REVIEW: Moll Flanders

Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (which really has an obnoxiously long title I don’t feel like typing out, but would have taken the same out of time as this parenthetical did. Actually it really would’ve taken twice as long) was, of course, on my “Classics I Should Read” portion of my list. Now, as we know, I’m not head over heals in love with many of the standard 19th classics, but, what makes Moll Flanders pretty awesome is that it was written in the early 18th century. Consequently, making Defoe a man well ahead of his time. Thus, he gets credit where credit is due.

Defoe receives major points with Moll Flanders for creating a pretty ballsy female character, literally centuries before you would think some such a character would be acceptable to the literary world. He also gets kudos for his brilliant humor. Our heroine is like a bawdier Austen chick, with the drive of Becky Thatcher (actually this is far less depressing Vanity Fair); so, a hilarious and winning combination. However, towards the end, I was like “enough with the shenanigans, Dan, they are getting overplayed.”

On the whole, therefore, I give a round of applause for Defoe and Moll. But, I might have knocked down the number of men and babies in her life by about half.

 

Rating: 3.5 Affairs

 

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REVIEW: Green for Danger

If you are like me, you like your mysteries less convoluted; the focus being on the mystery at hand, with the cast of characters merely breathing life, some humor, and intrigue to the plot as opposed to taking it over. If you are not like me, change. Just kidding. But this review might not appeal to you.
 
Christianna Brand exemplifies the epitome of a straight forward mystery novel with Green for Danger. Brand creates a solid whodunit that cleverly keeps the reader hanging on until the denouement. She offers just enough insight into her characters’ lives without overloading the reader with backstory and drama unless required to create the plot twists and mystery to keep the reader guessing and support the final reveal. 
I simply couldn’t put Green for Danger down, because I was so curious as to how it would unfold (which is kind of sad because I definitely watched the film within the past year and, in typical Day fashion, couldn’t remember a single important thing), and because the cast Brand put together kept me rooting for each of them to be the good guy.
 
Brand certainly has me excited to read more of her works, earning a spot on my 2018 list.
 
Rating: 4 Scrubs

REVIEW: Dracula

So, I was pretty stoked to finally read Bram Stoker’s (see what I did there) Dracula. From what I knew of the tale, and from what others told me, it seemed like exactly the kind of dark twisted beauty I’d be into. But, once again I am let down, much as I was with Frankenstein last year.

While, Stoker’s motives for making Dracula an epistolary novel is understandable, being a clever way to represent the intertwining characters and plots before they all come together, I don’t understand why there had to be such a wide variety of sources. Between the letters to and from various characters, the journal entries of various characters, and newspaper articles it got to be too much. TOO MUCH, BRAM. This tactic distracted from the story for me, (a story I was actually quite invested in) and toyed with the pacing.

That being said, it was an intriguing tale; Dracula himself has become an iconic character for good reason. While a clear antagonist, his multiple layers, as well as true human emotion, ensure that Dracula is a character who will continue to hold society’s interest.

Overall, fairly even pros and cons, though definitely not a favorite. But, the creation of Dracula brought us the genius that is Jason Segel’s Dracula musical and that is all that matters – see below:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kd5lMDkvzvI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5ZtwbzUFZE

 

Rating: 3 Drops of Blood

REVIEW: Invisible Cities

As we know, Italo Calvino is one of my all-time favorites (evidence seen here). A huge attribute, making him a standout, is that while his books are so wildly varied in their subject matter, genre, and format – each has a certain je ne sais quoi that gives them the Calvino stamp which transcends the general novel art form.

Invisible Cities is an exquisite example of this. Pieced together as conversations between Kubla Khan and Marco Polo (because…of course), detailing the travels of the latter, Invisible Cities takes the shape of meditation in novel form.

To be honest, Invisible Cities, is not a work whose details will remain with me. Additionally, it isn’t a favorite Calvino work, but its impact while I was reading it was a distinctive one. I effortlessly slipped into the dreamlike world Marco Polo creates; reading for an hour without realizing time had passed by. When I use the word “meditation” I mean it. Calvino’s ability to execute the environments he creates makes for a fully involved experience. When reading him – you’re either in or out, there is no in between. 

Invisible Cities may not be popular among the masses; Calvino’s works are an acquired taste. But, I certainly recommend giving it a spin, if, for nothing else, to let your mind take a break for an hour or two.

 

Rating: 3.5 Meditations on an Ancient City

REVIEW: The Death of a Beekeeper

I have been writing my reviews on a fairly long delay. Not intentionally, just because life happens. But, I’ve found it has helped me create clearer views on these postponed reviews.

When I finished Lars Gustafsson’s The Death of a Beekeeper I wasn’t smitten. It certainly didn’t spark the ranter in me, nor did I pinpoint anything specifically flawed in the novel, I didn’t for some reason connect with the narrator on a personal level. So, as I finished the last page I had a general feeling of “eh, alright.”

I was very sad to inform my father of my reaction, since The Death of a Beekeeper was yet another of his suggestions, and, as you know, he has been batting a thousand thus far.

Pops recently brought up the novel again, partially to kindly (impatiently) inquire as to when I was actually reviewing the novel, but also to express his reasons why it struck a chord with him. After this exchange, and the writing of a few more overdue reviews, I realized that much of Gustafsson’s words have, indeed, stuck with me over the 2 ½ months since I finished the novel. (Yes, I’m THAT delayed).

The Death of a Beekeeper truly is a uniquely and beautifully written work. And, no, I couldn’t always get myself to feel engaged with our titular beekeeper, Lars (though I could sympathize with his condition…the title is pretty blunt in what we are dealing with here), but the overall essence never left me. In fact, in rereading sections I highlighted, I became quite emotional.

Now, maybe my sentimentality was heightened because of my association of the novel with my father, or maybe something in myself has shifted over the past couple of months. But, The Death of a Beekeeper has moved up in the ranks for me, and I’m glad I waited to share it with you (something I wish I had done last year with The Road, that book has never left me). And, if you don’t trust my unstable judgement, trust my father’s, he always finds the beauty in hidden gems and brings them to light.

 

Rating: 4 Stingers

REVIEW: The Shining

Stephen King is an author I haven’t revisited in about a decade. Partially because Ive been distracted by other authors, partially because I’m a scaredy cat. But, finally I have conquered the book so creepy Joey hides it in the freezer, The Shining.

The psychological aspects of The Shining are incredible, and far more developed in the novel than the film (I see why Mr. King took many an issue with the latter). If you take out all the redrums and I see dead people moments, what you have is a study of an addict battling his demons, and the impact it has on his family. Not only is Jack Torrence an exquisitely executed character struggling with alcoholism and rage, his wife, Wendy, is an exceptionally well developed, layered character (POORLY depicted in the film). The most fascinating parts of the novel are the inner monologues of the couple – their love for each other and their son is palpable, as is their inner turmoil as they attempt to navigate a relationship in light of the rough hand they’ve been dealt.

The use of supernatural elements and isolation in The Shining, especially when experienced through Danny (the son), creates an even more vulnerable environment for the Torrence family. With the personal battles they are facing it’s only natural for them to be highly susceptible to the otherworldly forces running the show in the Overlook Hotel.

The Shining is a solid piece of literature, and I didn’t even mind that it was over 300 pages. This one has certainly earned a spot on my “Most Likely to Recommend” list.

 

Rating: 4 Unstable Boilers

REVIEW: Slaughterhouse-Five

Last year Kurt Vonnegut came into my life and I fell in love at a Hemingway level (see here). So it was only natural that I would add Kurt’s most famous classic to my list this year, Slaughterhouse-Five. It is now tied with Turtle Diary for my favorite book of the year.

From Vonnegut’s succinct and poignant style, to the plot, to the characters, to the black humor, to the unique perspective on topical issues…I can’t find a flaw. What fascinates me about Vonnegut most is how seamlessly he integrates science fictional elements into novels which would otherwise be characterized as modern realism. Vonnegut uses this tool in Slaughterhouse-Five to bring into focus themes of free will, suffering, warfare, and ethics – very down to earth elements. While Billy Pilgrim (our narrator’s lead) is a relatively fantastical character, his journey is true to human nature.

Slaughterhouse-Five has become a staple of American literature for a reason. Its honesty. Vonnegut takes the dark and complicated aspects of what it means to live in this society and strips them down to their truest form, to expose what is at the heart of life. So it goes.

 

Rating: 5 Poo-tee-weets