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Like many of Poe’s stories, The Turn of the Screw is a story that refuses to be read.  From the very beginning, you aren’t really sure what exactly this story is about.  Even after you have delved into the story completely, you’re still uncertain.  And the story doesn’t really give you many clues either.  For this reason, I am not going to summarize the story, because every piece of it is all based on reader interpretation.  There are very few facts in this book.  In fact, the only fact I could walk away with is that there is no objective reality: only interpretation.  The details of this story are absolutely unimportant and irrelevant.  It’s more of an experience than a novel.

Still, I highly recommend it.  I understand why it is a must for English majors.  This is definitely the emergence of the postmodern.  The story is full of suspense and disbelief.  The whole time, the reader is left wondering what the newest development means to their interpretation of the events so far: is your take on the story supported or completely destroyed?  I changed my mind about this story several times only to change it several more in my class discussion.

This book is definitely nightmarish, but it shows the creative possibilities of fiction work.  James take a story that he reportedly heard from a Protestant pope and turned it into a psychological thriller.  If that isn’t awesome, what is?

Although it was difficult for me to get through at times – the language is a little daunting and the story is definitely difficult – it is a worthwhile journey.

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Publisher’s Synopsis: In Oscar Wilde’s famous novel, Dorian Gray is tempted by Henry Watton to sell his soul in order to hold on ot beauty and youth.  Dorian succumbs and murders the portrait painter Basil Hallward, who stands between him and his goal.  Though in the end vice is punished and virtue rewarded, the novel remains one of the most important expressions of fin de siecle decadence.  It is the preface to the expanded edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray that Wilde coined the most famous expression of this aesthetic: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.  Books are well-written or badly-written.  That is all.”

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills

Review: Honestly, I loved this book.  It is definitely going into my list of all-time favorites.  I’m not sure exactly why, but something about this book just really gripped me.  In so many ways, the subjects explored in this novel are extremely relevant today.

Dorian Gray decides to trade his soul for eternal beauty.  At least, that’s what I thought this story was about; however, Gray’s decisions are so much more complex than that.  Yes, there is a painting that ages and changes according to the decisions that Dorian makes while he stays vivaciously young and hansom.  However, the degradation of his soul as seen by the changing picture and the increasingly evil acts that Gray commits are complexly nuanced.  The changes that he undergoes after the painting of the portrait are due to the influence of Lord Henry.  If anything, this story definitely shows the dangers of negative influences.

In many ways,this book is also like a philosophy text.  Lord Henry espouses a particularly hedonistic and cynical philosophy that serves as problematic from a current viewpoint in many ways.  Even more, Wilde’s novel is considered by many as a kind of book for the aesthetics.  He seems to be arguing throughout his book that art should only exist for art’s sake.  I find this to be problematic because I think that this particular piece of art exists for more than just beauty’s sake but to teach a lesson.  Even more, I think that Dorian’s downfall shows the dangers in not listening to the lessons that the various forms of art are trying to teach us.

But that’s just my humble opinion.  I’m sure it has many flaws.  Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this wonderful piece of fiction.  It’s definitely something that stays with you long after you’ve read it.  The characters are remarkably unforgettable.  Wilde is amazing and I definitely want to read more of his works.  He was a scandalous personality in real life and his fiction definitely carries some of that zeal.

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Publisher’s Synopsis: First published in 1886 as a “shilling shocker,” Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde takes the basic struggle between good and evil and adds to the mix bourgeois respectability, urban violence, and class conflict.  The result is a tale that has taken on the force of myth in the popular imagination.

Review: After hearing all the myths about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, most memorable to me is the portrayal in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it was extremely interesting to read the actual source of the man with the “monster” within.

I understand after reading this why it is considered a classic.  The narrative style is interesting: we don’t actually hear an account from Dr. Jekyll until the very end where he explains how he created and drank the potion that turned him into the destructive force of evil that is Mr. Hyde.  Until this tell all ending, we only get glimpses of the strange occurrences from a lawyer named Mr. Utterson.  This book definitely had numerous gothic elements that are definitely still relevant to a modern audience: namely, the anxiety about a source of evil within.

I really enjoyed finally reading this.  I love Stevenson’s writing.  I grew up reading and reciting his poems in various classes and never got around to reading any of his fiction work.  Now that I have, I’m very glad that I finally did.  He is wonderful at creating suspense and providing vivid descriptions that stick with you.  If you haven’t read this, I recommend it.  It’s a short and easy read but definitely worth while.

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Because this is a book that I read for class and it’s difficult to really give a short synopsis, I’m going to skip the usual format for my reviews and just talk about my experience reading this book.  Let me start off by saying, that having finally read this book, I can understand why it has remained so incredibly prolific and beloved to so many people.  It is definitely a page turner and the characters are all complex with multiple conflicting motivations and desires.  Nothing in this story is sugar coated to sound good: it’s absolutely real.

So what is Wuthering Heights?  I always thought it was just a glorified love story.  At least, that’s what I got from the various portrayals of Heathcliff and Catherine frolicking around.  However, it’s so much more than that.  After all, I’m reading this novel in my Victorian Lit class and I’ve already learned that many of the popular writing of the time was Gothic and brought out uncanny elements to deal with the fears of the time.  So in many ways, this story is a ghost story.  It’s about, I believe, at it’s core, the human condition: the fact that people can fall in love and get jealous and make it their life’s goal to get vengeance on those who wronged them even if it consumes their entire lifetime.

At the end, I felt like it was a heartbreaking tale and couldn’t help but wonder if Heathcliff ever found peace.  Even more, it makes you wonder if the two characters left behind: Catherine Linton and Hareton Earnshaw ever can really overcome their family legacy and find happiness together.

So did I enjoy my experience with Wuthering Heights.  There were times that I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.  However, there were also times when I was frustrated with the decisions of the characters and wanted nothing more than to stop reading the book because I felt like reading another page would just break my heart.  That being said, it took me a while to get through the book in its entirety.  For the most part, it’s a smooth read.  Bronte definitely creates solid characters that come alive and her sense of place is almost uncanny at times, but I think that’s all part of the point of the novel.  I’m really glad that I got the chance to read this and encourage those who haven’t to pick it up.  There’s good reasons for why it is considered a classic.

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Hamlet

I must admit that whenever I think of Shakespeare, I think of Hamlet as his most pivotal masterpiece.  This is a play that is not easily forgotten.  Its thematic elements are still relevant today.  Even more, it is so layered that even after years of study, you cannot reach the core.  When I first read Hamlet in high school, I felt like he was a kindred spirit.  His conflicted state seemed to match my own.  Reading it again as a college junior, a young adult on the cusp of entering the real world, I felt his dilemmas to be all the more relevant.  Even more, I studied closely the social implications of his actions.  In class, I did a close examination of his relationship with Ophelia which changes from one of mutual love into an abusive relationship where despite her resistance, Ophelia internalizes the abuse she receives, which as we all know has deathly consequences.  And perhaps, that is the beauty and genius of the play: it shows how cruelly tragic our world can be.  Even with the best intentions, everything can go so horribly wrong.

Now for our film requirements, I watched both the BBC production and the epic Kenneth Branagh version.  Let me tell you, the Branagh version stood out more.  He definitely took an old play that many write off as being difficult to understand and irrelevant for modern audiences and made it into a modern day Hollywood masterpiece.  While dealing with the same text, the same Shakespeare language, and the same characters – he took the play and built it up anew.  The sets and the costumes were brilliant as was the acting.  With Branagh playing the lead, Hamlet, and Kate Winslet as Ophelia, audiences get a brand new look at the timeless play.  I strongly urge anyone interested in Hamlet to see this production.  I absolutely loved it.  While it is an epic four hours, it is definitely worth the time investment.

I just remember sitting in class discussing this play and thinking, this is exactly why I came to college to study English literature.  The conversations inspired by reading Hamlet in a college classroom are the kind of conversation I want to always be having: they are philosophical social criticisms that will always be pertinent because they contemplate the human conditions.  Anyone who doesn’t see that, isn’t really getting to the heart of Hamlet or to Shakespeare because his plays are much more than stories acted out on stage.  They are bolder and deeper than that.

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Publisher’s Synopsis: Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with every one out to make sure you don’t live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.  The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with ther mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games.  But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival, for her, is second nature.  Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender.  But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

About the Author: Suzanne Collins is the author of the best selling Underland Chronicles, which started with Gregor the Overlander.  In The Hunger Games, she continues to explore the effects of war and violence on those coming of age.  Suzanne lives with her family in Connecticut.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills

Review: I still remember first hearing about The Hunger Games. I didn’t read many direct reviews of the novel because when I started blogging, most of the blogs I followed had already read and fallen in love with the book.  So instead of talking about the book that started it all, they were eagerly anticipating and beginning to review its long-awaited sequel: Catching Fire.  Needless to say, I avoided many of these reviews because I didn’t want to risk “ruining it.”  And let me just say, I’m so glad that I made that decision.

Delving into The Hunger Games without knowing much background knowledge about what I was about to encounter made the experience amazingly suspenseful.  At first, I felt a little distant.  I wasn’t sure what to think of the strange world that I was entering.  It vaguely reminded me of some of what I had read in Atwood’s terrifying speculative fiction: oppressive government regime system, strange technical advancements, and weird mutated creatures.  However, this novel was much more character driven than I expected.  Katniss is a very relatable character.  Despite the horrors of the world that she lives in, she’s still a normal girl.  She cares about her family first and foremost.  And that is what gets her into trouble: her ability to sacrifice her own life and security for those she loves.

When she’s plunged into the dangerous and quite terrifying arena of the games, I couldn’t put the book down.  Collins writes with precise detail that really puts the reader into the situation.  Even though I know nothing about survival or fighting for my life, I felt like the action was playing out right in front of me.  Collins is definitely a master when it comes to creating vivid scenes, remarkable characters, and enthralling action scenes.  This book really has it all.

And that includes a love triangle of sorts.  While Katniss is a tough survivor style girl, she is not one-dimensional.  She feels.  She thinks.  She deals with the consequences of her actions whatever they might be.  And that is what really makes her a memorable character.  She doesn’t have all the answers.  In fact, she frequently finds herself in situations where she doesn’t know anything, but she has a will to fight for those she cares about and for what she believes in.

This book has definitely left a lasting impression on me.  I will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of Catching Fire, which I ordered earlier today.  I very highly recommend this to any other stragglers who haven’t gotten around to reading this modern masterpiece yet.

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This is my third read for the Austen Challenge and it was quite a treat.  Let me make a short confession real quick before I delve into a full review of this delightful little treasure: I’m not really a huge Jane Austen fan.  In fact, as much as I love the story of Pride and Prejudice, I have only seen it in the movie format.  I’ve never actually gotten around to reading the acclaimed masterpiece.  So in many ways, I’m a fraud for even entering the challenge.  Still, I believe that my reading thus far has definitely piqued my interest in Jane Austen’s work and life.  For this reason, I plan to create a challenge for myself and anyone who would like to join to read (or reread) all of her major works and maybe even some biographical pieces.  I need to think this out more thoroughly before I make it official.  Please, look forward to a post on this later.  Now for the usual review format ….

Publisher’s Synopsis: Scholars estimate that Jane Austen wrote close to three thousand letters in her lifetime.  Almost all of them were supposedly destroyed at her death.  What secrets did Jane Austen have to hide?

Emma Grant has always done everything the way her minister father said she should – a respectable marriage, a teaching job, and plans for the requisite two children.  Life was prodigiously good, as her favorite author might say, until the day Emma finds her husband in bed with another woman.  Suddenly, all her romantic notions a la Austen are exposed for just foolish dreams.

Denied tenure in the wake of the scandal Emma packs what few worldly possessions she has left and heads to England to find the missing letters of Jane Austen.  A reclusive widow claims t have the author’s correspondence, but she allows Emma to see the ltters only if she promises never to tell anyone about them.  Emma relunctantly agrees and sets off across Austen’s England – from Steventon to Bath to Lyme Regis – on a series of tasks that bring her closer and closer to the secrets Jane Austen hoped to bury.  And the reappearance of Emma’s old friend Adam doesn’t make her quest any easier.

As Emma uncovers the legendary author’s innermost thoughts, she beings to understand the reasons for her idols secrecy and Austen’s own struggles as a woman of faith.  Laced with excerpts from the missing letters, Jane Austen Ruined My Life is the story of a woman betrayed who uncovers the true meaning of loyalty.

About the Author: Beth Pattillo’s love for Jane Austen was born when she studied at the University of London, Westfield College, for one glorious semester.  Her passion quickly became an obsession, necessitating regular trips to England over the past twenty years.  When not dreaming of life “across the pond,” Pattillo live in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband two children.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 quills

Review: Let me just say that from the very first page, I loved this book.  Pattillo’s writing is just perfect.  I could easily relate to Emma: after all who hasn’t been betrayed?  Who hasn’t dealt with heartbreak and felt like all her dreams and hopes were broken beyond repair?  We all have hit what feels like rock bottom at some point in our life.  But it’s how we pick ourselves back up that really matters.  Emma discovers this as she embarks on what seems like an insane set of tasks throughout England revisiting some of the place where Austen spent her life.  As Emma completes her tasks, we learn more about Austen (both real facts and some of the speculations that Pattillo makes).  And through reading this, I fell in love with England.  Let me tell you, if I had the money I would be booking a plane ticket and hotel reservations instead of typing this review.  But alas, that dream will have to be put on hold.

What I loved the most about this book is that it reawakened some of my passions.  I haven’t written about it much on here, but I failed Nanowrimo this year.  Not enough time to devote to the endeavor.  Or maybe I just wasn’t quite ready for the challenge.  After all, since I started college, I had largely given up on writing.  Sure, I write essays constantly, but I’m talking about the sit down and write your heart out, create funky scenarios, and test your imagination kind of writing.  That is the kind of writing that I miss.  And this book made me want to go out and buy a new notebook and just sit down for a couple hours to see what came out.  Luckily, I got one for Christmas – a nice one with a hard cover and lots of pages.  Not that I necessarily have the highest expectations for my reawakened writing endeavors, but I’m excited to see myself writing anything in my spare time again.

And so for these and so many more reasons, I loved this book.  The lessons that Emma learned on her journey really hit home for me and I’m sure for many other reasons.  I definitely recommend anyone looking for a good story to take a chance on this book.  It has reawakened a passion of mine, taught me some valuable lessons about life, love, and just being a woman, and it has definitely made me more interested in Jane Austen.

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