Sunday, February 22, 2015

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte ~~ Book Review {featuring a bit on The (not so) Great Gatsby}

This week's reading hasn't been super wonderful---but I did knock two more books off that "Gotta Read It Before You Die" list. (By the way, I'm starving and need popcorn or I will die, so I'm goona make this quick. I really don't want the last books I've read before departing Earth to be not-so-great ones).

So, first Agnes Grey. I can't say I totally didn't like it---but it's definitely not on my list of faves. To sum it up, it was sort of a bad Jane Austen knock-off from the point of view of a Negative Nelly. Like Austen's stories, it ends with the girl getting the guy and a happy marriage and a happily ever after---it was just so full of whiney waa-waas. Agnes's negative self-talk got annoying fast and her over-abundance of humility seemed fake. Besides that, there's just not a whole lot to it. Girl works for bad family. Girl works for not so bad family. Girl gets guy. The End. Just not a lot of substance.

Still, Agnes was quite the little evangelist. I liked her conversations with Nancy---especially this from page 94 in my book: "An' so it is, Miss Grey, 'a soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.' It isn't only in them you speak to, but in yourself." It's very true that we will feel so much less negative emotions---less bitterness, less anger---when we give a soft and respectful response to a disagreement. Love this.

I also love the response that Agnes's mother gives her own father who has negative things to say about her marriage to Agnes's father--- a man the grandfather said was beneath his daughter to marry. She basically tells him to shove it...Ha! Leave and cleave! Love it!

I actually found myself way more interested in the biographical info at the beginning and end of the book. For instance, I've always thought it was strange that the Bronte line just completely died out. First the mother died, then the two older sisters died. Then the only son died. Then the two younger sisters. Then the last sister and, years later, the father--having never remarried. Just so weird. Makes me wonder what was in this family that God allowed that to happen? Another "bio thing"---this one an irritation---is the fact that Charlotte completely discounts the heart of Anne's other novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by basically saying it was a mistake for her to have ever written it and that the character of the novel was not the character of the author. I think this is pretty shallow of Charlotte. For one thing, she doesn't know what was in her sister's heart. Anne obviously felt strongly enough about it to seek publication. Secondly, it's pretty ridiculous for her to even give a bit of credence to the idea that the story should be taken as biographical. Can't an author just write a great story without critics---let alone family---reading more into it than there was? I remember feeling put out with Charlotte when I read the forward to Wuthering Heights, as well. She seems like a busy-body who was too overly concerned with her family's reputation to stand up for their genius.

Book Description: Concerned for her family's financial welfare and eager to expand her own horizons, Agnes Grey takes up the position of governess, the only respectable employment for an unmarried woman in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, Agnes cannot anticipate the hardship, humiliation, and loneliness that await her in the brutish Bloomfield and haughty Murray households. Drawn from Anne Brontë's own experiences, Agnes Grey depicts the harsh conditions and class snobbery that governesses were often forced to endure.

I also want to just give a quick response to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald---a book that everyone raved about but I just didn't really care for.

For me, it was pretty much a big ol' Meh. When I posted on Instagram and Facebook that this was my next read, I got tons of responses about this being a favorite book of my friends. However, I just don't see what all the hype is. The writing style and word usage is unique and quite enchanting in some places, but the story itself left much to be desired. Well, let me back up and say that it might just be a cultural thing. The story takes place on Long Island and is very much a study of that particular people group in that place and in that time period. Knowing absolutely nothing about the New York Jazz Age culture, the issue is probably more that I was reading about something not particularly interesting to me---rather than not particularly interesting, in general.

I do love how so much of the story is implied, rather than given straight out. That is a neat and unique way of writing it. So little is said about the characters, yet something tells us all we need to know and paints them vividly in the mind of the reader.

Yeah, that's pretty much all I have to say. So, kind of a blah reading week---a week of which I feel pretty indifferent. This week, I'm waffling between re-reading The Scarlet Letter or a modern cozy mystery that I really enjoyed the first time around. We'll see...but for now, it's popcorn! Yay!

These books will fulfill the following reading challenges:
Full House Reading Challenge: The Great Gatsby for Free Choice and Agnes Grey for Debut Novel by Author.
Women's Fiction Reading Challenge: Agnes Grey
New To You Challenge: Agnes Grey and The Great Gatsby for New Author

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins -- Book Review

Whew! Where have I been the last two and a half weeks? Well, I've been reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins...really...slowly... It's not a difficult read at all. I loved it and plan to keep it for many years of rereading enjoyment. I've just been so busy that there's not been a lot of time for reading---or reviewing. Before I get to the review, I have to note that I just found out there's a BBC version of this featuring John Wise, the not-so-nice Willoughby from the 1995 version of Sense & Sensibility. Must find this! Second random note---take a minute to Google search the images for The Moonstone. Lots of different book covers---all depicting significant scenes from the book. It's one of the most varied mix of covers I've seen.

Book Description: "Alongside Edgar Allan Poe in America, Britain's Wilkie Collins stands as the inventor of the modern detective story. The Moonstone introduces all the ingredients: a homey, English country setting, and a colorfully exotic background in colonial India; the theft of a fabulous diamond from the lovely heroine; a bloody murder and a tragic suicide; a poor hero in love with the heroine but suspected of the crime, who can't remember anything about the night the jewel was stolen; a lawyer, a doctor, a sea captain, and assorted friends, relatives, and servants--all of them suspects; and, most essentially, a bumbling local policeman and a brilliant if eccentric London detective. Adding spice to the recipe are unexpected twists, a bit of dark satire, a dash of social comment, and an unusual but effective narrative structure--eleven different voices relate parts of the tale, each revealing as much about himself (and, in one case, herself) as about the mystery of the missing Moonstone. Filled with suspense, action, and romance, The Moonstone is as riveting and intoxicating today as it was when it first appeared more than a century ago."

The Moonstone is considered to be the first detective story written in English. It was just an excellent story and I really enjoyed it. It had the very best ending---ended just as it should have. The story is told from the perspective of many different narrators, an idea that initially turned me off when I read the book description. However, it starts right in being told by Betteredge, the main narrator, and captivates the reader from the very beginning. His humor and mannerisms remind me of my Dad---that's probably why he was my favorite character. I love how he talks to the reader:

"Here follows the substance of what I said, written out entirely for your benefit. Pay attention to it, or you will be all abroad, when we get deeper into the story. Clear your mind of the children, or the dinner, o the new bonnet, or what not. Try if you can't forget politics, horses, prices in the City, and grievances at the club...Haven't I seen you with the greatest authors in your hands, and don't I know how ready your attention is to wander when it's a book that asks for it, instead of a person?"

Later, Miss Clack takes over---a self-righteous, yet hilarious woman. Her "BookCrossing" escapade through Mrs. Verinder's house cracked me right up!

I do have to say that the non-smoking, opium-induced theory was a little out there, in my opinion. However, taking into consideration the time in which this was written, it probably wasn't too far of a leap for the author to take.

My favorite quote in the whole book is this: "Speaking as a servant, I am deeply indebted to you. Speaking as a man, I consider you to be a person whose head is full of maggots." Bwahahaha!! Love it!

This one comes highly recommended---definitely get your hands on a copy and prepare to enjoy!

This fulfills my goals for the Full House challenge: published pre-2000, the TBR challenge (book #4), and the New To You challenge for new author. Read more about my 2015 reading challenges here.