Combined book review #7

As summer just finished I made my way through some books again. Not added to this pile are all 7 books in the Harry Potter series which I also read, and I am already almost 2 books ahead of the list I am showing you today, but some of these books are too good not to share. I had a good batch this time with some interesting and also some quick and easy reads all thrown into one. From some classic literature to page turner crime novels and historical novels with a touch of magical realism: I threw in a little bit of everything for this round of reading.

The first book I finished was The Little Book. It isn’t a little book per se so it did take me some time to finish that, but I made up for that by reading a thin book as well as a book that was such a quick read that I finished it in just two days. Then I also ticked off two books of my summer reading list: Dracula’s Guest & Jane Eyre. I was almost ashamed when I found out I didn’t own nor had I ever read Jane Eyre as far as I could remember. So when I spotted it for a mere 5 euros at a local bookstore, I picked it up and took it with me on vacation. Here’s what I thought of these 5 books as well as a bit of a synopsis on each one.

Selden Edwards – The Little Book

The grand tale of Wheeler Burden, his notorious father, his pacifist mother and his grandparents. Set in the US in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 80s AND turn of the 20th century Vienna. A tale of time travel, pivotal historic moments and somehow the Burden family has everything to do with them.

It all starts with Wheeler Burden: baseball player, rock star extraordinaire and publisher of Fin de Siècle. The latter being the book he wrote based on the notes he inherited from his eccentric history teacher Arnauld Hazy, also known as The Haze. One day he wakes up and finds himself walking along the Ringstrasse in Vienna in 1897. Without ever having been to Vienna and only knowing it from the tales of The Haze, Wheeler has lived his entire live as the shadow of his famous hero father: Dilly Burden, who died after being tortured by the Gestapo during WWII. It is in Vienna he finds out about his true origins and finds explanations for some of the more inexplicable events of his and his father’s extraordinary lives.

This book was gripping, entertaining, interesting, captivating, mysterious and unbelievable all at the same time. With stranger than strange plot twists, the central focus of the novel is the question who you are and where you come from, may sometimes have more obscure origins than you might have imagined. A book with a touch of magical realism set at important times of the last century or so that is told in a riveting way and keeps you on the edge of your seat while marveling at all the brilliant minds that reside inside the novel. It helps though if you have general knowledge of Europe in the late 19th century as well as overall 20th century American history. If not, The Little Book may seem overly complicated instead of well done and thought through.

Alex Grecian – The Yard

A killer is on the loose in post Jack The Ripper Victorian London. It is up to newbie Walter Day, an inspector new to the recently established Murder Squad at The Yard, to solve the case of who killed inspector little. In the mean time, Constable Hammersmith gets himself into a spot of trouble, while Inspector Blacker’s bad jokes finally no longer fall on deaf ears and the killer tries to protect everything he holds dear.

Walter Day is a Constable in Devon and miraculously finds himself transferred to London. His first case is to solve the killing of a colleague he’s never met. In the mean time, the plot revolves around plenty of other characters including the killer himself, Day’s wife, his colleagues and some of his witnesses. In the end there is one story line that plays out through the eyes of several people which at times can be slightly confusing as the pov changes every chapter. The setting is not always that convincing and the daily dealings of the Victorian era are at times a little too much emphasized. However, it makes for a fast paced narrative that I raced through in a matter of days and leaves you combing back for more. If you’re into page turners that you can’t put down that revolve around detective work set in Victorian London than this is for you.

Paul Torday – The Girl on the Landing

Michael and Elizabeth have an unsatisfactory marriage. For Elizabeth marrying Michael was a sensible choice. A man of means, with his own estate in Scotland, Michael is timid and a proper person. However, when they visit a fellow member of Michael’s club in Ireland, their marriage starts to go into a different direction. A positive one at first, but how long will the happiness last?

Even though Elizabeth tolerates Michael he never makes her truly happy. She doesn’t like his draughty old estate house and despises most of the men Michael associates with. Michael on the other hand feels like he is waking from a daze. His only hope is that he wakes up enough to not get Elizabeth hurt in the process. Because that’s what happens to all the people Michael cares about: they end up hurt or dead. As Michael fights his way through the fog, Elizabeth falls in love with the man he has become. However, she doesn’t love the man he used to be and she discovers how much of a lie Michael’s life has been since she met him.

Told from both the perspective of Elizabeth and Michael, The Girl on the Landing tells a suspenseful tale of deceit, lies and the overall human condition. It is a great book that seems like a boring romcom gone page turner at first but as the story progresses it becomes a tale of mystery and the two perspectives help you as a reader to literally see both sides of the story.

Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre

Jane is a girl of little means. She lives with her aunt who dislikes her and when she gets a chance to get rid of Jane, she is more than willing. Jane ends up at a school that is probably more dismal than her aunt’s house when it comes to living conditions. But Jane pulls through with the help of her lovely teachers and the school is probably the first place where she finds love. She finishes school to become a teacher and then leaves to be a governess to a little girl in mysterious Mr. Rochester’s house. And that’s when a complicated romance evolves where Jane is torn between her social status vs her feelings for Mr. Rochester.

I absolutely loved this book. I read this while I was stuck on planes during my vacation and finished it when I got home. I raced through 200 pages in one sitting. I loved the writing style. I loved Jane’s wit and perseverance. I loved her firmness of mind and she is a female protagonist that despite her love for Mr. Rochester isn’t pining away wanting him. She is resolute and not afraid to choose for herself rather than what other people think is best for her. There are a few strange twists in the story, but I wasn’t bothered by them. If you’re looking for a classic read that is compelling and reads as if it could have been written now, then check out Jane Eyre.

Michael Simms – Dracula’s Guest

Collection of Victorian era vampire stories that feels very complete, but are sometimes hilarious and overly romantic due to the time period they were written in. The collection starts with the start of vampire stories, before the trope was fully developed. It features English translations of stories from all over Europe and sometimes those translations were first published in Victorian times, but the story itself may have been written a lot earlier in time. This makes some of the stories quite hysteric or too romantic for today’s tastes, but at the time these stories were large spread and very popular. The book works its way mostly chronologically through the 19th century until we end up at a chapter that Stoker axed from the final version of Dracula.

I liked this collection of stories, but it took me some time to get through. Not every story is an easy breeze read. Especially the translations sometimes feel forced and fuddled and the stories that were written in Germany in the 18th century were sometimes too much filled with melodrama for my taste. I felt the quality of the stories in the book became better as the book continued and not until halfway through did I really get into reading a few stories back to back. Dracula’s Guest is the type of book you’ll like if you like vampires, are interested to see how the vampire developed in literature and are willing to make a commitment to read little bits at the time.

What is the best book you’ve read lately?

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