Adult Book Reviews by Genre: Classics

The Graduate
Webb, Charles
2 stars = Meh
Review:

If I could condense this book down to a single phrase, it would be “What?” It’s not that I didn’t understand this book, it’s more that this single word/question was used for every third line of dialogue. Not only was this incredibly annoying to read—as every character seemed to have hearing problems that required the other speaker to repeat themselves—but it just seemed to pad out an already weak plot. I have no idea how this book became so famous that it led to a much superior film adaptation, but now I know that nobody should bother reading this book because of its inspiration for the movie.

Let’s talk about character motivations next. Nothing ever made any sense. Sure, there’s a bit of existential ennui involved with finishing something you excel in (school, in this case), but the actions of the main character only make sense up until a point. Once we hit the third act, there’s just a series of random actions that aren’t grounded in reality. This is also not to mention that the characters around him, especially the primary love interest, also make illogical decisions that aren’t founded in any sort of reality. At least this book is short enough that you’re not going to waste much time reading it.

Maybe I’m just missing the point of this book. Perhaps it’s an examination of the consequences and realizations that come from living a life that seems to have no meaning. I mean, I get the counter-play between the newly-disillusioned Benjamin and the almost permanently-disillusioned Mrs. Robinson; butwhenthe entire thing is filled with awkward and nervous dialogue that constantly repeats itself, I can’t help but think that there isn’t anything significant there. Even the ending was so abrupt and unfulfilling that I had to thank the movie version for its subtleness in revealing the characters’ realization of what they’ve done.

A truly sub-par story that was made into an above average movie, I give The Graduate 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
Ayesha: The Return of She
Haggard, H. Rider
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Coming from the author of "King Solomon's Mines" and creator of Allan Quartermain, you can expect a terrific turn of the century, adventure story. Written as the sequel to "She", "Ayesha: The Return of She" stands on its own, and I find it even more enjoyable than the original story (but "She" does make for a good prequel - as I read them out of sequence). Our hero Leo, sets out with his friend to seek out his long lost love. This leads them to the most remote of areas, across vast deserts, and over treacherous mountains. When they reach the empire of Kaloon, the Khania Atene swears that she is the woman Leo is searching for, but he is unsure, and wishes to consult with the mysterious Hesea, an ancient priestess of the mountain, who has sent for him. Atene will risk everything, even war with the people of the mountain, to keep Leo by her side, even though he wishes to see the Hesea. Is Atene the woman Leo is seeking? Who is the cryptic Hesea? What dangers await Leo and his friend, both in Kaloon, and on the mountain?

This story was originally published in a serialized form in 1904-1905, with gorgeous Art Nouveau illustrations. If you can find it, I highly recommend reading a reprint that includes the original illustrations. One of my favorite books of all time!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Orczy, Baroness
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Ever since I saw the inimitable Richard E. Grant in the "The Scarlet Pimpernel" TV series, I have been enamored by these tales from Baroness Orczy. As the cliche goes though, the book is far superior to any adaptation I've seen thus far. After the French Revolution, the new government of France established the "Reign of Terror", where the citizens of France took out their anger and vengeance on any of the old aristocracy that they could find - whether they were guilty of oppressing the people, or not. Enter The Scarlet Pimpernel(!), an elusive daredevil, whose secret league of Englishmen risk their lives to save the aristocratic victims of the people of France. When the government of France charges their agent, Citizen Chauvelin, with discovering the identity of their mysterious enemy, he blackmails Lady Blakeney, a pinnacle of London society, into aiding him in his treacherous task. Who will she turn to, to help save her only brother - her insipidly foppish husband, Sir Percy Blakeney? He may be rich, and the leader of fashion in London's high society, but he's certainly not a "man of action" for something so perilous and vital. Lady Blakeney must face her inner struggles to try to find the hero who she admires so much, only to betray him. Meanwhile, the infamous guillotine awaits her next victims...

Published in 1905, "The Scarlet Pimpernel" established many of the hero tropes that are familiar today, such as having a secret identity, and using disguises and intelligence to outwit one's enemies. This is truly one of my favorite series. If you like this book, there are follow-up chapters, such as "I Will Repay", and "The Elusive Pimpernel", that are worth your attention as well!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Book Review: The Awakening
Chopin, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is about Mrs. Pontieller, a woman in turn of the 20th century New Orleans. She falls in love and finds herself awakened to a natural state, one that doesn't conform to her life as a wife, mother, and socialite. I liked when Mademoiselle Reitz encouraged her to be a strong bird that defies the laws of gravity and soars above the ground below, not to be weak and come crashing to earth. At the end, Mrs. Pontieller sees a wounded bird fall from the sky and cements her fate likewise.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The Red Badge of Courage
Crane, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

War is an ugly thing full of death and destruction. While most books written today bemoan this fact and complain that wars should never start in the first place, what do the individual soldiers handle a war that they didn’t even start? Set in the Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage is perhaps the best representation of the growth of a soldier from a deserter to a courageous fighter. Our intrinsic fear of death is what motivates so many of us to do the things we do to survive. Overcoming that fear and charging headlong into battle does take a measure of courage usually not present in most people.

Stephen Crane does a fantastic job weaving the story of a young man who has to learn what it truly means to earn the titular “red badge of courage.” His prose is almost poetic as he describes the landscapes, battles, and people who were forced to endure this historic war between brothers. There’s realism to the narrative that immerses the reader into the era and the battles that helped to define the war as a whole. In the end, though, this book could almost be set during any period and any war; the themes present within it are that timeless.

While it took me this long to finally sit down and go through this book, I’m glad I finally did. I had started it many years ago but lost interest for some reason. This time around, I was able to appreciate the story based solely on the strength of Crane’s writing. I know this book is usually assigned to elementary school students at some point, but if it has escaped your “read” list as it did for me, then I would urge you to pick it up and give it a read. It won’t take long, and it’s certainly worth the time spent reading it.

A timeless classic that deals with the human side of war, I give The Red Badge of Courage 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens, Charles
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The opening lines say it all. I do enjoy Dickens, but this is by far, my favorite novel of his. This book follows the effects and far-reaching ramifications of the arrogant cruelty of the French aristocracy before their Revolution. A man is saved from an unfair imprisonment, but must regain himself through his devoted daughter and friends. They build a new life in England, where we get to know an array of complex characters – each with their own foibles and narratives. Meanwhile the fervor of the people of France veers towards the inevitable overthrow of the tyrannical aristocracy, and as often happens, the oppressed become the new oppressors. Destiny drives our main characters into the French turmoil where they find chaos, danger, and ultimately redemption.

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Moby Dick
Melville, Herman
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Moby Dick is a classic piece of literature, an iconic masterpiece. The story, once it pick up, is extremely engaging and interesting. The characters, such as Ishmael and Captain and Ahab, all exude personality and uniqueness. Plus, it has one of the greatest antagonists in all of literature: Moby Dick himself. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from beginning to end. There are some downsides, such as the language of the seamen being somewhat hard to grasp, and the several chapters describing whaling or the anatomy of whales being completely pointless. However, these do not detract too much from the overall experience, and the novel is still an exceptional one. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a good novel to read, or anyone who has a passion for the ocean.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C.
Awards:
Frankenstein
Shelly, Mary Wollstonecraft
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The classic tale of mystery and horror is also one that is an extremely entertaining read. While it may not be the scariest novel ever, the mere ideas that it presents are certain to make one a bit uneasy. The plot is iconic: Victor Frankenstein, aspiring philosopher and scientist, creates a horrifying monster out of dead bodies and reanimates it from the dead. The monster then goes on a murderous rampage after being rejected by his very creator. The novel is very good, and the message it presents, of not overreaching for knowledge, is a timeless one. The only downside to this icon of horror is that some chapters tend to drag, and have little purpose. However, this is not a huge detriment since the rest of the novel is so entertaining. I would recommend to thriller or horror enthusiasts.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C.
Awards:
Hatchet
Paulsen, Gary
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The award winning book by Gary Paulsen, Hatchet, is about a boy named Brian
whose parents are divorced. Right before, Brian gets on the plane that would
take him to his Dad’s house, his mother gives him a hatchet. While flying
over the 1000s of miles of forests in Canada, the pilot has a heart attack
and dies. Brian is forced to fly the plane into a lake in the middle of the
forest. Somehow he survives the crash, but now he is stranded in the
wilderness. He must survive against the harshness of nature with only his
mind and the hatchet to help him.

The realistic scenarios make the reader feel like they are trapped in the
forest with Brian. It was interesting to think about what would have happened
if he did not have the hatchet with him and the reader wonders what they
would do in Brian’s place. Would they be able to survive until help came
and make life or death decisions?

Hatchet is actually the original book in what Paulsen turned into a five book
series. I would recommend reading the whole series, it really deepens the
view of the story. My personal favorite is the second book, Brian’s Winter,
but the entire story is definitely worth reading. 8th Grade.

Reviewer's Name: Ben
Peter Pan
Barrie, J. M.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I LOVED this book! Although it was written a long time ago by an unsuccessful playwright, J. M. Barrie perfectly captured the imagination and creativity of young children. The reason he was disliked in his time was because he never really grew out of his kid-self. Which, I think, I think is where the inspiration for Peter Pan came, “the boy who never grew up”.
But anyways, Wendy and her younger brothers are born into a family that struggles financially but are obsessed with appearing rich to their wealthy neighbors… a common trend, even today. But Wendy and her brothers are whisked into a world where imagination runs wild-- the land that is hidden in all children’s minds, the one that is different for every child, Neverland.
What I love about this book is the constant thread of hidden and discreet themes about humanity, ones that continue today. It also taps into a child’s world of freedom, imagination, and oppression from adults. One of the most heartbreaking chapters is at the very end, when Wendy grows up, forgets about Peter, and gets lost in the adult world. But she has a daughter, Jane, and Jane is a kid, so she can imagine and believe in Peter Pan. Naturally, Peter Pan never really hit it off in it’s time, because of the controversial thoughts, and the point of view from kids.

Reviewer's Name: Jordan T.
The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald, Scott F.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I thought this book captured an element in life that writing doesn't normally follow. While most books talk about the underprivileged, or those trying to overcome a great challenge, this book spun a tale about glamorous cocktail parties, elegant evening wear, the enticing, almost seductive society of wealth. Nick Carraway moves into a house next to Gatsby, an extravagant, self-made millionaire in the 1920's, and is thrown into the fast-paced and whirling word of millionaires and all their expensive friends.
But Gatsby has a secret, buried under fancy cars and fizzy drinks: he is still in love with Daisy, the wife of Tom Buchanan. In his attempts to cultivate an affair with her, Nick documents the heart-wrenching, and frankly, very interesting, journey of a man who realises money can't buy him love. -Jordan, 8th grade Your Name: Jordan T, 8th grade

Reviewer's Name: Jordan T.
Awards:
Genres:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Twain, Mark
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

The classic tale "Huckleberry Finn" is about a young boy and his adventures with a slave named Jim amidst war and racism. I hated this book for two reasons. Firstly, the plot doesn't seem to go anywhere. It seemed that Finn and Jim just wandered aimlessly around, befriending unlikable people and getting into trouble. Secondly, Finn was a very unlikeable protagonist. He doesn't show any sort of compassion or kindness towards anyone -- and doesn't seem to care if his friend Jim lives or dies. It is difficult to root for and follow a hero that you hate. While I personally did not enjoy this book, don't let that stop you. I know many people who really enjoyed "Huckleberry Finn" -- I was just not one of them. But, if you are someone who likes a strong plot and a fairly likable hero, this one is not for you.

Reviewer's Name: Gillian P.
The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald, Scott F.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

The classic tale of "The Great Gatsby" follows Nick Carraway, a newcomer to the city, who discovers the lavish and intoxicating life of Jay Gatsby, his next door neighbor. Nick soon becomes entangled in a net of secrets and deception that involves his friends Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. After hearing so many incredible things about "The Great Gatsby", I came into the story with high expectations. Unfortunately, they were not really met. While the story is undeniably powerful, it lacks in some areas. I found all the characters extremely unlikable. There was no one to really root for. In addition, there were parts of the story that seemed to drag on for far too long. I found myself asking, "When is something going to happen?" at several points. All in all, I didn't hate this story, but it definitely wasn't my favorite classic to read. Grade 12.

Reviewer's Name: Gillian P.
Awards:
1984
Orwell, George
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

1984 is a timeless classic about a dystopian future where war is constant and you are constantly watched and carefully studied by an ominous force called the Thought Police. Everyone is expected to completely devote themselves to The Party (the ruling government) and believe everything they say. If the Thought Police detects the slightest amount of dissonance in a citizen, they disappear and, according to The Party, cease to exist - and never existed. One party member, Winston Smith, has been rebelling against the Party in thought only for years. Now, he finally gets enough courage to stand up for what's right. Will Winston be able to stop the tyrannical rule of The Party or will it all be in vain? Find out in 1984!

Reviewer's Name: Mckenna R.
Lord of the Flies
Golding, William
2 stars = Meh
Review:

A group of boys are stranded on an island after a plane crash. With no adult supervision, the boys are free to do whatever they want. At first this is something to celebrate. However, as their time on the island grows, the boys learn the challenges of staying alive. Eventually, some of the boys become complete savages and complete chaos reigns the island.
Lord of the Flies is full of symbolism and is at some points very difficult to understand. To follow the story, much inferring is necessary along with a fairly advanced vocabulary. I personally did not enjoy the story very much.
However, some readers may disagree. I do not recommend this book for anyone that is younger than high school.
Reviewer Grade:9

Reviewer's Name: John B.
Genres:
Nineteen Eighty-Four
Orwell, George
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Okay, let me just say this: All you poser dystopian teen novels 'breaking the rules' with scandalous gratuitous plot elements better just step back. Nineteen Eighty-Four, the granddaddy of all dystopian novels, just handed your butt to you. This book isn't kidding around. Danger, insubordination, illicit sex, graphic torture, this book has it all. It's not for the weak of heart. And the ending is so powerful and heart-wrenching! The only reason it doesn't get 5 stars from me is the lengthy political and philosophical treatises that appear a few times in the book. I get it, this is the quiet power behind the novel and the part that is dissected by academia. But I'm not an academic, so it didn't do it for me.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Pensées
Pascal, Blaise
2 stars = Meh
Review:

While I do enjoy and appreciate the ease of which I can listen to an audiobook and absorb the content of a variety of books, there are always a few books that don’t translate well into the format. Sure, I might have my qualms about the narrator’s pronunciation, volume control, or other technical issues. However, this is the first book where the rating I’m giving applies explicitly to the audiobook version, and not necessarily to the book’s contents. The difference here is that the audiobook version of Pascal’s Pensées doesn’t allow the reader enough time to adequately absorb the content.

If I were to classify this book, I’d probably say it’s closer to a listing of complaints/observations that would work better on a multi-year “item-a-day” calendar than in an audiobook format. The majority of Pensées is a series of proverbs by Blaise Pascal, a name that most scientists will recognize. The fact that he so thoroughly analyzed the theology of the Bible and came to the conclusions that he did perhaps speaks volumes about scientific atheists today who have not done nearly as much research on their spiritual beliefs. There are plenty of gems of wisdom in this book; it’s just that the audiobook format doesn’t easily allow the reader to dwell on them for more than a moment.

Perhaps when I have a little more time to fully appreciate Pascal’s Pensées, I’ll sit down and read it. Fortunately, since it’s in the public domain, this book is free to read on Project Gutenberg. Until then, though, I can’t recommend people read the audiobook version of this text.
If I manage to physically read this book in the future, I’ll likely give it an adequate rating, but as it is right now, I only have the audiobook version to go off of.

A book of proverbs you should read instead of listen to, I give Pensées 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Twain, Mark
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Huckleberry Finn is a rebel against school, church, and the respectable society that wants to civilize him. Therefore, after faking his own death, Huck embarkes on a raft journey down the Mississippi River along with Jim, a runaway slave. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel full of shenanigans, adventures, schemes, and pranks in addition to deep contemplation that gives some great advice. This adventure is truly a classic and I highly recommend it for any middle schooler or older since there is something in this book for all ages.

Reviewer's Name: John B.
Animal Farm
Orwell, George
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Animal Farm is a dystopian novel about a farm overrun by the farm animals. The animals revolt and create their own hierarchy, which poses an overarching metaphor for humanity. Like many of Orwell’s books, this book exposes the flaws of mankind in an allegorical manner. I chose this book for its dystopian nature, and it did not disappoint. It is artful in its satire, and Orwell takes a clear stance on tyranny. This is among the best dystopian books I have read.
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Sabrina J
Mildred Pierce
Cain, James M.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

It’s almost uncanny how timeless the story of Mildred Pierce remains to this day. I could easily see a similar story set in 2009, immediately following the housing crash—instead of following the Great Depression. Of course, this also is an unsettling reminder that many societal structures haven’t changed much since the 1940’s. The patriarchal society that existed then still exists to an extent today, which is troubling because of the increased difficulty women have in trying to get ahead in life, especially after something like a divorce or bankruptcy. The fact that the titular character was able to overcome these limitations speaks to her talent as much as to her luck.

The most noticeable differences between the Hollywood version with Joan Crawford and the source material of this book mainly come down to the amount of suggestive/objectionable material within it. This is likely due to the book’s slightly more pulpy origins, combined with the Hays Code that was prevalent in Hollywood at the time. In fact, the plot almost seems modern, despite its 1940’s roots. The women in Mildred Pierce were certainly more in control of their destinies than we’d like to think, given the era in which they lived.

While the basic rags-to-riches story is inspiring and does lead to some interesting character growth, the constant conflict between the main character and her daughter or husband or lover is what really drives the plot along. The only difference between how Mildred acts at the beginning of the book and how she acts at the end comes down to the simple accumulation of life experience. If she had encountered the kinds of problems when she was barely scraping by, she wouldn’t have reacted in the same way as when she had built a restaurant empire on the one skill she had: hospitality.

A story about a strangely modern woman who overcame patriarchal limitations, I give Mildred Pierce 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin

Pages