Saturday, November 30, 2013

102. Mary Barton

Mary Barton
Elizabeth Gaskell
1848
Around 400 pages












Now that the wacky celebration we had for post 100 is over, we can get back to reality here, if everyone's hangovers aren't too bad.  I actually thought we would break the good book streak at first with this one but I ended up really liking it.  I guess I am storing up a mega rant for Dickens.

Jem Wilson is in love with Mary Barton, but she dreams about marrying the rich, dashing Harry Carson.  Of course, women are silly, simple creatures and often can't make up their minds.  Mary really does love Jem, but after rejecting him once she can't say she likes him until he says it again, since men like to do the courting.  I really can't judge though since I haven't had a successfully relationship since.

Let's start with what I hated since one of my favorite things to do is complain.  Mary is an incredibly annoying character who is frequently described as honorable and beautiful.  Translation: she is an obnoxious brat who uses the people around her.  Additionally, Gaskell seemed to be trying so hard to make us feel sorry for the poor that it bordered on sappy.

However, this was an interesting story, even if Gaskell can't hold a candle to the Bronte sisters style wise.  I actually gasped at one development and found the character of Harry very entertaining.  Still, certainly not the best we have seen here.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Gaskell wrote this novel to distract herself from the death of her son.

Published anonymously.

UP NEXT: Shirley by Charlotte Bronte.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

101. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Anne Bronte
1848
Around 500 pages










Holy shit.  I suppose for a literary blog I should be able to express myself better but I seriously cannot believe that I have reached this milestone.  I hit the 100 mark and then some on my other blogs (I am currently at 406 with movies and 345 on albums) but, of course, it is a lot easier to watch a ninety minute movie or listen to a forty five minute album than to read a five hundred page novel.  So I just wanted to take a second to thank all my followers and the people that regularly come here and leave comments.  I said at the beginning that I was going to finish this journey and blog and 100 books later, I still mean it.  So let's get to the next 901 novels shall we?

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of the most shocking novels I have come across in this book and the strong feminist message is so incredibly ballsy for the time period (or I guess in this case it would be ovariesy?) that it definitely skyrocketed Anne to the top of my personal hero list (I am rooting for you, babe, in the poll!).

Helen Graham marries Arthur Huntingdon, a gambling alcoholic loser who, unfortunately, is quite handsome and charming.  She, of course, thinks she can change him and that ends up going as well as it does any time a woman tries to change a man.

Marital problems have been hinted at in earlier novels but it seemed like if that was the case back then, everyone would just kind of ignore it and the couple would simply not speak. But I don't think I have ever read a book from this era that depicts an abusive husband, let alone one that was written by a woman.

So this is a great novel, not just for its historical value but because it is damn entertaining.  Great way to kick off the next 100!

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Charlotte Bronte wrote to the publisher, criticizing the novel and its subject.  Jealous, much?

Instant success and outsold Wuthering Heights by a huge margin.

After its initial success, the novel fell out of publication.  Charlotte prevented the republication after Anne's death.

UP NEXT: Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell.  We are really on an all female streak and I am loving it!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

100. Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte
1847
Around 400 pages








The Book describes this as a psychotic love story and I think this statement does more justice to the book than I can do in my wordy five paragraphs, although I will, as always, give it a try.

Mr. Lockwood meets his landlord Heathcliff and it doesn't take long for him to get the creeps and realize that there is something seriously wrong with Heathcliff.  Lockwood spends the night and wakes up thinking that a woman is trying to get into his window.  Lockwood is then told the story of Heathcliff and Catherine's romance by the maid.

Catherine and Heathcliff are in love, but Catherine longs for a more refined, proper match rather than Heathcliff, who is an orphan and uneducated.  Will true love conquer a woman's pettiness?  Probably not.

This love story is certainly no fairytale and I think that is why it is considered such a fascinating romance.  Heathcliff is not a gentleman; in fact, he is the opposite of every romantic hero that we have had so far.  Catherine, however, seems to be cut from the same cloth of heroines that we have been seeing lately so it was interesting to watch her fall in love with a man who is no Mr. Weston.

There are times that you just want to shake the characters in frustration but the novel is definitely worth it.  So another brilliant creation from the Bronte sisters.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Referenced in Mad Men, Friends, Sex and the City, and Bones.

Mixed reception upon its release but is generally praised by modern critics.

Trailer for 1939 review which I actually reviewed on my movie site:

UP NEXT: Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.  And of course, 100...

99. Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey
Anne Bronte
1847
Around 220 pages












Prepare for another rave people because I absolutely loved this book and my only critique is that it was not long enough (there is something you will rarely hear me say).

Agnes Grey is raised in a poor but loving family (she often calls them her friends rather than relatives).  She decides to become a governess, much to the chagrin of her somewhat overbearing mother and older sister, who believe that she couldn't manage herself alone.  She gets a job at Bloomingfield Manor, where the children seem to be serial killers in training.  She also gets a job at Murray Manor
governing two teenage girls.  She meets  and falls for Mr. Weston but must compete with the beautiful Rosalie Murray for his affections.  This is hard for Agnes since she is awkward and shy while Rosalie is beautiful and flirty.  I get you Ags, I get you.

This was one of the most relatable books that I have read from this era.  Now, I have never been a governess but I have certainly felt the frustration when babysitting of not being able to discipline brats since their mother is breathing down your neck but then being accused of not being able to control them.  And I think everyone has felt the embarrassment Agnes did when she was sitting with a married couple that would not stop fighting.  And Agnes awkwardness around Weston is a lot more relatable, at least for me, than say, Elizabeth Bennet's ease when she talks to Darcy.

Although Agnes was very righteous and religious, I never felt as though the novel was preaching, mostly because Agnes kept most of her opinions to herself and merely observed everyone else's behavior.   Additionally, the rector, Mr. Hatfield, is one of the cruelest, most foolish characters in the novel.  I only mention this because a frequent complaint about this novel is that it is annoyingly moral, but I did not see that at all.

Finally, I loved this book because it seemed to mirror Anne's life in a lot of ways which I, of course, find very interesting since I love the Bronte sisters.

Another somewhat rambling post but this is a fantastic novel and one that should be read by everyone.  All the time.  If that is not too unreasonable a request.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

The scene when Agnes kills the birds to save them from being tortured was taken from Anne's own life.

Popular during Anne's life but dropped in sales after her death.

No trailer for this one though I would love to see a movie adaptation!

UP NEXT: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Saturday, November 16, 2013

98. Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte
1847
Around 600 pages












This is the last post I have to write before I am completely caught up (I haven't read Agnes Gray but the rest of the novels lately have been favorites).  I am hope I am not too tired to do justice to one of the greatest love stories of all time.

The novel follows Jane Eyre, a plain girl who was abused by her aunt and cousins.  I personally love the fact that she is not that attractive since every heroine seems to be the most beautiful angel in the entire world.  It is not hard to fall in love with beautiful people.  It is a lot more interesting to read about a relationship that is not based on pure physical attraction (watching one on television however…).

Anyway, Jane becomes the governess of Thornfield Hall and falls in love with her boss, Mr. Rochester.  Unfortunately, Rochester has a secret, one that could destroy their relationship.  Dah dah DAH!

I first tried this novel in eighth grade and remember thinking that it was upsetting and dull.  I tried it again in high school and fell in love with it.  So I can understand why it would not appeal to some people.  But like I said, after reading love story after love story where the girl is gorgeous and the guy is a hero and the only conflict comes from outside, it was nice to read something entirely difference.

Great dialogue, great story, and great characters.  How many more raves do we have in store for us?

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

What was the deal with Mr. Rochester dressing up like a woman, though?  Like what?

Many elements of Gothic fiction were used in this novel.

Jane Eyre's life mirrors Charlotte Bronte's in numerous ways.

Trailer:
UP NEXT: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

97. Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair
William Makepeace Thackeray
1847
Around 800 pages











Four more to go until we reach the big 100, ladies and gentlemen!  As we get closer to 100, the novels just keep getting better and better (with the occasionally Dickens thrown in to keep us on our toes).

A novel without a hero is how Thackeray described his book.  Indeed, it is hard to find a reason to look up to Becky Sharp but, of course, that is what makes the book so interesting.  Becky is a young, cunning woman who is determined to make her way in society.  In the 1800s, that meant seducing the right men and marrying the rich ones.  Becky's friend Amelia Sedley, on the other hand, is a kind modest woman.  Let's see who wins, shall we?

I loved this novel although I will be the first to admit that after 800 pages, the concept can get a bit old.  Still, this book is worth the length.

Becky is a completely amoral character and that alone is enough to make her fascinating to read about.  However, a part of me was rooting for her.  So many books show women being the victims of the conventions of their society and forced marriages.  It was nice to see a woman fight back a bit and actually use the system to her advantage.

Sorry for the short review but I have written about five of these today and I am getting tired.  One more to go.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Thackeray said any reader interested in Vanity Fair is of a sarcastic, benevolent, or lazy mood.  Sorry for reading your book, William.

Often compared to War and Peace.

Trailer (and it is a pretty good movie too):

UP NEXT: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

96. The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas
1844
Around 1200 pages












Three AD books in a row; what did I do to get so lucky?  Oh right, I followed the list and wrote a blog about it.

I first read this book when I was in France with my sister.  It was the worst trip I had ever been on in my life.  I can't even count how many times I humiliated myself, my suitcase never arrived at the airport, and we were with a tour group so the pace was completely off for us (we are talking five museums a day while being forced to pose for pictures eighty percent of the time).  We also got stuck with this rude guy on our tour and were forced to have dinner with him several times.  Anyway, this book was the only thing that allowed me to feel good after jumping off a boat, ripping my bathing suit, and not being able to get back on amid tons of snickering French witnesses.  Wait what was I talking about again?

This is the story of Edmond Dantes' quest for revenge after wrongfully sent to prison.  He loses his father, his best friend, his fiancee, and six years of his life.  We, at least, get a great novel out of it.

I am getting repetitive in my praises of Dumas but allow me one more time to say that this book has everything a great adventure should have.  I do not know that there is a more thrilling scene in the history of literature than when Edmond is escaping Chateau d'If.

This is the story of a world where you can escape your prisons and get revenge on people who have wronged you.  It certainly isn't my world and for that reason, it is my greatest escape (pun intended).

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Expanded from a plot outline suggested by Auguste Manquet.

Translated in almost every language.

I actually have seen the movie adaptation of this and it is highly recommended:
UP NEXT: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

95. La Reine Margot

La Reine Margot
Marguerite de Valois
Alexandre Dumas
1845
Around 500 pages












I have been writing all day and I figured I would just drop by here since I haven't posted in about a month.  I then realized that I am behind about five reviews.  Oy vey.  Guess I better get to work.

This book only took a couple of days to read but it took me about a month to find.  The library I belong to seems to have every Dumas book in every language except this novel.  I usually go to Amazon if my library fails me but the only copy for sale was going for fifty dollars.  Fifty dollars!!  I will go on and on about how much Dumas is worth but I guess in reality I cap it at $2.99.  Anyway, after much searching on various eBooks sites I found it for five dollars.  So this is another book that the normal, non lists obsessed reader will probably never come across.

This is a shame, however, because not only was this a great read but it was also an educating one (albeit Dumas flashed his artistic license more than once).  This is the story of Queen Margot who is married to the King of Navarre by her scheming mother Catherine, who reminded me a lot of Milady.  Margot meets and falls in love with La Mole, which is unfortunate since he is a Huguenot and Catherine is scheming to kill them all.

If there is one word that I always associate with Dumas it is adventure and this novel is no exception.  It has everything: love, poison, affairs, and plotting.  It is, however, a lot gloomier than his other novels and while I love me some darkness, it was extremely unexpected here.  Of course, that just makes me an idiot for not expecting it since this is a book about the St. Bartholomew Day massacre.  Still, I thought Dumas would put a happier spin on it.

So a great novel but certainly not my favorite Dumas and I find it a bit puzzling that this was chosen out of the hundreds of novels he has written.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Could not find a single fact about this one but here is a trailer:

UP NEXT: Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  Man, I love this guy.