Category Archives: Reviews

The Winter of Our Discontent

I finished The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck recently and added it to Tier 2 of my Best Novels list, “Incredible Masterpieces”.

Like always, Steinbeck has crafted incredible characters and woven a story around them that makes their character exploration incredibly natural. He is the absolute epitomy of “show, don’t tell”.

That puts three Steinbeck novels in my first two tiers.

Man do I love Steinbeck.

The Once and Future King – Tier 3

I just added The Once and Future King to my Best Novels List, slotting it into Tier 3  – Especially Excellent. (Technically it’s a 5-book series, but I listed it as one item anyways.)

I loved Merlin’s humourous, playful philosophy; Arthur’s sincerity and determination; Lancelot’s courage and tragedy.

The book is especially effective when it’s read with the awareness that it was written in the middle of World War II, what with King Arthur’s efforts to do away with “might is right” and Merlin’s work to explore the meaning of war.

I actually “read” the book as an audiobook through Audible, and the reader was excellent. I highly recommend it.

Sherlock Holmes: 4 Observations So Far

Here are four things that have stood out to me during my early readings of the complete Sherlock Holmes collection.

  • There’s drama!
    • I figured the Sherlock Holmes stories would focus almost exclusively on Holmes decoding challenging puzzles and deducing things from the merest slivers of evidence. There’s plenty of that, but there’s also a lot of character drama and twisting plot that I wasn’t prepared to find. It isn’t necessarily all that powerful, as far as proper stories go, but it’s there, it’s gripping enough, and it diversifies the reading experience.
  • Dr. Watson is a real person.
    • He isn’t just a wallflower or a wooden plank, playing the everyman to Holmes’ brilliance. I’m glad: even first-person narrators need to have character.
  • Sherlock Holmes does cocaine.
    • Ok, the stories were written in a different era and all that, but… really? The excuse is that Holmes has such an active mind that when he doesn’t have a mystery to solve, he needs chemical stimulation to keep his mind occupied. Blech.
  • I haven’t seen the word “elementary” even once so far.
    • I’m not sure whether I just have to keep reading, or whether the catchphrase comes more from TV and movie adaptations. I’ll let you know if and when I find out!

“The Sword in the Stone” by TH White

I read The Sword in the Stone, by TH White, fairly quickly, and I found it pretty fun. It’s endearing and amusing, and I can definitely see why it appeals to children so much. It’s basically a collection of small adventures, involving time spent as a variety of animals, jousting, magic, meetings with Robin Hood (pardon me; I mean Robin Wood), and more.

Overall, though, there isn’t much central purpose to the book. The “plot” (from which the title is drawn) only really shows up for the last 10 or 20 pages, and it isn’t outlined in much detail. It all just happens basically as a summary, and then it’s over. I would have liked to spend another 50 pages reading about the details of the sword in the stone, and how it affects Arthur, and Merlyn’s departure, and so on.

But kids probably don’t care about that aspect of things all that much.

Overall, it’s a fun read, and not too long, so I’d recommend giving it a look.

“Peter Pan” and “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”

Peter Pan was my favourite Disney movie as a kid (until my parents brought home Aladdin), but I had never read the book that the movie was based on until earlier this month. I found it a lot of fun to read, and I definitely intend to read it to my kids (if and when I have any, of course).

Some elements of Peter Pan definitely hearken from an earlier age: Wendy is just delighted to be able to spend nearly all of her time cooking and cleaning for a tribe of unruly boys, as any self-respecting young woman would be; Peter and the Lost Boys–along with John and Michael–kill pirates, actually kill them; and the representations of the Indians are pretty heavily stereotyped. But the sense of adventure and excitement in the book are still strong, as the characters fly around Neverland and get mixed up in all kinds of fun and trouble.

The writing is quite clever at times. I love how Mrs. Darling is described as having one kiss hidden in the corner of her mouth that you could never quite get to, no matter how hard you tried, and Nana, the children’s St. Bernard nanny, is anthropomorphized in a very amusing way.

Overall, I’d recommend reading Peter Pan, and reading it to children, but there are parts of it that will need some context and explanation so that they don’t convey the wrong ideas.

I also read Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and while it had some amusing parts, some fun concepts (babies are little birds from an island who get sent to parents to grow into babies, and children’s personalities depend on what kind of bird they were), and some emotion (Peter Pan returning to his mother, hoping she has kept the window open for him to fly back in), it didn’t, ultimately, have much purpose or story. It feels much more like a small collection of semi-related stories without any real sense of direction. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but it makes the whole thing feel like less of a book somehow, if you know what I mean.