Monday, October 21, 2013

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein!  Monster or Just Misunderstood? (Creepy Week)

I always knew Frankenstein as a monster created by some crazed scientist and his creepy little sidekick, Igor. He’s a big bumbling oaf with stiff joints and a couple bolts in his neck who goes on a vicious killing spree. Fact or fiction?  There was only one way to find out.

I finally read the classic novel, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and today I’m here to set the record straight.  Here is the full synopsis. A lot happens in this book, and I tried to keep it brief but as you can see it didn’t work out that way. Spoiler alert! Do not read this if you don’t want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…..all the way to the bitter end.

The story begins with a giant man on a dog sled speeding across the ice at the North Pole.  Later, a crew on a ship rescues a half dead man, who we find out is Victor Frankenstein, the man who was pursuing the giant.  Victor then reveals the long sordid truth to the captain.

The nameless giant is the invention of Victor Frankenstein who took two years piecing this man together from human body parts, sort of like a living quilt.  Like any proud parent, Victor is ecstatic at the life he has produced.  But when he looks at his big, bouncing bundle of skin, bones, and cadaverous by-products, he doesn’t shout out “It’s alive!” as we’ve been conditioned to understand. It was more like “Holy mother of God!  It’s hideous!”—well something along those lines.  Anyway, Victor takes a much-needed parental pause usually reserved for the teenage years and leaves to clear his head. Poor monster, rejected and abandoned by his papa, decides to find greener pastures.

First stop is a village where the eight-foot oddity is immediately pelted with big rocks and run out of town.  Not a welcoming beginning. Shunned and stoned (and not the snack-craving kind of stoned), the monster realizes that he will never be accepted in society.  So, he runs away into mountains, where he lives a clandestine existence in a shack attached to a run-down cottage.  For a year, he watches the family in the cottage through some holes in the wall. The monster takes this opportunity to learn their language.  Unknowingly, they teach him to speak and he feels a real connection to the strangers who don’t know he exists.  And in his longing to belong, to be part of a real family, he decides to take a chance and reveal himself.  Unfortunately, our monster does not get the reception he was hoping for.  The open arms he was expecting to embrace him were replaced with wildly flinging arms of fury that beat the crap out of him. Then they put their legs to work and ran in fear. Needless to say, this disheartens the monster and he realizes no human will ever accept him.  Ever!  He’s infuriated, and in his rage he burns down their house.  Now he is just an angry monster.

Back in Ingolstadt, Victor is recovering from an illness when he learns of the death of his 5-year-old brother, William. Little William was found strangled.  The public accuses Justine, the nanny, because William’s necklace was found in her pocket, and they probably had no butler to blame.  She is found guilty by the court, and executed by hanging. Victor has an inkling that it wasn’t Justine, but his own monster who killed William—and he was right. 

Monster finally finds Victor and explains how he had actually not killed William intentionally.  He just wanted a friend, but little William wanted nothing to do with him.  He screamed and screamed, which made the sensitive monster kind of nervous and he grabbed his throat to silence him.  He was silent, alright.  The monster accidentally had strangled William’s little neck. Monster then confesses to setting Justine up for the crime. 

Finally, the monster tells Victor in no uncertain terms that Victor needs to make him a woman so that he can have some kind of companionship. Victor gave him his miserable life but no one will have anything to do with him.  Monster is lonely on this big planet.  Victor has to make it up to him.  The way the monster sees it, a woman would be just the ticket, and in exchange, the monster promises to leave to a remote place and stop killing.

Victor knows this guy is serious, so he travels with his friend, Henry Clerval, to create the female monster and stop the madness.  Victor toils away and makes great strides, but then his conscience flares up like an itchy rash and he realizes he can’t go through with it.  Two wrongs don’t make a right type of thing.  He destroys the woman. 

What bad timing, because that’s when the monster pays him a visit to see his progress. When he sees that Victor destroyed his bride, his future, his only chance for happiness, I don’t have to tell you that he was really pissed off. Monster vows revenge. He promises he will turn up on Victor’s wedding night—and we all know, that won’t be good. To prove he’s not kidding around, the bitter monster strangles, Henry Clerval.  Now three people are dead, directly or indirectly because of the monster:  William, Justine, and Henry.

After being accused, imprisoned then acquitted for Henry’s death, Victor goes on with his life.  At first he hems and haws and tries to put off the wedding, but after awhile he finally takes the plunge and marries Elizabeth, whom he has known all his life.  (Victor’s mother, God rest
her soul, and father had adopted her when she was small.) The happy couple plans to honeymoon in a romantic hotel overlooking Lake Como, a beautiful place with beautiful neighbors like George Clooney.

Alas, the wedding night proves to be as tragic as the monster had warned.  Instead of killing Victor, however, he kills Elizabeth. Victor is beside himself.  He races back to Geneva to see if the rest of his remaining family, meaning his dad and younger brother, Ernest, are ok.  He tells his dad what happened to Elizabeth.  Having raised her as his own daughter, poor old dad is heart-broken and dies shortly thereafter.  Monster is turning into a serial killer. The death toll now rings at five:  William, Justine, Henry, Elizabeth, and Father Frankenstein (Alphonse to his friends).

This leaves Victor no choice but to seek out and kill the monster himself. He realizes it doesn’t matter what happens to him, he has to stop the killing machine.  So, he chases him all over the continent until he ends up at the North Pole

That’s where we first came in on the story. The crew on a ship had actually seen a giant man on a sled zipping across the ice like a bat out of hell.  It was hours later that they spotted Victor.  Here was a half-frozen, half-starved man sliding around the desolate ice on a make-shift craft. 

The captain and his crew rescue Victor from a certain icy death. Victor tells his incredible story and the captain resolves to take up the cause and begins his search for the monster. Captain Schettino, uh, I mean Captain Walton puts the entire crew in danger continuing to icebound places they have no business being.  Finally, he decides enough is enough. He has to save his crew, and to Victor’s dismay, the captain turns the ship around.  Victor still has not recovered from his frozen escapade.  In fact, he’s fading fast.  With no more fight left in him, Victor gives up the ghost and passes away, another indirect victim of the monster. Final death count, six.

Suddenly, the captain hears an awful sound coming from Victor’s cabin and runs to find the monster wailing over Victor’s body.  In a long and eloquent speech, the monster tells his side of the story and how he knows he cannot live this life anymore.  With dramatic flare, he vows to find a place in this icy hell hole and burn himself to death on a pyre. Having said that, he jumps out of the window onto his raft and drifts away into the darkness.

The End.

Now you know.  Frankenstein is not the monster’s first name, he was no dummy, and there was no Igor. So, was Frankenstein's creation a true monster or just misunderstood?  The answer, of course, is both.

On a side note, what you may not know is that Mary Shelley, the author, was only 19 years old when she wrote this horror story. She preceded the ranks of young authors like Carson McCullers who wrote The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at 23 and  S.E. Hinton who wrote The Outsiders  when she was just 16 years old. Interestingly, Mary Shelley fell in love and ran away with the already married Percy Shelley, who completed a novel at the young age of 18.  After the suicide of his wife, Percy and Mary finally married. That same year they spent a summer in Switzerland where Mary first conceived the story of Frankenstein. It is reported that Mary claimed on a June night in 1816 the moon shone through her window and her imagination took her away.  She
Mary Shelley's handwritten edition of Frankenstein (Chapter 16)
furiously scribbled out Frankenstein in a “waking dream.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  You don’t have to go far to read classics.  Many are posted free online.  Click on the link to view the free full-version pdf of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley:

Happy reading,  


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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend (Classic Mysteries Week)

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is a mystery published in 1868 that involves the disappearance of a precious diamond called The Moonstone, so named because it emanates a yellow color that grows and lessens with the waning and waxing of the moon. The Moonstone is a gift to Rachel on her eighteenth birthday from her uncle who obtained the stunning stone under questionable circumstances. This is no little bauble, no diamond dust, no Cubic Zirconia. It’s the real thing. It is dazzling, absurdly bodacious bling, worth a fortune. More than monetary merit, this diamond is highly valued because it belongs on the forehead of a sacred Hindu statue.  Unfortunately, on the night of Rachel’s party, The Moonstone goes missing and so the hunt for the glitzy gem begins.

This book is generally considered the first English detective novel and is rife with twists and turns. I was pleasantly surprised at the writing style. Several main characters narrate the story, which is told with wry humor that had me chuckling along the way. By looking at a picture of the author, I would never have thought he would crack a smile, much less a joke. He looks stuffy and pompous, but turns out he was probably a big, fuzzy, funny teddy bear. That just goes to tell you, don’t judge a book by its cover, or in this case a man by his picture.

Five top reasons to love this book:

1. It crackles with dry humor.
“The ugly women have a bad time in this world. Let’s hope it will be made up to them in another.”
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868; reprint, Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library, unknown), 100.

2. It involves a mystery that the reader wants to solve.
"The horrid mystery hanging over us in this house gets into my head like liquor, and makes me wild."
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868; reprint, Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library, unknown).

3. It has vivid descriptions. 
(The Moonstone) “The light that streamed from it was like the light of the harvest-moon.  When you looked down into the stone, you looked into a yellow deep that drew your eyes into it so that they saw nothing else.”
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868; reprint, Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library, unknown), 54.

4. It is logical.
“We had our breakfast—whatever happens in a house, robbery or murder, it doesn't matter, you must have your breakfast.”   
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868; reprint, Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library, unknown), 72.

5. It is shocking.
“The music she selected to play was of the most scandalously profane sort associated with performances on the stage which curdles one’s blood to think of.”
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868; reprint, Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library, unknown), 220.

Don't pass up this gem of a book! 

As I’ve mentioned so many times before, many classics can be found online—free.  Click below for a pdf version of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

Happy reading,


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Monday, October 14, 2013

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Perceptive Poirot Solves Another Case (Classic Mysteries Week)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, is a quick but captivating ride packed with one mysteriously dead American and a dozen suspects. Called to solve a case in London, renowned detective Hercule Poirot takes the Orient Express train from Turkey to France. In the luncheon car, Poirot is sipping coffee with a liqueur chaser when who would interrupt him but an American with “false benevolence of the brow and the small, cruel eyes.” The American had been receiving threatening letters, and asks Poirot to look into it. Poirot, however, wants nothing to do with the ugly American and dismisses his request even after repeated offers of big money.  He explains that he only takes on cases that interest him, and adds that he also does not like the American’s face. Case closed.  

When the same American is found dead in his compartment, stabbed multiple times, Poirot suddenly finds interest. Case opened. He starts investigating and discovers that on this train, motives are like assholes—everyone has one. With astute observations and loads of logic, Poirot ultimately solves the crime, leading the reader through each step of the intriguing process.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Hercule Poirot amuses me with his egotistical attitude and extraordinary powers of deduction and reason.  I would like to sample a bit more of Christie’s famous works.  There are just too many of them.  I don’t know when I would squeeze in 82 detective novels into my other reading, so for now  I think I’ll put Death on the Nile on my list unless someone can persuade me otherwise.  What’s your favorite Agatha Christie book?  

As I’ve mentioned so many times before, many classics can be found online—free.  Click below for a pdf version of Murder on the Orient Express.

Happy reading,


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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Books My Mother Recommends

Mother Knows Best (Mother Recommended Week)

In my last post, I told you what a great influence my mom was in my love of reading.  The obvious joy and intrigue she found in books had me wanting the same thing. I had to see what she found so addictive between those pages. It turns out that for the most part, we like the same types of books. Of course, that’s not always the case. 

Unlike my mother and sisters, some people claim to not enjoy reading at all. They say they “can’t get into books.”  I’m shocked and saddened. :(  They just don’t know what they’re missing. Time restraints, learning and attention disorders aside, I really think all that most people need is the right book to spark their interest. I believe there’s a reader in everyone itching to surface. If a person is not an enthusiastic reader, then they probably just haven’t found the right genre, writing style, or even author who grabs their attention.  There has to be a true “book connection” out there for every person.

So, in continuation of Mother Recommended Week, below is a list of some of my mom’s favorite books, ones that grabbed her attention, books she had a “connection” with.  Maybe one of these books is the force that will turn a lukewarm reader into a bona fide bookworm.  As expected, my mom had a hard time whittling down her selection—there are so many books she’s read and loved.  In no particular order, check out the ones that immediately popped to mind.

Click on titles in blue to see reviews.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende—Set in the 1800s, follow the life of an orphaned girl in Valparaiso, Chile. Eventually she falls in love and undertakes a dangerous journey in the hold of a ship to try and pursue her love, who is seeking his fortune in the California gold rush.   (This book also gets a thumbs-up from me.)    

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende—A sweeping family saga set in Chile with enveloping political and personal turmoil.  (Still on my “to read” list.)

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See—Sisters Pearl and May leave China as the Japanese bomb Shanghai in 1937.  They begin anew in a Chinese community in Los Angeles. To stay in the country they must marry strangers and carve out new lives while keeping old secrets. (Loved this book, too. See review.)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See—Two Chinese girls are lifelong friends who have a special bond.  As they grow older and move apart they communicate in Nüshu script on a fan, which is passed between them throughout their differing lives.  (This book also gets a thumbs-up from me, my sisters, and a few friends who have read it. Fascinating.)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden—This book tells of a geisha working in Japan before and after WWII. Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha, how she is trained and transformed into this highly regarded “entertainer.” They are NOT call girls. (Another thumbs-up from me and my one of my sisters. The movie is also good, but husbands may not find it as wonderful as the women.)

Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow—Story of a fashionable young New York lady who impulsively marries a wild trader and together they follow the harsh trail her to a new and exciting land called California. (Still on my “to read” list.)

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer—Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he promised to deliver. But when he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter's recipient, he becomes privy to a secret that will alter the course of his—and his family’s—history. From the small Hungarian town of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in labor camps, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a family shattered and remade in history’s darkest hour. –Book description on Amazon. (Still on my “to read” list.)

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris—A woman tells of her childhood in a small French village during the German occupation and what led her mother to be a woman so hated that she fled never to return. (Good book!  See review.)

The Wind Cannot Read by Richard MasonThis is the timeless story of a man who grows to love a woman during a turbulent time in history. They share a forbidden love, painted against the backdrop of a bitter and bloody war. When Michael has little else to keep him going, in the depths of a terrible jungle, there is the vision of his love, his Sabby. The author has created a wonderful work, well written and woven through with many background elements, history, culture, romance, war. "Though on the sign it is written, don't pluck these blossoms, it is useless against the wind, which cannot read..." –Customer book description on Amazon. (Still on my “to read” list.)

Water for Elephants by Sara GruenAfter the sudden death of his parents, a veterinary student joins a circus.  As he learns the ropes in this world of animals and eccentric people, he falls in love with the brutal owner’s wife. (One of my favorites!  See review.)

Plantation Trilogy (Deep Summer, The Handsome Road, and This Side of Glory) by Gwen Bristow—A sweeping saga set in Louisiana beginning before the Revolutionary War and goes right after WWI. (Still on my “to read” list)

Happy reading,


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Monday, October 7, 2013

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

Peeling Away Past Memories 
(Mother Recommended Week)

I get my love of reading from my mother.  For as long as I can remember, she always had a book in her hand.  My father read, too, but he mainly stuck to magazines, and while my mother read both, it's the books she got lost in.  She found herself immersed in other lives, different countries, and time periods, outrageous dilemmas, discoveries, mysteries, adventures, great loves, and tragic losses.  To me, she was like the Pied Piper of reading.  I wanted to follow her into the world of books, to see what she saw. Like her, I wanted to become a voyeur and peek into other people's desires, to read their minds, and follow their paths. She gave me the joy of reading, an unbelievable gift that just keeps giving.

As my mother continues to whip through books, she keeps me informed as to the ones that really strike a chord with her, books she recommends.  Five Quarters of the Orange is one of them.  She thought I might like it, and she was right.

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris is a book that hooked me from the beginning.  The story has a nice cadence to it, a pace that moves it along.  The narrator is an older woman looking back on her life with her cold, harsh mother, her brother, and sister.  Framboise, now in her sixties, lured me along with the setting of a small French town during the German occupation of WWII.  She teased me with the mystery that surrounded her mother. What happened to make her mother so hated in the village that Framboise is afraid to reveal who she really is after so many decades away?  Who was Tomas Leibnitz, and what role did he play in the horrors of the past? And what’s an orange got to do with all this?  Those questions kept me turning page after page, to hear Framboise slowly reveal the tragic events of the past and how they intertwine with the conflicts she faces in her later years.  Good book.

Don't miss other "Mother" selections featured later this week!

Happy reading,


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