FTF Book Review: Lisa Jensen – Alias Hook

I will never tire of Peter Pan and the spin-offs, sequels, prequels, alternate stories, and whatever else it has inspired. The Neverland is a special place and fertile ground for the imagination. Some writers have made brilliant new stories of J.M. Barrie’s play, others riff on the Disney version of Peter Pan. Lisa Jensen gives a voice to the unsung hero of the story, Captain Hook. Let’s be honest. We all have a soft spot for that dark and sinister man, right?

alias hook newALIAS HOOK
by Lisa Jensen

Published by: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014 (2013)
Ebook: 368 pages
Standalone
My rating: 6/10
Review copy provided by the publisher (thank you!)

First sentence: Second star to the right of what?

divider1Fairy Tales Retold

  • Peter Pan

divider1Synopsis

“Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It’s my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy.”
Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.
With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a beautifully and romantically written adult fairy tale.

divider1Review

Hook is trapped in the Neverland. The cultured and correct but lonely man yearns for nothing more but to finally die. Whether it’s at the hands of the tyrannical boy Peter Pan or through some other means, doesn’t really matter to him. But then he stumbles across a woman – a grown woman – in the Neverland…

Lisa Jensen takes her sweet, sweet time telling the story of how Hook got his life back. There is magic involved, and a prophecy (naturally), Hook needs to come-of-age in a way, despite his immortality and his eternal war with the eternal child. I could sum up the plot in one sentence or I could do it like the author and talk and talk and talk without getting to the point. Lisa Jensen’s strength is her use of language – she writes flowery prose with tons of description, an introspective, thoughtful protagonist, but very little action. I have nothing against a book that moves slowly, that demands to be savored rather than devoured in one quick bite. But the need for plot, for a reason for this story to be told, is still there. And this is where I was disappointed a bit.

Alias Hook started out well enough. It slogged along a bit until Stella Parrish showed up and turned Hook’s head with her modern (comparatively) speech, manners, and ideas. I loved, loved, loved the scene where the two banter over a bottle of wine and I really wish there had been more scenes like it. This book is also supposedly a romance. But apart from the abovementioned snappy banter, there is very little to go on. Hook falls in love with Stella, to a large part because Stella doesn’t mind his missing hand, his scars, or his dark past. Once they are together however, it gets sappy as hell and I rolled my eyes frequently.

alias hook audio coverI can forgive cheesiness for the sake of good old Captain Hook becoming a little more human, a little less cold-hearted. But what I can’t forgive is the very thin plot. We find out why Hook is in the Neverland in the first place, and then, through convenient intervention by fairies, the Indians, and the mermaids are shown the signs of an ancient prophecy that will finally set Hook free – if he reads the signs right and does the right thing at the right time. That’s it. There isn’t much more to it, I’m sad to say. The rest of the nearly 400 pages is filled with description and inner monologue and rehashing of the same things we read in the beginning of the book.

I did like certain aspects of the world-building, however. Pan’s tyrannical rule, for example, is shown through small details, such as his dislike of roses. The Neverland accomodates the boy in everything he wishes, so there are no roses. Another cool spin on the original is the mermaids, the only creatures that Pan is afraid of. We only touch the surface of their story but I was really hooked whenever the mermaids showed up. They did what I always hope for in a fairy tale retelling – they added something new to a well-known and beloved story.

The fact that it took me weeks and weeks to finish the book, reading in small increments only, speaks to its readability. It is not a difficult story to follow but the prose is so thick, so luscious that it can be overwhelming if you read too much of it in one go. This was by no means a bad book, just one that had quite a few flaws. A tighter and faster moving plot and more layered side-characters would have been a good place to start. Nonetheless, I had fun in this Neverland adventure. Recommended to readers with patience or a deep, deep love of Peter Pan.

RATING: 6/10 – Good

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Review: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – A Study in Scarlet

I had read only one Sherlock Holmes novel – The Hound of the Baskervilles – before trying the BBC series Sherlock. As many others before me, I am completely and utterly in love with this TV show but like any serious reader, I felt the need to finally read more of Doyle’s original stories. And what better way to start than with my huge Complete Works paperback (and a Gutenberg free ebook) of A Study in Scarlet?

A STUDY IN SCARLET
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Published: Penguin, 2011 (1887)
ISBN: 0241952891
Pages: 162
Copy: paperback, ebook
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army.

A Study in Scarlet is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time when they become flat-mates at the famous 221 B Baker Street. In “A Study in Scarlet” Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities

Dr. John Watson has just returned from his work as a war surgeon in Afghanistan and is looking for somebody to share a flat with him. He is introduced to Sherlock Holmes, the only existing consulting detective in the world – and his theory of deduction. Soon Watson learns that it is more than a theroy as he watches Holmes figure out the details of a murder case. A dead man is found on the floor of an empty apartment, the only (to us ordinary people) clue is the German word RACHE written on the wall in blood.

I was surprised at how readable this book was. Maybe I underestimate my own ability to read English but then I did read my first Sherlock Holmes when I was about 19 years old. Either way, the language has a nice flow to it and I finished this small adventure in about two hours. The unravelling of the case was done quickly, even for Holmes’ standards, but the second half of the book shows us the murderer’s backstory. We turn from dialogue-heavy banter between Holmes and the police force to a tale that makes us look at the murderer in a different way and shows us his true motive.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle managed to pack a fair bit of criticism into his detective story and that also took me by surprise. I will definitely read all the other Sherlock Holmes stories (even though I’m worried I might deduct the outcome from my having seen the TV show) and I’ll probably reread The Hound of Baskervilles as well. Holmes is a likable, if very cocky, hero (don’t tell him I called him that) and while his knowledge in certain fields is almost unbelievable, I will gladly suspend my desbelief for the sake of a good story.

I recommend these books for anyone who – like me, a number of years ago – is daunted by the idea of “reading the classics”. This quick read doesn’t only show the beginnings of Holmes and Watson’s beautiful friendship but it offers a fun detective story and a surprisingly intriguing background to our murderer.

THE GOOD: Easy to read, great characters, a lot of depth that I was surprised to find on so few pages.
THE BAD: The actual detecting could have lasted longer for my taste. I can’t get enough of Sherlock’s wise-cracking.
THE VERDICT: Recommended, but maybe a longer Sherlock tale would be a better starter-drug.

RATING: 6,5/10

SHERLOCK vs. Sherlock Holmes

Having just seen the first episode of the BBC TV show, I can’t help but notice how brilliantly this classic story has been translated to the screen. Its beginning is almost a scene-by-scene adaptation of the original Sherlock’s case into 21st century London, including the war in Afghanistan (makes you wonder, doesn’t it?). Who would have thought that cell phones, the internet, blogs, and automatic guns could work with such a well-known and well-loved tale. I am impressed and a little bit awed. Also, I couldn’t help but picture Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch and simply dress them in their appropriate garb (including the hat). My curiosity to discover the other Sherlock stories and compare them to the BBC TV show has risen – and I can’t wait for season 3 of that. I am, so to speak, Sherlocked.

Mary Shelley – Frankenstein

I often wonder why I, the biggest bookworm in my circle of friends, have always been cursed (or blessed?) with teachers who never required any reading. We were encouraged to read, sure, but we never had reading lists or discussions about the classics, or modern controversial books, not even Orwell. So I’m behind on all of those books and as I’m catching up, I wish more and more my teachers had pushed some of these titles into my hands then.

FRANKENSTEIN
by Mary Shelley

Published: Signet, 1999 (1818)
ISBN: 0451532244
Pages: 272
Copy: paperback, ebook

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: I am by birth a Genevese; and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic.

The Original Gothic-Horror Literary Classic! Mary Shelley’s deceptively simple story of Victor Frankenstein and the creature he brings to life, first published in 1818, is now more widely read-and more widely discussed by scholars-than any other work of the Romantic period. From the creature’s creation to his wild lament over the dead body of his creator in the Arctic wastes, the story retains its narrative hold on the reader even as it spins off ideas in rich profusion.

Victor Frankenstein relates the story of his life in minute detail and with great care. We learn first of how his parents met and how he and his siblings grew up in the happiest of families, living in Geneva, surrounded by loving friends and caring neighbours. Once Victor discovers science for himself and moves to Ingolstadt to attend university, his life takes a turn and his sole ambition is the creation of life – without a woman or divine intervention. Yet as soon as his creation comes to life, Victor renounces all responsibility and wants nothing to do with it. Misery ensues…

Dense and maticulate in style, I felt it easy to fall in to this gothic tale of horror and – yes – science fiction. Frankenstein and his family, while rather too good to be true, are characters I came to care about and whose happiness I was hoping for. I was surprised into how much detail the author went relating the family life and, especially later in the book, travels and landscapes. More surprising was the fact that the key scenes – the coming to life of Frankenstein’s creature – as well as some gruesome murders, encounters with the monster, and other potentially impressive scenes – were told almost hastily, as if the author wanted to leave all the details to her readers’ imagination.

My imagination went wild. The themes discussed here make you think. Creating life means having to take responsibility. And whatever it is you create, however much you may see it as an object while it’s a work in progress, as soon as it’s alive, it has a mind of its own. Frankenstein learns this in the most painful way imaginable and as the story progresses, we descend into the darker realms of life.

This was an impressive story with some great charactarisation – especially the monster felt more human to me than some too-good-to-be-true women featured in the story – and just a bit too much travelogue and landscape descriptions for my taste. Ultimately, I am glad to have read it and recommend it with some reservations.

THE GOOD: Raises the question of responsibility for ones actions and of what makes us human.
THE BAD: Some pacing issues in the second half, too much blah-blahing about landscapes for my taste.
THE VERDICT: A dark and intriguing story that fans of gothic horror won’t want to miss.

RATING: 7/10 Very good.

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i capture the castle vintage

Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle

It must be the healthy air or simply the fact that during your holidays you can relax and finally get to some books you’ve neglected. Which is why I thought I’d get right into my resolutions for the second half of 2012 and kicked the list off with Dodie Smith’s classic novel. I caught the beginning of the movie a while ago and was so enchanted that I felt I would love to book. And I did. Truly, I loved it… and hated it. Here’s why:

I CAPTURE THE CASTLE
by Dodie Smith

published: Vintage, 2004 (1948)
ISBN:0099460874
pages: 416
copy: paperback

my rating: 6,5/10

first sentence: I am sitting in the kitchen sink.

This enchanting novel tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her unusual family who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Cassandra’s eccentric father is a writer whose first book took the literary world by storm but he has since failed to write a single word and now spends his time reading detective fiction. Cassandra’s sister, Rose, despairs of her family’s circumstances and determines to marry their affluent American landlord. She is helped and, sometimes, hindered in this by their bohemian stepmother, an artists’ model who likes to commune with nature. Finally there is Stephen who is hopelessly in love with Cassandra. Amid this maelstrom Cassandra hones her writing skills, candidly capturing the events that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love.

Our heroine Cassandra leads us into the enchanted world of the castle she lives in with her rather eccentric family. As she writes her diary (which we read), we see just how bad poverty can get and with how little this strange family can be content. Cassandra’s thoughts and observations are surprisingly deep for a girl her age. Without any envy, she describes her older sister’s beauty, without bitterness she talks about the way her father never wrote again, after the initial success of his novel. But her life is boring and observing and trying to “capture” the people and landscapes around her is not as fulfilling as she would hope. When two young men enter the neighbourhood (very Jane Austen, isn’t it?), her life changes forever…

I was instantly feeling sympathetic towards our narrating heroine. Her family suffer but manage to creatue happiness in their very own way, and I enjoyed reading about their little routines and rituals. But Cassandra got on my nerves very quickly. Precocious – yes. Smart-ass? Not so much. The way she always sets herself apart from the group and describes, sometimes quite coldly, what is happening, made her feel cold and arrogant to me. She certainly doesn’t think too much of herself but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she considered herself a notch above everybody else – for she is the one who captures everything, who sees more than others. Or who would like to. Her flaws make her believable but personally, I just couldn’t really like her.

The plot dragged a little and felt like a soap opera at times. But the love and engagement and childish fun and unrequited love mixed with the very mature style made this a nicely balanced book. I didn’t pine for anyone, I didn’t really care who ended up with whom. But I did find myself wanting to go back to the book whenever I put it down.

It suddenly seemed astonishing that people should meet especially to eat together – because food goes into the mouth and talk comes out. And if you watch people eating and talking – really watch them – it is a very peculiar sight.

An unlikable protagonist is one thing but a whole cast of lovable, deep side characters make up for it. Rose and Topaz, Stephen (above all) and even our two gentlemen captured my heart by storm. I did care a lot about them and would have actually liked to see more of their perspectives. This being a diary, however, that wasn’t possible. I look forward to finishing the movie and I hope the focus is not so heavily set on Cassandra’s fate alone. Her coming-of-age story is certainly better than a lot of modern YA tales I’ve read but it’s far from my favorite…

THE GOOD: Concise and beautiful writing, a very different family life from what I know, in a romantic setting with a heroine full of ideas and thoughts.
THE BAD: Not really a bad point but I didn’t warm to the narrator. Which dragged the entire story down a bit.
THE VERDICT: If, like the sisters in this book, you like Austen and Bronte and can’t decided with romance you’d rather live in, you’ll probably enjoy this story. A young girl’s coming-of-age with love, betrayal, and a castle.

RATING: 6,5/10  Very good with some reservations.

1984 white

George Orwell – 1984

This was one of the most impressive books I have ever read. It was also one of the most depressing (along with anything by Kafka). I read this in January of 2011 at the old age of 25 because in my school we never had to read anything. We were encouraged to but there was never any required reading and I felt way behind everybody else in not having read this classic for so long. Also, it being a popular book read in schools, I assumed it would be hard to plough through but it really wasn’t. Orwell’s specific horror made me race through this book in a matter of days. If you haven’t read it you should. Right now!

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR
by George Orwell

Published: Signet Classics 1950 (1949)
ISBN:0451524934
Pages: 326
Copy: paperback

My rating: 10/10

First sentence: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future. And while 1984 has come and gone, Orwell’s narrative is timelier than ever. 1984 presents a startling and haunting vision of the world, so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.

Winston Smith lives in a world without freedom. The four Ministries – the Ministry of Peace, Plenty, Love, and Truth – control everything. Big Brother is watching you! For younger readers, or people who don’t read in general, it may be interesting to know that this is where Big Brother comes from. Being watched any time of any day and judged if you take so much as one step in the wrong direction, is a quite chilling perspective. This father of all dystopias is as terrifying – if not more so – now as it must have been when it was first published. If we look at our world today and how willingly we publish the most private details about ourselves, about our habits and preferences (think Facebook), this book gives you an incentive to question your own behavior.

From the very first page, I plummeted into this novel. It has something of a traffic accident quality to it – terrible and scary but you kind of can’t look away. Discovering Winston Smith’s world and how the government is controling everybody in it, is at the same time a pleasure to read, simply because it is a well-written book, and eye-opening in a very uncomfortable way. Ideas such as doublethink or newspeak scared me more than Pennywise the Clown ever did. But the modification and simplification of language to keep citizens in check is only one of the things that took my reader’s breath away. The seemingly random rewriting of history to suit the government’s current needs was another. If the country is now at war with Oceania, it is made clear that it has actually always been at war with Oceania – even though that’s not true.

People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word.

Chapter 1

I could go on and on about all the little details and the big ideas that make this such a monster of a book. But apart from all that, it is an incredibly well written story. The plot shows us how Smith wants to break out of this world and that he’s not the only one. Orwell gives us the slightest bit of hope which keeps us going and rooting for Smith to find something better than a world with though police.

It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak —  ‘child hero’ was the phrase generally used — had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.

Chapter 2

I cannot recommend this book enough and I’m quite angry with myself for waiting so long to read it. After a year-and-a-half, the imagery is still as vivid in my mind as it was when I first read the book. I find myself jokingly using words like doubleplusgood, I find myself questioning my lifestyle – and that currently acceptable by our society. Even if you hate the plot, even if you don’t sympathise with Winston Smith, this novel does one thing above all else. It makes you think! I assume that’s why it’s so widely read in schools and I hope it will continue this way. Any friend I have, avid reader or not, I beseech to read this book. It won’t make you happy and it won’t make you feel good, so reviewing it in summer is maybe not such a great idea, when everybody wants light, fun reads. But I don’t care. Whether you’re 13 or 83, if you have a shred of curiosity in you, if you think the world is not perfect and if you want to share this vision of a man from the 1940ies: Read. This. Book.

THE GOOD: A great, an important novel, full of chilling ideas, plenty of food for thought and a great plot, well written.
THE BAD: It won’t exaclty leave you happy. There might be a post-book-mourning period afterwards.
THE VERDICT: Everybody should read this book. If my children aren’t told to read it in school, I will rave about it so long that they’ll want to read it, too. One of the most impacting books I have ever read.

RATING: 10/10 A truly magnificent book!

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