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

Book Review: Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

Twas the Night Before Christmas, or A Visit From St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore, with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Beautiful, charming and timeless.  A delight to read. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

This poem first appeared in a newspaper in Troy, New York, USA, on December 23, 1823, as “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. No one claimed authorship until 13 years later. Clement Clarke Moore, a professor and poet, said that he wrote the piece for his children. Unbeknownst to him, his housekeeper had sent it to the newspaper to be published. However, the family of Henry Livingston Jr. contended that their father had been reciting “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for 15 years prior to publication. Regardless of the true author, the poem is now a Christmas classic.

Favourite Quote

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself

Review

This Christmas was the first time (that I can remember) reading this poem from beginning to end.  Of course, this poem is so well known that, even without having read it, some of its lines are easy to quote.  But I’m so glad that I found the time this year to read it.

The edition I read was from 1912, via Project Gutenberg, and was beautifully illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith.  My favourite picture was the stockings hanging from the mantlepiece – it’s such a typically festive Christmas scene.

I don’t think I quite realised just how old the poem is. It was first published in 1823 and, to give that a little context, it was published twenty years before Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Neither did I realise “Twas the Night Before Christmas” isn’t actually its title, but “A Visit From St Nicholas”, though the poem is more commonly known by its first line.  Something else I discovered this Christmas is that there is argument for attributing the writing of this poem to a different author.

The poem is beautiful and charming and conjures up many ideas we associate with Christmas to this day (for example, Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight reindeer – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen – stockings hanging from the mantlepiece, St Nick entering the house via the chimney).  And, apart from a few archaic words, which have been changed out and modernised with later publishing, it could have been written much more recently for the audiences of today.

Even as an adult reading it, there is much joy to be found in the poem, and I have no doubt I will read the poem again, in its entirety, next year, and probably for all the Christmas’ after that!

Rating

Quoting the Classics – Part 2

“Quoting the Classics” was a challenge I set myself in 2015.  Each week, for the duration of the year, I was to post a quote from a classic, so that by the end of if, I would have collected together 52 quotes.

It was an interesting exercise, and so I thought, four years on, I would revisit the challenge, and post ten of my favourite quotes from those collected.  You can find the first five posted here, Quoting the Classics – Part 1.  The second five can be found below…

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Book Review: Njal’s Saga translated and edited by Robert Cook

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Interesting, engaging and informative, Njal’s Saga was excellent reading.  Engrossing and dramatic, I will be reading this again in the future. 4.5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

“You will be paid for like any other free man…You will be paid for in blood.”  Written in the late thirteenth century, Njal’s Saga is the most popular and powerful of all the great Icelandic Family Sagas –  a compelling chronicle of a fifty-year blood feud.  Blending dark dreams, strange prophecies, sexual slander, violent conflict and fragile traces, it is at once heroic and deeply human.  Throughout, memorable characters struggle with their passions, including Gunnar of Hlidarendi, a great warrior with an aversion to killing, the complex and villainous Mord Valgardsson, and the wise and prescient Njal.  But as they search for honour, they remain dominated by perennial man-made problems: failed marriages, divided loyalties, the law’s inability to curb human instincts, and ultimately the terrible consequences when decent men and women are swept up in a tide of violence beyond their control.

The text for this modern translation has been taken from the acclaimed Complete Sagas of the Icelanders, published by Leifur Eiriksson.  This edition includes an introduction, chronology, index of characters, plot summary, family trees, explanatory notes, maps and suggestions for further reading.

Favourite Quote

‘What I don’t know,’ said Gunnar, ‘is whether I am less manly than other men because killing troubles me more than it does them.’

(Njal’s Saga, translated and edited by Robert Cook, pg 93)

Review

This is the first book I’ve read that focuses on the great Icelandic family sagas and I found it to be a thoroughly interesting and engaging read.  It took a little while to get into the style of how it was written but that is to be expected when the original text is so old.  Neither did I read it quickly; I read it over the course of about a month, dipping into it only when I felt I had the time to read and absorb what I read.  This, of course, was through choice.

Njal’s Saga offers a glimpse of life in Iceland a millennia ago (although the story was written down in the thirteenth century, it originates several hundred years prior to this).  Like Homer’s The Iliad, not only is this story an epic, it is full of historical facts and events, which are attested to in other records made a round the same time.  Religion, law, home, society, marriages, friendships, travel, violence…so many topics are covered within the narrative.

The story centres around two men, Njal and Gunnar, and their families.  Both are formidable in their way; Njal is considered to be one of the wisest men in Iceland and Gunnar is a warrior, almost without equal, but who was loathe to get into fights because he could see it would only lead to more trouble.  The two were great friends, though their friendship is put under a mighty strain, thanks to the efforts of kith and kin.

Because at the time this was written ancestry and lineage were so important, there are quite extensive lists in places of who is related to who.  These passages reminded me of the genealogies found in the old testament.  However, they are important to the story so that you can see where people’s allegiances lie, and why they might pick one side over another in an argument.

Some of the names mentioned in the text were fantastic and evocative and are worth recalling here.  There was Ragnor Shaggy-breeches,  Bjorn Gold-Bearer,  Hrafn the Foolish, Eirik Blood-axe, Ulf the Unwashed, Sigurd Swine-head…and many, many more.

I loved the end matter included in this book.  There was so much of it and it all added to the richness of the story.  Some parts, such as the family trees, were a necessity in order to keep up with the story, whilst the glossary and notes explained terms, phrases and sayings one might not understand.  One such term whose explanation I found interesting was that of “unborn”, which was found at the end of the name of Uni the Unborn, meaning he was born via Caesarean.

I found the portrayal of women in the story amusing, for many of them were feisty and fierce and extraordinarily troublesome.  If there was trouble – and there was always trouble – it was the women who were stirring it on many occasions.  The men would work with the law to patch up some quarrel or grievance while the women would ignore the settlements, hell-bent on settling the scores themselves.  The following quote perfectly captures the character of one of these women, Hallgerd, wife of Gunnar:

“Gunnar got ready to ride to the Thing, and before he left he spoke to Hallgerd: ‘Behave yourself while I’m away and don’t show your bad temper where my friends are concerned.’

‘The trolls take your friends,’ she said.”

One slight negative was the repetitiveness of the witness testimony, which at times seemed lengthy and hard-going and slowed my reading considerably.  On the one hand I understand why it was there but on the other it did test my patience to hear the same thing again and again, albeit briefly.

I learnt so much from reading this book, and won’t hesitate to pick it up again.  I’m now looking forward to reading more from the great Icelandic family sagas.

Rating

4.5 / 5

 


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #8 in the list: A book you would class as an educational read.

Short Story Review: A Pair of Hands by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A quick, atmospheric read, set in an interesting location, and peopled with interesting characters. 3.5 / 5

Summary

Miss Petyt is staying with a friend, when the topic of ghosts arises in conversation, thanks to her host’s daughters.  When Miss Petyt explains that she once lived in a haunted house, the young women are interested to hear her tale.  And so she relates to them of the time she lived in a quaint but isolated house on the Cornish coast, with no-one for company but the housekeeper, Mrs Carkeek…

Favourite Quote

‘…but I was young enough to be romantic and wise enough to like independence,

and this word “secluded” took my fancy.’

(From A Pair of Hands by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch)

Review

A Pair of Hands was the final story in the anthology of Great Crime Stories, first published by Chancellor Press in 1936; an anthology that I enjoy flicking through and picking out stories at random from time to time.  So I was surprised that this didn’t appear to be a crime story at all…

Perhaps best known today for the phrase, “murder your darlings”, this is the first story I have read solely authored by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.  Many years ago I read Castle Dor, a story left unfinished upon his death which was completed by Daphne du Maurier.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch was from Cornwall and his knowledge and love of the Cornish landscape is clearly evident in the descriptions of the area in which the house, Tresillack, is situated.  Set in an idyllic location, this short story centres on a puzzle that Miss Petyt won’t let go of it until she has solved it.

There is a gentleness to this story, rather than an overbearing sense of horror or fear, given the house’s isolation.  The atmosphere and tension instead comes from the determination of Miss Petyt and the personality of Mrs Carkeek, with the location setting the mood for the tale.

Overall, a nice story, in a nice setting, but I was left feeling perplexed, wondering as to why it was included in a book of crime stories.  It is, if anything, more of a light mystery, in my opinion.  An enjoyable, quick read, that kept my interest; definitely worth a read.

Rating

3.5 / 5