felt a little but more of a lighter read than the others as Dalgliesh tried to make the crime appear a little more seasonal, fitting the case into “The Twelve Clues of Christmas”.  And it was this that I felt was the real star of the story, perhaps even more so than the crime and its solution.  An enjoyable read, and the humorous tone was certainly appreciated by this reader!

Rating

Book Review: Mystery In White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fun, solid wintry classic crime read, perfect for reading over the Christmas holiday. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

This classic Christmas mystery is republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

Favourite Quote

“Miss Noyes,” replied Lydia, “suppose this house belonged to you, and you returned to it after the world’s worst snowstorm, would you rather find your larder empty or seven skeletons?…”

(From Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon, page 79)

Review

I read this story for Festive Reads Fortnight 2019 but never got around to posting the review, so I waited a whole year so that I could as I thought it would seem quite out of season to do anything else.

Mystery in White is a fun, entertaining read.  Now, if you think from the summary or even the book cover, which is just so lovely, that this story is like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, it is not. The stories are very much different.

The premise is very good and the isolated location and set up of what’s to come pulled me right into the story.  The cast of characters was interesting and varied. Each brought something different to the narrative, but that being said, I didn’t particularly warm to many of them. The setting was my favourite part of the story. Set one Christmas Eve in the 1930s, we are treated to a train ride, snowstorm and isolated country house. The story itself has a number of elements of the classic crime story: a locked room mystery, a murder, a list of suspects who hitherto have been strangers to one another, a little atmospheric spookiness…

The main problem I had with this story (and it is the same problem I had with the only other J. Jefferson Farjeon story I have read, The Z Murders – see my review here), is that the author has a habit of introducing new characters much later in the story than is often usual for a mystery.  And these characters are main characters around which the rest of the story seems to build. Most readers who enjoy mysteries, enjoy trying to solve it as the story unfolds, and that becomes a little difficult when important elements of the tale are deliberately withheld by the author.

However, it is still a fun read if you’re looking for a typically British golden age crime story, and I think it would be an entertaining choice if it was ever picked up for TV or film.

I’ve really been enjoying making a way through the British Library Crime Classics, and although Mystery in White is not my favourite out of the ones I’ve so far read, it was certainly worth a read, especially in the run up to Christmas.

Rating

Short Story Review: A Strange Christmas Game by Charlotte Riddell

I could find no relevant book cover to go with this review so I thought I would share a glimpse of Bedfordshire woodland…

Summary

Brother and sister John and Clare Lester inherit an old spooky house in the country. But when they start to hear strange noises, it sets them on a path to discover a terrible secret…

Favourite Quote

‘You pooh-pooh the existence of ghosts, and “only wish you could find a haunted house in which to spend a night,” which is all very brave and praiseworthy, but wait till you are left in a dreary, desolate old country mansion, filled with the most unaccountable sounds, without a servant, with none save an old caretaker and his wife, who, living at the the extremest end of the building, heard nothing of the tramp, tramp, bang, bang, going on at all hours of the night.’

(From A Strange Christmas Game by Charlotte Riddell)

Review

This short story was read as part of Festive Reads Fortnight 2020 at Sammi Loves Books.

I hadn’t read any of Charlotte Riddell’s work until this one, and only then did I learn that she published her writing under her husband’s name, J.H. Riddell. Hence why sometimes her works are attributed to that name.

Atmospheric, this story falls into the category of traditional or old fashioned ghost story. It’s not terribly scary, but it is interesting to read how John and Clare discover the secret of Martingdale, and then solve the secret.  The character of Clare is cleverly written.  She is very astute, though she also fulfils the role Victorians would have expected of a woman, by which I mean she screams on occasion and drops a glass in fright. 😉

It’s a very quick read, but certainly well-worth a look, especially if you like your ghost stories to be horror-free.

This short story wins ‘local interest points’ from me, as it is set in part in my home county of Bedfordshire.

Rating


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #3 in the list: a book set in a place you’ve lived / visited

Short Story Review: The Gift of The Magi by O. Henry

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Poignant and heart-warming, this story is hard to forget. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

One dollar and eight-seven cents is all the money Della has in the world to buy her beloved husband a Christmas present. She has nothing to sell except her only treasure — her long, beautiful brown hair. Set in New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this classic piece of American literature tells the story of a young couple and the sacrifices each must make to buy the other a gift.

Favourite Quote

“…life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.”

(From The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry)

Review

I read this story for Festive Reads Fortnight 2019 but never got around to posting the review, so I waited a whole year so that I could as I thought it would seem quite out of season to do anything but.

The Gift of The Magi is a sweet and sentimental read. It’s also very short, so short I happily read it online at my PC.  Poignant and heart-warming, it tells of the unselfish love between Della and Jim.  Money is tight but they go to extraordinary lengths to buy each other a present for Christmas.

It’s a lovely tale for Christmas, which reminds us that when it comes to gift-giving, it’s not the quantity of gifts which is important. This story is hard to forget…

Rating

Book Review: Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

Prince Caspian is the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable and engaging fantasy read, with a wonderful cast of characters, both old and new, and with a different Narnia to explore. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Pevensie siblings are back to help a prince denied his rightful throne as he gathers an army in a desperate attempt to rid his land of a false king. But in the end, it is a battle of honor between two men alone that will decide the fate of an entire world.

Favourite Quote

“That’s the worst of girls,” said Edmund to Peter and the Dwarf. “They never carry a map in their heads.”

“That’s because our heads have something inside them,” said Lucy.

(From Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis, page 105)

Review

Prince Caspian was the second Narnia book written by C. S. Lewis to be published.  However, in the chronological reading order it is actually book four, and it is this order I am reading the series in.

I think Prince Caspian might be my favourite book in The Chronicles of Narnia so far. I loved the time travel aspects of this book, with hundreds, if not a thousand years having passed since the Pevensies were kings and queens of Narnia. The country as they remember it no longer exists, the people having changed and the landscape having evolved with the passing of time.  Yet, all the things which made Narnia special lives on in folklore and memory.

Lucy, as always is my favourite, but Edmund really has grown up. The lessons he learnt in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe have had a profound effect on his character, whilst Peter and Susan are more adult than children, which is reflected in their decision-making, making them appear a little out of step with the world they find themselves back in.

The names of the characters were well-chosen.  Not only did they sound like they reflected the characters, but they were just simply awesome.  A few examples being the mouse Reepicheep, the centaur Glenstorm, the giant Wimbleweather, the dwarf Nikabrick.

Again, I can’t help but see parallels with Tolkien’s writings, and I love that they were friends and were part of the same writing group, so would have discussed these aspects of their books together. Yes, I digress…In this instalment, it was that small people can be brave and save the world, and as for worldbuilding / fantasy elements there was a part that reminded me of the march of the ents…

There was only one part of the story I didn’t like, and it did interrupt my enjoyment of the book, albeit briefly. It was when a group of schoolgirls were said to be “mostly dumpy, prim little girls with fat legs”, (page 171), and a group of schoolboys, “who looked very like pigs” with “mean little faces” (page 172). The descriptions seem unnecessarily mean and cruel, and there appeared to be no justification for it.

The next book in The Chronicles of Narnia is The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, and I must say, I am really looking forward to it. After enjoying Prince Caspian so much, my expectations have risen…

Rating

Book Review: Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley is the fourth book in the Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Agatha Raisin is always a fun and entertaining read and this was no exception. Cosy village murder mystery at its finest! 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

After six gruelling months spent in London, Agatha Raisin returns to her beloved Cotswolds village of Carsely – and to her attractive neighbour, James Lacey. True, James is less than thrilled to see her, but Agatha is soon consoled by a sensational murder.

The victim, found in a field, is hiker Jessica Tartinck, who spent her life enraging wealthy landowners by insisting on her walking club’s right to hike over their properties. And now she has been found in a cornfield, battered over the head. Agatha lures the reluctant James into helping with her investigation – and there are so many leads to follow, for Jessica’s fellow walkers seem able, even willing to commit her murder!

Favourite Quote

‘It’s not that they suffer from material poverty,’ he said. ‘It’s a poverty of the mind, wouldn’t you say?’

Deborah, head down, murmured, ‘Oh, ignore them.  They might have knives.’

(From Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley, page 103)

Review

I mentioned in one of my Bookish Reflections post earlier in the year, that I was given a bag full of books by a family member.  In it were a handful of Agatha Raisin books, some I had read, others I hadn’t.  And, recalling how I attempted to read a few of the books out of order and not enjoying the experience…and one of the books in said bag being the next one in the proper reading order, I thought I would revisit these cosy mysteries, so expect a handful in quick succession 😉

I really enjoy these books.  They don’t require too much effort on my part, and they are always entertaining.  The characters are colourful, especially Agatha with her mean streak which you can visibly see fading the longer she is in Carsely. I found this book to be the funniest I’ve read so far.  Fast-paced and witty, this is cosy village murder mystery at its finest.  I enjoy the interplay between Agatha and James, their sometimes awkward friendship reads as authentic.

There’s a bit of an extensive cast of characters in this book, mainly because the ramblers come from another Cotswold village, but it’s not so vast that you can’t keep track of who’s who.  There’s nothing overly complex here but there are plenty of suspects to ensure that the story remains engaging. Light and undemanding, this is the sort of stress-free reading I love.

I had already read the next book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage, but as soon as I finished this one, I re-read it and updated the review posted on this site.  You can find that here.  Soon I hope to get around to reading book six, Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist.

Rating

Short Story Review: A Selection of Ghost Stories by M.R. James

For my Halloween Reads 2020, I read four spooky short stories by M.R. James, and although I am going to review each one separately – and briefly – I thought a single post was a more efficient use of time and blog space 😉

Count Magnus

Summary – Mr Wraxhall, a travel-writer, goes to Sweden, where he comes across the interesting character of Count Magnus in the local history. But interest quickly turns into something far more deadly…

Favourite Quote – “…and found myself (as before) turning in at the churchyard gate, and, I believe, singing or chanting some such words as, ‘Are you awake, Count Magnus? Are you asleep, Count Magnus?’…”

Review – It took me a little while to get into this story, but when I did I found the sense of place that M.R. James conjured was captivating.  As the story progressed, it gained momentum and the tension certainly increased. Although there are certainly horror elements to the tale, I think it’s the psychological element of this one that makes it memorable.

Rating

The Mezzotint

Summary – The story of a picture that is so much more than it seems at first glance…

Favourite Quote – “What he saw made him very nearly drop the candle on the floor, and he declares now that if he had been left in the dark at that moment he would have had a fit.”

Review – The Mezzotint was my favourite of the four short stories I read.  It was tense, atmospheric and dramatic. Some paintings do have eerie qualities to them, so for this one to achieve what it did and tell such a sinister story…all I can say is that it was the perfect Halloween Read! Chilling. Highly recommended!

Rating

‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’

Summary – A college professor takes a short holiday on the East Coast, and is asked by a colleague to check out a site for an archaeological dig. But he finds so much more than he expects…

Favourite Quote – “Few people can resist the temptation to try a little amateur research in a department quite outside their own, if only for the satisfaction of showing how successful they would have been had they only taken it up seriously.”

Review – This story took a little while to get going, but once it did, my! As I mentioned in the previous two reviews, the tension builds quite dramatically, and I must confess, unexpectedly, because at first, I wasn’t quite sure I was that hooked into the story.  There’s an almost nightmarish quality to this one, so if like me, you feel the beginning is too slow, stick with it. I wasn’t disappointed, and I hope neither will you be.

Rating

Casting the Runes

Summary – Mr Karswell writes books on esoteric subjects, but good luck to the reviewer whose finds his writing less than remarkable…

Favourite Quote – “Why, my dear, just as present Mr Karswell is a very angry man.  But I don’t know much about him otherwise, except that he is a person of wealth, his address is Lufford Abbey, Warwickshire, and he’s an alchemist, apparently, and wants to tell us all about…”

Review – My least favourite of the four stories, this one felt it took a great deal of time to get going, and probably suffered for being the last one I read.  I thought it more of a mystery with an almost fantasy bent to it than a truly ghostly read like the other three. The story was interesting, and I was keen to see how the tale was resolved, but I wasn’t particularly drawn to the characters. The locations were interesting too, but unfortunately, this probably wasn’t a good choice on my part for a Halloween Read.

Rating