Book Review: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A hard, emotional read, full of emotional complexities and the harsh reality of life on a ranch in the 1930s. Compelling, yet stark. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Raised on a ranch in northern California, Jody is well-schooled in the hard work and demands of a rancher’s life. He is used to the way of horses, too; but nothing has prepared him for the special connection he will forge with Gabilan, a hot-tempered pony his father gives him. With Billy Buck, the hired hand, Jody tends and trains his horse, restlessly anticipating the moment he will sit high upon Gabilan’s saddle. But when Gabilan falls ill, Jody discovers there are still lessons he must learn about the ways of nature and, particularly, the ways of man.

Favourite Quote

I couldn’t decide between the two, so thought I would share both:

“He felt an uncertainty in the air, a feeling of change and of loss and of the gain of new and unfamiliar things.”

(from page 5)

“It was a strange time and a mysterious journey, to Jody – an extension of a dream.”

(from page 15)

Quotes from The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Review

First up, I didn’t like this story, and I will not read it again, of that I’m certain. It was too sad and when it comes to animals in stories, I don’t like cruelty or abuse being shown to them, or horrible things happening to them whether it is reality or not. And so after reading this book, which I found difficult, I was left feeling sad and emotionally low.

That being said, I must have found the story compelling on some level because I read it in one sitting, though I did have to put the book down a couple of times to take a breather from the content.

The story is full of emotional complexities. Jody is growing up and trying to think and act like a man, but he’s not quite there yet. He has to deal with loss and grief, and finding out that an adult who had never been wrong before in his eyes is fallible. Billy struggles between trying to keep truths from Jody in order to preserve his childhood innocence, yet he knows that Jody is growing up. He will soon see the world for the harsh place it is.

Jody’s parents were interesting. There is softness and kindness there, but especially from the father it is hard to express, because being too gentle, too emotional is a weakness in his eyes. It’s a hard world and he wants his son prepared enough to be able to survive in it, so he comes off as cold and remote. His mother’s tough and loving, and finds the balance between the two. Yet she softens noticeably when she knows her son is struggling.

Steinbeck’s writing is economical and stark. He doesn’t shy away from, or sugar coat the darkness to be found in every day life. Neither is he concerned with giving the reader a happy ending.

From a social history perspective, we are given a good account of life on a ranch in the 1930s. It was first published in 1933 and is set in the Salinas Valley area of California, where Steinbeck himself grew up.

The setting is bleak and powerful; it stirs the imagination and expands the wistful horizons of Jody. What’s beyond the mountain ridge? Why don’t people live up there?

This is Jody’s coming-of-age story, where he is old enough to realise the harsh realities of the world, and they wound and shape him.

A well-written, yet ultimately sad and bleak story. Hence the rating.

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

Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

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

The Last of the Mohicans is the second book in The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Lavish and lengthy descriptions of stunning scenery combine with a tale of adventure in this classic of American literature. Definitely worth a read if you are a fan of geography. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads, same as back cover of book)

Skirmishes, captures, flights and rescues are only some of the ingredients of this classic tale of bloody conflict between the British and the French in the forests of North America. It also tells of the cynical exploitation of the native tribes by the two protagonists, setting Indian against Indian, Mohican against Huron.

However, there is one honourable European, natty Bumppo, the loyal and corageous woodsman, who prefers the simple code of natural law to the machinations of the white man. Together with Uncas, the last of the Mohicans, he helps to thwart the efforts of Magua, the sinister Huron, who tries to prevent Alice and Cora Munro from joining their father, the British commander of Fort William Henry.

James Fenimore Copper was the first great American novelist, and his love of the early frontier and the lore of the woodsman struck a chord with his readers that still finds echo today.

Favourite Quote

History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.

(From The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper)

Review

This book is almost two hundred years old, and set 75 years before it was written, during the French and Indian Wars. There were some things that I really enjoyed about The Last of the Mohicans and some things I liked a lot less. Let’s start with the positives.

The story itself is entertaining. There is action, a desire for revenge, plenty of chases, kidnapping, a hint of romance, and more, all played out against a backdrop of stunning, unspoilt scenery.

Then there are the characters. Hawk-eye is very interesting as he is a man caught between two worlds but not completely part of either. He moves between both with ease and fluidity, and is accepted by both, yet he appears very much as a man apart, a man alone. Cora is strong and courageous in the face of danger, whilst Alice is beautiful and so utterly pathetic which was prized in women at the time, but doesn’t translate particular well in the twenty-first century…

The American Frontier is richly described in all its vast, awe-inspiring beauty. Indeed, James Fenimore Cooper has captured and recorded this wild landscape in exquisite detail, which is wonderful for a reader like me who prizes geography highly in a book. There might be an argument, and a justified one at that, which questions whether the author has to describe absolutely everything the characters see in minute detail, but some of the descriptions really are wonderful.

What I really (read: really, really, really!) didn’t like was the lengthy and unnatural dialogue, and this did harm my enjoyment of the story. Here we find characters chatting away at the most inopportune times in order to facilitate the author’s need to explain everything. Also, the story doesn’t seem to move at a great pace, given how much action is involved in it.

Then we come to the question of racism…There is no getting away from the fact, that to a modern audience the story does come across as unpalatable, given the prejudices and stereotypes that are mentioned frequently in the book. Yet, I have also come across views that say James Fenimore Cooper had a great respect for the native population, which I can also see in the prose, if taken in the context of the time of writing. But still…

Part of me is a little bit tempted to read the other stories in The Leatherstocking Tales, but another part remains wary. Though there was much to enjoy in The Last of the Mohicans, there is no getting away from the fact that the narrative is heavy and I found it much too slow for my liking.

The 1992 film takes what is good about this story and presents it in a much better form for modern audiences, I think. So, if you have the chance to either read the book or watch the film, I would probably suggest the film. Gasp and Horror! I know, 9.9 times out of 10, I would have said go read the book, but there we go. However, if you are after reading a piece of classic American literature, give it a go and tell me what you think. After all, as I said above, there is much to recommend it if you have the patience for it.

Rating


April’s Book for The Very Informal Classic Reads Book Club Challenge 2021 – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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


Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable, entertaining tale full of twists and turns. Gothic, atmospheric and melodramatic, it kept my attention from beginning to end.  4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Bigamy, child abandonment, deception, theft, murder, and insanity all take part of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel. Her over-the-top drama was one of the most popular novels of the mid-1800s and provides an interesting portrayal of both class- and gender issues as they intersect within the domestic sphere.

Favourite Quote

I always find it harder to pick favourite quotes from ebooks and audiobooks than I do from physical books, and so I sought out the list of quotes from Lady Audley’s Secret on Goodreads and picked my favourite, and I think it’s a smashing one…

“Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea.”

(From Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon)

Review

This was a very enjoyable read, and, given its age, not at all dry.  In fact, it was very readable.

Although the story was very much over-the-top in pretty much every aspect of the story, it made for an unpredictable tale. With so many twists and turns I had no idea what was going to happen next, and that ensured the story remained engaging from beginning to end. The gothic atmosphere of the setting really came through, and the detailed descriptions helped to create a clear image of where the story was taking place and what time of year it was. 

Robert was an interesting main character. Depicted as laidback and often idle, with a love of books and pipe-smoking, it’s not until he is faced with a personal loss that we the reader and the other characters that surround him, get see just how clever and determined he can be. Naturally, for heightened dramatic effect, there were a few times I found myself thinking a few of his choices were unwise but that is par for the course for a sensation novel. My favourite character was probably the astute Alicia Audley, stepdaughter of Lady Audley.

Is Lady Audley a sympathetic character? Can her motivations be justified? The character is constructed in such a way as the reader can have very little sympathy with her, even if at one brief point in her story it is possible to feel sorry for her, but I’ll not go into further detail for fear of spoilers. She is in effect the Victorian arch-villainess as whatever a bad woman in Victorian society could be accused of being, she was.

The ending was a little soppy and too perfect my liking, but there is an element of poking fun at itself there too, which helped make it more palatable. The only other downside to the book was its length, and that’s where it a lost a star in my rating of it. In my personal opinion, it felt overly long for the story, yet at the same time I can’t really point to any part of it and say it was unnecessary to move the story forward.

If you don’t like melodrama in your fiction, you may not like this, but if you can see pass it for the fun it is, I think you will enjoy it.

Rating


March’s Book for The Very Informal Classic Reads Book Club Challenge 2021 – The Last Of The Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

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…

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

Book Review: The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

The Magician’s Nephew is the first book, chronologically, in The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Some enchanting descriptions mixed with some memorable and profound passages make this book worth a read, and sets up the next book, the most famous of The Chronicles of Narnia, perfectly. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

When Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory’s peculiar Uncle Andrew into becoming part of an experiment, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime. What happens to the children when they touch Uncle Andrew’s magic rings is far beyond anything even the old magician could have imagined.

Hurtled into the Wood between the Worlds, the children soon find that they can enter many worlds through the mysterious pools there. In one world they encounter the evil Queen Jadis, who wreaks havoc in the streets of London when she is accidentally brought back with them. When they finally manage to pull her out of London, unintentionally taking along Uncle Andrew and a coachman with his horse, they find themselves in what will come to be known as the land of Narnia.

Favourite Quote

‘Ah, but when I looked at that dust (I took jolly good care not to touch it) and thought that every grain had once been in another world – I don’t mean another planet, you know; they’re part of our world and you could get to them if you went far enough – but a really Other World – another Nature – another universe – somewhere you would never reach even if you travelled through the space of this universe for ever and ever – a world that could only be reached by Magic…’

(The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, page 25)

Review

As I mentioned in previous reviews this year, I’m spending a little of my reading time returning to childhood classics, some I’m re-reading and others which I haven’t yet read.  Having a pretty collection of The Chronicles of Narnia sitting on one of my bookshelves (they’re not mine but my sister’s and I said she couldn’t have them back until I’ve read them – that was a fair few years ago now!  Sorry Sis!) I thought it was high time to begin working through the series.  I only remember reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe during my formative years, but to be honest, I can’t recall too much from the book itself, but I did enjoy the 2005 film adaptation (although it took me a fair few years to get around to watching that…)

There is a part of me that wants to compare Lewis’ Narnia to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but I think, that would be wholly unfair, so I won’t.  At least, I won’t until I have read all seven books, and then it will only be a maybe.  We shall see…

Although The Magician’s Nephew is the first book chronologically in The Chronicles of Narnia, it wasn’t the first book in the series to be written, and there were times when I was reading that this was obvious, and when it was noticeable, I did find it to be quite jarring.  Yet there were also times that  this very same thing offered an “Aha!” moment or two.  Also, it is worth pointing out that this is basically the “Genesis” of Narnia, how that magical world came to be and how people from our world discovered it.

One thing that struck me was its concept of good and evil comes across as very basic.  There are simply bad people doing bad things so that the good characters can do good things.  As a children’s book of instruction on how to behave, I suppose it works, but as an adult reading it, I found my enjoyment of the story quite limited.  I wanted to know why the bad people were doing bad things, I wanted to know what their motivations were.

As to what I really loved about the story…of course, the world described is a beautiful one, and the descriptions are beautiful in their simplicity.  And there are some wonderfully profound quotes peppered throughout. Then, there is Aslan…mystical and enchanting, he is a wonderful character.  Polly and Digory were likeable too.

I’m quite excited to be reading the next book in the series, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I feel that, although The Magician’s Nephew was a little up and down in terms of what I enjoyed and what I did not, book two – the most famous of The Chronicles of Narnia – has been set up perfectly.

Rating

Book Review: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

Quick Review (read on for full review)

I thought I would enjoy this book so much more than I did, but alas, I didn’t.  If I’d read it as a child, which I hadn’t, I wonder if I might have enjoyed it a little more…1 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Katy Carr intends to be beautiful and beloved and as sweet as an angel one day. For now, though, her hair is forever in a tangle, her dress is always torn and she doesn’t care at all for being called ‘good’. But then a terrible accident happens and Katy must find the courage to remember her daydreams and the delightful plans she once schemed; for when she is grown up she wants to do something grand…

Favourite Quote

“To-morrow I will begin,” thought Katy, as she dropped asleep that night. How often we all do so! And what a pity it is that when morning comes and to-morrow is to-day, we so frequently wake up feeling quite differently; careless or impatient, and not a bit inclined to do the fine things we planned overnight.”

(From What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge)

Review

I’ve not got many good things to say about this book, and I’m quite disappointed by that, especially after liking my revisit of The Secret Garden. I had high hopes for this, given its popularity.  Growing up, I recall it was a favourite of a number of friends, and I was often encouraged to read it by family and friends and teachers but I was too preoccupied with other books of my own choosing to do so.  I preferred mysteries, horror and crime stories, even then. 😉

The main problem I found was it came across as a little dated. It’s very much a product of its time and lacks the timelessness of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in comparison (which, is another book I’m hoping to re-read soon).   Little girls should be good, pretty, obedient, well-presented…you get the idea.  There were also a few troubling passages in the book that I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with, such as views on disability and what it is to be a good person.

It didn’t help that I didn’t like Katy very much. I found her annoying and frustrating.  At one point in the story, I actually gasped in shock at something she had done – I’ll not mention here for fear of spoilers, though I’ll happily discuss it in the comments, should anyone wish to.  The only words to describe it: terrible and harrowing.

I felt a lot of sympathy towards Aunt Izzy, though I can imagine, reading this as a child, I too would have seen her as the enemy of all things fun.  The perspective of age here plays its part.

I do wonder if I had read it as a child – and if I had liked it then – I might have enjoyed it more now.  Revisiting it with fond recollections might have made me more amenable to Katy and better able to tolerate the things about her that I didn’t like.   Of course, it is worth pointing out it’s a children’s story and not being a child, I am not the intended target audience for this book.

Only after writing the first draft of my review did I learn, on reading other reviews on Goodreads, that the title of the book is in fact a play on the name of a family of insects (katydid).  Which explains the opening of the story, something I did not get at all at the time.  So I come away from this book having learned something – always good!

Will I be reading more from the Carr series of story by Susan Coolidge? The next book is What Katy Did At School.  My answer: Not any time soon…

Just a note: I listened to an audio dramatization of this book from LibreVox.  The dramatization was well done, but it was the story itself that I didn’t like – I just want to make that clear.  As I mentioned when reviewing The Secret Garden, finding favourite quotes is harder to do for an audiobook compared to having the text in front of you.  So I cheated a little and searched the ones listed on Goodreads, but only picked one that I could actually recall.

Rating

 


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #20 in the list: a book written by an author that has the same initials as you

Book Review: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Quick review (read on for full review)

The War of The Worlds is an important book, given its publication at the start of the science fiction genre. For that reason alone it is worth a read. But there are other reasons to read this book: to get a glimpse into how different people react in a crisis, for its criticism of colonialism and because it raises questions of humanity and morality. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

‘For countless centuries Mars has been the star of war’

The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky from Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common near London. At first, naive locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag – only to be quickly killed by an all-destroying heat-ray as terrifying tentacled invaders emerge. Soon the whole of human civilization is under threat, as powerful Martians build gigantic killing machines, destroy all in their path with black gas and burning rays, and feast on the warm blood of trapped, still-living human prey. The forces of the Earth, however, may prove harder to beat than they at first appear.

The first modern tale of alien invasion, The War of the Worlds remains one of the most influential of all science-fiction works. Part of a brand-new Penguin series of H.G. Wells’s works, this edition includes a newly established text, a full biographical essay on Wells, a further reading list and detailed notes. The introduction, by Brian Aldiss, considers the novel’s view of religion and society.

Favourite Quote

‘It’s a pity they make themselves so unapproachable,’ he said. ‘It would be curious to know how they live on another planet; we might learn a thing or two.’

(From The War of The Worlds by H.G. Wells, page 38)

Review

After watching the recent BBC adaptation of this story, I thought it was high time I got around to actually reading it as I had yet to.  And I wasn’t disappointed…not at all.  And I must say, that although seeing the TV dramatization was the driving force behind me picking up the book, the book was so much better.  Not necessarily because I didn’t enjoy the adaptation – I didn’t think it was that bad – but the original story was fantastic.

Part of the reason it came across as fantastic is, I think, due to the context in which it was written.  First published in 1898, many things we consider “science” and “technology” had not been invented yet, or if it had, was still in its infancy.  So to read descriptions of alien spaceships and weapons where the author had little-to-no point of reference illustrates the power of the imagination.

If this book was written today, I think it would look quite different.  The story would be told from the POV of a reluctant hero who would some how manage to beat the aliens and save Earth. It would be a battle and we would win.  It would be a triumph of good over evil.  But this isn’t the story H.G. Wells wrote.  Rather it is, for the most part, a first-hand account of an alien invasion and how ordinary people react to this sudden and terrible event.  And, against a technologically superior foe, this response is limited.

This allows us to see what the main character sees: the aliens, the landing craft, their weapons, the desolation of settlements turned to ruins (a foreshadowing of the horrors of modern warfare, less than two decades away…), the panic-filled people not knowing what to do or where to go…

As the main character meets other people on his journey, we get to see how different personalities respond to this immense stress.  An artilleryman searching for order in the chaos, a curate who struggles with his faith, an astronomer whose curiosity is piqued, but there are others too.  The disbelief of those who had not seen first-hand what had happened clinging on to normality. The abject terror and then hope of those on a paddle-steamer heading for the continent, when a navy ironclad decides to attack three Martians that are following them.

A number of references are made throughout the book that almost suggest that mankind, at least the colonial powers, do not have a justified right to complain at being on the sharp end of things for once.  And, it’s hard not to see where the author is coming from with these remarks, given species extinction through human activity and the decimation – or worse – of native populations through expansion and colonialism, both of which the author mentions, before posing the question:

Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

(The War of The Worlds by H.G. Wells, page 9)

The War of The Worlds is an important book, given its publication at the start of the science fiction genre.  For that reason alone it is worth a read.  But there are other reasons to read this book: to get a glimpse into how different people react in a crisis, for its criticism of colonialism and because it raises questions of humanity and morality.

Rating

 

Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I listened to the audiobook of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden by Librivox.  You can find it here.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A wonderfully charming story and an interesting, engaging dramatization, combined to make this an enchanting audiobook. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  As for the story itself, it serves to remind us of the healing power of nature and of friendships. 4 / 5

Summary (from Amazon)

‘Where, you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.’

After the sudden death of her wealthy parents, spoilt Mary Lennox is sent from India to live with her uncle in the austere Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors. Neglected and uncherished, she is horribly lonely, until one day she discovers a walled garden in the grounds that has been kept locked for years. When Mary finds the key to the garden and shares it with two unlikely companions, she opens up a world of hope, and as the garden blooms, Mary and her friends begin to find a new joy in life.

Serialised in 1910 and first published in its entirety in 1911, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s enchanting novel of friendship and rejuvenation is one of the greatest classics of children’s literature.

Favourite Quote

“Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing.”

(From The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Review

By chance, when I was looking for something to listen to whilst doing some housework, I stumbled upon the LibriVox audiobook of The Secret Garden

At 7 hours and 38 minutes long, I listened to the story over the course of a handful of days, and I found it captivating.  As a dramatization of the story, there was a cast of readers involved rather than a single narrator, which I enjoyed immensely.  It wasn’t perfect, but sometimes, perfection doesn’t matter as much as enjoyment…

I read The Secret Garden as a child, a number of times (and still have my copy somewhere…) but over time, I seemed to have forgotten almost everything about it.  I did remember that I loved it though and was keen to be reminded why.  Sometimes it can be an extraordinarily rewarding experience to revisit books, and on this occasion I found it to be so: I was reminded why, as a young girl, I fell in love with reading and with books, something that has only increased with time.

The Secret Garden is a story about love and healing but also reminds us that we are a product of our surroundings.  If we are surrounded by negative things we often project negativity, and vice versa.  The healing power of nature is given a prominent role in the tale, whether it is the moors, or the animals or in the garden itself.

It is wonderful to hear how the friendships are struck up between Mary, Dickon and Colin.  It is striking to see how it takes Mary and Colin, coming from a background full of privilege though equally, one filled with loss and emotional neglect, to meet Dickon, from a family of 12 children, where things are tight, to understand the joys to be found in life.

Dickon and his way with animals is just so charming.  I loved hearing about the fox, the squirrels, the lamb and the crow, not to mention the robin that was friends with everyone.

Another character I liked was Ben Weatherstaff. His abrupt, plain-speaking attitude, tempered with kindness, helps Mary see her why she behaves as she does, and in turn, why people behave the way they do towards her in response.

Mary’s early years were spent in India.  So there are, given the age of the story (it was first published in 1910), some uncomfortable references reminding the reader of Britain’s colonial past.

The only problem I’ve found so far with reviewing an audiobook is that I like to include my favourite quote(s) in the review, and that can be a little difficult without having the text in front me to bookmark.  So, for The Secret Garden, I cheated a little and looked through the quotes on Goodreads. I was surprised that I remembered so many of the ones that were listed.

Rating


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #13 in the list: a book you’ve read before