Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Wretched

The Wretched. Victor Hugo. Translated by Christine Donougher. 1862/2013. 1456 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In 1815, Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel was bishop of Digne. He was an old man of about seventy-five. He had been bishop of Digne since 1806.

Premise/plot: An ex-convict does his best to live life according to his conscience. Will it ever be enough?

My thoughts: I love, love, love Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I believe this is my third time to review it for the blog? My 2013 review. My 2014 review.

Political, philosophical, spiritual, dramatic, and romantic. Each word describes the novel, in part. While there are many characters in this novel, I loved the narrator the best of all. Who are some of the characters? Bishop Myriel, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Inspector Javert, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, Enjolras, and Gavroche--just to name a few.

Jean Valjean is an ex-convict who seeks shelter from Bishop Myriel one night. Though he's been treated only with kindness, Valjean in his bitterness (he was sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread), he steals the bishop's silver. When the theft is discovered, the bishop is all compassion telling the officials that there has been a misunderstanding. Valjean did not steal the silver; it was given as a gift. In fact, he's happy to give Valjean his silver candlesticks as well. Valjean is shocked and overwhelmed. The meeting turns out to be quite life-changing.

When readers next meet Valjean, he has a new name and life. Monsieur Madeleine is a successful business man. He has a BIG heart. He's always giving. He's always thinking of others. He's always doing what he can, when he can to make a difference when and where it matters most. One woman he is determined to help is a young, single mother, Fantine. Circumstances have separated Fantine from her child, Cosette, but, Valjean is determined to correct as many wrongs as he can in this situation. He will see to it personally.

Unfortunately, his past catches up with him. He learns that a man has been arrested; "Jean Valjean" has been caught. Of course, Madeleine knows this is nonsense. Can he let another take his place in prison? If he tells the truth then he can no longer help the poor, but if he doesn't tell the truth, how could he live with himself? He does the honorable thing--though it is one of the greatest challenges he's faced so far.

But that means, for the moment, that Cosette is left in unpleasant circumstances...

There comes a time, an opportunity for Valjean to escape. What he does with his freedom--this time he's assumed drowned, I believe--is go and find Cosette. The two become everything to one another. Cosette is the family he's never had, never even knew he needed or wanted... the two end up in Paris.

Almost half of the novel follows the love story between Marius and Cosette. But it isn't only a love story. Marius is a poor man in conflict with his rich grandfather. The two disagree about many things. But their main source of disagreement is politics. At first, Marius is swept up in his father's politics, with a new awareness of who his father was as a soldier, as a man, as a possible hero. But later, Marius begins to think for himself, to contemplate political and philosophical things for himself. He becomes friendly with a political group at this time. But his love of politics dims when he falls in love with Cosette...and she becomes his whole reason for being. For the longest time these two don't even know each other's names! This romance isn't without challenges...

This novel has so much drama! I found it beautifully written. So many amazing passages! Such interesting characters! I'm not sure I loved the ending. And I was frustrated with Marius at times. But. I definitely loved this book!

It's also a novel heavy on details. When it's good, it's REALLY good. But at times some of the details are too taste-specific. In other words, some of the details weigh the story down. At times Les Miserables is boring. It's worth reading. It is. It's worth pushing through to the end. It's okay to skim certain sections, in my opinion, because it is one of the most satisfying reading experiences overall. Not that I LOVE the ending, though I think I may have made peace with it this time around.

I definitely enjoyed this translation of the novel. I LOVED the introductory materials. I found the notes to be thorough. If I were to ever STUDY the book, this would be the translation I'd use because the notes are so extensive. 

Favorite quotes:
  • True or false, what is said about men often figures as large in their lives, and above all in the fate that befalls them, as what they do.
  • ‘To sin as little as possible, that is the law of mankind. Not to sin at all is the angel’s dream. Everything earthly is subject to sin. Sin is a gravitational force.’
  • Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the greater vision? You choose.
  • Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever position the body might be in, the soul is on its knees. If you are human, be love.
  • Love is an ardent forgetfulness of everything else.
  • Suspicions are nothing but wrinkles.
  • Alas! to have climbed does not preclude falling. This can be seen in history more frequently than anyone would wish.
  • Everything can be parodied, even parody.
  • To love, or to have loved, is enough. Ask for nothing more. There is no other pearl to be found in life’s shadowy convolutions. To love is an achievement. The first step is nothing, it is the last step that is hard.
  • When the heart is on the slippery slope, there is no stopping it.
  • Love each other always. That’s about the only thing in the world that matters: loving each other.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Victorian Quarterly Check-In

  • What books for this challenge have you read (or reviewed) recently?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • Are there any quotes you'd like to share?
  • Who would you recommend? Anyone you would NOT recommend?
  • Favorite book you've read so far...

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, September 22, 2017

Orphan Island

Orphan Island. Laurel Snyder. 2017. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Jinny heard the bell. She threw down her book, rose from the stale comfort of the old brown sofa, and scrambled for the door. When she burst from the cabin into the evening air, Jinny ran.

Premise/plot: The setting is an island that seems to in some way take care of the nine children who inhabit it. It's not your ordinary island.
Nine on an island, orphans all,
Any more, the sky might fall.
Every year a boat comes bearing a young child--perhaps four or five years of age. The eldest child of the island gets in the boat and departs. The next-to-oldest becomes the new elder and takes charge of the new child. In that one year, the elder will teach her care how to survive--thrive even--on the island. (Or his care.)

Jinny becomes the new elder soon after the novel opens. Her care is a young girl named Ess. Jinny struggles in her role as elder. She both loves and hates it. It is without a doubt the hardest thing she's ever done.

At the end of the year, Jinny knows she should get in the boat--like every other elder that has gone before her. But will she be able to face her fears, face the uncertainties?

Orphan Island, I believe, is supposed to be an allegory about the struggles of growing up, about the journey of leaving childhood behind. Jinny, our heroine, doesn't want to grow up. The idea of leaving the safety of the island behind her and journeying forth literally into the unknown terrifies her. 

My thoughts: Orphan Island left me speechless--for the most part. I have no answers because there are so many questions are still unanswered by the end of the novel. Mainly questions about how the children got on the island, how the island takes care of the children, why just nine children, who sends and directs the boat, where the elders go when they leave the island.

One fascinating aspect of Orphan Island is the unknown Abigail. The children have no idea who Abigail is/was. But her books are on the island. Her notes are in the books. Some of the children feel like they *know* Abigail through the clues she's left behind. I would LOVE to know more about Abigail and the first generation of children who lived on the island.

I would recommend this one. But if you hate untidy endings that leave you wanting more, then maybe it's best to know that ahead of time. There will be questions you *need* answered. They won't be answered in the book. Perhaps they'll never be answered by the author. Perhaps you'll have to choose your own ending.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Wooden Prince

The Wooden Prince. John Claude Bemis. 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 312 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: By the time Pinocchio arrived in the village of San Baldovino, he was bursting with impatience to get free. Being locked in a trunk shouldn't have bothered him. He was an automa, after all.

Premise/plot: Think you know the story of Pinocchio? Think again! Bemis asks readers to join him on a fantastical journey. In the original story, Pinocchio is almost always unlikable; he is always rebellious and disobedient; he is more an object lesson than a 'real boy.' In this new novel--the first in a series--Pinocchio has a chance to be THE HERO.

My thoughts: Bemis has created a complex fantasy world. I wish I'd known about the glossary sooner. But reading the glossary after I finished the novel helped answer a few remaining questions I had. I really liked the world he created. Perhaps I wouldn't have loved this new fantasy world so much if I hadn't been drawn in by the characters as well. But what I loved most of all is his spin on the original, there are elements that do feel familiar. But everything has been spun about--and all for the better. There are still moral elements in this one. But instead of feeling like a lesson on how not to behave, a lesson about the consequences of disobedience, it has become more a series of lessons on how valuable life is and how essential friendship is. I loved seeing Pinocchio in a whole new light.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

You Can Read

You Can Read. Helaine Becker. Illustrated by Mark Hoffmann. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: You can read in the classroom. You can read in the park. You can read on a mission under cover in the dark.

Premise/plot: You Can Read celebrates reading books anywhere and everywhere. It rhymes, and in a good way.

My thoughts: The text of the book is in all-caps. I found this very annoying to read. But even more annoying is the disturbing lack of periods. There is not a single period in the whole book. (I couldn't help adding periods into the text I quoted above. I just couldn't present it the way it is in the book.) (Two sentences end in exclamation points.) If this book were getting graded by a first grade teacher, it would lose a lot of points. (The students in the first grade class might love it because of the illustrated underwear.)

That being said, the text of the book itself isn't bad. The message is a good one. I LOVE books. (Everybody knows that I love books.) I wanted to love, love, love it. The illustrations were not my style at all.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 1 out of 5
Total: 5 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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