Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 23 December, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Okay, here we are, last batch of mini book reviews for the year 🙂 Included in this batch of reviews are:

So without further ado…

The Complete Father Brown Stories
By: G.K. Chesterton
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy

Father Brown, one of the most quirkily genial and lovable characters to emerge from English detective fiction, first made his appearance in The Innocence of Father Brown in 1911. That first collection of stories established G.K. Chesterton’s kindly cleric in the front rank of eccentric sleuths.

This complete collection contains all the favourite Father Brown stories, showing a quiet wit and compassion that has endeared him to many, whilst solving his mysteries by a mixture of imagination and a sympathetic worldliness in a totally believable manner.

Whoo, I finally got around to reading–and finishing–this book! I had long been intrigued by the Father Brown stories after seeing its recent adaptations here and there (haven’t watched them myself but my family has) and it has sat for an equally long time on my TBR pile. I started reading it over the summer and slowly made my way through it for a good part of the year. I admit, I found it a little harder to go through his stories compared to other short stories or novellas of such length; I don’t know if it was partly because the font in my edition was ridiculously tiny, but I find you really have to concentrate quite a bit with his stories, they’re not something you can pick up and read on a whim like contemporary mysteries. G.K. Chesterton crams quite a bit of background and detail into his stories, which I appreciate.

Which brings me to Father Brown himself. He’s quite the character, never quite in the forefront, his appearance rather average (short, homely-looking). But his remarks and observations were interesting and sometimes amusing, and I love the way he just shows up and solves things. His approach, his mix of Catholic teaching and insight on human behaviour, was wonderful, he really is quite a different “detective” from the likes of Sherlock Holmes.

I’m glad I finally read The Complete Father Brown Stories. Perhaps not the best choice if I wanted to unwind, but they’re an interesting set of stories with a lot of quirky mysteries and plenty of characters. Despite this collection containing all of the stories featuring the titular character, my favourite stories are still the first two, “The Blue Cross” and “The Secret Garden.” I also really liked “The Hammer of God”, “The Eye of Apollo,” and “The Oracle of the Dog.” Readers of classic mysteries who haven’t checked out Father Brown’s stories should!

Rating: ★★★☆☆


Books v Cigarettes
By: George Orwell
Format/Source: Mass bound paperback; my copy

Beginning with a dilemma about whether he spends more money on reading or smoking, George Orwell’s entertaining and uncompromising essays go on to explore everything from the perils of second-hand bookshops to the dubious profession of being a critic, from freedom of the press to what patriotism really means.

Books v Cigarettes contained a very interesting collection of essays from George Orwell. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, from pondering whether he spends more money on books or cigarettes (a rather amusing essay–all bookworms are sure to relate to this!) to the freedom of the press. Orwell had lots of interesting thoughts and observations about these subjects, epsecially the latter on freedom of the press and the notion of patriotism, many of which are still applicable to our contemporary society. I admit that the last two essays were an odd inclusion; I sort of understood why the last was included as it touched on memory and the role of a formal education on memory and the formation of one’s identity, but it really took the scenic route in getting to the point of the matter. As for the other essay, about illness, health, and the health care system, it was an odd inclusion overall. Despite of this, I really enjoyed reading his essays, they were an astute read.

Rating: ★★★★☆


The Road Not Taken and Other Poems
By: Robert Frost
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

These deceptively simple lines from the title poem of this collection suggest Robert Frost at his most representative: the language is simple, clear and colloquial, yet dense with meaning and wider significance. Drawing upon everyday incidents, common situations and rural imagery, Frost fashioned poetry of great lyrical beauty and potent symbolism. Now a selection of the best of his early works is available in this volume, originally published in 1916 under the title Mountain Interval. Included are many moving and expressive poems: “An Old Man’s Winter Night,” “In the Home Stretch,” “Meeting and passing,” “Putting In the Seed,” “A Time to Talk,” “The Hill Wife,” “The Exposed Nest,” “The Sound of Trees,” and more. All are reprinted here complete and unabridged.

You may have noticed that I have been reading quite a bit of poetry this year (the other being a lot of plays). It’s funny that I took so long getting around to Robert Frost as I believe he was one of the first poets I ever checked out in high school (and when I say check out, I mean, “The Road Not Taken”). This year is his centennial so I figured now was a good time to check out some of his other poems. This collection is pretty good as it is a selection of his early works, especially slim but it seemed like a good place to start.

I seem to say this over and over again whenever I read a poet’s collection of works, but Robert Frost’s poems certainly has its own voice. The longer poems seem more like prose in a way rather than verse, with lots of dialogue, almost like reading a short fiction piece. Sadly I can’t say I was particularly moved by most of the poems contained in this volume; the shorter poems were interesting enough, but “The Road Not Taken” remains my favourite poem by him (though “The Sound of Trees” was also very interesting). I’m glad to have read more poems by him though.

Rating: ★★★☆☆


Therese Raquin
By: Emilie Zola
Format/Source: eBook

Set in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a dingy haberdasher’s shop in the passage du Pont-Neuf in Paris, this powerful novel tells how the heroine and her lover, Laurent, kill her husband, Camille, but are subsequently haunted by visions of the dead man and prevented from enjoying the fruits of their crime.

This book has been sitting on my TBR queue for some time; it came to my attention when it was adapted a few years ago in France starring Audrey Tautou. I haven’t watched it, but the premise sounded really interesting (it also wasn’t that long, which prompted me to pick it up sooner 😛 , especially as I found I hadn’t read that many classic titles lately).

Reading this book reminded me very much of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (review) and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in that the main character–or characters, in this case–commit a crime but suffers from the consequences of their actions afterwards. Laurent and Therese embark on an affair, both of them miserable with their respective situations and seeking solace and passion in each other, and kill Therese’s husband Camille in order to be together. Yet they cannot enjoy the full freedom of their relationship for the crime wedges in between them, haunting both their dreams and their wakin life that it seeps into their relationship and just destroys everything: their relationship, themselves, whatever little they built for their own lives. It’s all-consuming, their guilt, and you feel the claustrophobia of their guilt in every sentence, how it affects them and sink them further down into despair and blackness.

I wasn’t partial to any of the characters from the first page; they were interesting enough for the story but I couldn’t feel any additional empathy for their plight at the beginning. Laurent is pretty gross in his internal debate whether or not to seduce Therese, not to mention he’s just waiting around for his father to die for him to receive his inheritance. Therese I felt had no chance from the beginning with the limited choices available to her and her depressing upbringing. Life for her was just a repetition day in, day out, so I can see why she embarked on an affair with Laurent. But there’s something off about her, something distant and bitter to her that’s hard for me to get through, and it doesn’t get any better after Camille’s death.

The story sort of drags after Camille’s death and Laurent and Therese are battling with their own conflicted, guilty feelings but it does pick up in pacing towards the end as their own guilt and frustration to be rid of that guilt–which their company cannot soothe–results in the final tragedy. I’m glad to have finally read it, there’s a lot of realism in this novel, but you definitely have to be in a mood to read this.

Rating: ★★★☆☆


How Miss Rutherford Got Her Groove Back
By: Sophie Barnes
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

Emily Rutherford is having a very bad day.

Of course, having the man you’ve loved forever announce his engagement to your (now very former) best friend will do that.

Emily is sure nothing good could possibly come out of this horrid situation. But she lets her sisters—along with Francis Riley, the delectable but brooding Earl of Dunhurst—convince her that a season in London will be just the thing.

Now Emily has a choice: sulk in a corner while her sisters enjoy the glitter of the ton . . . or become the belle of the ball, dazzling everyone on an earl’s arm. But as Francis helps Emily get back on her feet, she quickly realizes that a childhood crush is nothing compared to the power of true love.

I was in the mood for something light recently and decided to pick this book up after reading the premise. It sounded like something I could enjoy, character reeling from the engagement of the person she loved for so long to your best friend. Yeah, that sucks a lot. But then to bounce back, especially in that society, and reconnecting with her childhood friend in the process…Yeah, I thought it would be an interesting read.

Unfortunately this book was all over the place. It really sucked what Emily went through and I really felt for her; that her best friend didn’t even tell her that she was seeing Adrian and that he proposed knowing Emily liked him for so long, that’s like breaking the best friend code right there. I would’ve shut them out of my life completely if that ever happened and kept it at the acquaintance distance, that was just wrong. Kate and Adrian deserved each other there (let me not even get started with Adrian, literature’s biggest blockhead, surely (or at lead contending for top prize there)) =S But the pacing of the story was really strange, the way the characters were flitting between emotions (as well as switching from character perspectives; I thought the narrative was still on Emily when it jumped to Francis’ perspective), and later jumped from hostility to friendship to kissing in about two to three chapters early on. Whoa there! Emily still needs a bit of breathing space before figuring out what’s going on with Francis.

The writing also could’ve used some work. There was a lot of chunky dialogue with characters giving quite the speech. Could’ve used a spacer somewhere (but I understand this was her first novel?)

I will say that I do appreciate the way that Francis and Emily worked together later in the book and worked through the obstacles between them. When Francis’ secret was revealed (through Kate, of all people), I thought “Oh crap, we’re in for the waterworks” and while there was that tension, they were able to work through it, which was refreshing to other historical romances I’ve read recently.

Overall, it was an okay read. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t as solid or as interesting as I thought it would be–everything wrapped up nicely and the characters and story seemed promising but the unfolding of it all wasn’t as I thought it would be.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆


And those are the remaining mini book reviews I have for 2015! Have you read any of these titles? Would you read any of them at some point in the future?

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