I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

I Capture the CastleSoooooo I may have made a mistake in reading this book. It seemed like a good idea; I had been hearing about it all over the place on various blogs and podcasts and everyone was like, that was one of my favorite books as a kid! Everyone should read it!, and so I was like, hey, maybe I should read that. And then Amazon sent me one of their terrible emails offering me I Capture the Castle for two dollars or whatever and it was fate.

Except the problem is, my favorite books as a kid were The Baby-Sitter’s Club. Okay, and also awesome classics like A Wrinkle in Time and Nancy Drew and Matilda and Harriet the Spy. What do these books have in common? They’re not quasi-Regency romances.

What is I Capture the Castle? A quasi-Regency romance. This threw me completely off my reading game as I searched for the action or adventure or plot of any sort and slowly realized that it was never ever coming. Crap. By the time I knew I had made a mistake, I was far enough in that I was darn well going to finish, if only so I’d never be tempted to read it again.

Guys, Regency is not for me. I am Harry’s father jeering at Mortmain’s “enigmatic” books here, but I just don’t get it. I don’t understand the time period, I don’t understand the comedy of manners that is probably at play, I can’t fathom any of the class structure that is central to the stories. This book was written in 1948 and set in the 1930s, but it references Austen and the Brontës right off and is as inscrutable to me as Pride and Prejudice.

But I bet if you’re into those things you are going to love this book. It’s the diary of Cassandra, a seventeen-year-old living in a dilapidated old castle with her older sister, younger brother, hired hand, and eccentric father and stepmother. The father is a famous author who hasn’t written a thing since his debut and so the family is destitute, neglecting the rent on the castle and barely scraping together one decent meal a day. The eldest child, Rose, makes a deal with the devil (kind of literally) to marry up, and her wish is seemingly granted when two brothers show up to take over as their landlords and boys next door. Things don’t start off terribly well, but soon enough there is dinner and dancing and good luck coming to our castle-dwellers, at least until the romantic bits end up going just a little bit south.

I was certainly intrigued by the story and I wanted to know what would happen to Cassandra and Rose and all the crazy people in their family. And I appreciate the ending of the book, which I was sure was going to go one way and then went a better way. But I so very didn’t care about the parties and the trips to London and the surprise fur inheritance (except as regards the hilarious bear adventure, omg) and the awfulness of writer’s block and all the things that give the novel its backbone. Maybe if I had actually read all those boring classics as a child, like Pride and Prejudice or Little Women or Anne of Green Gables or whatever, I might be in a better position to like this book today. As it stands, I’ll stick with my sci-fi/fantasy/mystery/childcare kids’ books.

Recommendation: For probably everyone who is not me.

Rating: 6/10

Black Plumes, by Margery Allingham

Well, I mean, let’s be real. After that whirlwind romance with The Night Circus (which I just very reluctantly took back to the library), no other suitor was going to compare at all. So it might be that. But I really did not like Black Plumes.

No, no, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s that I didn’t like it, and in fact really it’s that I was and am completely apathetic toward it. I read the book, I learned whodunnit, and I was like, “Oh. Okay. That’s cool, I guess.”

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the other “Golden Age Girls”? Sayers, Christie, and Marsh (or really just all the authors of the period that I’ve read) have given me some crazy death or other that seems impossible or is really weird or has, like, twelve people who could have done it. The murder in this novel just sort of happens and then someone comes to investigate and then everyone suspects everyone else and then at the end it was some other guy who was never suspected, which, I guess I should have called that?

And there was this sub-plot-line with a pretend engagement that I actually didn’t like because it was just kind of annoying, and I didn’t care about either of the parties or any of the parties in the whole book and I couldn’t even tell you what the inspector’s name is or anything about him besides that he doesn’t say “just” or “joke” but rather “chust” and “choke” because apparently that’s what they say wherever he’s from and man that accent as done by this narrator was very distracting. So maybe it’s an audiobook problem?

I don’t know. I have really nothing else to say about this book, and that makes me kind of sad. Should I give Allingham another chance? Is this actually her worst book and I chust made a terrible decision? Please say it’s so!

Recommendation: I just… I don’t know.

Rating: 4/10
(RIP Challenge, Vintage Mystery Challenge)

Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain

I am pretty sure that the moral of this story is that I should never ever ever have children. Because clearly they will either be delightful children, in which case they will die awful and expensive deaths, or they will be evil incarnate and ruin my life all while making me think that I’m ruining theirs. I can’t have either of these. I renew my No Babies pledge!

Really, though, that’s pretty much how this book goes. Mildred has a deadbeat, cheating husband, who once had money but then the Great Depression happened and he’s too proud to go out and find some more, and she (fairly rightfully) kicks him out to go live with his sugar momma, only to realize that now she’s going to have to go get a job, which she does as secretly as possible because she is just as proud as that husband of hers. But she does find a job, and things start going pretty well for her, until they start going badly. And then Mildred fixes that, and things go well again. Until they go badly. And then things get fixed again. Then broken again. It is a terrible cycle, one that I am not unfamiliar with in my own life (can I have a job yet, economy?).

Mildred’s problem, really, is that she puts too much faith in people who are out to screw her (figuratively and other figuratively), and takes for granted the people who are wonderful to her. And what’s worse is that she mostly knows it, but lets herself get dragged into it anyway. But she is amazingly resilient, and while I would not like to have her odd thoughts running around in my head, I would be delighted to have her ability to overcome adversity.

And the last few sentences of this novel just sum up all of my feelings about it, so perfectly.

I may have wanted to punch every character (except maybe two or three) in this book right in the face at some point in time, but isn’t that how life is? I think that Cain has really hit on a perfect description of a person with a pretty good life in a pretty terrible time, and all of the characters ring true, whether we’d like to know them or not. I have nothing but praise for Cain’s writing, and I’m really glad that I got this novel as part of an anthology of his work so I can delve into some more of it soon.

Blast, this means that the rest of my book club is going to hate this book. I’d better start preparing a defense now!

Recommendation: Read this if you can deal with some incredibly frustrating characters and don’t mind a story that doesn’t really have a plot.

Rating: 9/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (21 November)

So… I never read this in school. Ever. Which is apparently some kind of sacrilege on the part of my school district, because it seems like everyone else has read this! Alas. And I think my teachers’ oversight has led to me not liking this book as much as the aforementioned “everyone else” seems to. I don’t know.

I think that an appropriate subtitle for this novel would be “Three Days in the Life of Holden Caulfield,” because (unless I miscounted the number of days, which is possible), that’s what this book is. Holden gets kicked out of school, decides not to wait until the semester break to come home and skips out early, stays in a hotel in his hometown of New York City to avoid his parents until the official expulsion letter comes, decides to run off to the West Coast, and then doesn’t.

I hope that didn’t spoil it for you, but it shouldn’t since the story is in the details. Example: Holden spends a lot of time at the beginning of the story describing just how ordinary (and lame) his school and his schoolmates are, including a very squick-inducing description of a boy with oozing acne lying down on Holden’s pillow. -twitch- That’s gross, dudes.

This book really reminded me of a compacted On the Road, with the general dissatisfaction with life and the grand plans that don’t really come to fruition. It didn’t quite resonate with me so much, though, which might be a function of being eight years older and wiser than Holden and thus having survived the crap that is high school. I don’t know. Opinions?

Rating: 7/10
(Reading Dangerously Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.