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Book Review: “King Solomon’s Mines,” by H. Rider Haggard

Genre: classic; adventure

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Plot Summary: Experienced hunter Allan Quartermain is approached by two gentlemen proposing a search party/treasure hunt into unexplored deepest Africa.  Though he is skeptical about their success, he agrees to accompany them in hopes of leaving a legacy for his son.  Setting out, the trio encounter extremely hazardous conditions in the form of natural phenomenon, climate, and native hostility.  Will they even find what is rumored to have been Solomon’s ancient diamond mines?  Or will they succumb to the dangers along the way?

My Book Review: Oh my.  This is an oldie I’ve had on my list since way back as a mid teenager.  It’s always had this appeal for me as an armchair adventurer.  Ancient treasure, connected to true-life history while at the same time mysterious and mythical, including drama in far-off lands…!  I was finally able to read it this summer and hoped that my thirst for excitement would be fulfilled.

Although the actual story is fictitious, many of the characteristics of the novel are closer to the reality of the time period of which it was written.  It was not uncommon for adventurers to explore Africa in the latter part of the 1800’s, and many ancient secrets and geological treasures were discovered.  Haggard loosely based his characters on people he had met.  I would also like to further read on the topic of Solomon’s mines in particular and have added “In Search of King Solomon’s Mines,” by Tahir Shah to my TBR.

The thing I loved most about this exciting, atmospheric novel was the poetic descriptions of the land and people.  Africa has never been my favorite place to read about, but this book awoke more interest in it for me.  So many curious observations are made by the travelers that it gives the story a feeling of authenticity.  The battle scenes were also most exciting and it was easy to picture Chris Helmsworth as Sir Henry Curtis, standing his ground in battle clothed in ancient chain mail armor and wielding a battle-axe.

I also wondered how much this book might have influenced J. R. R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I could see many similarities between the two.  For instance, SPOILER ALERT: the story starts out with a band of men coming together to start a quest, — a fellowship, if you will.  There is no doubting the three individuals’ sincerity and their implicit trust in each other from the beginning.  The adventurers eventually encounter ‘The Silent Ones’– three gigantic statues that had been carved long ago and set before the entrance to the treasure cave.  Is anybody seeing the Argonath here?  After this, they enter the “Place of Death” (so called by the natives) where they are awed by the enormous cathedral-like caverns underneath the mountain Suliman’s Berg.  I couldn’t help but picture the mines of Moriah.  At last they meet a table surrounded by dead kings of the past.  At this moment I began to picture Dwimorberg and the Paths of the Dead.  Or, Lewis fans might think of the sleeping lords on the island of Ramandu.  Another Narnian similarity I spotted was the underground diggings (of course, common to mines) and the underground lake they fell into while escaping from the treasure cave.  They eventually came to an animal hole in the earth where they popped through.  Reminded me so much of The Silver Chair!  END OF SPOILER

Although there is some sense of ‘white superiority’ on the part of our narrator Quartermain, I was actually surprised at how progressive he was for that time period in how he and his friends came to view the local natives as dear friends, comrades in arms, brothers, and noble people.

This was a book I finished at 12:30 in the morning, so you know I was pretty happy with my reading experience.  I think I will even say it surpassed my hopes!  I can’t wait to watch some film adaptations, although I doubt they’ll be faithful.   If you like your PCness, this won’t be the book for you.  But as I’ve just learned, Haggard was highly respected by the Oxford Inklings after all and one of them (Roger Lancelyn Green) is quoted as praising him “with the highest level of skill and sheer imaginative power.”  Need I say more?  I’m delighted to know there are 14 more books in the series!  What more bizarre situations can Quartermain find himself in?

*One note of caution for parents- a pair of mountains are described by Quartermain as “Sheba’s Breasts” because of their shape.  At times, it seems to go into unnecessary description over it.

Listen to King Solomon’s Mines for free!

 

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Posted by on September 1, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Doctor Thorne,” by Anthony Trollope

Genre: classic; romance

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Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com] “…Doctor Thorne is the compelling story in which rank, wealth, and personal feeling are pitted against one another.  The squire of Greshamsbury has fallen on hard times, and it is incumbent on his son Frank to make a good marriage. But Frank loves the doctor’s niece, Mary Thorne, a girl with no money and mysterious parentage. He faces a terrible dilemma: should he save the estate, or marry the girl he loves? Mary, too, has to battle her feelings, knowing that marrying Frank would ruin his family and fly in the face of his mother’s opposition. Her pride is matched by that of her uncle, Dr Thorne, who has to decide whether to reveal a secret that would resolve Frank’s difficulty, or to uphold the innate merits of his own family heritage.”

My Book Review: I highly enjoyed the second in the Barchester Chronicles series (“Barchester Towers”) about ten years ago, and always meant to return there.  But I wasn’t sure if the characters would be the same and I wasn’t ready for more of Mrs. Proudie!  It turns out, this book isn’t connected very much to the first two Barchester books, except by way of general vicinity.  It could easily be read as a standalone novel.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book over 400 pages and I was afraid of getting stuck halfway through this one.  However, I have been experiencing somewhat of a revival in my reading life and didn’t have a problem, though it took me longer to get through.  Nevermind,– I was just proud of myself for completing it!

Fortunately, Mrs. Proudie stars in only a small cameo appearance.  But we meet other interesting characters, and Lady Arabella and her sister Lady de Courcy take the place as “women who rule the roost”.

I was looking forward to some great Trollope quotes, but alas this story wasn’t as peppered with the same wit as BT.  This story features a sweet love story between two young characters, but the suspense wasn’t enough to really hold fast my attention.  I felt it dragged on a bit too long and I started to become antsy to finish and be on to another book.

Although, I have to say that it makes for wholesome reading, especially in a day and age when couples often prove fickle, take no thought for each other’s future or well being, and do not prove constant.   I think readers will find a wonderful role model for young ladies (or anybody) in the character of Miss Mary Thorne.  Virtues such as faithfulness, sacrifice, and genuine love never go out of style.

I cannot wait to watch the Julian Fellowes’ new film version of the book!  Has anyone watched it yet and what were your thoughts?

 

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Posted by on May 2, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Cranford,” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Genre: classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty’s bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.”

My Book Review: I am one of those who likes to read the book first before they watch the movie.  However, there are some exceptions to the rule, especially if I think I have no interest in reading the book but might bare to find out what it’s about through watching it’s screen adaptation.  Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, and am inspired to go on to read the original.  And that is exactly what happened with “Cranford.”

How interesting could a story be about a small town filled with elderly women? No—I’d loved Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Wives and Daughters,” (both book & film), and I’d planned to read and watch “North and South” (which I did), but Cranford looked too boring.  But I was hard up for a costume drama and had heard good reviews, so I finally caved and immediately fell in love with the movie’s charm.  The music, the characters, the humor… all was to be found in this beautifully directed film, starring Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins.  It was completely darling* and I was converted, determined to read the book.

I realize that the film series is actually based on a collection of Mrs. Gaskell’s smaller works of literature, and I intend to go on to read Mr. Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow.  But in Cranford, I enjoyed reading about the many characters portrayed on screen and all of their eccentricities and habits of living.

“’…as Deborah used to say, we have always lived genteelly, even if circumstances have compelled us to simplicity.’”

One of my favorite parts was reading about Miss Matty’s visit to an old suitor, Mr. Holbrook. The description of his favorite comfortable room is a pleasant takeaway:

“The rest of the pretty sitting-room—looking into the orchard, and all covered over with dancing tree-shadows—was filled with books. They lay on the ground, they covered the walls, they strewed the table.  He was evidently half ashamed and half proud of his extravagance in this respect.  They were of all kinds—poetry and wild weird tales prevailing.  He evidently chose his books in accordance with his own tastes, not because such and such were classical or established favorites.”

SPOILER ALERT: It’s a shame Miss Matty never married him. END OF SPOILER. Obviously the poor lady suffered from a lot of codependence throughout her life, dependent on her parents and her strong-willed sister to make all decisions for her.  She is stretched beyond her comfort zone in an early plot twist that I’ve always regretted as I loved one of the characters who dies unexpectedly.

There are some discrepancies between book and movie. And fortunately in most of them, the movie’s changed elements were for the better.  For example, early on in the book the character of Captain Brown dies whereas in the movie he is a lovable, solid, male character that anchors the episodes.  I was sad to be deprived of him in the book.

However, many of the book’s details (even minute ones) remained intact throughout the series, as indeed much of what makes up Cranford is the beautiful, charming, small events of life. Sucking oranges, lace, and the conservation of candles are recognized and honored.  In fact, I believe I am glad I watched Cranford first before reading the book because it helped me understand some of the historical aspects that I would not have understood from just reading alone.  Conversely, reading about why the ladies went to their individual rooms to eat their oranges made much more sense in the book than watching it.

I mentioned I haven’t read the other two books in the Cranford Chronicles, and since I haven’t I do not know how much of the movie was added to with other characters and plot situations. But it certainly was in keeping with the spirit of Gaskell.  So much so that I can positively say I enjoyed the movie over the book.  Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite movie is, my answer is “Cranford.”

*However, it can always be possible to milk too much of a good thing which is what I believed happened to the second series and I didn’t enjoy it half so much.

Have you seen/read “Cranford”?  What did you think?

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Posted by on March 5, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “John Jago’s Ghost,” by Wilkie Collins

Genre: classic; mystery

*Playlist…

Plot Summary: In need of a vacation, a young English attorney (the narrator of the story) decides to visit extended relations in America.  But upon arriving at the little farm in the countryside, he discovers that all is not right in this tense environment.  There is an all-out war between the elder farmer, his hired hand, and the younger generation of sons.  And a pretty American girl caught in the middle of the drama…

My Book Review: I immensely enjoyed The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.  So, as often is the result of something I love, I went in search of more books by same author.  This is my next foray into the Collins canon.  A novella really, this took no time at all for me to finish; it was a pretty easy read.

I found it moderately interesting, could predict some of what would happen, but novellas and short stories are not really my thing.  I did not realize it was so short when I ordered it through my library system.  But, I read it and was glad to add another title to last year’s list of books read.

Collins paints a good descriptive atmosphere that one could feel.  I like that in a book.  I might forget the details of what happened, but I carry the feel of a story around with me.  I also thought the content gave some fodder for the brain.  SPOILER: Even though the brothers did not commit murder as the town believed, their actions of hatred leading up to the dramatic episode in question reaped hard consequences.  Jago was not physically dead, yet they had ‘murdered him in their hearts’ and were paying the price.  One man lost his fiancé in the whole matter… to another man much more deserving.  END OF SPOILER.

If you want to stretch yourself to read something a little deeper but are not used to thick tomes or heavy vocabulary, I would recommend this book to you.  As an added bonus, the story is loosely based on a true story.  There is benefit to be gained by it, and will not require much time.  Another score in my book for Collins!

*This story also goes by the title, “The Dead Alive.”

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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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More Barchester… Doctor Thorne on BBC

How ironic!  I am just finishing up the Anthony Trollope novel, “Doctor Thorne” and BBC is airing their dramatized version of it!  To listen to it free for a limited time, you can click here.  “Doctor Thorne” is #3 in the Barchester Chronicles series, but I found that it stands on its own pretty well.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Listen to “The Man Who Was Thursday” on BBC

Are you in the mood for a little G. K. Chesterton?  I enjoyed reading “The Man Who Was Thursday” a few years ago (see my book review here), but I am enjoying Geoffrey Palmer’s reading of it even more!  For a limited time, you can listen to it for free on BBC Radio 4.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Movie Review: “Lincoln”

 

3dead818f8bb0491dba54bfac1dd62b2Based on the book, “Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Version: 2012; Daniel Day-Lewis; Tommy Lee Jones; Sally Fields; David Strathairn; Lee Pace; Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Genre: historical drama

Plot Summary: [from IMDb:] As the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not be comparing it to that work.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

I remember reading high praise for this movie when it first came out. Actually, I believe I had my eye on it when it was first announced it was in the making, and Daniel Day-Lewis was cast in the role of Abraham Lincoln.  The similarities between their looks are amazing, but would the movie do history and the man himself justice?

Oh wow. I can’t begin to tell you about the amount of research that went into the creating of this film.  I would love to know more about the ‘making of’ it.  I do know that the actors and actresses really gave this one their all and went into full-depth character to accurately portray these historical people.  Day-Lewis in particular researched Lincoln’s mannerisms, way of walking, speech, and voice in order to become him.

I am not so steeped in Civil War history as to know how many facts in this movie are correct, but I do know that it was inspired by the thoroughly researched book, “Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The author worked closely on the making of the film as well.

LINCOLNActing is top-notch. I really felt as though I were viewing a fragment of my country’s history, and that felt exciting.  Even though I knew how history played out, this movie caused me to doubt for a little bit what would happen.  The behind-the-scenes politics of history made for a tense plot and kept me on the edge of my seat.  In fact, it was so identifiable in this day and age and maybe that’s why I felt nervous for what would happen.

One drawback of the film is that many of the historical facts presented escaped me in one viewing. I will definitely need to rewatch it to glean more from it.  Because of this, I felt somewhat confused and didn’t understand some of the plot structure.

However, I did learn a lot about the genius of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve always had the impression that he was so morally simple as to be sort of uninteresting.  Not so!  This man had a talent given to him by God that he used in the time and position he was placed in.  He was an absolute chess-master at politics, but had a core of integrity that kept him straight and true.  I believe watching this shed some light for me in deciding how to vote this past presidential election.  It also caused me to love a person I’ve never met, and left to wonder why God would allow such a man who did so much good and suffered greatly for it, to die at the hands of an assassin so soon after victory was achieved.

My favorite scene is near the end, with the singing of “Battle Cry of Freedom.” It was so inspiring, and caused me to be grateful to God for His working in our country’s history.  When’s the last time you felt excited about history?

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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