A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

It’s Throwback Thursday and we’re reviewing one of literature’s classics!  During the month of December, we’re reviewing books that celebrate the season.  Enjoy!

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol    

Charles Dickens (Adult Fiction)

How does one go about describing Ebenezer Scrooge?  Perhaps our story’s narrator says it best: “Oh!  But he was a tightfisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!  a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!  Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.  The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”  Yes.  That will do nicely.  But no matter how vile Scrooge is, he has an equal by the name of Jacob Marley, his business partner that’s been dead seven years to the day.  This very night, Marley will pay a spectral visit to Scrooge in hopes of salvaging his former colleague’s soul and thus sparing him from an afterlife laden with rusty chains and regret.

A Christmas Carol is Dickens’ beloved and cherished Christmas song to the world.  First published in 1843, this classic story is divided into staves (or staffs) rather than chapters where every character is a note, every ghostly visit is a movement, and every revelation is a crescendo that builds to the climax when Scrooge realizes the dire consequences of his avarice and malevolence.

There are more than two dozen film adaptations of A Christmas Carol, but nothing quite compares to reading and absorbing Dickens’ original words, which contain a few subtleties that are otherwise lost when presented visually.  One example is that prior to Marley’s visit, the characters of Bob Cratchit and Fred are nameless and simply given titles such “clerk in the tank” or “Scrooge’s nephew”.  This omission would lead the reader to conclude that these characters are inconsequential; however, it is only later in the book when we realize what an important part these individuals will eventually play in Ebenezer Scrooge’s road to redemption.

I love the many moral and spiritual lessons we can glean from A Christmas Carol: “In order to fully realize life, one must love and be loved in return”; “Learning begins with listening”; “It’s important to learn from the mistakes of others”; or, if you’re a businessowner, “Treat your employees nicely”.  My personal favorite is taken from Marley’s visit with Scrooge where the former says, “I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate.”  In an uncertain world where, despite careful planning or our best intentions, life doesn’t always go the way we wish, and it is therefore important to remember that if there is a chance—no matter how slight or remote—then there is still hope.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.scholastic.com

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The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

It’s Throwback Thursday where we review a Classic from literature.  In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw  

Henry James (Adult Fiction)

It’s Christmas Eve and, as is ancient tradition, ghost stories are being told by a group of friends sitting around a fire.  Now a ghost story with one child in it would be—as everyone might agree—horrible, gruesome, and terrible even.  But a ghost story with two children?  Well, that would be just an inexcusable and abominable turn of the screw.  Wouldn’t it?  This is such a story.

Contrary to popular belief, just because a story is labeled a “classic”, doesn’t mean that you are automatically inclined to love it, rave about it, or recommend it.  Sometimes old doesn’t instantly equate to great.  The Turn of the Screw is one such book.  Written in 1898, Henry James’ gothic novella is considered one of literature’s most famous ghost stories…but perhaps not the best.  The story is verbose, inordinately descriptive, and James throws about commas like strings of beads during Mardis Gras (“They moved slowly, in unison, below us, over the lawn, the boy, as they went, reading aloud from a story-book and passing his arm round his sister to keep her quite in touch.”).  Adding to the tedious reading that awaits even the most patient of readers, we are presented with an unlikable and unsympathetic  heroine (a governess) who puts her own need for vindication and legitimacy above all else.  As a result, she fails her employer, she fails her friend, and she gravely fails her two small charges.  Those around her pay the ultimate price for her incessant need to claim victory and prove her sanity.  The fact that she did it despite the ongoing harm she constantly inflicts upon two young children ultimately proves to be one too many turns of the screw.

Sometimes, when a story is exceptional, you got lost in it.  Other times, the story just simply loses you.  The Turn of the Screw is regrettably an example of the latter.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com




Lost Horizon by James Hilton

It’s Throwback Thursday where we pick a random Thursday to review a Classic from literature.  We hope you enjoy this very dusty jacket.

Lost Horizon.jpg

Lost Horizon   

James Hilton (Adult Fiction)

It’s 1931 and the situation is dire in Baskul.  The country is in the midst of a revolution and all of the white residents are being evacuated to Peshawar.  Four passengers are loaded onto a plane lent by the Maharajah of Chandapore:  a British consul (Hugh Conway), his vice-consul (Captain Charles Mallinson), a missionary (Miss Roberta Brinklow), and an American (Henry Barnard).  After some time, all on board quickly realize that they have been kidnapped and being taken to an unknown destination.  Their plane soon crash lands in the harsh and unforgiving Tibetan mountains and, before he dies, their pilot instructs them to go to a place called Shangri-La.  With only the clothes on their backs, the small party begins their journey to a place thought only to exist in legend.

Hilton gives us a place that stands in stark contrast to the world Conway has experienced.  He has seen the ravages of war and its effects are still with him—even after a decade has passed.  During World War I, Conway has seen death, disease, and destruction.  At Shangri-La, he sees only tranquility, serenity, and beauty.  Because of his haunted past, he—more so than his fellow passengers—seems willing and anxious to embrace the charms and mystery of this newly discovered paradise.

Lost Horizon gives readers a wonderful and beautiful utopian lamasery where every care is met and every need satisfied.  It is truly paradise found and for those who stumble upon it, their lives will never be the same.  But this story also serves as a reminder that one man’s paradise may be another man’s prison and the only thing that may differentiate the two is freedom.  If you had to stay, would it really be paradise?  Conversely, if you could leave, would it really be prison?

I truly enjoyed this tale of a modern Garden of Eden and couldn’t help but ask myself this question as I turned the last page: “If I had ALL the time in the world, what would I do?”  What would you do?

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com



A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (J)

A Little Princess

A Little Princess  

Frances Hodgson Burnett (Juvenile Fiction)

Sara Crewe is seven and always dreaming and thinking odd things.  But ever since arriving in London from India with her father, Captain Ralph Crewe, all she thinks about is “the place”—Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies.  Her father’s affluence instantly propels Sara to star status within the school, but misfortune soon causes her to be penniless and at the mercy of jealous students, spiteful cooks, and a vindictive and cold-hearted headmistress.  Once an heiress and now a pauper, Sara relies on the friendship of a young servant, two foolish schoolgirls, and a rather amicable rat to help her cope with her new station in life.

Burnett delivers a charming and tender Cinderella-like story where our heroine is suddenly ripped from a life of comfort, joy, and love and thrown into a merciless world of coldness, hunger, and cruelty.  Unlike Cinderella, Sara is merely a child and the pain and suffering inflicted upon her is especially difficult to bear.  It also earns her tormentor, Miss Minchin, a dubious place amongst literature’s most despised and detested villains.

With A Little Princess, Burnett gives us a story about humility, grace, courage, hope, generosity, and kindness.  She also gives us a girl who is a beloved daughter, a show pupil, an adopted mother, a storyteller, a benefactor, a scullery maid, and a friend.  But most of all, Sara Crewe is, and always will be in the hearts of readers, a little princess.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.tvtropes.org


Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

William Golding (Adult Fiction)

Tragedy strikes when a plane carrying English schoolboys crashes onto an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean.  Lacking adult supervision, they eagerly welcome the adventure that awaits them.

“This is our island.  It’s a good island.  Until the grownups come to fetch us we’ll have fun.”

Their elation soon turns to discontent as rules are quickly established to maintain a semblance of order.  Soon, their tight-knit group breaks into factions and their once carefree lifestyle is threatened while they wait and hope for rescue.

This book will leave you unnerved and emotionally raw as you watch this group’s slow descent into moral depravity and eventual savagery.  Absent the presence of an actual authoritative figure, these boys suffer no negative consequences and slip into traits which come naturally to them: frivolity, disobedience, and indifference.  Desperate for structure and stability, they will follow any strong and decisive leader—regardless of how corrupt or destructive this person may be.

Golding masterfully lures us deep into a place full of wonder, mystery, and danger, and his attention to detail is as lush as the forest he describes.  He slowly builds tension and suspense, which ultimately culminates in a heart-stopping, gut-wrenching, and unforgettable climax.  Perhaps the most disturbing and frightening aspect of this book, published in 1954, is not its plausibility, but its lurking inevitability.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.bookdepository.com

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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (YA)

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame (Young Adult Fiction)

Mole was working hard to clean his little home when something enticing and intriguing and beguiling begins to beckon.  It is spring, and spring waits for no man…or mole.  So when she calls, it’s best to answer, which is exactly what Mole does on this particular day.  He pops out of his burrow and—with the sun warming his dark and rather dusty fur—heads out to see what he can see and what he sees…is a river!  Unbeknownst to Mole, this very river would be the beginning of many wonderful adventures to come.

When The Wind in the Willows was written in 1907, Kenneth Grahame delighted the world with four unforgettable characters: impetuous and curious Mole, kind and generous Rat, indulgent and self-important Toad, and reclusive and wise Badger.  But those who think this is merely just another children’s book should think again!  Between the pages of this dusty jacket is a story that features a brazened auto theft, a bold prison escape, breaking and entering by a gang of ruffians and hooligans, and a good old-fashioned brawl thrown in at the end for good measure.

The Wind in the Willows is a beautifully-told tale of courage, mischief, greed, and friendship and Grahame continues to delight readers with an adventure book for the ages.

Rating: 5/5