Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

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Title: Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Premise:

Wendy and her brothers go on a fantastic adventure with Peter Pan, a boy who lives in the Neverland and never grows up.  They encounter mermaids, fairies and the infamous Captain Hook.  Though they go on many adventures, eventually Wendy and the boys must return home to grow up.

My thoughts:

My son and I read Peter Pan together for our homeschooling and I must say that it surprised me quite a bit.  I grew up watching Disney’s Peter Pan, so I was expecting a tame and mostly innocent story.  Let me tell you, the original Peter Pan is not all fluff.

Captain Hook and the Lost Boys do plenty of killing and maiming in their fights, though at least it isn’t described graphically.  Even innocent little Michael ends up killing a pirate in the final fight scene.

The Disney version got the story line mostly correct, but the book’s delivery is much more wordy and old-fashioned in its language.  I enjoyed it, but I could tell that my son’s attention was flagging at times because of the side tangents and complexity of the language.  For that reason I’d say this book is best suited to older elementary and up — unless your child has a great attention span.  Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it will be a one-time read for me.

I recommend Peter Pan to those who enjoy classic childhood adventure stories.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Title: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Premise:

As children, Heathcliff and Catherine are inexorably drawn together.  Despite their differing natures and weaknesses of character, one can scarcely exist without the other.  Catherine’s haughtiness drives Heathcliff away and stirs him to make his way in the world.  When Heathcliff returns, life at Wuthering Heights will never be the same.  Heathcliff can’t let go of the past and seeks revenge for every real and imagined slight he suffered there.  He and Catherine are like two stars destined to crash into one another and destroy everything near them.

My thoughts:

I first read Wuthering Heights in high school because it was required reading.  I don’t even remember what I thought of it back then, except that it was a bit spooky.  Reading it now, it’s not the spookiness that struck me so much as the examination of human nature.  Heathcliff is such a diabolical character and seems completely beyond redemption.  And yet, despite the fact that he was a dastardly villain, I couldn’t bring myself to truly dislike him.  There’s a part in all of us which feels satisfaction in seeing someone else get revenge on those who have done them wrong.  I’m not saying I condone it, but something in my psyche wants Heathcliff to avenge himself.  Perhaps that’s the lasting draw of this novel — its ability to make the reader examine good and evil in his fellow man, but also in himself.

When you think about when this book was written, it was a very daring tale for its time.  Especially when you consider that it came from a relatively inexperienced young lady.  It’s impressive that she was so adept at capturing human nature and what makes the human race feel hatred, love, and every shade of emotion in between.

This was such an engrossing read for me, that the last part of the book kept me up until the wee hours of the morning.  I simply couldn’t put it down and had to learn the fate of Heathcliff, as well as his young charges.  The ending is so fitting and perfect.  It was a completely satisfying read.  Highly recommended!

I recommend Wuthering Heights to fans of classic literature and anyone who enjoys a messed up love story.

Possible Objections:

  • A little bit of bad language
  • A derogatory term for a loose female is used a few times
  • Some violence

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

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Title: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Premise:

Phileas Fogg, the stoic and predictable Englishman that he is, decides to go on a trip around the world because of a wager.  He bets his whist companions £20,000 that he can make the trip in eighty days.  Fogg’s servant Passepartout accompanies him, as well as a wily detective who believes Fogg to be a notorious bank robber.  They have many adventures and setbacks along the way, even rescuing a damsel in distress, but will they make it back to London in time to win the bet?

My thoughts:

The first Jules Verne book I read was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I had my own copy lined up on the shelf in my bunk bed and it was my first introduction to science fiction as a kid.  Ever since then, I’ve loved Jules Verne’s fantastical adventure stories.

Though Jules Verne is best known for his science fiction, this book doesn’t exactly fit into that category.  It capitalizes on elements of the industrial age, such as the great strides made in dependable and quick transportation.  It truly was a marvel how quickly one could traverse the globe, compared to what was possible only a short time previously.

The story is fairly simple — a man travels around the world as quickly as possible, encountering several obstacles along the way.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The character development isn’t stellar and there are a TON of place names, but despite those very slight criticisms, I loved the story.  It’s so very readable and I love a good adventure story!

As far as classic literature goes, this book has fairly accessible language.  It’s also a largely action-driven story, so those two considerations make this a good book to start your journey into classic literature.

I recommend Around the World in Eighty Days to fans of early science fiction and those who enjoy classic literature.

Possible Objections:

  • One character gets high in an opium den
  • Native people referred to as “savages” a few times
  • Overtly English-centric attitude throughout

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Love’s Labor’s Lost by William Shakespeare

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Title: Love’s Labor’s Lost by William Shakespeare

Premise:

The King and his companions have vowed to spend three years in serious study, avoiding the company of women, among other luxuries.  When the Princess and her entourage show up on a diplomatic errand, the King has to foreswear his vow to avoid female company.  Each man is smitten with one of the ladies and sends her a love letter and favor, trying to keep it secret from the others.  In the end all of their romantic maneuvering is made known and the men come clean about their intentions.  The ladies, however, are not so easily swayed.  They demand more serious proof before they are willing to entertain the men’s ideas of romance.

My thoughts:

I haven’t read Shakespeare for a long time!  Though this story is lighthearted and fluffy, it still manages to make some commentary on the foibles of love and romance.  The King and his men make complete fools of themselves as they pursue the Princess and her ladies in waiting.  The ladies are having none of it and keep their wits about them, even demanding proof of their suitor’s love at the end.  If the men are serious about their love and commitment to the maidens, they must each fulfill a mission given by their respective lady.  This is a refreshing departure from the typical man-wins-woman formula.

I enjoyed the overall tone of the play, which was very playful and upbeat.  The characters have fun with witty wordplay, although I didn’t particularly care for the parts that devolved into suggestive references.  The difficulty of the language and the sometimes suggestive comments make me think this play would be best for readers in high school and older.

It was really helpful to have an introduction to the book and the footnotes throughout.  A good amount of the vocabulary and sayings are completely obsolete in modern English.  Without a bit of help, a lot of the original meaning would be lost on today’s readers.

I recommend Love’s Labor’s Lost to readers who enjoy classic literature and a mental workout all in one!

Possible Objections:

  • Several jokes featuring sexual innuendo

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

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Title: The Phantom of the Operaby Gaston Leroux

Premise:

The Paris Opera House is haunted by a phantom who seems to hold sway over all that happens there.  Unfortunately, the Opera Ghost becomes enamored of a young lady named Christine, who falls under the spell of the phantom — her “Angel of Music.”  Will Raoul, her true love, be able to save her from the phantom’s spell before tragedy strikes?

My thoughts:

I was already familiar with this story from having seen the movie, so reading this book was not an entirely new revelation to me.  Nevertheless, it was still enjoyable and worth my while.

The whole love triangle between Christine, Raoul and Erik is very intriguing.  These poor young lovers have to defend themselves against this seemingly omnipotent villain who will do anything to procure the lady he’s obsessed with.  I was struck with just how much genius Erik was blessed with.  Was there anything this man couldn’t do?  Any skills he didn’t have?  He seemed superhuman to me, and perhaps that was the author’s intention.

I’m going to be perfectly honest here and tell you that I wasn’t as impressed with Christine’s character as I thought I’d be.  She was a little too wishy-washy for my taste, never seeming to know what she wanted. While the author tried to explain her shifts in mood and intentions, it seemed like perhaps our heroine was a trifle simple-minded.  This was a girl who needed to get out of that darn Opera House, have a stroll around town, and start to think for herself.  A lesson to all the young ladies out there: Never let a man have control over your mind.  Ahem, back to the book.

The storytelling doesn’t flow quite as seamlessly as I expected, but that could be in part because of the translation from French.  Also, it seemed like there was a lot extraneous information contained in the book.  I think that I prefer the way that the movie took away some of those bits that didn’t seem to add anything to the narrative (to my mind).

I was really captivated with the description of the Paris Opera House, and after I finished the book I sought out a little more information about it.  Just let me say that it is a fascinating building and well worth studying.  The pictures alone will blow your mind!

I recommend The Phantom of the Opera to those who enjoy a good Gothic novel or to fans of classic literature.  I don’t think that it would greatly appeal to the average reader.

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

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Title: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Premise:

Follow the adventures of four woodland friends: Badger, Toad, Mole and Rat.  They have adventures in the Wild Wood, lazy days boating on the river, and trouble with a motor-car.  When Toad’s reckless ways land him in a heap of trouble, it will take all of the friends to make things right again.

My thoughts:

I absolutely love this book!  It’s not the first time I’ve read it, but it has just as much charm as I remember.  Grahame has an uncanny knack for writing in a manner which is both charming and playful, as well as describing nature in a singularly unique way.  It’s as if he sees all of nature as a living being.

The story is somewhat meandering (though still completely satisfactory) because it simply follows the characters in their day-to-day life.  The meat of the story is the episode in which Toad steals a motor-car and all of the drama that ensues because of his actions.  Certainly there are other events in the book and though they aren’t particularly dramatic, they are just as enjoyable to read about.

The characters are wonderfully written and developed.  Who would think that you could feel so much in common with woodland animals?  Yet Grahame makes his animals come to life and embody human characteristics to such a masterful degree that you feel like they are old friends.  I think Badger is my favorite character.  He’s a bit gruff, but still kindly and down-to-earth.  He would be like your favorite gruff old uncle who is hiding a heart of gold underneath.

I recommend The Wind in the Willows to children in their later elementary years and up, families, and those who enjoy classic literature.  This is a fun adventure which appeals to all ages!

 

Possible Objections:

  • The a-word is used several times (as the English might use it to refer to someone who’s making a fool of themselves)
  • Some animals brandishing & shooting guns
  • A couple of the animals smoke pipes (not very frequently)
  • A few mentions of drinking alcohol: beer & champagne
  • The vocabulary might be a bit advanced for younger readers

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

red-pony

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As I was browsing my parents’ bookshelf the other day, I came across a 1945 copy of The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. I think that old books are awesome, so I decided to read this short novel.

Premise:

Jody lives on a ranch in the Salinas Valley of California with his parents and Billy, a ranch hand.  Jody’s father is a controlling dictator, but Billy connects with Jody in a way that his father cannot.  When Jody wants a pony, Billy does all he can to ensure that he gets one.

My thoughts:

For some reason, I did not think critically about the story before starting.  This will be a fun story about a pony, right?  I forgot to take into account that John Steinbeck was the author!!  No, no, no–this did not turn into a cute and heartwarming pony story.  Stupid me for even thinking that it would.

If you’re familiar with Steinbeck’s other works, you’ll know that he tells sad, often depressing stories.  Life is hard in his books and this one is no different.  Jody, the main character, has some real set-backs in his childhood.  As the reader, you have to read between the lines to see how he’s coping with those challenges and how they ultimately affect him.

One question I want answered: What happens to Nellie’s colt???  And the old paisano??  Steinbeck leaves you in the lurch, guessing about what happened to these characters whom you thought would be important plot elements.  Oh well–I guess his novels are unpredictable, just like real life.

There are definitely some deep thoughts, feelings, and life lessons to ponder in this novel.  I don’t know if elementary-age kids will really grasp it all, or if they’ll just think it’s a depressing story.  I came away with a sense of how bleak life is and that our actions are ultimately futile and unimportant.  Steinbeck may have been saying something different–but that was my impression.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading class literature and would like a fuller knowledge of Steinbeck’s work.  I’m not sure that the average reader would enjoy this book.

Possible Objections:

  • A handful of curse words (d-word & J.C.)

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey

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Northanger Abbey is a relatively short and unique book by Jane Austen.  Though it’s not my favorite work of hers, I appreciate the wit and social commentary that went into it.  There are themes that are still applicable today.  In this story, Catherine Morland is a young lady who has no very special traits that would distinguish her from any other girl.  She likes to be outdoors; she dislikes serious reading and adores gothic novels; she is utterly naïve.

When Catherine’s close neighbors go to Bath, she is invited to accompany them.  She enjoys her introduction into city life, and meets a man whom she comes to admire.  His name is Henry Tilney and he has a sister, Eleanor, who befriends Catherine.  Catherine is invited to stay with Eleanor for a visit at the family’s home–Northanger Abbey.  The visit is encouraged by Henry and Eleanor’s father, General Tilney, because he believes Catherine to be a good match for his son.  When he finds out that Catherine is in fact not rich, he kicks her out of the house to make her own way home.

Woven throughout this narrative, there is almost continual irony used to criticize social norms.  We also see Catherine coming of age as she falls in love with Henry.  Finally, Austen comments on the silliness of being obsessed with gothic novels and all of the flights of fancy that ensue.

If you’re looking for an easier way to ease into reading Jane Austen, this would be the book to start with.  I highly recommend this book as a fun, quick read in the classical literature genre.

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Emma by Jane Austen

Emma

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Emma is a romantic comedy of errors that revolves around the main character, Emma Woodhouse.  When Emma’s governess marries, Emma believes herself to have been highly instrumental in making the match.  She subsequently tries her hand at more matchmaking, which ends up going terribly wrong.  Her insight is not nearly as good as she thinks it to be, so she makes some terrible mistakes.  More than once, she steers her friend Harriet to make bad romantic choices.  Not only is Emma clueless when it comes to love, but she is rather neglectful in considering how her actions and words affect others.  When she slights an older lady of reduced means, she comes face to face with her own deficiencies of character.  At this point Emma embarks on a real journey of personal reform.  Mr. Knightley professes his love for Emma toward the end of the novel, so their romance doesn’t take up a lot of the story.

While Emma isn’t my favorite Jane Austen novel, I still enjoy it.  I suppose the reason that I don’t like it quite as much as the others is that this is probably her heroine who makes the most mistakes.  The many social blunders that Emma commits can make for some uncomfortable reading at times.  It’s not that there is anything really awful, it’s just awkward.  It is nice to see her character mature and learn a few life lessons.  The book is both a love story and a coming of age story.  I’d recommend it for advanced teens and adults.  The language and style are advanced.

Possible Objections:

  1. Towards the end, Mr. Knightley tells Emma that he’s been in love with her since she was about thirteen.  At the time the novel was written that may not have been a big deal, but today we call that pedophilia.  That creeped me out a little.

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

 

Until next time…

Lori

 

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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Title: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Premise:

Jane Eyre is an orphan who endures a fair amount of misfortune in her life, yet she takes advantage of the opportunities that come her way.  By getting a good education, she is able to strike off into the world to start her own life.  She ends up as governess for a ward of Mr. Rochester, her eventual love interest.  Through some fairly radical circumstances, Jane and Mr. Rochester are separated, but eventually true love wins out, and they are reunited.  I have omitted a lot of the story, but this gives you the main gist of it.

My thoughts:

This is one of my favorite books.  I go back to read it every few years, as the urge strikes.  Whether for good or bad, I’m a sucker for classic stories that have a romantic twist to them.  This book fits that description, but it’s more complex than your typical love story.

The main characters in this book have a richness and depth that makes them truly lovable.  As you read, you actually begin to care about what happens to them.  I suppose that’s the mark of a good writer–they make you care about the subject matter.  Jane is the underdog, and you will probably find yourself rooting for her success fairly early on.

It’s satisfying to see a plain and rather ordinary heroine triumph over life’s adversities and find happiness in her relationships, as well.  Though Jane has been dealt a bad hand in life, she still has hope that things will turn out better and she’s willing to do what she can to secure some peace and happiness for herself.

I recommend Jane Eyre to all the ladies out there who like an old-fashioned romantic story.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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