The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Synopsis from Amazon:

The Moonstone, a priceless Indian diamond which had been brought to England as spoils of war, is given to Rachel Verrinder on her eighteenth birthday. That very night, the stone is stolen. Suspicion then falls on a hunchbacked housemaid, on Rachel’s cousin Franklin Blake, on a troupe of mysterious Indian jugglers, and on Rachel herself. The phlegmatic Sergeant Cuff is called in, and with the help of Betteredge, the Robinson Crusoe-reading loquacious steward, the mystery of the missing stone is ingeniously solved.

This was a very good crime novel. The Moonstone is an expensive diamond that is left to Rachel Verrinder. After receiving it she puts it into a cabinet in her bedroom. During the night the Moonstone is stolen. Everyone is suspected. The story is narrated by different people who all give accounts of events that unfolded since the robbery. Suspects frequently change and there are some very clever detective tricks used to solve the crime.

I enjoyed this book but I did think it was a bit long at times. I found it interesting how Collins viewed women – as lesser than men and how he uses religion – as a lifestyle that dominates some and irritates others. I really enjoyed the narrators changing – I found it influenced who I thought did it, and as it turns out, I was wrong. I found this style of writing threw me off the scent.

I was not particularly fond of any of the characters. All of them had flaws which I found a little annoying, such as Betteredge and his obsession with Robinson Crusoe. However I still enjoyed this book because I was eager to find out who did it, and how they pulled it off. This book had me gripped.

I thought this was a great crime novel. I think it is just as sophisticated as modern crime novels, even though the police did not have modern technologies to help them. There was still the element of who-done-it and there was all the aspects of a crime book, with death, mystery and suspicion.

This is well worth reading.

8/10

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Synopsis by Amazon:

Everyone has a dark side. Dr Jekyll has discovered the ultimate drug. A chemical that can turn him into something else. Suddenly, he can unleash his deepest cruelties in the guise of the sinister Hyde. Transforming himself at will, he roams the streets of fog-bound London as his monstrous alter-ego. It seems he is master of his fate. It seems he is in complete control. But soon he will discover that his double life comes at a hideous price …

Dr. Jekyll is a scientist with a dark secret – he has created a drug which transforms him into his sinister dark side. At first this is OK, but then Hyde, his alter-ego starts making trouble and goes as far as committing murder. Jekyll’s friends start to get suspicious when Mr. Hyde is seen coming and going from Jekyll’s home – and then the hideous secret is out….

I really enjoyed this book. It explores human nature and good and evil – and ultimately the choices we make. The book was exciting and gripping. It is original and well written – clearly a classic.

Stevenson’s characters were great! I liked the fact Mr. Hyde was written in such a way that I really didn’t like him – it is nice to come across a book that sparks emotion and feelings, and this book did that.

I didn’t find this book scary, just a great read.

9/10

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

Synopsis from Amazon:

When a Victorian scientist propels himself into the year 802,701 AD, he is initially delighted to find that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment and peace. Entranced at first by the Eloi, an elfin species descended from man, he soon realises that this beautiful people are simply remnants of a once-great culture – now weak and childishly afraid of the dark. They have every reason to be afraid: in deep tunnels beneath their paradise lurks another race descended from humanity – the sinister Morlocks. And when the scientist’s time machine vanishes, it becomes clear he must search these tunnels, if he is ever to return to his own era.

In Victorian London, a man known only as The Time Traveller has beaten the odds and made a time machine. He transports himself to the year 802,701 to find out what the world will be like in the future. He discovers two races, the fearful Eloi and the scary Morlocks. It seems the latter, who hide in the darkness of the underground tunnels have taken his time machine. The Time Traveller has to go on quite an adventure to relocate his ticket home.

This was a quick book, and fairly enjoyable, however, Wells makes quite a dire prediction of the future. He writes that humans will split into two races: one will be childish and the other evil. I did not relate to the characters well, yet I wanted to know what happened. Some people have referred to this book as a social commentary but for me it was an adventure book. The Time Traveller had dark roads to travel and all sorts of beings to fight if he wished to get to his era.

I think it is clear why it is a classic. It has elements of excitment and it Wells has thought outside the box to write this book. Although not the best classic around I think this is a book worth reading.

7/10

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Synopsis:

The Catcher in Rye is the ultimate novel for disaffected youth, but it’s relevant to all ages. The story is told by Holden Caulfield, a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Throughout, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection. Lazy in style, full of slang and swear words, it’s a novel whose interest and appeal comes from its observations rather than its plot intrigues (in conventional terms, there is hardly any plot at all). Salinger’s style creates an effect of conversation, it is as though Holden is speaking to you personally, as though you too have seen through the pretences of the American Dream and are growing up unable to see the point of living in, or contributing to, the society around you. Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood, it deals with society, love, loss, and expectations without ever falling into the clutch of a cliche.

What an interesting book. Very engaging but short – only 200 pages. The book is narrated by Holden Caulfield, who has just been kicked out of school – the fourth one in a row. He talks about experiences he has at school, with the people he shared the dormitory with; his experience in New York, including trying to get served in bars, going to the theatre and getting in cabs; his experience with his family, especially his wise younger sister Phoebe; and his discovery of sex and homosexuality. The book is ambigous in places, adding depth to the story.

Holden is an interesting character. He unpicks life, he is so negative. Everything is “phoney” or wants to make him “puke”. This is an interesting look at the American Dream – he seems to believe it doesn’t exist, that it is a simple idea that makes people act in a false manner.

My favourite character was Phoebe, the sister. She was important to Holden – spoken about regularly as he missed her. When he speaks to her she seems very wise and caring, as well likable and lovely.

I enjoyed this book. It was easy to read, with many issues to think over. Although Holden does not like anything, he still makes an interesting read. This book is well worth reading.

8/10

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Synopsis:

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale stands as a classic study of a seld divided; trapped by the rules of society, he suppresses his passion and disavows his lover, Hester, and their daughter, Pearl. As Nina Baym writes in her Introduction, The Scarlet Letter was not written as realistic, historical fiction, but as a romance; a creation of the imagination that discloses the truth of the human heart.

Well, if truth be told, this book did not hold my attention. I felt it dragged on and I found myself not concentrating throughout the book.

The story follows Hester, who commits adultery and therefore has to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ pinned to her outfit. This makes her a social outcast. The product of the affair was Pearl, who made the story for me. She brought a smile to my face with her little mischievous ways. The rest of the characters I was a bit indifferent too – except Roger, Hester’s husband, who creeped me out. There was something about him I just didn’t like. I did feel a bit sorry for Arthur, as he seemed to spend the rest of his life paying for his affair, but then actions reap consequences.

I thought it was interesting how they humilitated Hester, with the letter, but how she took it and understood her crime. She seems humble enough to continue wearing it. I was bemused that Pearl only accepts her mother when she is wearing the letter – her crime has become her identity – even to her own child. I liked how it linked back to England and had a dash of history lashed through the book. I was surprised by how much religion was in the book, virtually every chapter mentioned God or the Bible. I guess, however that this was a book set in Puritan times so maybe that should have been expected, and in the eyes of the Church and centuries gone by, adultery is a big sin.

Overall, I was not keen on the book. My interest was not held, however it wasn’t so bad I didn’t finish it. There were elements that made me keep reading, such as Pearl’s character, but they were few and far between.

5/10

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Synopsis:

‘I had a dream last night… large enough to fill the rest of my life.’ This retelling of John Bunyan’s classic story is filled with drama, excitement and adventure. On his journey of a life-time to the City of Gold, Christian meets an extraordinary cast of characters, such as the terrible Giant Despair and the monster Apollyon. Together with Hopeful, his steadfast companion, he survives the snipers and mantraps, the Great Bog, Vanity Fair, Lucre Hill and Castle Doubting. But will he find the courage to cross the final river to the City of Gold and his salvation?

I struggled with this book. Several times I considered stopping. I found it boring. I was not engaged with the story and no character stood out to me.

The story is split into two parts. The first follows Christian on his pilgrimage, and the second part follows his wife Christina on her pilgrimage. I found the second half of the book very similar to the first part as she is going along the same route as that which Christian walked. They met all sorts of people – very cleverly named, such as Hopeful, Faithful, Talkative etc. and some which attempted to prevent the pilgrims and some which enabled their mission. They face all sorts of struggles in their bid to get to the river. Giants and hobgoblins needed to be fought.

The book contains the Gospel story and is full of Bible verses. If you don’t like “being preached too” through books, this is not for you.

I just didn’t enjoy this book.

4/10

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

lady-susanSynopsis:

One of Jane Austen’s shortest works, “Lady Susan” is an epistolary novel, a novel told entirely in the letters of its title character, her friends and family. “Lady Susan” is the story of a recently widowed woman who is actively searching for a new marriage while trying to play matchmaker for her daughter as well.

This is not a well known Austen book, and is rather short. Austen adopts a different writing style, and narrates the whole book in a series of letters. This did not ruin the story however, as each letter was extremely descriptive, so one also knew what was going on. In fact, this way of narrating gave each character a little more depth as it allowed the reader to see what the character was really thinking.

The story follows Lady Susan, who had not been widowed long, search for a new husband. She is manipulative and cunning. She goes and stays with her brother-in-law and attempts to make a union with her sister-in-law’s brother. We follow her through her bid to do this, and see the reaction of her sister-in-law and the other side of the family. Susan also attempts to sort out a suitable marriage for her daughter, who seems timid and shy. She is not a nice character, however I was intrigued by her and wanted to know the outcome of her fate.

This is not my favourite Austen, even though it did contain the usual Austen traits, of love, class, manipulation and family. I did find I had to force myself to finish the book, and the ending was fairly predictible.

The book did make me ask a few questions though – such as who was Austen? Does she relate to any of the characters in her books? Was she manipulating, or just surrounded by it?

Overall, I found this book to be just OK. I can see why it isn’t one of the more popular Austen novels.

6/10