Book Review: Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas by Rebecca Smith

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this book is both beautifully presented and a wonderfully engaging and entertaining read. Highly recommended. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Is the man I’m dating Mr. Darcy in disguise. . . or simply a jerk? 
It’s been two centuries since Jane Austen penned Pride & Prejudice and her many other classic novels, yet her adroit observations on the social landscape and profound insights into human nature are as relevant now as they were in her time. If only those of us in need of some good advice today had the opportunity to sit down and tap even a few drops from Austen’s great reservoirs of wisdom. Well, now we do. . . .
 
In Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, Rebecca Smith channels her great-great-great-great-great aunt’s sense—and, of course, her sensibility—to help readers navigate their most pressing problemsDrawing on Austen’s novels, letters, and unpublished writings, Smith supplies readers with wise and wonderful counsel for living well in the 21st century. From instruction on how to gracefully “unfriend” someone on Facebook to answers for such timeless questions as “Can a man ever really change?” this book enables readers to nimbly navigate life’s most tricky terrain with the good sense, good manners, and abundant humor that are the mark of any great Austen heroine.
 
Sensible, savvy, and funny, Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas cleverly answers every Austen fan’s most earnest question: What would Jane do?  Replete with lovely Austen-inspired color illustrations, as well as quotes from Austen’s various novels to support the advice given, this book is the ideal gift for the Jane Austen fanatic in your life.

Favourite Quote

The following quote is included in answer to the question, “What should my book club read?”

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

(From Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen)

Review

This is such a beautiful book. I read the hardcover edition and the way the book is presented is simply gorgeous. The illustrations are very fitting for a book that blends modern problems and historical solutions to them – just take a look at that tablet-holding regency lady on the front cover! And it’s also a fantastic read.

Clever, witty and well-written, this book is an easy, engaging read. Taking snippets from Austen’s novels and what survives of her personal letters to answer agony-aunt style questions, this light-hearted book is fun and even often sensible!

Broken down into six chapters: Love & Relationships, Friends & Family, Work & Career, Fashion & Style, Home & Garden, Leisure & Travel, it covers almost every aspect of life. And what’s more, I think there is a good chance the reader comes away from it knowing and understanding Jane Austen herself a little better. Her own charm, humour and intelligence certainly comes through.

An entertaining read, that can be read from cover to cover, or flicked through as the mood takes you. I read it from cover to cover myself, and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Highly recommended to those who need regency-era advice to tackle problems of the present day (such as, “How can I delete a contact on Facebook without causing offence?), or to those who simply enjoy the works of Jane Austen.

Rating

Short Story Review: The Adventure of the Empty House by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Empty House was one of the short stories included in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fantastic and wonderfully engaging short story which sees the resurrection of the world’s most famous detective. 5 / 5

Summary

Sherlock Holmes is dead, and in the time since his passing, Dr Watson believes the world has lost one of the greatest crime-solving minds it would ever know.  An interest in crime instilled in him by his friendship with his now deceased friend, Dr Watson wonders if he might not be able to use some of the methods taught to him by Sherlock Holmes to help solve a crime that has piqued his interest: the murder of Ronald Adair, or the Park Lane Mystery…

Favourite Quote

I knew not what wild beast we were about to hunt down in the dark jungle of criminal London, but I was well assured from the bearing of this master huntsman that the adventure was a most grave one, while the sardonic smile which occasionally broke through his ascetic gloom boded little good for the object of our quest.

(From The Adventure of the Empty House by Arthur Conan Doyle)

Review

This is the short story set after Sherlock Holmes supposed death after a struggle with his nemesis Moriaty at the Reichenbach Falls. Arthur Conan Doyle had intended to kill off Sherlock Holmes but public outcry at the loss of such a literary gem forced him to return to writing about the exploits of his consulting detective.

And the transition between the author thinking he had killed him off good and proper and then him still being alive and kicking is a seamless one, and fits so perfectly with the personality of Sherlock Holmes. There’s no doubt he feels a little bit sorry for duping Dr Watson, but he isn’t really sorry for doing so.  He believed it was the right thing to do (for him), and so did it.

As Sherlock Holmes recounts his deception at the Falls and his climb along a dangerous rockface, I felt the tension palpably.  I could also imagine the shock which causes Watson to faint for the only time in his life at seeing his dear departed friend suddenly standing before him in his study, as if an apparition.

I also enjoyed reading about what Sherlock Holmes had been up to for the three years he had been dead.  It’s no surprise, that he travelled the world, met with some very interesting people and conducted research experiences. He is a genius after all.

Rating

Book Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging, captivating read, one of wildness and the dark, destructive side of love. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

In 1801, Lockwood, a wealthy man from the South of England who is seeking peace and recuperation, rents Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire. He visits his landlord, Heathcliff, who lives in a remote moorland farmhouse, Wuthering Heights. There Lockwood finds an odd assemblage: Heathcliff seems to be a gentleman, but his manners are uncouth; the reserved mistress of the house is in her mid-teens; and a young man seems to be a member of the family, yet dresses and speaks as if he is a servant.

Snowed in, Lockwood is grudgingly allowed to stay and is shown to a bedchamber where he notices books and graffiti left by a former inhabitant named Catherine. He falls asleep and has a nightmare in which he sees the ghostly Catherine trying to enter through the window. He cries out in fear, rousing Heathcliff, who rushes into the room. Lockwood is convinced that what he saw was real. Heathcliff, believing Lockwood to be right, examines the window and opens it, hoping to allow Catherine’s spirit to enter. When nothing happens, Heathcliff shows Lockwood to his own bedroom and returns to keep watch at the window.

At sunrise Heathcliff escorts Lockwood back to Thrushcross Grange. Lockwood asks the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, about the family at Wuthering Heights, and she tells him the tale.

Favourite Quote

I narrowed it down to my two favourites:

“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

*

“Alas, for the effects of bad tea and bad temper.”

Review

I read this as part of The Very Informal Classic Reads Book Club Challenge 2021, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte being April’s selection. And, just a quick word of warning: my review contains the word “wildness” so many times I lost count 😉

Where to begin? Wuthering Heights is an epic of a book. It is a book of wildness. Wildness seeps into everything. Untamed personalities, who love wildly, who behave wildly, unsocially, acting like a force of nature, whenever the mood takes them. It is a book on the wildness of nature, and the wildness of human nature.

The landscape plays a big part in the telling of this story, in a similar way that Bodmin Moor plays a significant role in Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. We see the changes in the landscape through the changing seasons, we are told what birds are where and when, what is in bloom, what grows up on the moor, told of the power of the wind and of the barren, stark landscape.

But this untameable wildness seeps into everything, creeping across the empty landscape, a space of isolation and limited civilisation. Houses are like islands, cut off from other houses and villages and towns by this harsh but beautiful expanse of moor. It, this wildness, creeps under doorways, and over thresholds, and takes hold of those who dwell within.

For me, Wuthering Heights is a story of the destructive, dark side of love. Of course, it’s melodramatic, and the majority of the characters are not nice, nor do they necessarily behave in a socially-accepted way. And, the wildness found within the characters varies by degrees. Isabella Linton suffers greatly for a rather short moment of wildness, in which she succumbs to her foolish feelings for Heathcliff, and the latter uses them to his best advantage. Heathcliff, on the other hand, has his wildness nurtured and encouraged by Cathy and her own wildness as a child, and this seems to take on a life of its own, growing as he grows until it almost encompasses his entire life and governs every choice, every decision he makes.

It also depicts the cyclitic form of nature, of life. Consequences follow actions. How a thing is nurtured will be reflected in how it grows. And yet, these cycles are not closed and doomed to repeat themselves in an endless round of repetition. Cycles can be broken. Good can come from the bad. Natures once wild can be tamed, as we see in the closing pages of the book.

For me, Wuthering Heights is a story of wildness, perhaps even the story of wildness. It is raw, it is savagely, intensely romantic, it is dark. It is a story of love, a story of a lack of love, a story of one soul inhabiting two beings. It is the story of the wind howling on the moor, rattling at the windows, whispering of the wildness of the human spirit, of the untameable power of love.

Rating

Quick Review: Unexplained by Richard Maclean Smith

Summary (from Goodreads)

Based on the ‘world’s spookiest podcast’ of the same name comes Unexplained: a book of ten real-life mysteries which might be best left unexplained. . .
Demonic possession in 1970’s Germany.
UFOs in Rendlesham forest.
Reincarnation in Middlesbrough.
To this day, these real life mysteries and very many more evade explanation.

Based on one of the most successful paranormal podcasts ever, with over 10 million streams and downloads to date, Unexplained consists of ten chapters focussing on a different paranormal event, from Australia to Germany, the UK to Zimbabwe, using the stories as gateways to a journey beyond the veil of the uncanny, exploring what they reveal of the human experience.

Taking ideas once thought of as supernatural or paranormal and questioning whether radical ideas in science might provide a new but equally extraordinary explanation, Unexplained is The Examined Life meets The X Files.

My Thoughts

Although the podcast that inspired this book sounds just the sort of thing I love to listen to, and I have listened to similar-sounding podcasts before, I had never come across it prior to picking up this book. But I will certainly keep my eye open for it next time I’m looking for something to listen to. Unexplained: Supernatural Stories for Uncertain Times was certainly an interesting read.

Covering ten different paranormal events, occurring all over the world, I found this collection engaging. Some of the events and phenomenon I had come across before, the most well-known (to my mind) being the mystery of the Somerton Man. But I liked that more than half of them were new to me mysteries. The one that will stay with me the longest will probably the be the first one covered, where a young boy seems to have the memories of a German pilot whose plane was shot down close to where he lived, thirty years before he was born.

The only downside to the book was that at times the chapters and writing felt overly long, which slowed down the storytelling aspect of the book, and so the pacing dragged. But that being said, the events themselves were interesting enough for me to overlook that and keep reading until the end. It is also worth pointing out that there is an element of heavy reading involved in this book, as the author discusses both complex scientific theory and philosophy in places, in an attempt to explain what might be behind some of the events. I think the book may have flowed better without it.

All-in-all, this book covers some very interesting unexplained mysteries, some of which I may have never heard of if I hadn’t of read it. If you enjoy mysteries and the inexplicable you might enjoy having a read of this.

Rating

Book Review: The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A good historical fantasy adventure, woven through with elements of suspense and mythology. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Fact: Five thousand years ago, the Mayans carved thirteen crystal skulls.

Fact: To protect humankind, they sent them to the four corners of the globe.

Fact: They gave a precise date for when they thought the world would end: 21 December 2012.

Fact: They said that this time the destruction will be of man’s making.

Fact: Only when all thirteen skulls are reunited can the world be saved from its fate.

For the last 500 years one skull has been missing. Now it’s about to be found …

Favourite Quote

It was only a horse, a white horse, carved in simple, flowing lines from a green hillside to show the white chalk beneath.

(From The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott, page 375)

Review

I wanted to like this book more than I did, but I just felt like there was too much going on. The dual timelines of the Elizabethan and present day, although providing the space to create a very interesting story – and it was interesting – ensured there is too much to do and see, and a lot of story to tell. This book comes in at 500+ pages and it needs to be that long to cover so much story.

Apart from that, this is a good historical fantasy adventure, with elements of suspense and mythology woven through it. The settings were were evocative: in the modern timeline they included an unexplored cave network, the White Horse of Uffington, and the ancient Ridgeway. In the 16th century, we are given a glimpse of the wider world as Cedric Owens travels from Elizabethan England, to France, then Spain, then across the ocean to the New World, to New Spain. What’s more, I could envisage quite clearly each of the locations visited, either in the past or present.

I liked a number of the characters, although I didn’t feel much of a connection to any of them. The adventure element in Cedric Owens timeline was fun and engaging, and his friendship with Fernandez de Aguilar was well-written.

I can imagine this would make a fantastic film if given the opportunity.

Rating

Quick Review: The BFG by Roald Dahl

Summary (from Goodreads)

Captured by a giant! The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It’s lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast.

When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

My Thoughts

It’s been years since I’ve read any of Roald Dahl’s books, but when a family member gave me a huge bag of books, one of which was The BFG, I thought it would be good to revisit it, especially as I’ve been reading and re-reading some childhood classics in recent years.

And, I thought I would enjoy it more than I did. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Yes, it’s a highly imaginative story that’s sure to appeal to children, but the bits that I think appeals to them (the long, made-up-tongue-twisting words), don’t really appeal to me.

Also, being almost thirty years old, the book is a product of its time and so some passages haven’t aged particularly well. However, there are some very good passages too, my favourite being one about a matter of perspective: the giants seem bad to Sophie because the giants eat people, but that doesn’t make humans automatically good, some humans do bad things too. And that lesson alone makes the story worth a read, I think.

Rating

Short Story Reviews: Ghost Stories by M.R. James

Like last year, I read a few short spooky stories by M.R. James for my Halloween read for 2021.

These are what I read: Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book and The Uncommon Prayer-Book. Although both were good, they did not unseat my favourite M.R. James ghost story which I’ve read to date: The Mezzotint (see my review of that from last year here).

In Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book we are given an atmospheric description of an old church and the strange “…hunted and oppressed air…” of it’s caretaker. In this tale, it is first the place and then the behaviour of the people in the story, which causes the tension to rise. And when an offer of a silver crucifix and chain is made as a gift, you can’t help but wonder who or what the main character might need protecting from…

Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book – 3 / 5

In The Uncommon Prayer-Book, the artefact in question is a rare edition of a Book of Common Prayer, which is kept in an out-of-the-way little church affixed to an old manor house, in an out-of-the-way little village. The book was commissioned by an elderly woman with a hatred of Oliver Cromwell, and who purportedly haunts the book, which I find both wonderful and chilling all at once! But when the book is stolen, you just know the story isn’t going to end well…

The Uncommon Prayer-Book – 4 / 5

Book Review: Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

Murder at the Brightwell is the first book in the Amory Ames series by Ashley Weaver.

Quick Review(read on for full review)

A stylish, captivating read which captured the time period wonderfully, and Amory and the world she inhabits makes for a engaging backdrop to a murder mystery. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Glamorous Amory Ames might be wealthy but she is unhappily married to notorious playboy husband Milo and she willing accepts her former fiancé, Gil Trent’s plea for help in preventing his sister Emmeline from meeting a similar matrimonial fate.

Amory and Gil set off for the Brightwell, a sprawling seaside hotel in Devon, where Emmeline and her intended, the disreputable and impeccably groomed Rupert Howe are holidaying along with a sprinkling of other rich and sumptuously-dressed guests.

Champagne flows but the sparkle soon fades as a dark and unresolved history between Gil and Rupert surfaces. After a late night quarrel the luxurious hotel is one guest fewer by morning. When Gil is arrested for murder, Amory is determined to defend his innocence. But if she’s right the killer is still in their midst – can she prove it before she too becomes a victim?

Extravagance, scoundrels and red herrings abound as Amory draws closer to the truth.

Favourite Quote

It is an impossibly great trial to be married to a man one loves and hates in equal proportions.

(From Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver, page 7)

Review

This book was a captivating, engaging read, and the author did such a wonderful job of bringing the upper class of the 1930s to life. The Brightwell Hotel was stylish and decadent – the perfect playground for the rich and famous, and the perfect backdrop to a cosy murder mystery.

Amory Ames made for a fantastic main character. It’s easy to feel sorry for her when you consider the state of her marriage, but you quickly realise she is flawed and imperfect and human too, and not likely to sit around feeling sorry for herself. She is intelligent and witty and determined to solve the crime she has found herslf in the middle of.

The rest of the cast of characters were also well-written. Many of them were unlikeable, which made for interesting possible suspects. Naturally, there were plenty of red herrings, and the added difficulties stemming from a potential love triangle kept me turning the page until the very end. I didn’t once lose interest in the story, and am eagerly anticipating reading the next book in the series, Death Wears A Mask.

As the first book in the series, it did a great job of introducing the reader to everything we needed to know, without inundating us with too much information, and the author has left me needing to know what happens next for Amory. This has certainly entered my top five cosy crime series set between the wars.

Rating

Quick Review: Mysterious Britain by Homer Sykes

Summary (from Goodreads)

Throughout Britain’s length and breadth, ancient tribes, druids, Celtic saints, medieval knights, and 18th-century landowners have bestowed upon future generations a wealth of astonishing sights, structures, and landmarks. These awesome sights appear in evocative color photographs, richly enhanced with the history, legends, and folktales that surround them. Imagine dancing maidens and unfortunate princes turned to stone in Devon and Cornwall; water made holy in Wales; and the witch who milked the giant cow in Shropshire. These are treasures worth cherishing.

My Thoughts

This is a very beautiful coffee table style book to look through, full of inspiring, evocative photography. The photos are accompanied by explanatory text, helping to highlight the mysterious charms of the British landscape and folklore.

It’s not the sort of book I would read from cover-to-cover, but rather one I would pick up and flick through. And it’s mainly for the stunning photography that I enjoyed this book so much.

If you’ve an interest in British folklore, landscape and history, you might find this book worth a read.

Rating

Book Review: Sky Burial by Xinran

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fascinating, heart-breaking tale of love and loss, and the strength and determination that can be born out of it. 5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

As a young girl in China Xinran heard a rumour about a soldier in Tibet who had been brutally fed to the vultures in a ritual known as a sky burial: the tale frightened and fascinated her. Several decades later Xinran met Shu Wen, a Chinese woman who had spent years searching for her missing husband Kejun, after he disappeared in Tibet; her extraordinary life story would unravel the legend of the sky burial. For thirty years she was lost in the wild and alien landscape of Tibet, in the vast and silent planteaux and the magisterial mountain ranges, living with communities of nomads, moving with the seasons and struggling to survive.

In this haunting book, Xinran recreates Shu Wen’s remarkable journey in a grand story of love, loss, loyalty and survival. Moving, shocking and finally enriching, Sky Burial paints a unique portrait of a woman and a land, both at the mercy of fate and politics.

Favourite Quote

In return, Wang Liang gave Wen a pen and a diary. ‘Writing can be a sourced of strength,’ he said.

(From Sky Burial by Xinran, page 20)

Review

I picked this book up by accident, if truth be told. Having read on the cover that it was, “An epic love story of Tibet”, I had assumed it was fiction. My mistake. It wasn’t. Yet it is one of the most moving stories I have ever read.

I learned a lot whilst reading this book. The geography and landscape of Tibet is awe-inspiring and the nomadic way of life hard and difficult. However, the connection and understanding these nomadic peoples have with their environment is clear. The isolation they experience is profound to my modern sensibilities, where I am conditioned to fear being so far from help – and modern necessities – and for Wen, even decades before I was born, it was obviously a shock. But she survived it. She became one of them.

Her determination to find out what happened to her husband was very moving, and her love for him unquestionable and undeniable. She went to such great lengths to find out the truth, a search that took up so much of her life.

One of the standout things I will take away from reading this is how time is portrayed in the narrative, cleverly mirroring how it might have appeared to Wen. We move from the beginning of the story set in China, where dates and ages are so exact, to rural Tibet, where it is the seasons that are notable and the passing of one year blends into another. I remember feeling shocked that twenty years had elapsed when Wen had last seen her friend.

I believe this story will stay with me for a very long time.

Rating