Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Literary classic

Like so many people, I read this book in high school. Unlike most of the other books I read for assignments then, I liked this one and remember being able to understand the symbolism and themes better than I could in most of the others. This is the first time I’ve read it since then and the first time reading it for fun, rather than for an assignment, and I doubt that, as a teenager, I was as frustrated by the society presented in this book as I was when reading it this time.

Atticus Finch is shown to be a man who bucks society, making it clear to his children and community that he will do the right thing, no matter what others say, and that he does his best to love everyone, no matter the color of their skin. It’s clear that he doesn’t like things the way that they are and would change them if he could. But why he doesn’t stand up to his sister more, I don’t understand. Why it’s never addressed that she is the one who gave her grandson terrible things to say about Atticus, which were then repeated to Scout, causing Scout to react, I don’t know. I understand that Atticus is a single parent just trying to do the best he can to raise two kids and work a difficult job, and that might be enough reason to still allow is sister to move into his house and help with the kids. Perhaps he never fully understands that any of that is happening, since the kids try to protect him by not telling him everything, but on the other hand, it’s also clear that he knows more than they think he does.

That’s the extent of my rant for this book, and it’s not really a complaint about the book (much). It’s frustration at how slowly things change in a society. The book itself is beautifully written, though, and really immerses the reader in the 1930s south. While some of part 1 seems unnecessary at the time, it all goes into building the characters and the town (which is like a character itself), and much of it comes back up again in some way in part 2. I do wish that both Boo Radley’s arc and the aftermath of Tom Robinson’s outcome had been expanded on a bit more by the end, though.

If you haven’t read this book and aren’t sure if you should, I suggest you check it out. If you haven’t read it since high school, consider reading it again some time, without the assignments to go along with it.

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Book Review: Winnie-the-Pooh

Winnie-the-Pooh
by A.A. Milne
narrated by Joel Froomkin

My rating (for this version): 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic

It can be difficult to review a beloved classic, and that is the case for this book, even though I haven’t read it before myself. I’ve read parts, but never the whole thing. Of course, I’ve seen many of the different cartoons, especially the older ones that were more based on this book. So it was nice to read it all the way through and see the source material for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

My rating is specific to the audiobook version releasing from Dreamscape Media in 2022. The story itself was wonderful, and the narrator did an overall great job. Of course, it can be difficult to let go of the voices we’re used to after so many viewings of the movies and television show, but I did my best not to compare it to that, as that really wouldn’t be fair. For most of the characters, and for the narrator voice itself, I thought it was done well. My only issue was with his voice for Piglet, which was a little unpleasant.

Thank you to Netgalley and Dreamscape Media for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date for this version: January 4, 2022

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Book Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Chronicles of Narnia #3 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

This is my favorite of the series so far. There’s so much adventure to get caught up in, even if one doesn’t look past the surface, and it’s full of magic and fun. It was nice to be able to see characters from the previous book this time (besides the Pevensies and Aslan), namely Caspian and Reepicheep, and the search for the seven Narnian lords who’d been sent off into the east was an good backdrop to the story.

The end to the story was emotional, and I really felt for the Pevensies in their loss. I wonder if it’s similar to what the disciples must have felt when Jesus left them on Earth. My favorite part of the book, though, was Eustace’s arc. It was brilliant, a true redemption story, and even realistic in that he certainly wasn’t perfect afterward, but he certainly was changed. While I’m sure I’ll need to go back through the series again to catch things I didn’t pick up on this first time through, I loved this book and am curious to see how things will change with the four Pevensies all “retired.”

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Book Review: Skylark

Skylark
Sarah, Plain and Tall
#2

by Patricia MacLachlan

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

While Sarah settles into her new home, the looming drought makes her miss her home in Maine more and more. The children, especially little Caleb, worry that this means Sarah won’t be happy with them. The drought eventually poses enough danger, not just due to lack of water, but also due to fire outbreaks and thirsty coyotes, that Jacob sends his new wife and 2 children to Sarah’s family in Maine while he stays to try to take care of the land.

After how much we both enjoyed the first book and subsequent movie-watching, my daughter and I both listened to the audiobook for the 2nd installment in the series, since it was narrated by Glenn Close, who played Sarah in the movies. I liked the second book as much as the first—it’s sweet and emotional, and I’m surprised how attached I can get to characters in such a short story. The author’s style of short, simple sentences makes the reading even quicker, but I never felt like it was lacking.

Caleb remains an incredibly curious and insightful little kid, as shown through the POV of his big sister. And I loved the juxtaposition of the Midwest and New England area, seen a little through Sarah’s explanations in the first book, but shown more fully in this one. My daughter (age 11) and I really enjoyed listening to this book and look forward to watching the movie.

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Book Review: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia #2 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

This is my first foray into The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve seen the movies (or at least some of them), but only once when they first came out, and don’t remember much about the movie based on this book. This is yet another series I wish I’d read when I was younger; I have a feeling I would have liked it more as a kid. Overall, I enjoyed it a little more than the previous book. Maybe that’s because the Pevensies aren’t newcomers to Narnia anymore, but I think it’s more due to the Narnians that they encounter this time. Reepicheep made my heart melt!

The story involving Caspian, as well as Peter and Edmund’s additions to the conflict, I enjoyed. I’ve never been one for reading battle sequences, so I appreciated that most of the fighting was summarized. Even the one full fight that was shown had a lot of interjection by other characters, so it was more fun than it probably should have been. I was not a fan of the sequence of events that followed Susan, Lucy, and Aslan as they gathered up the rest of the Old Narnians. It all felt a little strange to me and made me wonder what the purpose of it was. Most of what was shown didn’t really affect the rest of the story much.

It is possible I misinterpreted parts of this book, though it is meant for readers more like my daughter’s age, and I doubt she will get bigger meaning out of it than I did when she reads the book. However, aside from those areas, I enjoyed the book overall and think she will too.

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic romance

My first exposure to Pride and Prejudice was from an episode of Wishbone when I was a teenager, but since then, I’ve not seen or read anything related to it. So overall, I went into the story not knowing a whole lot. Overall, I enjoyed the story, though the language certainly did slow me down at times. While there are some things about life back in those days I almost wish we still did today, I’m really glad that some things are different. Not that a family’s reputation can’t be soured at all by one person in the family, but it’s definitely not nearly as big of a deal these days.

The characters are what stand out to me the most about the story. The plot is a bit slow, especially in the first half, but I really liked getting to know the characters. Mr. Bennett hits the ground running with his snarky jokes in the first chapter. I don’t really understand why so many people love Mr. Darcy from the moment he first appears, but by the end, I certainly saw the strength of his character. Both of the Darcy siblings are so shy and introverted, I really connected with them. And Elizabeth may jump to some unfair conclusions about Mr. Darcy, but I don’t know that I can say I wouldn’t have done the same.

In the end, I think I would have been better off listening to an audiobook, and may do so in the future. I didn’t think it was bad, by any means (I gave it 4 stars, after all), but I wonder if I’d enjoy it more if I wasn’t slowing down so often to stumble over the old-fashioned language.

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Book Review: Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moon
Book #1
by L.M. Montgomery
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

When Emily’s only remaining parent, the father she is very close to, dies, she is taken in by 2 aunts on her mother’s side. Aunt Elizabeth doesn’t really want her and only takes her because the lot fell to her. Aunt Laura is at least kind to Emily, but overall, her mother’s side of the family are proud, snobby people who strongly disliked Emily’s father and disdain their niece. Emily’s new classmates also treat her badly because of her proud family. Emily learns to cope with her difficulties by writing to her late father, pouring out her sadness and frustrations.

After reading the Anne of Green Gables books by the same author, this book is considerably darker, sadder, even somewhat depressing. For all the times I was surprised to see how terribly some of the people of this time period acted, especially older women, in the Anne books, a few of the characters in this book made my jaw drop. There is some charm to the story, and Emily herself is quite deep and introspective. She also can be brash and quick-tempered. I liked the way she was able to get past certain injustices or clashes with other people by simply writing about them. Though she bordered on mean when she described people in her writing at times.

There are some bright spots in her life–friends she made, for instance. I think Perry was my favorite, because though he is uncouth, he is also super kind and protective of Emily, who, frankly, could use a protector. He may have taken it a step too far now and then, but that seems to describe a lot of the characters in this book. One thing I really liked was that Emily was so terribly upset over what she was told Ilse’s mother had done, considering that that kind of thing seems so commonplace now. I’d love to go back to a time when it’s seen as a terrible, even unlikely thing. The outcome to that story arc, though, was…bizarre, is all I can really say.

I kind of get the feeling that I might like this series more as it goes, which would be completely the opposite of the Anne series, where I started to like each book less after the first one. However, I’m not completely sure if I’ll continue the series.

Extra note for the audiobook version I listened to: Overall she made the main voices distinct enough from each other, but there were times when she read the letters Emily wrote to her father where she would simply neglect to put any real emotion or inflection into parts. It could have been better.

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Book Review: Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall
Book #1
by Patricia MacLachlan

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

Anna and Caleb have had no mother for 6 years, as theirs died the day after Caleb was born. When their father decides to place an advertisement for a wife and mother, Sarah Wheaton answers it, coming from her home in Maine to visit the Whittings in Kansas to see if they’re a good fit.

I remember watching the movies with Christopher Walken and Glen Close when I was younger and liking them. I was surprised to see how short the book is, and I wondered how much depth it could really have. When my daughter read it recently and pushed me to read it too, so we could then watch the movie together, I was really glad I did. For being so short, it’s very charming and sweet. Because it’s so short, there is little in the way of character development, but I still felt like I got a good enough feel for them.

As the kids grew more and more attached to Sarah, Anna worried that she wouldn’t stay, and Caleb kept looking for clues that she would. I loved how he’d say things like, “Sarah said ‘later.’ That means she’ll stay.” The worry about her missing the sea too much to stay, and the culmination of that along with Caleb hoping she’d bring the sea with her from Maine, made for a great ending to the book. I loved it and look forward to reading the next book.

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Book Review: Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters
by Elizabeth Gaskell
read by Nadia May

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic Victorian literature

When 17-year-old Molly Gibson’s long-widowed father remarries, she gains a step-mother and step-sister, the latter of which is near her age. However, she now has to share her father and defer to her new mother, both things that are completely foreign to her. There are some clashes beyond that, though, as step-sister Cynthia, who becomes Molly’s dear friend, is keeping secrets that will shock the entire town of Hollingford. As Molly matures into a woman, she befriends the Hamley family with their two young, eligible sons, and Lady Harriet, much to the chagrin of Molly’s new mother.

This book is long, originally written as a serial of shorter parts for publication in a magazine, and it does tend to meander a bit, without seeming like there’s much of a central plot at first. However, once things pick up a few chapters in, I found almost every bit of it interesting, even if it didn’t seem to add to a main plot. There are so many things happening, probably because the story was meant to be more of a snapshot of everyday life at the time, rather than a single, solid novel. Yet with all of that, I was never bored (well, maybe when someone’s style of dress was described or when Molly’s step-mother Hyacinth’s thoughts about someone or something was explained). I think that is mostly because the characters were so well written, I enjoyed following them through this life they were living. I really liked Molly, but also loved her father, the town doctor who was an incredibly wise and caring man. And Squire Hamley, for all his blustering and cultural prejudices, found his way into my heart.

Cynthia is probably the most complex character–I’m not sure she knew her own mind for more than a moment at a time. The exploration of what a child who was raised by a single mother who showed no love or affection would grow into was fascinating, even as she drove me crazy. But I felt for her. While she did make her own choices, and as she grows older will be held more and more accountable for them, she didn’t enter into womanhood with a very good example. Hyacinth was a selfish, uncaring individual, bordering on sociopathy, really. Her utter lack of empathy and penchant for manipulation were very well written, though, and are a large part of the reason it seems, in a way, that Cynthia never had a chance to be normal.

I know that if I had been reading the text, rather than listening the audiobook, it would have taken me a lot longer to finish this book. However, of all of the audiobooks I’ve listened to in the last several months that I’ve started opening myself up to them more, this was the first one that I felt a strong desire to come back to whenever I could, rather than simply putting it on when doing the activities that allow me the chance to listen. This is mostly because of the story itself, of course, but I also want to be clear that Nadia May did a superb job with the narration. The way she differentiated all of the larger characters was astounding, and I especially loved her voice for Mr. Gibson (Molly’s dad). There were times that I’d get so caught up in it that I’d completely forget this was one person doing all of the voices. This is my second read by Elizabeth Gaskell, and I think I liked it a little more than North and South, which really surprised me. Though I do still prefer the North and South mini-series to the one based on this novel, but I’m probably biased there for reasons I won’t get in to right now.

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Book Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Chronicles of Narnia #1 (original order)

by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

This is my first foray into The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve seen the movies (or at least some of them), but only once when they first came out, and don’t remember much past the first one. So overall, this will all be very new for me. This is yet another book I wish I’d read when I was younger; I have a feeling I would have liked it more as a kid. Overall, I did enjoy it, but it was a lot shorter and shallower than I would have expected it to be. Be aware, there will likely be spoilers ahead.

I can appreciate the parallel to Christ in Aslan, though I went into the story expecting the entire thing to be an allegory, just from things I’ve heard. So some things really confused me, like Father Christmas showing up and giving everyone gifts. Or the kids needing to fight against the witch and her army, weakening her before Aslan could then defeat her. However, I’m understanding more that the entire book (and series) was not necessarily meant to be an allegory, even while one can certainly draw a Christ-like parallel in Aslan’s actions in this book. That does change my perspective on it after the fact.

Now to Edmund…oh, Edmund…he’s a bit of a brat, even before he betrays his siblings, but I kinda get it. He’s a middle child and struggling to find a place under his big brother. I’m in the same position in my family of 4 kids and definitely remembering struggling sometimes to feel special (though I have all sisters, we did not always get along at all). Of course it seems as though he went too far, though we’re supposed to understand he was under some sort of enchantment. His mental reasoning, though, as he prepared to betray his siblings, sounded less like enthrallment and more like sibling rivalry to me. In the end, though, I did like how the entire thing turned out.

As soon as I finished this book, I recommended it to my 10-year-old daughter. I can see similarities in it to books that she has already read and enjoyed, so I think she’ll love it. I’m looking forward to hearing her thoughts; it’s always fun when we both read and enjoy the same books and then get to talk about them, and I see that being a possibility with this series.

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