Tag: classics

April 23, 2015

The Canon Classics | The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Publication Date: 1971
Publisher: Harper & Row
Source & Format: Borrowed; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic. 

I suppose it’s safe to say that The Bell Jar was nothing that I truly expected. I don’t know how I got through college without reading Plath, but when my friend H pulled it out of her car, handed it to me, and said it changed her life, I knew I had to read it.

Esther, at first, is the typical small town girl living the dream life in New York City. I could identify with her, how she felt out of place but wasn’t sure if she quite wanted to fit in. Esther is the girl who thinks too much, analyzes past actions (a good half of the book’s narrative focuses on her past), and has trouble connecting with the future. Many of her friends and acquaintances float in the narrative and right back out again: very few are in it for the long haul. I found this detail a strong example of how Esther viewed herself: she was trying on different people, different personalities, to see which fit. 

The themes of identity that Esther faces in The Bell Jar are a barrier many women still face today: family or career? While I feel that barrier is slowly breaking, it’s still a factor in many women’s lives. Esther faces women on both sides of the barrier, but strangely interacts with more career women than men. All of her doctors but one are a man. The nurses are overwhelmingly female, except for the men who bring their food in the asylum. Her mother, while not portrayed as the best role model, gets up every day and goes to work. Men, on the other hand, are portrayed as a) domineering and ignorant, like her first psychiatrist, b) a pushover like Buddy Willard, or c) feminine and mild, like Buddy’s father. Esther does have a brother, but his role is so minor that I don’t think Plath even gives him a name. There’s no strong, respectable male role model in The Bell Jar. This reading makes me think about the biographical aspects of her writing: was Plath herself debating on this same topic as she wrote?

Normally, this type of narration takes me a while to adjust to, but Esther’s story and mindset were so captivating, I fell right into her world. I loved the flashbacks and brief glimpses into the past: they built out her character and perspective in the best way possible. The open-ended references make me yearn to read other critiques or even Plath’s own thoughts on the novel. The most potent references were to the bell jar itself. Some think it’s a reference to her own depression, but I wonder if it’s a metaphor for the world Esther saw herself in. She could see all of these glorious experiences from inside her bell jar, but could never truly feel or try them for herself…

I just finished this book; normally when I sit down to write a review, I’ve mulled on the story a bit, wrote some notes, maybe a little research, but not this time. The Bell Jar grips your emotions, subtly at first but with more force as Esther’s story unfolds. There’s so much in her that I see in my friends, in my coworkers, in myself: the struggle to find the right path, to decide what’s best for you, and to fight against the flow of society. 

H said the book changed her life. It certainly changed mine.

Posted April 23, 2015 by Ellen in the canon classics, Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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March 28, 2015

The Canon Classics | The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orzcy

Title: The Scarlet Pimpernel
Author: Emmuska Orczy
Publication Date: 1903
Source & Format: Owned; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Armed with only his wits and his cunning, one man recklessly defies the French revolutionaries and rescues scores of innocent men, women, and children from the deadly guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But the ruthless French agent Chauvelin is sworn to discover his identity and to hunt him down.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of classics. Some are fun, easy to read, and some fall into the category of too intense/intimidating/overwhelming. For some reason I’d always put The Scarlet Pimpernel into the last category, but this novel was one of the most fun classics I’ve read in a long time. 

I knew that The Scarlet Pimpernel was one of Willig’s inspirations for her Pink Carnation series, but I didn’t expect the same fun mystery to emerge in Baroness Orczy’s work. The rollicking adventurous atmosphere maintained an air of excitement and mystery that I found enchanting. Orczy’s writing is simple and inviting, another aspect I didn’t quite expect from a novel written in 1903. 

For me, the characters made the story. Sir Percy, the slightly dandy rich lord, his gorgeous, clever French wife, Marguerite, and the French agent Chauvelin all had secrets, different sides to their character, keeping the plot moving forward. Sir Percy, often called “inane” in the novel, is the original “hero with a secret”. What better way to hide the identity of a clever spy then under the mask of a playboy?

He however, has one of the smallest character transformations: his wife, Marguerite, takes the prize in this category. Marguerite is always portrayed as smart, clever, but it’s the touch of extra confidence and the love of her family that proves to be her downfall in the beginning of the story. She does something simple: she assumes she knows her husband’s personality. Watching her grow and develop into a smart(er), careful woman was fascinating.

I loved the historical touches of the French Revolution. Orzcy obviously sympathizes with the aristocrats, and her portrayal of late 18th France and England will be great fun for any history buff. Her opening chapter, setting the scene of the French Revolution and unrest in Europe is possibly my favorite chapter in the book.

Posted March 28, 2015 by Ellen in the canon classics, Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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March 6, 2015

Review | The Boscombe Valley Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Title: The Boscombe Valley Mystery 
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Publication Date: 1891
Publisher: Barnes & Noble {this edition}
Series: Sherlock Holmes
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Lestrade summons Holmes to a community in Herefordshire, where a local landowner has been murdered outdoors. The deceased’s estranged son is strongly implicated. Holmes quickly determines that a mysterious third man may be responsible for the crime, unraveling a thread involving a secret criminal past, thwarted love, and blackmail.

It’s the mysteries with the most obvious solution that always captivate me: a (supposedly) clear murderer, an unpopular victim, and evidence that supports the obvious claim. Most people would write this over, never give it a second thought. Then Sherlock finds out about it.

This is his perfect puzzle: a crime with a clear criminal, but a few pieces that don’t quite fit. A daunting task in itself, Sherlock looks at it like a kid does as he spots a prettily-wrapped gift under the Christmas tree. The seemingly obvious murderer is what first caught my attention, then as Sherlock slowly unravels the pieces, it became captivating.

Maybe I just didn’t notice it before, but I loved how Doyle uses Sherlock’s dry observations to observe the characters around him. As Sherlock and Watson ride the train to the scene of the crime, Sherlock’s observations about Watson’s shaving habits made me laugh, but then made me think: Sherlock, so characteristically observant, has the ability to observe in the narrative without dragging the pace of the story down. Instead, it epitomizes his own personality, while giving the reader an accurate description of the world around him.

Although I’ve only read a few Sherlock stories, this is the first one I’ve read so far where Doyle gives Sherlock an intellectual flaw. As the story closes, Sherlock misquotes, a fact I found fascinating. Sherlock, the man of details, observations, and dry commentary, is not given to flaws. Maybe he is human after all. 

Posted March 6, 2015 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 1 Comment
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February 26, 2015

The Canon Classics | The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Title: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Date: 1950 {original pub}
Publisher: Harper Collins {this edition}
Series: The Chronicles of Narnia {Book 1}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.

Journey into the land beyond the wardrobe! The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second book in C. S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, which has been captivating readers of all ages for over sixty years. This is a stand-alone novel, but if you would like journey back to Narnia, read The Horse and His Boy, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia.

The Chronicles of Narnia never really grabbed my attention until I started college. Once my professors started using The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an example of critical analysis, my curiosity was piqued. Finally, I got my hands on the story, and fell in love with the world in the wardrobe.

Lewis’ writing is the masterpiece of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There are so many layers contained with his words: a genuine adventure for children, a moral story to teach them between right and wrong, and a darker underbelly that appealed to me, dealing with metaphors, symbols, and themes that sparked the analytical spirit in me.

Aslan is the most obvious symbol in the novel – the comparisons between his story and that of Jesus were overwhelming, and somewhat comforting. I knew the story’s general path and, if you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know I can’t handle any type of animals in pain, cruelty, death… So perceiving Aslan as a symbol of Jesus helped me through crucial parts of the story. I’m curious to know what symbols stood out for you in this novel? Do you see Aslan the same as I do, or a different analysis altogether?

As I just finished Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been, I found quite a few comparisons between young Alice listening to the Rev. Dodgson weave a story about her to C.S. Lewis’ dedicating the first Narnia book to his goddaughter, Lucy. After reading that first page, Lucy held a special place in my heart.

I’m glad I reread this book; years ago (maybe elementary school?) I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but didn’t connect with it. Reading from a critical analysis point-of-view put a whole new spin on this childhood favorite. 

Posted February 26, 2015 by Ellen in the canon classics, Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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January 30, 2015

The Canon Classics | Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen 
Publication Date: 1818
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.

Executed with high-spirited gusto, Northanger Abbey is the most lighthearted of Jane Austen’s novels, yet at its core this delightful novel is a serious, unsentimental commentary on love and marriage.

I love Jane Austen, but it breaks my heart to say I can’t stand this book. In every page, I wanted to love it, I tried to love it, but we just weren’t meant to be.

Maybe it’s my expectations. From the reviews I found online to the book’s own blurb of “the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion” and “concealing a terrible secret”, I excepted a majority of the story would take place in the abbey. Catherine doesn’t even journey to the abbey until chapter twenty or page 145 in my edition. Mind you, the book is only 236 pages long. The first volume drove me crazy. The friendship between Isabella Thorpe and Catherine was entertaining for the first few pages, but as the plot stalled and remained focused on their social outings in Bath, I found my interest draining away. Thorpe, Catherine’s unwanted suitor, is the most irritating character on the planet and Isabella’s habit of pushing them together made me put the book down. There was nothing to keep me engaged. 

By the time they actually arrive at the abbey (more than halfway through the book), I’d had it with Northanger Abbey. It was too late – I no longer cared about the characters, the Tilneys – especially our romantic hero, Herny – did nothing for me. I felt so little connection with them that it was a bear to push through this novel. 

Maybe I expected more ghost story and spooky atmosphere than a commentary on relationships. If I had gone into Northanger Abbey with that mindset, maybe it would have been more enjoyable. I wish I had studied this in school – I feel like my perspective is wrong, and would love to bounce my ideas off others’. But for now, Northanger Abbey is going to the back of the bookshelf, where I can pull it back out when I have an itch to reread. 

Posted January 30, 2015 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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December 26, 2014

The Canon Classics | The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Title: The Fellowship of the Ring
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Publication Date: Originally Published {1954}
Publisher: Original publisher {George Allen & Unwin}
Series: The Lord of the Rings {Book 1}
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The dark, fearsome Ringwraiths are searching for a Hobbit. Frodo Baggins knows that they are seeking him and the Ring he bears—the Ring of Power that will enable evil Sauron to destroy all that is good in Middle-earth. Now it is up to Frodo and his faithful servant, Sam, with a small band of companions, to carry the Ring to the one place it can be destroyed: Mount Doom, in the very center of Sauron’s realm.

I feel like Tolkien’s famous fantasy series isn’t a novel that can be reviewed in the way I typically would: everything that I would say about the plot and characters has most likely already been said. So, I’m going to write about my reaction to The Fellowship of the Ring.

Here’s the thing: I love these movies. Marathoning this series with a pizza during a thunderstorm is my perfect day, so, needless to say, I expected a rapid pace adventure. Instead, the narrative focused on the lore with an intensity that I didn’t quite expect. The narration of the novel described the world of Middle Earth with so much careful detail that it was easy to imagine the lush, rolling hills of the Shire, the dark mountains, the Road.

Without a doubt, my favorite scenes were in the darkness of Moria. The uncanny darkness sheathing the old underground city caught my attention and imagination – the action scenes were exactly what I longed for in the earlier chapters. The action also forced each character to show their true colors – Aragorn his bravery, Sam his devotion, and Gimli his loyalty to his history. 

The Fellowship of the Ring makes me long for English class again, if they had discussed such a novel in my curriculum. There are so many references, allusions, metaphors hidden in the text that it makes me yearn to sit and research theories (which might be exactly what I’m doing this weekend). 

Textually, the novel is fascinating, but I struggled a bit with the narrative – Tolkien’s descriptions of the landscape, while fascinating at first, grew a bit old as the story progressed. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I need to give the novel another whirl to understand. 

Posted December 26, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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October 8, 2014

Gatsby & Me | An Unlikely Love Story

I don’t know if all high school kids felt this way, but I hated reading The Great Gatsby. Maybe it’s because it was one of those books that the teaching staff was so excited about, so it made the students less than enthusiastic (I was unfortunately in that majority more often than not). 

In high school, Gatsby was one of those books that always had to mean something. We were constantly searching for something new, a clue to the inner workings of the universe, or so it felt. When I cracked open Gatsby for the first time in my junior year honors class, I wanted nothing to do with it. It was a depressing novel about death, the eyes of God (that reference is hard to miss), and missed love. At the time, I was much more interested in the bodice busters I found hidden in the library paperback romance shelves. I wanted books with happily-ever-afters, romance, and gorgeous male heroes. Gatsby had none of that. 

I had an unfortunate, rebellious phase in high school where if someone with authority told me to do something or that I would like something, I was instantly against it. It was the illogical, emotional mind of a teenage girl at work. My teachers all sang Gatsby‘s praises, so I refused to find out what was so amazing about it. 

Despite my illogical dislike of the book in high school, Gatsby followed me to college. In my second semester my freshman year, I took what was pretty much Composition 2. When I saw Gatsby‘s title staring at me from the booklist that semester, I groaned in frustration. What was it with this book? This was the class that changed my life.

We were required to also read Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide by Lois Tyson (which I highly recommend to any English major or Gatsby lover). Tyson’s book explored different critical theories (essentially, different ways to read a book – my personal favorites are psychological and feminism) using The Great Gatsby. Reading all of these essays about different points of view of this classic opened my eyes to the magic that my high school English teachers were all talking about; this book is fantastic.

Our love affair only grew after that point. Overall, I read Gatsby over seven times in the course of my school career and only fell more in love each time. It felt like I found something new each time, a new perspective, metaphor, reference that made me gasp at Fitzgerald’s ingenuity. My copy has been annotated so many times that on some pages, it’s nearly impossible to read the text. 

When the movie came out, I took M and he finally understood my obsession. There’s something so fascinating about the man who survives solely on a mixture of hope and delusion. I always hope it will end differently, that the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg will see Gatsby to a different ending.

Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back. Maybe we all live on the same mix of hope and delusion that Gatsby survives on. 

Posted October 8, 2014 by Ellen in the canon talks, Uncategorized / 1 Comment
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September 28, 2014

The Canon Classics | Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Title: Vanity Fair
Author: William Makepeace Thackeray
Publication Date: 1847
Publisher: Originally published by Punch Magazine in serials
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

“I think I could be a good woman, if I had five thousand a year,” observes beautiful and clever Becky Sharp, one of the wickedest—and most appealing—women in all of literature. Becky is just one of the many fascinating figures that populate William Makepeace Thackeray’s novelVanity Fair, a wonderfully satirical panorama of upper-middle-class life and manners in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Scorned for her lack of money and breeding, Becky must use all her wit, charm and considerable sex appeal to escape her drab destiny as a governess. From London’s ballrooms to the battlefields of Waterloo, the bewitching Becky works her wiles on a gallery of memorable characters, including her lecherous employer, Sir Pitt, his rich sister, Miss Crawley, and Pitt’s dashing son, Rawdon, the first of Becky’s misguided sexual entanglements.

Filled with hilarious dialogue and superb characterizations, Vanity Fair is a richly entertaining comedy that asks the reader, “Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?”

Vanity Fair has been on my TBR, well, since before I made a TBR. Reese Witherspoon’s photo on the movie poster for the 2004 Vanity Fair caught my eye when the movie premiered, but I held out for the book. Ten years later, I’ve finally read it.

It was nothing like I expected. 

My own love for Jane Austen’s social comedies/romances made me assume that Vanity Fair would be a lighthearted romance and moral lesson about life in 1800s English society. I didn’t expect the dark-natured view of humankind’s motivations and existence that I found in the main character, Becky. 

Becky Sharp had some…sharp edges to her (sorry. Couldn’t help it), but the drastic changes that take place in her character were astounding. She was a lesson for me in foreshadowing and trusting my instinct; I didn’t want to believe what her character was capable of, but Thackeray definitely stayed within the realms of character. I loved how he used each character to the extreme, testing their moral boundaries and pushing them beyond what they (and others) thought they could take. 

To be honest, Becky is unlikable as all get out. She isn’t a Sookie, a Katniss, or even an Elizabeth Bennett. She’s a sharp (again, sorry), harsh woman who knows what she wants and doesn’t mind how she gets it. She is a parody, a satiric symbol, instead of the type of heroine we know and love today. 

I don’t know if this extends to Thackeray, but I learned in college that Dickens was paid by the serial as each was published, therefore motivating him to write more words. Since Dickens and Thackeray were contemporaries and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was published originally as a serial, I wouldn’t find it to be a stretch to assume he was paid the same way. My point? Vanity Fair is a (bit) long-winded. This is a book that you have to sit down and focus on. I had so much trouble with the first few chapters because my mind was constantly wandering, but once I got the rhythm of the story, I fell in love with Thackeray’s parody. 


Posted September 28, 2014 by Ellen in the canon classics, Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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September 17, 2014

If You Liked Pride and Prejudice, Try…

Pride and Prejudice is the ultimate romance in my eyes. From the sweeping romance to the characters’ own hangups standing in the way of their happy-ever-after, the quips, society’s rules, and the ever-present Mrs. Bennett, Pride and Prejudice remains my favorite.

Besides, who can resist Mr. Darcy?

Sorry. I just loved this movie. Couldn’t help sneaking it in! 

These are my favorite books that have the same elements of pride, prejudice, or the sweeping romance (sometimes all three!) that make me reach for my copy of P&P over and over again. 

1. Austenland by Shannon Hale | A modern day twist on the favorite romance with a heroine obsessed with Mr. Darcy and the Regency. The Austen-inspired romance makes this book a must for P&P lovers. 
2. Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway | Pride and Prejudice goes Southern in this Austen-inspired romance. The Southern society closes resembles the 1800s English world Austen’s heroine lived in, creating one of the best Austen-inspired novels I’ve read so far.
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte | Another classics romance. Although Bronte’s work leans a little more towards the dark side, her work tells the tale of another sweeping romance that repeatedly knocks my socks off. The master of the house falling in love with the poor governess, betraying all societal rules and regulations, reminds me so closely of Darcy and Elizabeth. 
4. Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips | No, I have not been able to get this book out of my mind. The wacky romance of Meg, the woman responsible for breaking up the wedding of the century, and Ted, the town’s golden boy (and groom of said wedding) reminds me of society’s restrictions and the characters’ own pride in Pride and Prejudice. They slowly overcome their prejudices and open their eyes to finally see each other. 
5. One Day by David Nicholls | A sweet, poignant romance that will have you reaching for the tissues and chocolate over and over. Nicholls’ sweet story stole my heart. 
6. These Broken Stars by Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman | A YA scifi/fantasy that epitomizes the hallmarks of Elizabeth and Darcy’s characters. These Broken Stars uses the characters’ pride and society’s prejudices to up the tension between the characters. 

What books do you reach for when you’re craving a little Elizabeth and Darcy romance? These are my personal favorites and I’m always looking for more to add to my collection!

Posted September 17, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 4 Comments
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September 15, 2014

Review | The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Title: The Princess Bride 
Author: William Goldman
Publication Date: 1973
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad’s recitation, and only the “good parts” reached his ears.

Now Goldman does Dad one better. He’s reconstructed the “Good Parts Version” to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.

What’s it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.

In short, it’s about everything.

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite stories from childhood. The masked man, the stubborn, beautiful princess, and the crazy situations they get themselves into make this story one for the ages. However, reading the book was a completely different experience…one that I loved


1. True love. No romance is complete without it.
2. A mean, nasty bad guy who enjoys violence in the form of Prince Humperdinck (hard not to laugh when I say his name…).
3. “AS…YOU…WISH…” (come on…I know you echoed it in your mind). 
4. The depth of the secondary characters’ stories, especially Inigo Montoya. I loved the background of the six-fingered man, his father, and the sword. 
5. The adventure keeps the story moving quickly.
6. I don’t know about you, but I just love the scenes with the Sicilian. 
7. The way Goldman uses humor to tell the story. The occasionally slapstick comedy keeps the plot moving quickly and uses laughs and witty retorts to reinforce themes and motifs in the novel. 

In the end, there was so much more depth, background and hilarity in the novel form of this story that I quickly fell in love. I know without a doubt, this is a story I will read over and over again. 


Posted September 15, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 2 Comments
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