Old Celtic Romances starstarstarstar

by P. W. Joyce

This is a lovely collection of old traditional tales from the Irish tradition like The Children of Lir, that many of us have grown up with. Most of these tales are told in prose, though some in poetry.

The Irish tales have always had a lyrical quality to them even in prose and have been the basis for many later stories that build on the tales of both ancestors and the fairy tradition that weaves its magic through this style of storytelling.

This book gathers several of these romance tales into one volume for easy reference and would be a lovely gift for someone who enjoys all things Celtic.

The commentaries are also very interesting and explain the background of the tales. Some readers might have a little trouble with pronunciation of some names and names of places, but there is some help for that in the back.


hunchbackThe Hunchback of Notre Dame starstarstarstar

by Victor Hugo

This Classic was originally written in French and I’ve found that the translation does make a difference. I have a paperback copy from Penguin, translated by John Sturrock and my first impression was that the writing was very poetic, but I got the free Kindle version from Gutenberg with a different translator because it’s easier for me to read on Kindle and in this one, the first chapters felt overly wordy and dragged a little.

I persisted though. I’ve seen various film versions of this story and didn’t recognise most of the names I was reading until we finally meet Quasimodo in chapter five, followed by Esmerelda, though Gringoire who falls foul of the Paris underworld does make an appearance in the old 1939 black and white Charles Laughton version. From Quasimodo’s introduction the story digressed into the history of Notre Dame Cathedral.

This one takes a little patience because there are many digressions. Life in fifteenth century Paris under Louis the XI, individual character histories and other commentaries on the times all come together to form a very thorough picture of the circumstances surrounding the familiar story line, but they do break continuity.

The extent to which Quasimodo’s story intertwines with Esmerelda’s was never fully expressed in the movies. I found the connections very interesting indeed! And Frollo was given a bit of undeserved bad press, especially by Disney. Movies require a villain and a priest immersed in austerity isn’t a sympathetic character, but his reasons for adopting Quasimodo were based in charity, not obligation.

Quasimodo’s back story is revealed in reverse, first showing us his experience with the Feast of Fools, then later revealing how he came to be ward of Frollo, and after that his origins and how he came into Frollo’s path. Then later we move forward.

While the book would never get commercial publication in today’s publishing market due to the extent of the digressions, the story is well told as a whole and the Classic enthusiast is likely to enjoy the fullness of the description and depiction of the time and place and how it shapes the events of the plot. I’m glad to have read it now and will look on film repeats with a more detailed knowledge of the whole of the story.

A worthwhile Classic, for those who have the patience to assimilate a fair bit of history between story events.


seven-gablesThe House of Seven Gables starstarstar

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Another Classic ticked off my list. This one was written in 1851 and very definitely has the tone of that era of writing. Very verbose and slow moving, with no real interaction between characters.

The story is more about the house than the people, though it tells the story of several generations, mostly of the Maule and Pyncheon families. One of the Maule ancestors was accused of witchcraft and executed, and the house was taken and ended up in the hands of the Pyncheons, though the Maule relatives were the rightful inheritors.

There is a curse, a crime mystery and two centuries of superstition attached to the house. The plot was interesting, but I found it very slow reading. I never felt really involved with any of the characters because the style of writing kept them impersonal.

Still, I’m glad I read it. I’ve seen the house when I was on a trip to Boston and Cambridge in Massachusetts and I can see how it would inspire a story. It was actually built for the Turner family in 1668, so the story is completely fiction. This is one for those who really love 19th century stories.


cantervilleThe Canterville Ghost starstarstarstar

by Oscar Wilde

This is one of those Classic stories I’ve meant to read for years and have finally got to it. Oscar Wilde comes from an era when characters were written bigger than life, even when they are dead. Many clichés of ghost story writing, like blood stains that reappear after being cleaned up, are to be found in this one, but the reader should remember that Wilde probably wrote them first! His sometimes humorous take on ghostly activity set the tone for many stories that came after.

My only complaint would be that sometimes the ghost had too much physicality. The antics of the children who chose to torment him instead of fearing him might have had greater limitations if he couldn’t slip on floors or have his dignity damaged by projectiles.

Later in the story, humour gives way to a poignant encounter with the little girl in the family who feels sorry for the ghost and his plight. The gamut of emotions that are woven through the tale make me want to read more of Oscar Wilde to discover his full potential as a writer.


ghost-piratesThe Ghost Pirates starstarstarhalf

by William Hope Hodson

This is an old sea story with the tone of the nineteenth century style of relating such tales. It tells of a ship reported to be haunted and the protagonist’s experience of seeing shades on deck that seems to prove the tales are true.

Nineteeth century writers often ut in a lot of detail and the story can drag a bit, but at the same time it’s an interesting ghost story and the sort of thing that has a lot of atmosphere. Fans of traditional ghost stories won’t be disappointed!

The story is relatively short, under 200 pages, and plenty happens to keep the reader interested despite the apparently slow pace. The characters are especially well defined and readers should not miss the Appendix at the back!


sleepy-hollowThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow starstarstarhalf

by Washington Irving

This is one of those classics I’ve meant to read for years. It’s written in an older English dialect that adds atmosphere to the narrative and brings the Dutch communities of New England to life with all their customs and superstitions.

Icabod Crane is a schoolmaster who has cast his eye on a local girl, just eighteen. She comes from a family that is as well-off as is to be found in the small community and is also a beauty. While there wasn’t as much about witchcraft in the original story as was in the most recent movie version with Johnny Depp, it is mentioned along with goblins and ghosts and especially the tale of the headless horseman who legends say rises from the grave to seek his missing head.

The story was a lot more basic than I expected, with the whole ghostly phenomenon more a matter of superstition and practical joking than the tale has grown into with retellings, but it was enjoyable nonetheless to finally read the original material.



RebeccaRebecca starstarstarstar

by Daphne DuMaurier
This is a Classic written in 1938 that has the poetic feeling of stories written in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The story starts out with a tone of remembrance about a place called Manderley. You can hear a sadness in the ‘voice’ of the first person narrator, even without knowing anything about the person whose memories we’re about to experience. We are never given her first name, but she soon becomes known as the second Mrs. de Winter.

In some ways the first couple of chapters seemed a little slow and I found it hard to identify with the main character, who is far too shy and self-deprecating. Yet I found myself being drawn in to her story and although I thought Max de Winter was a real beast to her, I approved of the choice she made and in the same circumstances, I’m sure I would have done the same thing. She did love him after all, despite his gruff ways, and choices for women in that time were very limited. I might well have strangled her employer.

I wasn’t quite halfway through when I noticed hints that certain assumptions about things at Manderley might not be as they seemed. What unfolded had some real surprises in store.

I couldn’t identify with the second Mrs. de Winter at all, yet I found myself drawn into the story and wanting to see what happened. Her mental scenarios of how things might turn against her became silly and there were times I wanted to slap her and tell her to do something other than what she was doing. My biggest complaint would be the ending. If this book had been published recently, I would expect a sequel to tell me what happened after the ending events. A lot of questions about what would follow were left unanswered. Other people have tried writing sequels, but they haven’t caught my interest.

I’m giving this 4 stars because the quality of the writing is superb, but in fact I didn’t like any of the characters. I do have to admit that they were well defined though, and I will probably read more of DuMaurier because of the quality of her writing.

TarzanTarzan of the Apes starstarstarstarhalf

by William Burroughs

This is a Classic story that is familiar to most people, having seen some version of it on television, as a movie and even in cartoons. Tarzan is iconic, but reading the original story really opened my eyes to the genius of the source material.

The writing itself is beautiful. I started reading and found it hard to stop because I was instantly transported into the story and the trials of Lord Greystoke and his wife as they became shipwrecked. The transition to the world of the apes and the interaction of the creatures of the jungle was so smooth that I was lost in the story for several chapters before I knew what had happened!

A large part of the story has been left out of film versions and I found the story more realistic with these plot lines in place. Also, the story takes a real turn towards Romance which I never knew!

“Come back to me,” she whispered. “I shall wait for you- always.”

That line alone reminds me that this was written not so long after certain Victorian novels with a penchant for Romance. In the later part of the book, I got the real feel of the jungle through the eyes of a French soldier, to whom it is all new.

Tarzan’s first experience of civilization is different than any film version I have seen, and quite interesting. I did have the feeling at the end that there would be more of the story to tell, but luckily the collection I have includes the direct sequel, The Return of Tarzan. I’ll have to read it soon!

Dead SecretThe Dead Secret starstarstarstar

by Wilkie Collins

A woman dies in childbirth, leaving a mysterious letter for her husband in the hands of her maid. The first part of the story established a mystery; what was in the letter? Why is the maid reluctant to give it to the husband as instructed? I found myself quickly caught up and really wondering what the secret was all about and whether it had anything to do with the newborn child.

In part two, we skip ahead fifteen years and like many Victorian novels, it’s like starting the story over with all different characters. It took me a couple of chapters to get into this new phase of the tale. There is a lot of dialogue and situations that seem unrelated to the mysterious opening, until suddenly at the end of a section a connection is made.

I seldom read Mystery stories because not knowing drives me up a wall, but this one grabbed me before I realized that’s what it is. The book is separated into six sections and mystery upon mystery builds up, I want to know what’s going on!

I did guess the nature of the mysterious letter before the end, but there were some surprising details that made it far more interesting than I had anticipated. As Victorian stories go, it was very much a thing of its time and even had outdated spellings on a few words. I would definitely recommend it to readers who enjoy that period or anyone who likes a Mystery.

DodgerDownUnderDodger Down Under starstarstarstar
David Weston

After reading several samples of Artful Dodger books, I decided I liked the voice and writing on this one and bought it. I got quickly caught up and continued to enjoy it.

I did think the author tried too hard to work in recognized Dickens characters and associations and some of the dates and terms that don’t fit the era or were too American (like washcloth, cracked jokes, etc.) don’t quite add up, but I let these things slide because the story itself held my attention and I really enjoyed reading it.

The premise takes up where Oliver Twist left off, with Dodger getting shipped to Australia. His adventures aboard ship and after he reaches his destination are what you would expect from the character and the characterization is done well. Belief was strained a little with some of the characters who were also on board because as I said, they just didn’t add up. One was from a different decade of the century, another was likely to spend a lot of time where she had last been seen in a mental hospital and the recovery was too miraculous to accept. This continued almost to the end where more familiar names turn up and the Theatre Royal in Sydney is being planned in 1832 when it actually opened in 1827, but nevermind. I think the story would have been better without shoehorning other Dickens characters in.

Other things that bothered me were the reference to half a year to make the voyage when prison ships typically took about 70 days and a failure to notice the complete change of season after crossing the Equator.

The new characters who were introduced were very well defined and were a big part of what kept the story so interesting. There were allies who garnered the reader’s sympathy and enemies I really wanted to see get their comeuppance, and in the middle of it all the winsome little pickpocket lad who continues to fascinate both readers and writers well into the twenty-first century.

One of the themes of the story is about Dodger looking for his father in Australia. I felt this was handled well, especially with typical Dickensian coincidence giving him an essential lead!

There was an overlong sequence about the game Cricket that will have lost anyone not familiar with the game, and some who are. What puzzled me is that the author is English, yet he kept referring to a match as a game like an American. Whether he has lived in the USA for a lot of years or intentionally wrote in American English I don’t know, but it definitely grated on me when reading on this subject.

Despite that, I really did enjoy the story. The ending was too abrupt and indicated a sequel, but apart from that, the loose ends did get tied up and the journey was worth the effort.

CratchitTim Cratchit’s Christmas Carol starstarstarhalf

by Jim Piecuch

An interesting idea, which I’ve seen attempted once before with dubious results, but this one very quickly looked like it would shape up to be a worthwhile story. The pacing was a little slow at first, but soon began to pick up and I found myself being engaged by the characters.

There was an element of Romance, but that wasn’t the main focus of the story. I liked the plot progression a lot despite the sometimes slow delivery and a fairly weak ending. The characters were very well defined and brought reader reactions, sometimes strong ones. Tim is a likable character. He’s generous, charitable and everything you would expect him to be, based on where Dickens left his story.

There were a few things that made it glaringly apparent that the book was written by an American author; terms like ‘washcloth’ and ‘Mom’ and drinking coffee in a situation where a Victorian Englishman would be far more likely to have tea for example. Otherwise there weren’t any huge problems, although a sudden pov change to Jane did stick out a little. Also the ideas of gift giving at Christmas were very modern and didn’t reflect the actual customs of the Victorian English as you might expect from a History teacher, even one who specialises in American history.

Conversely, there were some smooth transitions into visions from Tim’s childhood which were very well done, although one extensive flashback seemed to go on too long.

Overall I enjoyed reading it and feel my time was well spent. As Christmas stories go, this one is a nice, light read. You have to suspend disbelief on some things, like how long it takes to recover from a major operation before someone can be moved, but generally it kept my attention and has left me feeling that now I know what eventually happened to Tiny Tim.

JaneEyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte starstarstarstar

I began reading Jane Eyre just to open my horizons on well-known historic authors a little and was immediately drawn in by the main character. As a child, Jane had a certain fire to her that I could respect and on the strength of that, I added several other Bronte sisters books to my Kindle with intent.

As the book progressed, I felt it slowed and Jane became far too complacent to hold my interest. However, I was too invested to stop so continued reading and occasionally found a trace of the spark from her childhood.

I didn’t like Rochester much. He played games to manipulate Jane too much, though he gets a point for having the sense to see when he was being drawn into a convenience marriage for a gold-digger. I couldn’t understand why Jane would love him or put up with his mind games, or exactly when her feelings for him developed.

My interest was revived about 65% in, when a twist I should have seen coming put Jane in a situation of personal conflict. I had a real struggle through this as I had to remember the morés of the times which conflict with my own natural inclinations of what I would do in the same situation.

Some of the choices she made I found both brave and foolish. That she had the strength of character to trust to her own resourcefulness over relying on the charity of others was part of what made her such an interesting character. In a time period when Lara Croft could not exist, she showed the resilience of a truly strong woman.

The one thing I found really awkward wad the unfinished place names. —-shire and other half words broke the flow occasionally. In the end I’m glad I’ve read the story now. I felt that Jane was too service oriented for me to really identify with her, but I did admire the spirit that she showed on occasion, particularly on the occasions when the path of least resistance would have led her to paths in her life that would not have made her happy, but she refused to be bullied when cornered.

I will mention, classic or no, that this book would have run into some problems if it was submitted to a publisher today. Apart from the place names already mentioned, the author occasionally broke the fourth wall rule, but too occasionally to call it writing style. She also changed from past tense to present tense in a couple of chapters. Some things I thought were far too drawn out and especially at the end when it’s obvious how it will all come out, it was belaboured to an excruciating degree.

Still, it’s a product of its time and I will be reading more of this sort of classic over time, including more Bronte sisters.

JungleBookThe Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling starstarstarstarhalf

The next time someone starts going on about an author “telling” instead of “showing”, I’m going to direct them to Rudyard Kipling. There’s a reason why it’s called telling a story and Kipling does an excellent job of telling us about each of the most important characters that populate the jungle in this wonderful classic story.

It is told in the tone of an old fairytale with almost an Old English feel, and the events are surprisingly close to the Disney version. I understand now why the other animals in the jungle stayed away from the monkeys.

The characters are very distinctive and well-developed. I have new respect for Baloo, who was depicted as a buffoon by Disney. The biggest deviation was Kaa the snake who co-operated with the other creatures more than was suggested in the animated film.

While I wasn’t overly impressed with the poetry in the song lyrics that were interspersed with many of the chapters, the prose was very engaging and I felt myself drawn into the world of the animals. The primary difference from the animated film version is that Mowgli has much more interaction with humans in the later part of the story concerning him, then his story is followed by other tales of animals, starting with The White Seal. These tales include Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a tale of a mongoose which has also been animated.

I felt that Kipling has a unique voice that made the reader feel the culture of India where most of the tales take place, although from the animals’ point of view. I’m glad that I’ve read this classic book now and feel that the journey was very enriching.

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