Children's Literature, Fantasy

Review: Ella Enchanted

Ella EnchantedElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed watching – but did not love – the film adaptation of Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted but I cannot resist a good fairytale retelling. And that’s what Ella Enchanted is. This retelling of the Cinderella story stands out from the pack for a couple of reasons: Ella, in this story, is under a curse which explains how a spunky young woman would allow herself to be treated so cruelly by her step-family; most of the story encompasses Ella’s pre-Cinders life, and the story is filled with unique and fun characters. Ella Enchanted’s greatest strength, however, is Ella herself with her fun, sassy narrative voice and her honest emotions.

If you enjoyed Ella Enchanted but you are looking for something a bit more mature, then I highly recommend William Goldman’s The Princess Bride or Kathryn Wesley’s The 10th Kingdom and then (if you haven’t already) watch the hilariously classic The Princess Bride movie and the lesser-known but totally fun miniseries of The 10th Kingdom.

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Mystery, Reviews

Review: Broadchurch (Broadchurch #1)

BroadchurchBroadchurch by Erin Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely adored the Broadchurch television series. I couldn’t get enough of it. So when I spotted this novelization of the show’s first series while browsing through my local library, I snatched it up. I worried, however, that having watched the show I would know all of the twists that lead to the surprise ending that I would be bored. What the book offered, though, that the show didn’t was a further insight into the inner turmoil and hidden emotions of the characters. This added another dimension to the complex characters and the story. The actors did a brilliant job of conveying many unspoken thoughts and emotions but there are some things that cannot always be seen. It was an enjoyable read especially for a fan of the original show who, like me, miss the series. I think those who never watched the show but enjoy a good police procedural and family drama would also enjoy reading Broadchurch.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries aside from the occasional cozy mystery so I don’t

landscape-uktv-broadchurch-s02e05-02
David Tennant (Alec Hardy) and Olivia Coleman (Ellie Miller) in Broadchurch.

really have a book to recommend if you enjoy reading Broadchurch but if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend watching the original show.  There are three (much too short) series and each is brilliantly acted and thought-provoking.  

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Historical Fiction, Reviews, World Literature

Review: The Thorn Birds

3.5 stars because I can’t decide if I actually enjoyed it or if I just got sucked into the engrossing story.

 

Thorn Birds
My copy may have been the first mass market paperback edition.  The cover price 40 years ago was $2.50.  How times have changed.

On the surface, The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough is a sweeping historical epic filled to excess with tragedy set against the extreme backdrop that is Australia. It is not, as I’d mistakenly assumed an epic romance but rather a study in human nature. Within its pages can be found themes of religion, feminism, the mother/daughter dynamic, the effects of a patriarchal society, what defines home, and even politics.
At its best moments, the novel paints a vivid portrait of Australia’s vast and varied lands from the drought-prone grasslands to the tropical rainforests, detailing life on a huge sheep station and in the cane fields. Based on McCullough’s descriptions, I wanted to escape Northern Queensland’s suffocating humidity as much as Meggie did – not that the dry expanse of on which Drogheda lay sounded all that much better. At its worse, the story is a tortuous battle, both internal and external, between the characters and God or the elements or each other or themselves.
As for those tortured characters, I didn’t like any of them with the possible exception of Justine. Meggie is bearable though often utterly idiotic (though that isn’t entirely her fault) and much too prideful. Fee is far from an ideal mother to all of her children – even her beloved Frank – but especially to Meggie. Mary Carson is, as she is described more than once, a manipulative spider and a heartless miser. She may have claimed to have loved Ralph but if she ever had been capable of love, I don’t think she was anymore. Then there are the men. The Cleary men, except maybe Stuart, are insensitive and blind to all but their own needs – only Frank seems to have eyes in his head not that it does him much good. Ralph is arrogant, self-absorbed (and selfish), ambitious, and like the other men utterly incapable of seeing beyond himself. And then there’s Luke who represents everything I would hate in a man. I could not wait until he was out of the picture. At least through Luke, we met Anne and Luddie and we have Justine.
I actually loved Justine. I loved her hard shell and sharp tongue and I loved her vulnerable core. But that love didn’t stop me from calling her an idiot a few times before it was all said and done, which goes for Rainer too. I liked him but he was a game player when it came to Justine. All of these deeply flawed characters caused more of their own problems than either God or the elements ever could. Which, of course, is what makes it a tragedy (I paid attention in my Shakespeare classes).
Then there’s the central love story for which The Thorn Birds is famous. Despite my being Catholic the priest thing never bothered me. Nowadays a priest could, if he truly wanted to, chose to leave the priesthood. Either they couldn’t in those days or (and this is more likely) Ralph was too ambitious to even consider it. Because unlike Dane, who seems truly devoted to his God and his faith, Ralph’s devotion to the church isn’t always based on a deep and profound as he claims it to be. If he ever loved anyone more than he did himself, he would’ve made the hard decision to leave. What did bother me was the age difference. Meggie was 10 and Ralph 28 when they first met and almost immediately he became obsessed with her. It may not initially have been a sexual attraction he had for her and he was able to rationalize his attentions to her for a while but he deliberately spent more time on Drogheda than necessary until she depended on him for any love she received. Only when it became uncomfortable for him did he separate himself from Meggie and the Clearys and even in doing that he did it in a way would hurt her. Then he still, in his cowardly way, strung her along and made himself her savior. Only in contrast to Luke did I ever grow to like (that might be too strong a word) Ralph. And liking the characters is key to my enjoyment of a book like this that requires much of its readers’ heart.

 

If you enjoy sweeping historical epics The Thorn Birds, I don’t think I need to tell you that you will probably enjoy Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

Reviews

Review: Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dan Brown’s first book featuring Robert Langdon, Angels & Demons, has many flaws but the critique I’ve seen most often in reviews is about the inaccuracy of the facts contained in the novel. I wouldn’t know about this but to those critics, I say: Why are you looking to fiction when what you are seeking is fact? The role of fiction is not to relate facts but to reveal truths. And, hopefully, to entertain. Despite its many weaknesses, Angels & Demons does both. While the writing style is far from brilliant, the story is compulsively readable and it stays with you long after you’ve put the book down.
That being said, Brown stretched out many scenes far too long, often repeating ideas and feelings. I feel like the novel could have been 200 pages shorter, which would have worked to make the timeline more believable. The final 20 minutes of the countdown, for instance, lasted nearly 100 pages and contained far too much action to be believed. And still the story went on without the famed symbologist, Langdon, making the connection with the most important symbol of all (insert eye roll). As for Langdon himself, I felt that Brown was trying to create some sort of academic James Bond. There was the attractive young woman in distress that he puts his life in danger to help; there is the pointless final scene between them in the hotel room; there is plenty of far-fetched action, and there’s the cheesy dialogue. The dialogue, I believe, is the weakest stylistic aspect of the writing. Mercifully, the story doesn’t require all that much dialogue. My biggest critique, though, is of Brown’s apparent lack of faith in his readers’ intelligence. Often he felt the need to spell out ideas and feelings and actions that frankly were pretty obvious. Either he didn’t believe the reader could figure it out for themselves or he lacked faith in his own ability to make it clear. Either way, his explanations only impeded the flow of the story.
Despite these issues and despite the fact that I figured out who the main bad guy was almost as Robert and Vittoria met him (again, based on the symbol that Robert apparently chose to ignore), Angels & Demons is a face-paced, entertaining read that succeeds in revealing truths and provoking deep thoughts. It may take a mind more open than that of some of the characters to see the truths spoken by both sides of the science vs. religion argument. And it definitely takes an open mind to accept a lot of the far-fetched scenarios in the story.

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Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: Victoria

Victoria
Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria has been on my TBR list since I first heard about it, I ended up seeing the Masterpiece series based on (and written by the author of) the novel first. As expected, the two are similar in many ways. There are several differences, however, that in some ways make the book and the television series two different kinds of stories.
For television, some downstairs storylines were added, taking advantage of the popularity of Downton Abbey. Also, the series went further ahead in time than the novel does, exploring Victoria and Albert’s relationship even further than the novel does. Because of this, the series is more of a romance while the novel is a coming-of-age look at the character of Queen Victoria just as she ascends to the throne. The Victoria in this book is a pretty normal teenage/young woman who is still trying to figure out who she is while trying to gain respect as a young queen. Eighteen-year-old Victoria is self-centered, passionate, headstrong, and, after years of isolation and being overly protected, pushes the limits of her new role. Through trial and error that is on display for her country and the world to see, by the end of Victoria, she is just beginning to understand that she isn’t as independent as she’d like to believe and is gradually settling into her monarchy. She has a long way to go yet.
This isn’t to say that the novel doesn’t have its moments of romance. I dare you not to swoon when Albert cuts open his shirt to place her gardenia’s near his heart. But, at its heart, the book is a character study of a typical young woman in extraordinary circumstances. Despite her lofty position, Victoria is relatable and likable and Goodwin’s writing is simple and accessible.

P.s. My new favorite word is Schokoladenseite.

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