June's reading brought the completion of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Crowning Heaven by Emily Hayse. The first was a rewarding (if long) read, the second, probably the most piratey book I've ever read, and the third, a familiar high fantasy tale about a young queen who suddenly finds herself leading a war between two countries.
If you like thoughtful books, this month's list is for you!
My rating: ★★★★
Little Dorrit is chock full of everything that makes a Dickens novel a Dickens novel. Witty (albeit lengthy) prose, vivid characters, the intricate plot of his later works, sharp satire, an unflinching portrayal of the lowest rungs of society, and a wry sense of humor. In short, it delivered everything I’ve come to know and love about his writing.
The title character, Little Dorrit, (otherwise known as Amy), is a beautiful example of a strong, morally upright female character that doesn’t come across as a goody-two-shoes. She wasn’t loud, and she showed her fear, but she spent the first twenty or so years of her quiet existence tirelessly waiting on the family that never knew what they had. She was the glue that held them all together. Her father, captive in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison, couldn’t take care of himself—Little Dorrit did. Her brother couldn’t hold down a job, but she never stopped trying to find him new ones. Her sister was loud, impetuous, and ungrateful, but Little Dorrit was the anchor that kept her from drifting too far on the stormy seas of life. She even worked for her living as a seamstress, and never considered it a shameful thing, even if the rest of her family did.
Arthur Clennam, on the other hand, had known a very different upbringing from the Child of the Marshalsea. He grew up in mortal terror of a God that would send small boys to eternal Damnation, with never a mention of the merciful Father of the fatherless, the Friend to the weak, the Healer of hurts. God is a just God, but He is also not willing that any should perish. Mrs. Clennam’s religion missed the latter part. Because of all this, he grew into a saddened and disillusioned man that thought he was beyond all happiness in this life. He had a good heart on the whole, but his mother’s own dark view of the world (and by result Arthur’s), stood in stark contrast to the quiet faith shown by Little Dorrit.
But the two main characters were far from the only well developed ones! It took me quite a while to read this book, but it never took me long to remember a character that has been out of the running for a while, because Dickens always made sure there was something memorable about them. Flora couldn’t finish a single sentence without starting a brand-new thought. Mr. Pancks bore a remarkable resemblance to a steam tugboat. Riguad was always easy to pick out of a crowd because when he smiled, his nose always came down over his mustache, and his mustache always went up under his nose. Dickens gave each and every character some small quirk, which made them unique.
The only reason I gave it four stars instead of five is because it didn’t quite swallow me up—I cared about the characters, but it was missing that indefinable something that makes a book “unputdownable”—and when a book misses that, and is also really long, it can drag a bit. Stylistically, the book was perfection... I just never fell head-over-heels in love with it. Content includes a smattering of language, drinking, a suicide, and implied domestic abuse, but that’s about it.
In closing, Little Dorrit tells a story of contrasts. Freedom vs. imprisonment, the rich vs. the poor, the folly of putting faith in appearances, and discovering, (for better or worse), what those appearances hide. Little Dorrit must have been groundbreaking at the time it was written, and even today it’s a breath of fresh air. Just because everyone does it, or “it is what it is,” or even looks right doesn’t mean it is right, and it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.
Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: ★★★
Treasure Island is a seagoing adventure reminiscent of every pirate story ever told. (And that’s a good thing!) There’s comfort in the familiar, and I think Robert Louis Stevenson pulls off the first person narrative better than just about anyone else. It suits this kind of story very well.
Before reading this book, I heard somewhere that it’s the origin of many of the stereotypes that come to mind of when thinking about pirates, and after reading Treasure Island, I’d have to agree. Not two pages in, someone was singing “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest.” There’s a one-legged pirate named—wait for it—Long John Silver. There’s mention made of Billy Blood. They’re after treasure, found, of course, on a map marked with red crosses. There’s even a parrot that likes crying “Pieces of eight.” It’s full of that simple old-fashioned piratey charm that has captured the imaginations of so many.
Unfortunately, I found the book to be a little slow... and maybe I’m just not a pirate person? For a good portion of the book I found my mind wandering as I read, thus the two stars I docked. I never really fell in love with the characters, and Jim’s luck was off the charts. It was written for children, and as a child’s book it’s very good. I just jumped on the bandwagon too late.
There was one thing, though, that I really loved: Long John Silver, Mr. One-Legged Pirate himself. [minor spoilers ahead] It’s not often that you run across an anti-villain in old books like this. Honestly, the only way I could describe him to my sister was to compare him to Beckett from Solo. I wanted to trust him—I felt like he was capable of doing a great deal of good, if he just took it into his head to do it—but at the same time I always knew that he would only join “the good guys” if it really benefited him to do so. I love those characters... the kind that always keep you guessing. [minor spoilers over]
All in all, Treasure Island is an enjoyable read told in a comfortable style that’s part journal entry, part sitting-by-the-fire with the narrator—but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
My rating: ★★★
~ I received a free advance review copy of this book, therefore all of the following opinions are my own ~
Crowning Heaven tells a familiar rags-to-riches tale, long-lost princess and all. Some might call it cliché, but I really never mind a cliché as long as it’s done well. On the whole, I think Crowning Heaven pulls it off rather successfully. I loved the world-building Hayse put into the two kingdoms that feature most prominently in the story, and all their differences in culture and patterns of thought. The latter is something that can easily be overlooked when creating a brand-new world, but the Rodhacarians were very different from their Castellani kin in familiar, realistic ways.
For example, the Rodhacarians are a fairly stoic, level-headed people that don’t believe in old superstitions. The Castellani are passionate, and more inclined to believe the old stories. The both have their “pros and cons,” so to speak, and while I agreed more with Rodhacarian thought, the Castellani were not all wrong, either.
I also loved the descriptions of the landscape, (and clothes)! Rodhacar seems to be a wild land, untamable and beautifully rugged. They also had the Fire Plains, something that reminded me a little of Bism from The Silver Chair, but on the surface of the earth, and minus salamanders, jewels, and gnomes. It was a unique twist to an otherwise very cold, stormy, Scandinavian sort of country.
The things I wasn’t so keen on basically boil down to Heaven’s utter acceptance of everything she’s told—especially in the beginning. She never once wondered if maybe, just maybe, these strangers weren’t telling the truth. She was also willing to marry simply because she was told to, and not necessarily for love. And she ended up picking a guy who could have been her father?? That seems a little odd to me. A strong female character doesn’t have to be a tail-kicker, but Heaven seemed to be too far on the other end of the spectrum. I appreciate the fact that gentleness was one of her best traits, but I sometimes wondered how they expected her to stand the strain of ruling a whole country.
Also, the dialogue came across a little stunted, a few parts could have been chopped to quicken the pace with no damage to the plot, and most of the characters seemed pretty similar. Granted, they all had different physical appearances and backgrounds, but their personalities could have been boosted a little. Wren, Athen, and Nic were probably the best developed out of all of them.
In closing, Crowning Heaven delivers a tried-and-true story: a high fantasy telling the story of a girl named Heaven, who suddenly finds herself leading a war between two countries. It’s a very clean tale all told, with Tolkien-esque elements, and I think Hayse shows great promise as a writer.
Welcome to Katelyn Buxton Books! I'm a Christian author and blogger, with a passion for writing stories that are not just enjoyable, but also lead people to Jesus. Feel free to look around, and enjoy your stay!