“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit.

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This one was first published in 1847, so I’m not going to worry about spoilers with my review. And if you haven’t guessed it, this was my pick for this year’s #SummerClassic.

The story takes place in roughly five places. The first is the mansion of Jane’s aunt, where the orphaned Jane lives with her aunt, three spoiled cousins, and various servants. The family of the house treats Jane like a second-class citizen, and she is utterly miserable. Around the age of ten, she is sent away to a boarding school. At first, this stage of her life looks like it will be just as miserable as the first. But, Jane proves herself and actually ends up thriving at the school. She even goes on to teach there for 2 years after she finishes her schooling. But eventually, she wants to see more of the world, and interact with other people.

This brings her to Thornfield, where she is hired as a governess to a young French girl who is the ward of the master of this old mansion. She befriends the girl, and several servants there, but the master of the house is initially absent. She eventually does meet Mr. Rochester in an eventful scene, where he injures himself making his way home.

Jane and Mr. Rochester strike up an odd relationship (in my mind). They enjoy each other’s conversations, in part because they feel they can be honest with each other – including being a little antagonistic at times. In fact, Rochester pretends to be engaged to someone else for almost a month just to see if Jane will be jealous.

Jane is in love with him, but doesn’t really consider herself lovable. So it’s quite a shock to her when he asks her to marry him. She does say yes, though.

Here’s the thing: we’re only 55% through the book at this point. So is the back half her married life? Nope.

All along, something’s been weird at Thornfield. Jane assumed it was one crazy servant named Grace, and couldn’t understand why Rochester was protecting her (not firing her, or wanting to talk about it). Then, as Jane and Rochester are about to be married, we learn that… he is already married! And the first wife is both crazy and locked upstairs at Thornfield. Grace, in fact, is actually her caretaker.

So the next morning, before anyone else is awake, Jane runs away. She spends a few days on the road, but eventually finds shelter with some siblings who are just a bit older than her – two sisters and one brother – and their sole servant. The brother is a local minister, and has recently set up a girls’ school, so Jane ends up working there. She eventually comes to learn, through the passing of a distant uncle, that these three are her cousins. They also inherit money from the uncle, which changes her circumstances.

In the year or so she lives with her cousins, she does write to Thornfield to check on Rochester, but no one answers. Her male cousin is pressuring her to go to India as a missionary with him, and she is conflicted about it. She decides she needs to know for sure what happened to Mr. Rochester before she can decide on leaving the country. So she heads back to find that the mansion had burned down not long after she left. The crazy wife set the fire, and did not survive the incident. Most of the inhabitants have gone on to different places, while Mr. Rochester – now blind – lives with just two servants in a nearby cottage.

Jane finds him there, and they finally marry. She lives the rest of her days with him, but continues to see her cousins semi-regularly. The male one does travel to India, so she only hears from him by mail. We learn that Jane is telling this story ten years into her married life, so she is only about 30 years old at the time, but that is where this story ends.

This was my first foray into any of the works of the Bronte sisters! Having finally read it, my question for you, readers, is… is there a particular movie version you love that I should check out? Hit me with the recommendations!


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“Flappers and Philosophers” by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Review

By: Angie Haddock


By the Irish American Jazz Age novelist and short story writer regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. Flappers and Philosophers (1920) was his first collection of short stories.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald is known now for his great novels – notably, “The Great Gatsby,” “This Side of Paradise,” or “The Beautiful and the Damned” – but in his own time, he was known largely for writing short stories. These were often published in weekly or monthly newspapers and magazines, but some were also compiled into books after they’d been published.

Such is the case with this tome, “Flappers and Philosophers,” which was first published in 1920. The individual stories would have all been written some time before that date – and it shows.

Some of the language here is downright cringe-worthy for people reading today, especially when he’s referring to people of color, foreigners, and women. But, as they say, it was a different time.

The other factor here that made me roll my eyes is that almost every story starred a girl of nineteen years, who was wise beyond her years and beautiful with one quirky factor – maybe gray or violet eyes, for example. That set-up got old fast.

But, if you can get past the biases of the time, the stories are all pretty good. There are eight in total, and most of them have a twist near the end. Fitzgerald’s writing is beautiful and poetic in places, which serves as a reminder of why his works are still read at all.

To give you an idea of what’s included, the stories here are titled: The Offshore Pirate, The Ice Palace, Head and Shoulders, The Cut-Glass Bowl, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Benediction, Dalyrimple Goes Wrong, and The Four Fists.

Some topics are classics of Fitzgerald’s writing, like the differences in ideas between people who have money and who don’t. He also pits other ideologies against each other, such as those of Northerners an Southerners. One character falls into a life of crime. Religion, war, and how flappers wear their hair are concerns of other characters. In one of my favorites, a husband gives up his writing career to better take care of his wife… only to see her start a writing career while staying home, and eventually make more than he does.

A book of eight short stories is easy to get through, but do go in knowing that these are over 100 years old.


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“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan, has arrived in this verdant corner of Prince Edward Island only to discover that the Cuthberts—elderly Matthew and his stern sister, Marilla—want to adopt a boy, not a feisty redheaded girl. But before they can send her back, Anne—who simply must have more scope for her imagination and a real home—wins them over completely. A much-loved classic that explores all the vulnerability, expectations, and dreams of a child growing up, Anne of Green Gables is also a wonderful portrait of a time, a place, a family… and, most of all, love.

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I read this one in July as my #SummerClassic pick. It was originally published in 1908, and, according to Wikipedia, has been translated into 36 languages. A quick google search shows that various sites list it as being appropriate for children in the 8-12 range, which puts it squarely in the “middle grade” category. Nevertheless, this was my first time reading it!

One of the first things I found interesting in this book was the setting – Prince Edward Island. The only place I’ve visiting in Canada so far is Toronto, but I love cold weather, and have always felt like this region – on the Atlantic coast, just north of Maine – would be a lovely place to visit.

The story itself begins not from Anne’s perspective, but from that of a nosy neighbor watching Matthew Cuthbert leave town. We then learn that he and his sister, Marilla, are looking to adopt a boy of around 12 years old, to help with their farm. Neither of the Cuthberts married or had children of their own. Of course, we already know that their plan is going to get thrown off track when Matthew finds a girl waiting for him instead.

Anne is very imaginitive. This quality adds some pep into the Cuthbert’s formerly quiet life, but it also gets Anne into trouble fairly regularly. She loves trees and flowers, and delights in all things that bloom around Green Gables and the neighboring land. She is also overly concerned with the fact that her hair is red – a bad omen, in her mind.

The earlier chapters of the book go into many details of her adventures, and each one is likely to discuss only one incident at a time. Anne goes to both regular school and Sunday school – a first, in her life – and makes many friends and frenemies. We really get a feel for everyday life at the Cuthbert’s, and in the town in general.

The later chapters start to hurry things up a bit, as Anne goes off to college for a year and hopes to be a teacher. Some of them cover a whole season at a time. She initially wins a scholarship to go to an even better school, but tragedy strikes as Matthew passes away unexpectedly while she is home for the summer. Marilla’s eyesight is also failing, and Anne learns that she intends to sell the farm. Having none of that, Anne foregoes another year of school, and gets hired on to teach in town starting that fall. She cajoles Marilla into letting her support her in this way, instead of selling Green Gables.

This was a fun read, and recaptures some of the beauty of being a child with nothing to entertain you but your own imagination – and maybe some willing friends.


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“Dawn” by Octavia E. Butler – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before.

Goodreads


I read this with my online book club, as our last selection for our #DiverseSFF reads. I couldn’t let a whole six months go by without tackling some Octavia Butler – and I had never read her, myself! She is considered by many to be the mother of afrofuturism – or, black authors writing black and African stories and main characters in science fiction.

This one was not one of her earliest, although it is the first book of a trilogy. It was first published in the late 80s, and members of my group saw similarities to Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti” series. I also thought it reminded me of the TV series LOST at some points. So, it’s probably safe to say that it influenced various things that came after it.

The story begins with Lilith waking up alone in a room. She goes through this scenario multiple times, with slightly different results. She has captors, who she can talk to, but she can’t see them initially. At one point, she is given a companion for a short period. She always ends up being put back to sleep, and being awakened again.

In the next portion of the book, Lilith finally gets to meet her captors – the Oankali. Earth was ravaged by a large scale war, and these interstellar travelers have taken many survivors onto their ship while working on rehabilitating the planet. While the humans have been in stasis, the Oankali have been studying their genetic code. Their species trades in this information, and has survived by integrating bits of other genetic code with their own – and vice versa. They tell Lilith that she had a genetic predisposition to cancer, which they have cured for her. While she eventually learns to communicate and live with them, she never fully trusts them – and sometimes thinks they did other experiments on her.

While she is living among the Oankali, Lilith learns that she has been chosen to train a group of humans to return to Earth. She does not want this position, but has no choice in the matter. And, of course, she does want to return to Earth herself. So, she learns what she is supposed to do.

In the next part of the book, she starts awakening other humans, and trying to teach them what they need to know to return to Earth. They don’t trust her, thinking she is too tight with their captors. The humans fight and break into factions – and it’s at this point that I start feeling the LOST vibes.

Those carry over into the last part, where the humans inevitably have to fend for themselves in a jungle environment to prove that they’re ready to go back to a wild and uncolonized version of Earth.

So, I’ve mentioned a lot of the major plot points here without going into the interior struggles and ethical debates that these events bring up. And those are really the things that make you think, even after you set the book down.

One of the key ideas that my fellow readers latched on to was the idea of consent… Lilith and her fellow humans are entering into a relationship with the Oankali in which they will be expected to trade their own genetic code. And, in reality, the Oankali have already taken it. So, how much agency do these humans have over what happens next? The Oankali think of themselves as saviors more than captors – the Earth was rendered inhabitable, after all. But the humans pretty much have to play by their rules if they ever want to see Earth again.

These are just a few of the concepts that are ripe for debate within this story. At roughly 250 pages, it’s succinct and effective. If you are a fan of science fiction, you will probably find a lot here to chew on.


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“Old Christmas” by Washington Irving – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


Old Christmas is a tale of the quaint and old English traditions of celebrating Christmas. Irving travels to the English countryside and meets an old schoolmate, who invites him home to spend Christmas at the family estate.

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I’m a big fan of Christmas, but admittedly I’d never read much Christmas-related material. There’s no time like the present, though?

If the name Washington Irving sounds familiar, it’s because he wrote “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He was American, but this story takes place in England.

The first part is the author/narrator philosophizing on how great old Christmas traditions were, many of which were falling out of fashion. (One has to wonder what he’d think of Christmas today!) The story is told in first person, and the narrator is traveling. He comments on the scenery and other travelers, and then is invited by one Frank Bracebridge to join him at his father’s estate to celebrate Christmas the “old-fashioned” way.

The rest of the story goes through the festivities of the night of their arrival, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. There are many foods and drinks described – did you ever want to know what goes in wassail? – as well as clothes, songs, and church outings.

Some charming passages:

“…they bring with them the flavour of those honest days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the world was more home-bred, social, and joyous than at present.”

“I do not know a grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full choir and pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant harmony.”

“If, however, I can by any lucky chance, in these days of evil, rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human nature, and make my reader more in good humour with his fellow-beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not have written in vain.”

As is always the case when reading an older text, there were various words I had to look up. But something else I found interesting was that, once upon a time in England, Christmas had been banned! (Read more about that here and here, if you’re so inclined.) I find this whole thing funny, since so many overly-enthusiastic evangelicals think there’s a “war on Christmas” in our times.

This is a short read and, as long as you’re ok with some old language, a sweet and warm little story.


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