Wednesday, July 29

"Jane Eyre" - Charlotte Bronte

"Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre to this day entrances readers with its passionate portrayal of a woman struggling to make a life for herself in a cruel and indifferent world. As orphan Jane becomes governess at Thornfield Hall, she falls in love with her employer, Mr Rochester, only to discover that he has a terrible secret, one which may jeopardize their future happiness. Jane Eyre's struggle for independence has echoed with readers ever since."

As you may have gathered from the previous reviews on this blog, my literary tastes are not very sophisticated. My favourite authors range all the way from Matthew Reilly to - God forbid! - Stephenie Meyer. I'm not really into classics, and to be honest, I can't see why some of them are considered 'classics' in the first place. For example, The Great Gatsby. It was an OK story. I have no idea why it's a 'classic' though. I didn't like it much - but then, I suppose dislike goes with almost every text that you are forced to study for English.
Jane Eyre is the one exception. I can see exactly why it's a classic, and I genuinely love the story.
And yet it's difficult to pinpoint why I like it so much. I think what appeals to me most is the sense of mystery - what's going on in the attic? What's up with that Grace Poole anyway? What's Mr. Rochester trying to hide? The revelations that follow serve to increase the drama and suspense, without seeming completely outlandish and ridiculous, and without turning the story into a run-of-the-mill soap opera.
Admittedly, there were quite a lot of characters that I just wanted to punch in the face - mainly the hypocritical ones - and reading of Jane's childhood and adolescence was depressing and frustrating. However this just causes me to admire Jane's character even more, since she managed to get through such horrendous ordeals growing up, and did not turn out to be a serial killer.
I think that's the best thing about Jane Eyre - Jane's amazing determination, strong moral grounding and endless patience that I could never hope to achieve. She never gives up, never abandons her principles, and hardly ever blows her top at anyone. Thankfully, in the end, she is finally rewarded.
I also like the fact that I was able to buy this for just ten bucks at Dymocks.

RATING: A richly woven narrative with mystery, drama, and genuine classic appeal. 5 STARS

Thursday, July 23

"Prom Nights From Hell" - Cabot, Meyer, Jaffe, Myracle, Harrison

"In this collection, bestselling authors including Stephenie Meyer and Meg Cabot take bad Prom nights to a whole new level - a paranormally bad level...
Wardrobe catastrophes and two left feet are nothing compared with discovering you're dancing with the Grim Reaper - and he isn't here to tell you how hot you look...
From vampire exterminations to angels fighting demons, these five stories will be more fun than any DJ in a bad dinner jacket. No corsage or limo rental necessary - just great, sexy, scary fun!"
(NB: it contains five short stories, each written by one of the listed authors. In case you didn't realise this.)

This was the book that reached up, tapped me gently on the shoulder, and said "Emma? You have well and truly outgrown teenage fiction. Move on."
Of course, I didn't really expect anything more than fairly stock-standard American teen chick-lit, with the usual formula of Unrealistic Depictions of Teenage Romance, a first-person narration by the Girl Who Doesn't Quite Fit In, and the Rather Disproportionate Importance of The Prom, with a dash of Attempted Dry Humour (my friend Jen refers to this as "soppy, cotton-candy crap"). In the case of the five short stories contained in this book, there was an added Paranormal Element thrown into the mix. However I was still hoping that maybe, just maybe, there might be at least a tiny bit of light entertainment value in there somewhere.
And there was. But it was indeed small, and depended heavily on the author. What follows is a story-by-story breakdown of the aforementioned book.

Meg Cabot's story - The first time I read Cabot, like almost any other teenage girl, I thought her books were refreshing, light-and-fluffy, and very amusing, if not hilarious at times. However, after reading quite a few, I started to feel like I was reading the same story, over and over again, with different characters (always whinging about boys) and a slightly different background scenario. Her short story in this volume, about a girl trying to kill a vampire, was just another delivery of formulaic, cookie-cutter Cabot. It was very disappointing, and also seemed to borrow a little too heavily from Meyer's Twilight series. I found it incredibly lacking in originality, to be honest, even for teen fluff.

Lauren Myracle's story - wasn't actually as horrendous as I thought it might have been. There were still one or two cringe-worthy elements, but considering the intended audience is indeed pre-teen and younger-teenage girls (as opposed to 19-year-old science degree students), I guess I won't judge those flaws too harshly.
I liked this story much better than Cabot's, and even though it was rather predictable, the writing was decent, with the ending even reminding me slightly of Stephen King.

Kim Harrison's story - This one actually started off quite well. To me, it seemed to be a tad more believable and even, perhaps, slightly more mature than the other stories, and towards the middle of the story, it became really intriguing. However, the second half of the story was a bit of a letdown. It suddenly turned into a straight-out supernatural fantasy tale, bogged down with details and raising more questions than it answered. It was also just pretty confusing, and the ending proved to be very anticlimatic. Kind of disappointing.

Michele Jaffe's story - Not bad, not bad. It's certainly not the best thing Jaffe has ever written, but I still found it fairly enjoyable, and some of the ideas were quite original. This particular story provided the sole 'laugh out loud' moment (for me) from the entire book, which I think deserves a round of applause. However I did think a lot of the protagonist's characterisation seemed very similar to Jaffe's Bad Kitty series, so I just hope she doesn't go down the same path as Meg Cabot - recycling the same characters under different names - in the future.

Stephenie Meyer's story - Oh dear.
This was by far the worst story of the lot. Unbelievably shallow, full of completely ridiculous fantasy, and containing the longest and dreariest passage of dialogue interspersed with descriptions that I have ever read. It wasn't so silly that it was fun - it was just plain stupid. I mean, consider the plot: there's a demon at the prom who likes causing misery and whose primary goal is to ruin the night, but don't worry, everything is saved by an ANGEL and the PROM ENDS HAPPILY FOR ALL.
*hits head on desk*
I'm not even going to apologise for putting a bit of a spoiler up there, because the story was so bad, it doesn't deserve to be read. Seriously. Avoid. It's crap.

RATING: I guess it's fair to say that younger readers might enjoy it more than I did, but on the whole, this book was pretty so-so. 2.5 STARS

(PS: Interestingly, I ended up reading Prom Nights from Hell when I had random moments to fill in while at home. However, on the train to and from uni, and in some of my break times there, I was immersed in Jane Eyre. Talk about from one extreme to the other.)

Tuesday, July 21

Label on a jar of strawberry jam

"100% spreadable fruit. An old French recipe of delicious strawberries sweetened only with grape juice concentrate. Net wt. 284g. Refrigerate after opening."

REVIEW: I'm not sure if anyone else has really explored a particular food I have occasionally for breakfast, if we happen to have whipped cream in the fridge that needs to be used up. I call it 'Devonshire Toast' since, like Devonshire teas, it involves jam and cream, but instead of warm scones, this fantastic combination is spread liberally on a slice of toast. As you can imagine it's not the healthiest of breakfasts to be had, and most mornings I swap the jam and cream for butter and Vegemite.

However, for the purposes of Devonshire Toast, I use this jam (or I guess Americans would call it 'jelly' or something, even though it's not jelly, it's jam, because jelly is the gelatinous stuff that wobbles around and is eaten with ice cream as a dessert, not the sweet spreadable fruit conserve pictured above. This is why I was completely mystified once as to why anyone in their right mind would have 'peanut butter and jelly' on a sandwich. But never mind all that.)
The label is pretty boring, and there's definitely not much of a plot: just a description of the contents, a list of ingredients (Strawberries 55%, grape juice concentrate, lemon juice, fruit pectin), nutritional information (nil fat, plenty of sugar), and company contact information. However, the actual jam in the glass jar is pretty impressive stuff - not too lumpy, but not runny either. Tastes good too. Just right.

RATING: There was very little character development throughout - but it was very sweet. 4 stars.

Tuesday, July 14

Just a note... say I'm amazed to discover a couple of people have actually read my blog! To be quite honest I never really expected many people (if anyone at all!) to read any of my reviews, which is one of the reasons I ended up abandoning it for several months without any real explanation. (The other two reasons are called 'the HSC' and 'starting university', both of which effectively stopped me from reading anything other than textbooks and study notes for a while.)

Not that I'm kidding myself, or anything - I mean I don't really believe many people are, you know, checking back here each week in eager anticipation to see if I've posted something new.

However I did notice that the 'hit counter' was not just in the tens, or even in the hundreds - but over a thousand views! Now that was surprising. So I might just start blogging here again (though perhaps not as frequently - semester 2 starts next week after all), just in case anyone is actually, uh, watching.

If you are reading this, I'd love it if you could leave a comment below, just saying how you actually came across my blog...I'm very curious :)

And a big thank you to the people who have left comments on a couple of the reviews, as well. <3