The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)

This was, for lack of a better term, a really cool book. I expected it to be much longer, considering the amount of literature and other media that it has inspired over the years. My first exposure to the character(s?) came with The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, a movie loved by a childhood friend of mine.  Like many of its modern readers, I began the book with the preexisting knowledge that Jekyll and Hyde were one and the same.
This knowledge did not take away from the story at all, and it was still exciting to read the original tale of Jekyll & Hyde. In some ways, it made it even more interesting, as I tried to figure out what was going on as I read through the beginning of the book. At  Stevenson’s first description of Hyde, I was immediately thinking to myself, “That’s Hyde!” and then spent the next few chapters waiting to see if I might be right. Stevenson’s tale, being the original, also explains exactly how Jekyll becomes Jekyll and Hyde, a fascinating bit that is often left out of modern adaptations.

The book was the perfect mix of creepy and entertaining, keeping the reader anxious to learn more with each turning page. Stevenson evolves his tale into a commentary on the good and bad in all of us, and the dangers of allowing evil to dominate your personality. This was a very thought-provoking book that leaves readers considering their own identities and how they might act in Jekyll’s shoes – I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it, as we can all benefit from a bit of self reflection.

The Firm (John Grisham)

3 Star

After I finished this book, I was not really sure if I liked it. It was definitely entertaining, but Grisham’s writing style is a bit choppy for my tastes and I really disliked the ending. That being said, I am writing this review a few months after actually finishing the book, and the more time I have to consider it, the more I like the book.

At first I was somewhat turned off by the initial plot, in which a lower middle class lawyer takes a job with a strange but extravagant “old boys club” law firm. While I was intrigued by the concept of this firm, I did not really like Mitch McDeere’s character. I felt that he was somewhat underdeveloped in the beginning, just your basic, stereotypical, new lawyer character. However, as you learn more about McDeere’s relationship with his wife and the story continues, the character definitely becomes more developed and captivating.

I mostly enjoyed the more suspenseful parts of the novel, throughout which Grisham somehow transforms the dealings of a shady law firm into a page-turning thriller. I won’t give away the ending, but I have to admit that I was incredibly disappointed by it and had hoped that it would end in a variety of potential scenarios other than the way it did.

It probably comes through in this review that I am really not sure how to rate this book. In the end, Grisham kept me engaged throughout the story and it has remained in the back of my mind for all of these months, which are generally two marks of a good book. I will conclude this review by saying that although I am conflicted, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys lawyer-centric or white collar crime novels, with the advice to give it a chance even if you might not be hooked in the beginning.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

5 Star

This book pulled at all the chords in my heart. This was my first novel by Mark Twain, and although not quite what I was expecting, I really enjoyed reading it. Twain writes a captivating narrative of childhood, or life through Tom’s eyes. From start to finish, it is not difficult to put images to Twain’s writing, clearly seeing the young Tom playing pirates with his friends, or witnessing a crime, or developing the fickle but innocent crushes that only children could. 

Although I had never read the book before, I knew some of the story, such as the bit about painting a fence which has become no less than a cliché throughout America. Tom, although a troublemaker, seems to represent the majority of boys that I work with today, and those that I knew in my childhood, including my own brother. Energetic troublemakers, but undoubtedly good at heart.

While much of Twain’s story expands into the realm of unrealistic, at least by today’s standards, it remains charming and pleasant to read. I loved the part of the story where the boys run away from home to play “pirates” on an island, and I was rooting for Tom as he attempted to find his way out of the dark cave. I am definitely glad that I read this one during the summer, as it almost would’ve seemed wrong to read it during a season unfit for being outdoors.

I enjoyed reading about Tom’s adventures, and I am excited for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, currently sitting on a shelf waiting for me to finish the book I am reading now. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a nice story that will leave you feeling nostalgic and dreaming of the simplicity of childhood.

Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)

4 StarAs someone who enjoys murder mysteries and suspenseful stories, this book was right up my alley. Although I have always gravitated towards murder mysteries, I have not read much Agatha Christie, although that will probably change after reading this book.

Christie has a great “whodunnit” style that remains lighthearted while still keeping you on your toes. This is the type of book that I read in a weekend, making it great for the summer or any other time that you might be on vacation. While I admittedly read it while lounging on the couch, I could see this being a great book to read while traveling. The book becomes more and more of a page-turner as it continues and you learn more about each character and become engaged in the mystery. I was trying to guess the murderer’s identity from the very beginning, and I have to say, I never even came close.

While Christie keeps her story feeling authentic and unique, there is a refreshing simplicity to her writing and plot. It is so common in this genre’s modern stories to become convoluted into the most bizarre and complex storylines, often supplemented by shock-value violence or action. Christie crafts a simple whodunnit plot – Someone is murdered on a train carrying a detective, a murderer, and a collection of suspects. Genius! Christie’s style brings us all back to a simpler time and reminds us that the value is not in the complexity of the story, but in the way that it is told.

I would recommend this page-turner to anyone looking for a fun book to read when you have a few days off or are traveling on a long trip.

Turning to “The Classics”

I have recently developed an interest in classic literature, which has become a rewarding chapter (no pun intended) in my literary experience. It started last year when I decided to read through a number of Dickens novels that I ended up really enjoying and learning a lot from. I was gifted a decent amount of Barnes & Noble credit this summer, which I happily took to their huge store in Midtown Manhattan to purchase new reading material.

For those of you who don’t know, Barnes & Noble has an amazing classics collection. You can find it upstairs in the 5th Ave store, covering an entire wall. Not only do they have a wide selection of classics, they are available in different sizes and prints to fit your needs. And the best part – Most of them only cost a few dollars, with the more expensive ones hitting just $6-$7. I was able to purchase about ten classics, each a comfortable size to fit in a small purse, and none of them larger than the Kindle I normally carry.

Anyway, I have been working my way through these books all summer, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only is it enjoyable to read through such strong writing from great authors of different times, it is also great for my Social Studies classroom. History and literature go hand in hand, and integrating them can help students find a more personal connection to both subjects.

My personal commentaries on the books will be hitting the blog in the upcoming weeks, but it felt appropriate to include this post to explain the trend and encourage all of my readers to start their own classics binge!