February was another awesome reading month! I finished The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, as well as The Reluctant Godfather by Allison Tebo, Dissemble by Sarah Addison-Fox, and read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain for #AuthorBookClub on Twitter. As usual, it was a pleasant mix of the old with the new. If you haven't checked out any of these authors yet, do! Twain and Dickens have stood the test of time for their wit, while Allison and Sarah are bringing new life to the independent writing scene.
The Pickwick Papers
My rating: ★★★
[Minor spoilers ahead.]
In all honesty, this is a hard book both to rate, and to review! It had some truly wonderful moments, but it also had a lot of slow and “meh” moments too. (Although even the “meh” was carried off with characteristic Dickens wit, which made even that not seem too terrible.)
Being that this is my first experience with the work of a much younger Dickens, I was impressed with how closely it resembled his later writings, albeit with more humor and more rambling with less point. The beginning of The Pickwick Papers sort of reminded me of A Tale of Two Cities, since it was a bunch of seemingly random scenes thrown together, but unlike A Tale of Two Cities, most of them remained just that… random. (Although it’s important to take into consideration the fact that this was serialized in a newspaper, and therefore reading it all at once is an entirely different experience than that had by the original readers.)
The latter half of the book was better thought-out, however, and was altogether more satisfying, and there was even a point at about the three-quarters mark that I thought I’d have to rate it four stars instead of three if it kept up its wonderfulness to the end. Unfortunately, it didn’t. [Here come the minor spoilers!] The part I’m speaking of was when Mr. Pickwick found himself landed in a Debtor’s Prison. Charles Dickens knew something about this subject, since his father was arrested and sent to one when he was 12, and it shows in the heart put into those chapters. They were the most serious in the entire book, and beautiful in a horrible and sad kind of way.
And Sam. Can we just talk about Sam Weller for a minute? He was Mr. Pickwick’s servant for most of the book, but I have officially come to the conclusion that all the best sidekicks are named Sam. He was a young man, but had a good head of rock-solid common sense, and a funny mode of speech that he inherited from his father, full of halfway macabre anecdotes and hilarious sayings. I can’t say that Mr. Pickwick, like Frodo, wouldn’t have got far without Sam, but he was close. Sam’s most shining moment was when he followed Mr. Pickwick to prison and indebted himself so that Mr. Pickwick couldn’t tell him to leave. They were both there by choice, and though Mr. Pickwick was an older man, Sam still had his whole life ahead of him—yet he chose to stay with “the governor.”
The reason I gave it three stars, however, is that it may have been awesome in serialized segments, but all at once it seems a bit fragmented and rambles a lot. Now, obviously, I don’t mind a little rambling, since I usually love Dickens, but rambling without a purpose is annoying. I also have my doubts as to whether anyone knew what the meaning of a non-alcoholic drink was (except for the ladies, who drank tea only to "lay the foundation" for spirits, as Mr. Weller senior put it), since there was a ridiculous amount of drinking in this book, a lot of d--ning, as well as kissing without being married or even engaged, several mentions of unfaithfulness, and a couple awkward scrapes with a man and a woman (one of which lands Mr. Pickwick in the Debtor’s Prison, because he loses in the court and refuses to pay up because he knows he’s innocent.)
On the other hand, however, I will now know what the March girls were thinking of when they decided to make up their own Pickwick Club in Little Women. (I love it when classics recommend other classics, don’t you?) :P It’s a book that leaves you feeling as if you’ve traveled a long way with Mr. Pickwick and Co., and drops you gently off with a satisfying but practical happily-ever-after sort of ending.
The Reluctant Godfather
My rating: ★★★★★
Well, that was glorious! I’m left wondering why I didn’t read The Reluctant Godfather sooner. It’s a quick read, but surprisingly weighty for its briefness, yet hilariously light-hearted at the same time. (And witty—so witty! Burndee’s mental process had me laughing out loud several times.)
Speaking of which, Burndee, the main character, is a gift to mankind. No, really. He’s grumpily kind-hearted, and those characters are often the absolute best, because they’re relatable. Very few of us are naturally upbeat like Ella—and watching Burndee go from a very reluctant godfather that wonders why anyone would ever want him, to genuinely caring about his wards and desiring their welfare even when he makes mistakes in the process—well, it was beautiful. Also, he bakes. A baker myself, this scored instant points. :P
And the romance! The Reluctant Godfather contains the sweetest little love story you ever did see. It didn’t wallop you across the head with over-the-top sentimentality (or worse), but it felt real and natural, and I was immensely satisfied by how it all turned out. (<— Although that might just be the understatement of the century. I built my ship and sailed it, too.) xD
This book is also squeaky clean, as far as I can recall, unless you count the underlying problem of Prince Colin being forced to marry (thus the familiar ball), in order to produce an heir. Other than that, there’s nothing in the way of objectionable content! My only criticism is that sometimes the dialogue tags were a tad awkward in my opinion. (Example: characters sometimes enthused their dialogue.) That’s kind of nitpicky though, and didn’t really get in the way of my enjoyment.
To use Burndee’s words: The Reluctant Godfather is... neat. Go read this neatness. You won’t regret it!!
Dissemble (Allegiance #2)
My rating: ★★★★
~ I received a free ARC in exchange for an honest review ~
Dissemble takes the world that we were introduced to in Disowned and builds upon it in a realistic and familiar way. We’re reintroduced to Celeste and Mick, as well as the rest of the Haynes family, plus a whole new cast of characters that add brand-new intrigue to the storyline.
Along the way Celeste is forced to confront her past, and her relationship with a certain *cough* corporal blossoms. Honestly, this was a book that I found hard to put down! There was always a new “loop” opening to keep me going. We also get in Mick’s head a little more with this one, (which I loved), and watch some serious character development happen. In the beginning he’ll do anything he can to keep the one he loves safe, but by the end he realizes that he can’t. He’s only human. The best he can do is face life by her side—together.
Maggie doesn’t perform as large a role as she did in Disowned, but she’s still the same lovable mother figure. Ditto with Ethan as a father figure, but Sadie and Joe get a little more “screen time,” especially Sadie. She’s just learning to step out and stand up for herself, and her good-intentioned attempts to befriend a lonely new girl were heart-warming (even when the girl rebuffed her efforts and hurt our precious Sadie’s feelings)! We also get to learn more about Sir Lewis, which was awesome. He was introduced as an important character in Disowned, so I liked getting to know him a little better in this one.
And the new characters! Amaya is a tail-kicking strong female character that still has feelings (#yasss), and Torrance is someone that went through several evolutions in my mind as his many layers were revealed. Plus, there’s a twist at the end concerning him that took me totally by surprise!
The reason I docked a star from Dissemble despite the fact that all the characters were life-like and unique, and the writing seemed even more streamlined and impactful than in Disowned, was because there was quite a bit of mature content involving sexual innuendo. Now, a most of it was pretty understandable from a plot standpoint, because Celeste came out of a really awful situation, and most of the book takes place in her homeland, but it was still a little rough to read. That, and a very light smattering of language and some drinking is the reason I gave it four stars.
But—that said, everything else about Dissemble expanded and improved upon the world introduced in Disowned, and I’m looking forward to the third installment in the Allegiance series, and seeing how Etra works in the characters’ lives next.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
My rating: ★★★★
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book that has been banned over and over again—but honestly?—some of my favorite books are banned ones. “Well, why do you like this one, you rebel?” you ask. Despite being steeped in the American south, where racism was a deeply ingrained part of society during the time that the book is set, it is ultimately a book that shows the humanity of the African-American people in an age when slavery had caused them to be deemed less than human.
Huckleberry Finn, (or simply “Huck” as he’s called for most of the book), is no knight in shining armor, and though he considers himself “low-down and ornery,” and thinks he “ain’t got no show” at doing right, he’s just about the most upright character in the book, without even realizing it. (With the exception of Jim… but I’ll get to that later.) Huck was raised on the Mississippi river, fending for himself most of the time, and dodging his father’s drunken abuse some of the time, and only getting a little help along the way from the Widow Douglas, who had adopted him at the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and tried to educate him for a while. He has a pretty convoluted view of God, since the Widow lived her faith, but Miss Watson (a relative of the Widow’s I think?) preached hellfire and damnation and turned Huck off to matters of faith.
That said, the moment when Huck decided that he would go to Hell if it meant that he could help Jim escape slavery is one of the most powerful in the book. It also goes to show just how brainwashed he was—but he was willing to rise up and go against the cultural norms that he’d been raised with, and help his enslaved brother find freedom—even if it meant going to Hell for it. (Which of course isn’t going to happen, but it just goes to show that he was willing to risk it all.)
And that brings us to Jim. Jim is just as much a product of his time as Huck is, and though he was stubbornly level-headed to the point of almost being foolish sometimes, he looked out for Huck like a father on their journey together down the Mississippi river. (And though I did say he was level-headed, he was also incredibly superstitious, as was Huck, and the fact that most of their superstitions were “proved” right throughout the book is one thing that annoyed me.) However, Jim was good-hearted and proved to be very, very human.
I would almost venture to say that Huck and Jim are two sides of the same coin. Though Huck was technically free, only by virtue of his particular shade of melanin, his life was little better than a slave’s when his father was around. And there was a point near the end where Huck commented that he always knew Jim was “white on the inside.” Which may seem like a dubious compliment, but he’d come to realize how small a difference there was between Jim and himself.
As for the rest of the book, it’s days spent hiding on islands around campfires, it’s nights spent on a raft in the middle of the Mississippi counting the stars, it’s so, so very country and American, and awakens my childhood, when I ran free in the woods and caught frogs and collected snakeskins just like Huck. (And no, I never had any bad luck come my way from the latter.) I also love Twain’s use of first-person with Huck as narrator, full of purposeful misspellings. This is one of the few books that I can say I wouldn’t have any other way. Usually I prefer third person, but first is the only way to go as far as I’m concerned for a book like this.
The reason I knocked off a star is the same reason as the first time I read it: the constant use of n----r (by slaves and free), and the fact that churchgoers are often painted to look foolish. The book is every bit a product of its time, and I don’t think the n-word had nearly the stigma attached then that it has now, but to a modern reader it is a bit jarring. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s part of history. History is full of horrible things, but pretending it didn’t happen isn’t the answer.
Aaand there you have it. My much-longer-winded review of a book that has stood the test of time despite its controversial topics. And there’s a reason for it. Controversy makes you think—and books that make you think—uncomfortable, even—are the important ones.
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