Book Review: The Two Towers

The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings #2
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of The Fellowship of the Ring, this is going to be less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. This is my first time through the trilogy, and I’m listening to the audiobooks, because I don’t think I’d make it through if I was reading. One note about the audiobook–Rob Inglis, the narrator, does a fantastic job! He even sings the songs, and while I suppose it would be strange if the narrator of these books with so many songs didn’t attempt to sing them, I still think it’s particularly neat.

I liked this book more than the previous, as we jump right back into the story. It felt more swiftly paced, too, even during the part where Frodo and Sam were wandering for a while. As with the previous book, my notes on this book are from a standpoint of having seen the movies several times, and I prefer the movie that goes back and forth between the two storylines, rather than showing all of one, then all of another. But I do appreciate that they were written to be two separate books, and then had to be combined into one. I also liked better, in the movie, not knowing that Sam had taken the ring from Frodo when he thought he was dead, or knowing that Sam was even following him, until the right moment.

One of the things I’m getting most out of reading the books after having a cursory understanding of the story from the movies is getting to understand the world and the characters more. For example, I like having a better understanding that Gandalf is something special (celestial, even), not just a simple wizard (whatever that would mean anyway). Also, Gollum is so wonderfully sarcastic in the book, which I just loved!

I know that I’m not going to appreciate these books the way that many others do; I don’t think I’m the right kind of person to really get into the history and depth Tolkien put into his world. But I’m still enjoying them and am glad I’m reading them.

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Book Review: Anne’s House of Dreams

Anne’s House of Dreams
Book #5
by L.M. Montgomery

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

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

After the first book in the series, I have liked each one just a little less than the one before it. It didn’t seem quite the same anymore and also began to feel repetitive. Fortunately, this book brought me back to the love I had for the first book.

It’s not as if there are no more characters or situations that in some way mirror those from earlier books. But there was a lot less of that, and overall, everything felt new and fresh again. I’d say the characters introduced in this book, as well as getting to see Marilla and some of the others a bit more, really made the book for me. Not to mention Gilbert and Anne starting their lives together. I loved Captain Jim and got a kick out of Miss Cornelia, especially the way she and Captain Jim bantered.

Then there’s Leslie Moore. Of all the ways her story could have gone–and I had a few different predictions, believe me–I never imagined that twist.

Overall, I loved this book about as much as I loved the first book in the series. Unfortunately, it only highlighted the slower, drier books in between. I have no idea what to expect of the rest of the books in the series, but I can’t wait to find out.

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Book Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings #1
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

Like with my “review” of The Hobbit, this is going to be my less of a real review and more just my thoughts on my experience with this book. After reading The Hobbit, I knew I had to go on to read the LoTR series. However, I also knew that I would never make it through if I read the text. My sister once suggested listening to the audiobook instead, so though it’s not normally my preferred method of reading a book, I gave it a try. For something like this, it turned out to be great.

As someone who has seen these movies many times, it’s interesting to read the source material. I can also see now how other authors and books I’ve read are very influenced by this series of books. It was again, and even moreso in this book, interesting to get more depth on the story, on the world, and on some of the characters that are in the movies I’ve so enjoyed.

The main downside to me is that it just feels like the adventure takes way too long to get going. The events in the Shire before Frodo even leaves weren’t so bad, but I was astounded by how far into the book I was by the time the Hobbits got to Bree. After that, everything else felt super fast by comparison.

I know my reading of these books will be tainted in many ways by having seen the movies first, but there’s nothing I can do about that. But while I knew some things were made up or expanded in The Hobbit movie, and of course I knew that several events and characters were left out of the LoTR movies, I was surprised by some of it. Frodo selling Bag End was a sad shock. Arwen is barely mentioned in the book, and both Legolas and Gimli feel much less important than the movie makes them to be. And again, the amount of time that passes between plot points just amazed me (Frodo is 50 when he begins the journey!).

I am so glad I read The Hobbit first, too, because it adds a connection and even some emotion to know who Gimli’s father is, to know who Balin is, and to understand a bit more about who the dwarves that died in the Mines of Moria were. It’s also interesting to me that the elves know of Frodo, through Bilbo, and that Frodo even knows some of the elvish language! That’s completely lacking in the movies, but makes total sense, given the events of Bilbo’s adventure.

I’ve already started on The Two Towers, and look forward to finishing the series.

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Book Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

This is not going to be a structured review with a recommendation or warning to stay away. It’s really just going to be my musings on my first foray into written Tolkien. First, let me give a reference point–as I said, I’ve never read any Tolkien before this. I have seen all of the movies, though. I love the LoTR movies, though have only watched the Hobbit movies once. Going into each of these 6 movies as they came out, I knew absolutely nothing about the stories. I know that having seen the movies, though, and fallen in love with some of the characters will taint the reading of the books for the first time. I’m okay with that.

So now, about this book. I decided some time last year to start with The Hobbit, because it’s written for a younger audience. I figured it’d give me an idea of what the LoTR books were like and of whether I even thought I’d be able to read them. Besides, The Hobbit precedes the other books, even if the movies came out in the opposite order. I am so very glad I did it this way. I enjoyed reading The Hobbit, even as I felt that the story meandered more than I would normally prefer. It was really interesting to get more depth on the story, on the world, on some of the characters.

I knew about some of the things that had been made up for the movie, like the female elf and her romance with one of the dwarves (Kili, I think?) or the fact that Legolas was there at all. But I had thought that the Necromancer was created by the movie makers as well, and it was interesting to see that Sauron was, in fact, a background menace in the book after all. No, we don’t follow Gandalf to see him, but he does speak of ousting him from Mirkwood.

I was surprised by how long the party tended to stay places. Days or even weeks on end, before they moved on. And I’ll tell you, Elrond does not seem to be portrayed well in the movies. I like Hugo Weaving, but I remember his Elrond as aloof, even haughty. He’s so much warmer in The Hobbit. But to be fair, I haven’t watched any of the movies for a few years now, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find out I’m remembering many things wrong. For all I know, I’m mashing Elrond together with Agent Smith.

So now that I’ve read this book, I have decided that I must move on to the LoTR books. I know they’ll be longer and probably harder to read, which is why I’m listening to audiobooks instead of reading physical copies (as I did with The Hobbit). I won’t become a lifelong Tolkien fan, I’m sure, but I’m already glad I’ve embarked on this quest.

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Book Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic farce, play

I remember enjoying this when I read it in high school, assigned by our English teacher on the heels of reading, analyzing, and discussing Hamlet. I haven’t read Hamlet since then, but still enjoyed the re-read of this farcical play. A few times I wished I’d better remembered some of the details of what it is set around, but it didn’t detract from my reading too much.

These two bit characters who were sent to spy on Hamlet are now the focal point, while Hamlet, the king, queen, and others of that ilk merely intrude upon Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’s musings. The quick wit, back and forth, and the foreshadowing of the event that the very title lends knowledge to, make this a fun, snappy read. It’s also very meta from time to time, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m sure some of it went over my head, and if I’d read Hamlet more recently, I may have gotten more out of it. But I am still glad I read it again and refreshed my memory of why I think of this book fondly.

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Book Review: Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars
Book #4
by L.M. Montgomery

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

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

This book felt like a way station on the way to the rest of Anne’s life. Maybe that was intentional, but I didn’t feel very present with the story or the characters. And much of the book felt very repetitive, both to itself and to the rest of the series so far, like a rinse and repeat with only the names and locations changed.

I really liked Anne’s home for these three years–Windy Poplars, and the three women that came with it. Rebecca Dew was so much fun, especially in regards to poor Dusty Miller. And the situation with the poor, neglected Elizabeth was just about the sweetest, most heart-warming conclusion to a terrible story arc ever.

However, we get a lot of the same two basic storylines: A) Someone(s) is/are grumpy, unhappy, crabby, etc., whether in general or to Anne specifically. In some due course of time (either quickly or longer-term), Anne basically turns them happier or nicer, simply by being herself. B) Anne meets a woman who is a busybody or simply very chatty, who dominates all conversation for several pages, and something may or may not actually come of the entire situation. Any of these things on their own would not have been bad, and a few of these situations I liked more than the rest. But I feel like there could have been a lot more variety in the overall book and the three years Anne spent at Windy Poplars.

Most of the book is written in epistolary form, letters from Anne to Gilbert as they spend these 3 years apart. I’m not sure there was much reason for that, though, and even though some was written in normal 3rd-person narration, we barely got to see much of Anne’s time back at home. This meant missing out on seeing much of the characters we got to know earlier in the series. But we did see enough to see poor Dora slighted even further. Seriously, Montgomery seems to only have created Dora to give young Davy a target for his mischievousness, and she’s just this after-thought even now, 2 books later.

The series has lost a little of its charm for me, but I think this book was a bit of a departure from the rest of the series. I know it was written after books #5 & 6, so perhaps Montgomery was boxed-in, knowing she couldn’t change the later books, so not much could happen? But it just felt dry compared to the rest of the series so far. Here’s hoping that the next book regains the lovely Anne charm.

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Book Review: North and South

North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Classic, romance

I’ve seen the BBC mini-series of this book several times in the past. I even watched it once with my husband, who appreciated the way that both sides of the labor dispute are presented–both the good and the bad of unions. While I’ve had moderate success in enjoyment of classics in my recent reading, I decided it was time to read the book that inspired a mini-series I love. I’m so glad I did.

One of the things that was great about reading the book is that, as is usually the case with books that are made into movies, mini-series, TV shows, etc., the characters were able to have more depth. We get to read about their thought processes, the reasons behind their actions, which are more difficult to put across on screen. In the case of Thornton, it gave me a lot more insight into his feelings for Margaret. I really appreciated the way he treated her on her dad’s behalf, considering that he saw her as far too good for him and his dirty northern town. And sadly, she didn’t do anything to dispel that feeling.

That is the crux of this story, though, as both sides–the northerners and the southerners–tend to make assumptions about the other, sometimes only due to a cultural difference. Other times due to a shortcoming on someone’s behalf, or simply a bad day.

Unfortunately, I disliked Margaret more by the end of the book than I expected to. While some of the misconceptions are unfounded, she really was quite haughty and seemed even heartless at times, at least in regard to Thornton. As has been the case in the past when I read a book that I have already watched a screen version of, I can’t really say for sure if Higgins would have become such a favorite character of mine as he did, if I hadn’t first seen the mini-series, but I still really liked him in the book. One of my biggest frustrations was that Mr. Hale’s reason for leaving the church is never really expounded upon. I found myself wanting to be able to have my own opinion about how good or bad of a decision it was to uproot his family, but I suppose Gaskell didn’t think it was an important aspect to the story.

I do get why some don’t care for the story. Some compare it to Pride and Prejudice in both positive and negative ways, though I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. While I do sometimes want to sit both Thornton and Margaret down and tell them to stop being stupid and proud, I still quite enjoyed the book and recommend it for any who enjoys romance from this period, and for fans of the mini-series.

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Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Classic sci-fi, dystopian

451

I read this book as a sophomore in high school, 22 years ago. I remember it being one of the easier-to-read classics of my 3 years of Honors English. All I really remembered about it, though, is the basic premise of book burning, the parlor screens, and a vague creepy idea of the Mechanical Hound. After reading it again now, I’m actually surprised that I remember it as a “simple” read, due to the writing style and a plethora of metaphors, but it does probably make a difference when you’re pushed to analyze it after reading each third. I didn’t dissect it for symbolism and analyze every paragraph like I did other classics, though, and I still have the short papers I wrote for assignments about it. It was fun to read those again after reading the book.

As an adult, I see the book differently than I did back then. For one thing, I have come to realize that the book is not about the censorship involved in book burning. The fire captain makes it clear that society turned from books long before it became illegal to own them. Rather, the technology that led them to that point seems to be what is being demonized. I suppose it’s a call to make sure we don’t let it take over our lives.

Though to be honest, I think there’s a mixed message here, because despite the explanation the captain gives, it’s also clear that the government doesn’t want the people thinking for themselves. Wants them distracted while they’re about to go to war–why and with whom, we never know. And due again to the writing style, I am not sure I understand what happened at the very end regarding the war.

I would say a strong theme, which is perhaps more relevant today, is the control the government is able to exert over the people. If the majority of society decides it doesn’t care about books, then those people just don’t read books. Why does that have to lead to books becoming illegal? The government decides that it needs to regulate the people’s “fun” and oppose the potential of anyone offending anyone else at all, and apparently the people let it happen. Especially considering how recently Faber was a professor at a liberal arts school, it’s amazing how quickly it must have happened.

One thing that I was absolutely correct about in remembering this book was how creepy the Mechanical Hound is. I actually had some unpleasant dreams the night in between the two days it took me to read the book this week, and the Hound was a highlight. (I don’t have specific memories of the dreams, but a general understanding that they were related to the book.) It’s seriously disturbing.

In the end, for me, at least, this book doesn’t hold up as the classic it’s hailed as. It’s not a bad story, but I don’t know that it’s worth studying or holding up as a warning. Between this and Ender’s Game, maybe I’m just not a fan of classic sci-fi.

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Book Review: Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island
Book #3
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic, coming of age

Anne 3

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

This book takes us through 4 years of college with Anne and her school and housemates. She makes new friends, experiences loss, runs from love, and finds comfort at home. Relationships form and blossom, and life continues on all around her.

There’s a lot to love about this book. The characters are written with the same heart as the previous books, and even Marilla has an outwardly loving moment. Davy is not as terrible as he was in the previous book, though Dora is still basically nothing. I will say that there has become a kind of repetition among the characters. Many newly introduced characters seem a lot like those that were larger in previous books. Phil, for example, is a lot like Ruby (and wow with what happened there). Even Patty’s Place has some similarities to Echo Lodge. However, the charm is still there.

There are some things that happen in this book that seem like a cliche, but I can forgive that, because this book was written before they became such cliches. Anne has started to become a little too perfect and loved by all, but it seems kind of natural, rather than forced. There are quite a few romances going on in this book, which I personally enjoyed quite a bit. 

Because of how quickly these books speed through time, I echo Anne’s sentiment that it’s sad people have to grow up. Characters come and go so much, it’s hard to get attached to any of them. Still, there are a few permanents, and at the end of this book, because of the writing and dialog style I was so immersed in by then, the word “sweetheart” seemed like a whole new word when it was used. I’m a little less excited about continuing the series than I was up to this point, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what happens to Anne next.

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Book Review: Anne of Avonlea

Finished Reading: Anne of Avonlea
Book #2
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

AoA

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

No longer a child, Anne Shirley starts a new adventure as the schoolteacher in Avonlea. Fortunately (for us, not for her), she still gets into scrapes, has adventures, and meets interesting people. We follow Anne through 2 years as teacher, starting with her first terrifying day. During this time, Green Gables becomes the home for 2 young orphans, who present a whole new challenge to Marilla.

I had anticipated this book being not as wonderful as the first, considering that plenty of the charm of the first was wrapped up in Anne’s childish nature. Not only has she grown and matured, she’s also been “raised” to be more proper. Still, her spirit and imagination were there, and she met other kindred spirits to provide some of that as well.

I did not care for the twins that Marilla took in, not just because Davy was such a handful, but also because Dora was…nothing. It seemed as if the author only gave Davy a twin so that he would have a target for his shenanigans, but she forgot to develop the sister, and thus, she became boring to the author, and likewise to the other characters. They liked Davy more because he needed them more (because he was a terror), and Dora was so good she had no imagination. So basically, if she’d acted up a little more, or made more mistakes, she’d be more interesting. Just…no.

The storyline with Miss Lavender is cute and sweet. I loved the way Paul Irving keeps saying, “You know, Teacher,” to Anne (and a few times, he said the same basic thing to someone else) to show that they were so similar in spirit. J.A. Harrison’s storyline was a little bizarre, yet came out nicely.

These books meander so, with time sprawling across the pages, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the plot of a single book. But the overall plot seems to be the life of this orphan girl as she learns who she is, how to navigate life, and what she might want to do someday. I’m looking forward to reading about the next chapter of Anne’s life.

Side note: I have now purchased 5 out of 6 of the “main storyline” of this series. I didn’t really intend to, especially as I haven’t read enough yet to know if anything past the first one will be worth owning. But I have taken a lot of trips to Half Price Books over the last 3 months, and so often find one or two of these in the clearance section. It’s hard to pass it up for $1…

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