Book #29: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream–a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength. Tackling universal themes such as the friendship of a shared vision, and giving voice to America’s lonely and dispossessed, Of Mice and Men has proved one of Steinbeck’s most popular works, achieving success as a novel, a Broadway play and three acclaimed films.

I actually read this book back in high school and loved it then. It is a quick read set during The Great Depression. It is one of those books that just stays with you. So, when a friend suggested I buddy read with them, I thought why not. I don’t often reread books, but I was intrigued to see if it would call to me like it did in high school.

It did a bit more than that.

I used to love Lenny and really dislike George. I found him mean and unable to really comprehend his motivations or feelings about the more mentally challenged man, Lenny. Though I grew to quasi-like George the first time I read it, I was able to understand him better now.

I take care of my younger disabled brother for a living. I would do it even without the pay. That said, he does get on my nerves sometimes. In the past, I don’t think I was ever really in a position in my life where I would get mean just to push out my frustration. Not to him. The others, I’m sure I have.

That said, today it’s a little different. I am quick to realize my mistake and we make up whenever there is a frustrating moment like that. I’m not proud of those moments, but they make me realize just how human we all are and really, in a way it strengthens our sibling bond because he is my brother and I treat him that way.

Though George and Lenny aren’t related and aren’t in the same situation, I have grown to relate to George better this time around. The story itself is even more heartbreaking though. Because now that I see myself in George, I am seeing myself in that situation.

I don’t think I could do what he did even though I understand it. I can’t fathom it.

The book itself hasn’t grown in rating from this second read through, but my respect for it has. Of Mice and Men is a book worth teaching and rereading.

Final Rating: 4/5

Book #9: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

‘There’s a scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.’

From the moment Dr John Watson takes lodgings in Baker Street with the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, he becomes intimately acquainted with the bloody violence and frightening ingenuity of the criminal mind.

In A Study in Scarlet , Holmes and Watson’s first mystery, the pair are summoned to a south London house where they find a dead man whose contorted face is a twisted mask of horror. The body is unmarked by violence but on the wall a mysterious word has been written in blood.

The police are baffled by the crime and its circumstances. But when Sherlock Holmes applies his brilliantly logical mind to the problem he uncovers a tragic tale of love and deadly revenge . . .

Sherlock Holmes is an iconic literary character, a detective with astute observational skills. He is known as the first detective character just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known as the father of the detective novel.

I love mysteries. I love the Victorian era. Let’s face it, I’m a booknerd who loves Sherlock Holmes adaptations. And yet… and here is the part where you gasp… I have never read a Sherlock Holmes story.

Until now.

My problem was that I was never sure where to begin. I wanted to begin where they began in their own world, not necessarily in the world of the readers. So, after years of searching, I also learned that my brain couldn’t quite formulate the world through Doyle’s words. That meant finding an audiobook I liked.

I found Stephen Fry’s and now I’m good to go.

For a first story, A Study in Scarlet does set up the character dynamics well. You see how the dynamic duo, Holmes and Watson, became roommates. You also see just the beginnings of what will become literature’s most well-known detective.

As for the mystery… well, I liked it. I didn’t care for the middle part where we are given a totally new storyline and characters. It diverted from the main narrative and pulled me away from the story. That said, I understand why the story was needed. I just wish there was a different way Doyle did it. It may be common for the time period it was published in, but it doesn’t mean I have to like that part of the book.

In all, I felt the story is a good beginning to a series and I’m sure I’m just going to continue to love it as I continue reading their adventures.

Final Rating: 3/5

Book #52: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

After a tumble down the rabbit hole, Alice finds herself far away from home in the absurd world of Wonderland. As mind-bending as it is delightful, Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel is pure magic for young and old alike.

I am a lover of Victorian fiction and I love Alice in Wonderland . . . well, I think I should clarify that I love the aesthetics of Alice in Wonderland. I actually haven’t found a retelling of the original that I liked even though I never read the original.

That is until now . . .

And really, I feel that it was about as interesting as the retellings I read or movie adaptations. The world is so weird that I can see how there are so many different styles for the story itself. It’s the mythos of Wonderland that matters, not so much the content.

I honestly didn’t care for this story. However, I think it’s because of my mind. I don’t have as much of a childlike mind as I’ve assumed. It is a story that pulled Bug (my six year old) rather easily, but confused me. I know there are historical and logical references in the book, but it seems to have went over my head.

That said, I’m happy that I read it and I think I would try again. In fact, I see myself reading it and doing research in the future.

Final Rating: 2/5, but 6yo Bug liked listening to it and I would read it again

Book #33: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white’

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

Matthew Sweet’s introduction explores the phenomenon of Victorian ‘sensation’ fiction, and discusses Wilkie Collins’s biographical and societal influences. Included in this edition are appendices on theatrical adaptations of the novel and its serialisation history.

This book took me on/off close to a year to read. It isn’t because of the writing. Wilkie Collins writes very well, in my opinion. It has to do with the epistolary multiple points of view. I couldn’t get myself to sit and read the book. However, once I got the audio, I was able to finish the book fairly quickly in comparison.

This is a very Victorian book. The women have their place and the men have the women’s “well-being” in mind. That is until you meet Marion. Marion is Laura Fairlie’s half-sister and probably the most badass literary victorian woman I’ve come across. What I mean by that is that she is intelligent and unafraid to stand her ground. She is a spinster and proud. She is my favorite character by far.

Anyway, this book deals with the legality issues and abuse to women of money and marriage. Women didn’t have many rights in the past, arguably even today. With that and the alpha male mind mentality, you see a disservice put on Laura throughout the book.

There are intrigue and scandal aplenty in this book. Some of which will make you scratch your head and wonder if it really would have gone down the way it did in the book, but it’s there. Personally, I feel an abridged version would have been okay to read, but the book itself isn’t bad.

I’m not turned off to one of the founding fathers of the modern mystery and I do like that this book seems to be a commentary on women’s rights. Not all rights, but the rights of a married woman. It’s an interesting read in that it gives me another viewpoint of the Victorian era through its literature.

Is it my favorite? No. Did I like it? I did. Would I read it again? Maybe. Maybe not. I would see the movie though. I plan on buying it.

Final Rating: 3/5

Book #21: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Jane Austen once compared her writing to painting on a little bit of ivory, 2 inches square. Readers of Persuasion will discover that neither her skill for delicate, ironic observations on social custom, love, and marriage nor her ability to apply a sharp focus lens to English manners and morals has deserted her in her final finished work.

My friend Mack and I decided that we would tackle a classic a month. Okay, really, she decided and I loved the idea and piggybacked on it and now we’re doing the buddy read. The first month of us doing it was March and our book was Persuasion by Jane Austen.

I have been wanting to read this book for a while now. In fact, I’m almost done reading all of Jane Austen’s books. Anyway, I was excited to open this book and read it.

The story is about a young woman named Anne who had, eight years previous, ended an engagement with a young Naval Officer. She was persuaded that the engagement and eventual marriage was not only disadvantageous, but also would leave her penniless if something were to happen to him. Now, at the beginning of the story, Anne is nearing destitution if her father and older sister can’t stop their frivolous spending.

Luckily, the family has banded together and found a way of curbing the spending, gaining an income, and still present themselves as high societal folk. It’s called moving to Bath and putting the country estate on lease.

In a series of meetups, Anne and that Naval Officer, Capt. Wentworth, are pushed into getting to know one another again. There is, of course, other characters pushing and pulling the main leads in different ways, but Anne still has those feelings for Wentworth.

This book is different from Austen’s others. Instead of a younger eligible female lead, Anne is 27 and is very close, if not already, into spinsterhood. Anne does have that intelligence that Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice takes pride in, but she doesn’t seem to let her own vices get in the way. Anne reserves judgment and, even when she has made a decision, can reevaluate how she feels about a person. I liken Anne the adult and more mature version of Austen’s characters.

Likewise, the romance in this book is more mature than in the others. In Emma, our female lead is oblivious to what is in front of her. In Pride and Prejudice, it’s very much the same. Anne, though, knows her feelings are still there and doesn’t act on them until she is sure Wentworth feels the same.

This isn’t my favorite of Austen’s books, but I do think it’s close to my second favorite. I think if I was to list the favorites that I’ve read so far, it would be: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion (tied with Emma), Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility.

It is a definite read for a Jane Austen fan and I do think I’d reread this book. Next month, April, we are doing Pride and Prejudice. It’s a reread for me and I won’t be reviewing it.

Final rating: 3/5