The Old Curiosity Shop ★★★★☆

oldcuriosityshop (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Old Curiosity Shop
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 632
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Little Nell’s Grandfather runs a Curiosity Shop and everyone, including her older brother and a money lending dwarf, think he is rich as Croessus. Unfortunately, he’s also a secret gambler and ends up spending every penny they have on gaming, trying to win big so Nell can live in luxury for the rest of her life.

The help, a young man by the name of Kit, is dismissed, the brother plots to marry Nell to his friend because he is still convinced the Grandfather is rich (just miserly) and the dwarf causes trouble because of his evil nature.

Nell and Grandfather take to the road and meet various characters, some good, some bad and are saved from privation and death by working at a little church in some tiny town. The Grandfather’s younger brother returns from faraway parts, very well off and begins searching for his brother and Grand-niece.

The dwarf plots rot and ruin for everyone and Kit finds a kindly couple to work for and settles down pretty well. Everyone caroms off of each other and does the thing called life and at the end Nell dies, Kit marries happily, Nell’s brother is killed in France by bad company and the dwarf drowns and his poor wife finally marries happily.

 

My Thoughts:

This felt like Dickens used Nell as the white ball in a game of billiards. It is the focus of each player but what it does is defined by how it interacts with all the other billiards. Nobody cares about the white ball very much. In the same way Nell ‘s importance to this story was more how she drove interactions with the other characters.

I liked all the various stories. They were great Dickens’ stories but the ties that bound everything together felt a bit weak. I almost wished that there had been more of the Marchioness (another young girl who ends up marrying and helping reform another side character) and not so much Nell. Nell was not a strong person and as such didn’t have the personality to drive this story forward.

Don’t get me wrong, this was still a good, fun, interesting story. But it didn’t have quite that “pop” that I found in some of my other reads by Dickens. Could also be that coming after the Pickwick Papers didn’t do this any favors for me either.

Overall, I enjoyed this but didn’t find much to say about it and nothing made me sit up and go “Awesomesauce”. Definitely on the lower end of the Dickens Ladder.

★★★★☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

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The Pickwick Papers ★★★★★★

pickwickpapers (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Pickwick Papers
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 6 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 943
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Samuel Pickwick, gentleman bachelor and amateur scientist, has formed a small group of like minded men and they all decide to go exploring the Countryside of England to expand their knowledge of their Great Country.

As such, the 4 Gentlemen, Mr Pickwick, Mr Snodgrass, Mr Tuddle and Mr Tuppman, set out to see what they can see. Along the way Mr Pickwick picks up a servant by the name of Sam Weller, the company meets an honorable countryman by the name of Mr Wardle, the 2 younger gentlemen of the group fall in love and marry the niece and daughter of Mr Wardle, Mr Tuppman is disappointed in love with Mr Wardle’s spinster sister Miss Rachel. Mr Pickwick becomes embroiled in breach of promise suit with his landlady due to the machinations of the dastardly duo Dodson & Fogg, attorneys at law and ends up spending 3 months in debtors’ prison for refusing to pay the fine, as it would all go to the lawyers instead of the landlady. Pickwick and Weller have multiple runins with their lowclass counterparts, Jingle and Trotter and are made fools of several times over. Sam Weller’s father comes into the story with his own adventures of his second wife, a widow who owns a tavern and is a strict adherent to the sect of Preacher Stiggleton, who preaches teetotally while cooling drinking pineapple rum punch by the hogshead.

These are but a part of the adventures the Pickwick Club has over the course of 2 years and at the end of the book everything turns out for the best. Marriages and children abound, bad characters reform, love and generosity overcome all hardships and obstacles and Mr Pickwick retires to a city house with Sam and his wife Mary to keep him in order.

 

My Thoughts:

First off, yes, I did give this 6 stars. I know circumstances played a part, ie, several dnf’s had my reading expectations abysmally low. But even without that, this was just a fantastic book.

It started a little rough and in a rather formal vein but that was for the first chapter only. Then it turned into Dickens’ more relatable style. I’m a Dickens’ fan through and through.

This was an interesting little plot-less book. I say little because even though the “official” page count is over 900 pages, when I used Calibre’s page count plugin, this was barely over 600 pages. I suspect the pictures and chapters each had their own breaks which artificially inflated the page count.

I think humor was the most prevalent of the emotions that Dickens was trying to call forth and my goodness, he did a grand job. Sam Weller, Pickwick’s man servant was a font of pugnacious, pugalistic one liners and retorts that had me in stitches. He was also a bit more knowledgeable about the world at large than his master and thus was able to guide him safely through some troubled waters.

Romance, pathos, politics, social justice’ing of the day (Dickens was dead set against the whole idea of Debtors Prison. But to be fair, he actually had solid reasons, not just vapid, idiotic, baseless, pointless and generally useless ideas like the sjw’s of today), hijinks and lots and lots of drinking.

Through it all, Pickwick navigates the adventures as best he can and we can cheer him on, groan with him, laugh with him (and Sam Weller) and generally love every second spent reading this book. I’m also giving this the Best Book of the Year tag.

★★★★★★

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

Nicholas Nickleby ★★★★★

nicholasnickleby (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Nicholas Nickleby
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 1029
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Nicholas Nickleby dies of a broken heart after speculating all his families money and losing it. He dies and leaves behind a wife and his young son Nicholas and a younger daugher Kate. He leaves them to the tender mercies of his brother Ralph, a rich money lender.

Ralph sends Nicholas to a school master as an aide with the promise that Ralph will take care of Mrs Nickleby and Kate as long as Nicholas stays the course. Said schoolmaster, one Wackford Squeers, is in cahoots with Ralph on various usurous objectives that Ralph has in mind. Squeers uses and abuses his charges and also gets free labor from a simple minded orphan named Smikes. When Squeers begin to beat Smikes almost to death, Nicholas intervenes even though he knows it means his Uncle Ralph will kick his Mother and sister out onto the streets.

Nicholas and Smikes join an actors troupe to earn a living. Nicholas receives a letter from an employee of his Uncle begging him to come back to London.

During this time, Ralph had used his niece Kate as bate to entice a young lord to get money from him. Kate begs her Uncle to spare her the shame of such a thing but Ralph will not relent. Money is his god.

Nicholas returns to London, defies his Uncle, starts a new job with the Cheeryble brothers. He comes across a beautiful young woman and has to contend with his Uncle and Wackford Squeers trying to kidnap Smikes. Many schemes of Ralph all come together around Nicholas and with the help of various friends, Nicholas overcomes all and sees Ralph ruined.

Nicholas marries the beautiful young lady, Kate marries Frank Cheeryble, the nephew of the Cheeryble brothers and everything works out well for the good guys and the bad guys all get their just desserts, whether prison, murder or exile.

 

My Thoughts:

First, let’s deal with something here. Wackford Squeers. I have been saying that name in dulcet tones for the last 2 weeks. I mean, how PERFECT is that name for a villain? Wackford Squeers, Wackford Squeers, Wackford Squeers. This could probably have been a 5star book just on the strength of that name alone. Thankfully, the rest of the book carries its weight as well.

The characters, all of them, are fantastic. From youthful, hotheaded and sometimes silly Nicholas to grasping, hate filled Uncle Ralph to poor, pathetic, heart breaking and sympathy inducing Smikes to cruel, petty and cowardly Wackford Squeers. Dickens doesn’t just write ABOUT these characters, he brings them to life, in all their glorious ups and downs. I know that Dickens is shamelessly manipulating me with how he describes poor Smikes but I don’t care because he does it so well. My heart broke for the poor wretch even while I KNEW that Dickens was doing this cold heartedly to bring about just such a reaction from me. And Wackford Squeers, my goodness, such a vile pot of avarice, cowardice and bulliness that I loved to hate him. Plus, singing his name to the tune of ♪Davey,♪ Davey Crockett,♪King of the Wild Frontier♪ fit perfectly and almost had me dancing with glee.

The trials and tribulations of Nicholas, Kate, various other side characters, all tie into a wondrous tapestry that simply enchanted me. Now, this being Dickens, and originally serialized, and Dickens being paid by the word, there were times that I was tempted to skim or let my mind wonder during some of the more descriptive pages or while Mrs Nickleby would wax eloquent about something that nobody cared about, but I overcame and read every word and I must say, I am richer for it. While Dickens isn’t by any means a sparse writer, neither is he a wasteful writer. His descriptions bring the people walking the street alive. His words make the characters as real as real can be. When I was tempted to simply skip anything involving Mrs Nickleby and her pointless reminisces and get annoyed by her, it was what Dickens was aiming for. He wanted a character just like that and he created her from thin air.

While I gave this 5stars back in ’07 and 5 stars again, I don’t know if I’d recommend anyone starting their exploration of Dickens with this or not. First off, it is over 1000pages for the entire novel. Even the broken up edition I read back in ’07 was almost 600 pages for each volume. However, thanks to the likes of Sanderson, Martin and Co, the Mega-Novel (trademark pending) is becoming main stream and the mere size of Dickens might not be quite the impediment it would have been even 20 years ago. The other thing would be this showcases the Victorian ideals to a T(ea) (haha!!!!) and that might be off putting those of modern culture. Nicholas not pursuing Madeline Bray because it wouldn’t be proper as he wasn’t of the same class anymore (she was monied while the Nickleby’s weren’t anymore) and Nicholas persuading his sister Kate to not accept Frank Cheeryble’s proposal (at first) because it wouldn’t look right since Nicholas worked for the Cheeryble Uncles. It is very much outside the egalitarian ideas we carry around today that I can see it turning people away. Now, that being said, anyone who IS turned off from Dickens because of something like that doesn’t deserve to read the Master anyway. So no great loss.

After arguing with myself in the above paragraph, I have realized this book not only gets my unadulterated acclamation, but my highest recommendation AND the first of the year Best Book of the Year tag. I wish I could praise this book more, I really do but this will have to do.

Sincerely,

Bookstooge

 

★★★★★

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

No Thoroughfare ★★★★☆

nothoroughfare (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: No Thoroughfare
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens & Wilkie Collins
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 256
Format: Digital Edition

 

The synopsis will have some real spoilers, so if you think you might ever read this book and don’t want it spoiled, just read the “My Thoughts” portion.

Synopsis: Spoilers

A baby boy is given to an Foundling and in his teen years is adopted by an older lady. She educates him and reveals that she is his birth mother. She sets him on the path of success in the Wine Business and promptly passes away.

Said young man, Walter Wilding, is in poor health and so takes on a partner to help with the business, one George Vendale. Walter also hires a new housekeeper and in the process it is revealed that she was a former nurse at the Foundling. It is also revealed that there were several “Walter Wilding”s and the lady got the wrong one. This distresses young Wilding to no end and he begins to seek out the rightful heir. It also places an incredible stress upon his already weak constitution and he soon passes away. He leaves it to his partner George to find the heir and if he can’t, to take Wilding’s share of the company.

At the same time, George is woo’ing Margeurite Obenreizer, a young swiss woman who is under the guardianship of her half-uncle. During this whole thing, it is revealed by an inquiry of George’s that someone in a high position of trust, has been stealing money from the company that Obenreizer works for.

George ends up taking a hike over the Alps to give his evidence and of course it is Obenreizer, who goes along to try to either steal the evidence or kill George. Margeurite senses something is wrong, follows with the help of faithful retainer of George’s and saves George only to apparently have him die in her arms.

Several months elapse and Obenreizer, now let go from his previous job, is working for a lawyer with the aim of stealing his secrets and using them for personal gain. He learns something about Vendale, who he thinks is dead. Then Margeurite and George spring forth, alive and whole and reveal the treachery of Obenreizer in full. Obenreizer, thinking he is getting revenge, reveals that George Vendale is actually adopted by the Vendales and that he was a foundling. Of course, it turns out that George Vendale was the heir that Walter Wilding was looking for the entire time.

The book ends with Obenreizer dying in an avalanche and George and Margeurite getting married.

 

My Thoughts:

I remembered a few things from my initial read in ’03, but in so many ways it was like reading it for the first time. I enjoyed this a lot.

This was drama of the finest vintage. Orphans and searches for lost heirs and love and evil villains and love triumphant and just desserts. This has it all in spades. And it is short, so anyone who might be intimidated by Dicken’s rather lengthy style won’t be put off. I don’t have anything else to say. I’m tired and worded out.

★★★★☆

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

Martin Chuzzlewit ★★★★★

martinchuzzlewit (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Martin Chuzzlewit
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 954
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Martin Chuzzlewit, the Elder, has a falling out with his grandson, Martin Chuzzlewit, the younger. It all centers around the Elder’s ward, Mary Graham. Both men being cut from the same cloth, ie, stubborn, they go their separate ways. The Younger to seek his fortune so as to be able to provide for Mary and the Elder amongst his other relatives to see if any of them are worthy of being his heir.

We meet a veritable cornucopia of people along the way.

Mr Pecksniff, a relative of the Chuzzlewit’s. A more self-righteous, moralizing, hypocritical and thoroughly sleezy character you couldn’t ask for. The Elder goes to live with Pecksniff and his 2 daughters. The Elder allows Pecksniff complete control over him so as to see if there is even one drop of selflessness in him. Also living with Mr. Pecksniff is Tom Pinch, a humble character who believes the best of everyone and while talented, always believes that it is the genius in others that makes his doings so good.

We have another branch of the Chuzzlewit family introduced and the father there dies soon after and the son, Jonas, takes over. Jonas is a mean, grasping, simple, villianous fellow. He marries one of his cousins, Pecksniff’s younger daughter, for her dowry and then gets involved in a huge money scam. It is revealed that Jonas murdered his father so he could inherit and he, Jonas, then murders another fellow who knew of this and was the leader of the money scam. Jonas ends up penniless and commits suicide by poison on the way to jail to avoid the gallows.

The Younger meets up with Mark Tapley, a jolly fellow who believes it is his duty to serve under poor conditions so as to “bear up and be jolly”. Martin and Mark head to American, get boonswaggled into buying a swamp, almost die and then come back to Englad. Martin changes and realizes how selfish he has been and begins working on becoming a better man. Mark realizes that he’s going to be jolly no matter what circumstances he’s under, so he marries the widower of a local inn and decides to be a jolly taproom owner.

Tom Pinch, the assistant to Mr. Pecksniff, has always believed that Pecksniff walked on air. However, when he interrupts Pecksniff’s plans to marry Mary Graham so as to get an even greater grasp on the Elder and to hurt the Younger, Tom has his eyes opened. He is secretly in love with Mary himself but knows she loves the Younger and honors that love. He does what he can to protect Mary and is fired by Pecksniff. He makes his way to London to his sister’s and a friends and begins working as a clerk under mysterious circumstances. The friend, John Westlock, a rich young gentleman, falls in love with Ruth Pinch and by the end of the book they are married and Tom is living with them, bringing kindness and gentleness to all he comes into contact with.

Pecksniff is taken in by the money scam that Jonas is involved in and when the masterminds abscond to America with all the money, Pecksniff’s estates became collateral for all the other people involved. The Elder reveals that he knows of his villianous ways concerning Mary and cuts Pecksniff out of his life for good. Pecksniff ends up a drunken hobo.

The Elder and the Younger are reconciled when both realize what asses they have been. The Younger marries Mary with the Elder’s blessing and they live happily ever after.

 

My Thoughts:

It has been 10 years to the month since I last read Martin Chuzzlewit. So this re-read was definitely due. It was also a complete smashing success. Dickens give full reign to his verbosity but this time around, I was able to appreciate the wordsmithing that took place instead of being annoyed by the windy wordiness. Part of it was that Dickens is making his characters fully fleshed out with the long passages, the little, or not so little, passages of dialogue. He is building these characters from the ground up and much like a real person, they have quirks. Dickens gives us his characters, fully quirked!

While this is entitled Martin Chuzzlewit, I found that Tom Pinch was the real hero of this book. Dickens explores Selfishness through his characters, deliberate or otherwise and Tom Pinch is the antidote to that all. While others are sunk in schemes and plots, Mr Pinch is nothing but kindess and love. He seeks out ways to help anyone who comes across his path and takes upon his own back the rod meant for another. There were times where I wanted to just shout “You GO Tom Pinch!”

The rest of the side characters also made this book what it was. From Bailey the little rascal boy to Mrs. Gamp, to the survivors of Eden (the swamp Martin and Mark go to in America), to the politicians in America. Oh man, Martin’s time in America was great. Dickens doesn’t spare his cousins across the Pond one bit. Caricatured and lampooned, Dickens shows us a land that has not yet gone through the fire of its Civil War and it is not a pretty picture. Money, slander and violence were the watchwords then. Which goes to show that not much has really changed here in 175 years.

Now on to the two Martin’s. None of this story would have happened if either of them weren’t such pigheaded boneheads. Thankfully, Dickens doesn’t make them the main focus of the story even while using them as the skeleton upon which the whole book hangs. The various side characters give us flesh, blood, emotion, etc, making for a pleasant read. If it was just a book about the side characters it would have gone “sploosh!” in a bloody, fluidy mess and if it was just a book about the Martins, it would have been Skeleton War, and honestly, who wants THAT in a Charles Dickens book?

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yeah, yeah, I know. Putting in a gratuitous skeleton war picture in a Charles Dickens review. Shameless!

 

I found that I had to almost literally hold myself back from racing through this. Dickens was a wordsmith and I am finding that the goals in reading something from a wordsmith are different from the goals I have when reading something like Forgotten Realms. When I was in the right mind frame, I enjoyed the long, convoluted passages immensely. It was when I got impatient and tried to hurry things along that I ended up wishing that Dickens hadn’t been quite so verbose. I feel that my time reading this was well spent though and that my time was rewarded with some great storytelling and some really good writing. Reading good writing is one of the best ways to learn how to spot bad writing. I also gave this my coveted “Favorite” tag. Now you know I mean serious business!

To end, this first step along my Dickens re-read path was completely successful. I appreciate his skill even more and I find his stories even more universal in touching upon humanity in all its glories and in all its shame. Bravo Mr Dickens!

★★★★★

bookstooge

 

 

A Christmas Carol (Classic)

d832456a6dd75924a6a790f4156fe839Synopsis

Scrooge, the meanest, most cold-hearted man in England, is visited by 3 spirits on Christmas, in an attempt to change his fate.

My Thoughts

This is a classic for a reason. For one thing, it is short. Short enough to tell a good story, short enough to read over a single week, short enough to keep even a child’s interest.

And Dickens brings forth his skill as a wordsmith and weaves a magic tale that will keep you entranced.

I think just about everyone in Western Civilization knows the story, at the least the basics. Scrooge has become synonomous with greed, miserliness and general grumpiness at anything fun. The spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, we know them.

For goodness sake, the MUPPETS made a movie based on this. And I have to say, it was a good movie too!

The changes in Scrooge came fast and furious and at times I wondered how someone could go from one to the next and be real, but the whole point Dickens was trying to make was that people could change, And while Dickens only alludes to Christ, his point was that Christmas was a changing point for the whole of humanity.

Now that I’ve read this [I believe I had read it in highschool, but not since], I can see it easily becoming a yearly traditional read.

Author: Charles Dickens

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars

A Christmas Carol

Crossposted at Bookstooge.booklikes.blogspot.wordpress.com