Review for The Help

Well, folks I’m back for another post! I’ve just finished reading The Help which tickled my funny bone. Some books you have to make yourself finish. Thankfully this was not the case. I took it to work to read during nap time and would force myself to stop to get things done.

colin morgan smile GIF by BBC

Let’s get to the good stuff shall we! 😉

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Genre – Historical fiction

Series – No

Rating – PG-13 for tense situations and language

Age Range – Older Teen or Adult

Synopsis –

Aibileen’s son died several years ago which leaves a hole in her heart. She has been working as a maid for most of her life. As she cares for Miss Leefolt’s two-year old daughter Mae Mobley, Aibileen becomes attached the the child and tries to impart some wisdom to her. Aibileen’s friend Minny struggles to hold her tongue while working and is seeking a job after being fired. Then there is Eguenia Phelan or Skeeter. Skeeter has two goals in life: become an author and find out what happened to her family maid Constantine. These three women come together to make a difference in their town of Jackson, Mississippi.

My Thoughts –

A while back I saw The Help with my sister. We both enjoyed the movie and quoted it from time to time, but I didn’t really think about reading the book. Then a few months later, I was out garage saling and saw it sitting there on a table. I bought it thinking it would make for a good summer read. And now I finally got around to actually reading it.

We hear the story from three alternating perspectives – Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. At first, I just wanted to hear Aibileen’s story as it was captivating hearing about what her life was like serving a white family. However, as the book moved along, I grew to appreciate all three of the ladies. Minny’s sections were thought provoking as well as humorous. The author did a great job giving each of the ladies a distinctive voice that flowed through the book. These three lives intersect and change. I loved the phone conversations and meeting these three had.

Stockett builds a colorful picture of what Jackson Mississippi would have looked like in the 1960’s. To me it felt like the author had done her research and really brought Jackson to life.

you is kind the help GIF

Personally, Aibileen was my favorite. From working with kids, I appreciated all the work Aibileen went through potty training Mae Mobley. I loved seeing her prayer life as well and how writing her prayers was a way for her to keep practicing what she learned in school. She has a list of people that she prays for every night. Aibileen may be quite, but she has a brave heart and is a good friend to Minny.

Ceila Foote surprised me! I really rooted for her and her husband. Despite her gaudy outfits and ignorance about certain things, she stands up for Minny and has a great love for her husband. The whole bathroom scene was touching.

As a novel, this book makes for a fun read. It isn’t flashy, instead more down to earth. Now, I highly doubt this sort of thing would have ever happened. Especially in the ’60s and I’m no expert. I just cannot see maids actually spilling these stories out to Skeeter.

Quotes –

“Bouncing her on my hip to get the gas moving and it didn’t take two minutes fore Baby Girl stopped her crying, got to smiling up at me like she do.” (p. 1).

“”Miss Celia . . .” I shake my head, not believing I’m already arguing with this lady and I haven’t worked here two minutes.” (p.

“Sure, I dreamed of having football dates, but my real dream was that one day I would write something that people would actually read.” (p.69).

“She hugs me around the neck, say “you’re righter than Miss Taylor. I tear up then. My cup is spilling over.” (p. 461).

Language – There is some swearing throughout as well as some instances of using the Lord’s name in vain.

Violence – We hear how the employer treated Aibileen’s dead son. As well as how a character becomes blind. We see how the police treat the black community during that time. There is also several mentions of domestic violence.

Innuendo – There are rumors about a character having gotten pregnant out of wedlock.

Conclusion –

I really liked this book, liked the characters, the storytelling, and the setting. This book has been out for while now and people seem to either hate or love it. For me I loved it! Much of the book takes places in the summer which was very fitting. It different and at times sad to hear some of the ladies stories, but the author does it in an engaging way. All I can say is that I’d recommend it! 🙂

Up Next – I will be starting Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.

Cannot wait to hear from you!! What book are you reading? Do you like historical fiction? Have you read/watched The Help? What are your thoughts?

Anna

Review for Les Miserables

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Genre – Historical Fiction, Classic

Series – No

Rating – PG-13 for death & some mild innuendo

Age Range – Adult

Synopsis –

This epic weaves many characters together to tell the story of the underdogs, the oppressed people struggling to survive in France in the early 1800’s. We start with Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who has just been released on parole. No one will offer him work due to his criminal past. Until the Bishop of Digne, Charles Myriel gives him supper and a bed for the night. Jean Valjean attempts to steal from Myriel, but the Bishop offers forgiveness and new life instead. Meanwhile Javert was an officer at the prison where Jean Valjean spent his 19 years and has been looking for him since. Javert holds his job above everything else in life. Then there is Fantine; who is destitute and at her wits end to provide for her daughter Cosette. She pays the Thenardiers to look after Cosette, but they scam Fantine for all she is worth, raising the price beyond what she can bear. Marius is a dreamer at heart. Once he realizes just how noble his father was, he leaves the safety of his grandfather’s house to find his own path in life. Fantine, Jean Valjean, Javert, Marius, & Cosette’s lives weave together to form an unforgettable story of redemption.

My Thoughts –

Well, this book holds a fascinating story. I do love the musical and movie versions of this book, but the book goes deeper and truly fleshes out the characters. At the start of the year, I saw that a blogger had decided to read two classic French books in a year – The Count of Monte Cristo & Les Miserables. I had read an abridged version of Les Miserables years ago and thought this should be the year when I actually read the whole thing. I had some time on my hands so went for it. I’m glad I did!! Was there tediously boring parts? Yes, several that didn’t even affect the story much. Plus Hugo is wordy guy! He loves taking pages to cover something that probably needed only a few sentences. At times it was slow going. Beware if you haven’t read the book or at least know the story, there will be *spoilers ahead.*

My Fair Lady movie review & film summary (1994) | Roger Ebert

Despite all this, I did it! I did it! Mentally singing the My Fair Lady song. 😉

There are so many characters woven throughout the novel, some play minor roles and are only in a small percentage of the book. So, I’m just going to mention some of my favorites. First, Jean Valjean. His developmental arc is amazing!! His story is heartbreaking, and shows how much prison can change a person. His transformation into Monsieur Madeleine is unique in that he does it to keep his vow. He uses the money he made to impact and support the town of Montreuil-sur-mer. He builds workhouses to create jobs. But all it takes is one event to bring that crashing down. I loved that Hugo gave us a look into Valjean’s mind and the turmoil he goes through. Love and forgiveness can truly impact a person’s life.

Next, I was surprised at how much I liked Marius in the book. Hugo gives him a bit more backbone as opposed to some of the movies where he is a bit wishy-washy. His love for Cosette is sweet and innocent. I mean they go a whole year without having said one word to each other and just seeing other from a distance. I got frustrated with his constant endeavor to repay the man who saved his father’s life despite knowing that Thenardier is a scoundrel.

There are two minor characters that I loved as well – Gavroche and Enjolras. Gavroche is the forgotten son of Madame Thenardier. He lives on the street, but has generally happy attitude. Unbeknownst to him, he gives his brothers a safe night . While helping at the barricade, Gavroche sacrifices himself to retrieve ammo. Enjolras on the other hand was rich leader of the ABC society. He sought justice and liberty for the people and yet was aloof and distant from his comrades. I found him intriguing and a bit odd.

Although Hugo can be a long-winded writer, he does know how to draw the reader in to the character’s lives. The sections that revolved around plot I enjoyed quite a bit, it was the parts in between that could drag on forever. I kept wanting Hugo to make his point already. He covers everything from politics to his views on religion, and the sewer system as well as the whole battle of Waterloo.

However I do this is a book that everyone should read once in their lifetime. Jean Valjean’s story alone is worth the 1,200 pages. I teared up at the when when Marius realized just how wrong he was about him. Its an expansive story that covers a lot of territory. It took Hugo more then 20 years to write it and it shows. He gives you quite a bit to think about.

Quotes –

“Jean Valjean, my bother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God” ( p. 11).

“Or so she believes, but it is an error to suppose that we can ever exhaust Fate or reach the end of anything . . . He who knows the answer to this knows all things. He is alone. His name is God” (p. 180).

“And he blesses God for having bestowed on him those two riches which the rich so often lack – work which makes a man free, and thought, which makes him worthy of freedom” ( p. 591).

“And then she wholeheartedly loved her father – that is to say, Jean Valjean- with an innocent, confiding love which mad of him the most charming and desirable of companions” (p. 767).

“and he thanked God from the depths of his heart for having caused him, unworthy wretch that he was, to be so loved by a creature so innocent” (p.769).

Language – Roughly 6 uses of mild language, mostly used by author in his meandering,

Violence – We get a look at what it is like to live in the prison at Toulon and it is a sad how the prisoners were treated. Valjean goes on the run several times running away from Javert. In one instance he is captured by the Thenardiers and beaten. A man seeing Fantine, puts snow down her dress which leads to her becoming very sick. Fantine dies from hearing words that devastate her. Hugo mentions how soldiers died at Waterloo and were piled up. At the barricade, all the combatants die terrible deaths. Eponine dies in an effort to save Marius’s life. Marius believes that Valjean kills Javert, finds out later this is untrue. Javert commits suicide.

Innuendo – So, we get a brief look at Fantine’s life before she moves with Cosette. She falls in love with Tholomyes a poet and she is thinking of marriage. Unfortunately he leaves her in the lurch with a child. Later on, it is mentioned that, as a last resort, Fantine becomes a prostitute to make ends meet. No details, but it is mentioned a several times throughout the book.

Conclusion –

Les Miserables is one of my favorite musicals and I’m glad I read this giant book. Although, actually its exactly the same length as The Count of Monte Cristo, go figure. The story takes dark turns at times and it can be depressing just how far some of the characters go. Yet, it is not all dark, there are moments of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and love. Even Javert begins to realize that people can change. Is it a commitment? Yes, you will have to set aside time to delve into this classic. However it is worth wading into.

Have you heard of Les Mis or read an adaption? Do you have a favorite song from the musical? Looking forward to hearing from you!!

Up Next – It is finally beginning to feel like summer and I’m in the mood for some lighter reading. I am starting The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

Anna

Review for War and Peace

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Genre – Historical fiction, Russian war

Rating – PG-13 for some mild references to marital affairs and violence in war sections

Synopsis – Note- I am going to take a quote from the introduction of the book to summarize this.

“The book is set in the period of the Napoleonic wars (1805 -1812) and tells of the interweaving of historical events with the private lives of two very different families of the Russian nobility – the severe Bolkonskys and the easygoing Rostovs and of a singular man, reminiscent of the author himself -Count Pierre Bezukhov.”

Pevear, Richard. (2007) Introduction. War and Peace. P. vii.

My Thoughts –

This is such a tough book to review as there was so much that happened in the 1215 pages. This was one of the largest books I have ever read and it takes a while to actually get going. It is a slow, thoughtful novel that reflects the lives of the Russian people during a chaotic time in their history.

On one of the first pages we are given a long list of characters that I thought for sure I would never remember. I think roughly half-way through I stopped looking at the character list as by then you kinda know who everyone was.

Some characters have a big developmental arc as there was plenty of time to have them grow especially Natasha and Pierre. I actually really enjoyed Natasha’s character despite her being a little self-centered. She just felt very realistic, and I loved her with Andrei.

Now the whole set up can be very bothersome at times. Basically you get a volume or section about the character’s social life then it will jump to a section about the war. Some of the war bits got to be pretty dull as Tolstoy would insert his opinion about who the real culprit was for the wars or now Napoleon was or wasn’t great etc.

There was a character’s death that was very tearful and poignant. I wished Tolstoy had not killed that particular character. I so wanted him to make amends with another character. We do get to see a change in him though.

Lastly, I do want to mention that there are some interesting and thought provoking discussions on religion that surprised me. One character does convert to Mormonism, but does turn around from that. A couple characters believe in God (hard to tell whether they are Christian or Catholic). Forgiveness was a minor theme as well.

Innuendo –

Not much, a couple rumors about a wife being unfaithful (We don’t really find out if this was true) One character wore revealing dresses. At one point a character hatches a plan to elope with someone despite the fact that he was already married. (Thankfully, the plan is stopped before it happens).

Language –

There were a couple missuses of the Lord’s name and couple mild uses of language. Also note one word is used a couple times, but refereed to a female dog. Just how the word was used back then.

Violence –

There are sections were we get a look at what battles were like. Several characters were shot, bled, and cut. We are also told that there were many dead bodies laying on the battlefield. At one point a character gets hurt due to a cannonball exploding. Horses are killed for food. Also there was a gun duel where a character was grazed by a bullet. We are also told about an amputation.

Conclusion –

All that, to say that this is a classic, and it should be read at some point in your life. I had wanted to tackle this novel for awhile now. After reading a bunch of fluff, I wanted something that I could sink my teeth into and really dig in. This definitely fit the bill. I’m glad I read it, but also totally done with it. There are some great sections that would make for some good discussions about religion, where power comes from, and who controls history. Was kinda cool to see what Russian life was like during that time. Probably more aimed at adults just due to subject matter and size.

So, have you tackled any classics recently? What is your favorite classic? Thoughts on War and Peace?

Anna