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The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Happy Halloween everybody!  I hope you are having a fun and safe holiday.  I am waiting for trick-or-treaters and trying to convince Reeses that Halloween costumes are not chew toys.

I really enjoyed The Woman in White!  It’s been a while since I read anything Victorian, plus it is really suspenseful, so it was perfect for Halloween reading.  The Woman in White is sometimes described as one of the first mystery novels.  Personally, it reminded me less of a traditional mystery and more of a Hitchcock movie.  Instead of trying to figure out “whodunnit,” the building tension and suspense of the story had me physically leaning towards the book, anxious to find out what would happen next.

Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins

There are quite a few characters in this book, all delightfully different.  The first narrator is Walter Hartright, a drawing teacher who meets a mysterious woman dressed in white late at night on the road to London.  His two pupils are half-sisters Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie, who happens to look almost exactly like the mysterious woman.  Together Miss Halcombe and Mr. Hartright discover that the mysterious woman is Anne Catherick, a woman whose past connects her both to the Fairlie family and Sir Percival Glyde, Laura Fairlie’s fiance.  In the second half of the book, we meet the Count and Countess Fosco.  Count Fosco is both melodramatic and menacing.  The variety of these characters makes the book a lot of fun.

If you’ve read a Victorian novel before, you might remember that they tend to be long.  Many of them were originally published chapter by chapter in magazines, and The Woman in White is no exception.  In my opinion, it’s one of the best examples of this genre I have read.  Sometimes these books can get a little repetitive, because the writer knew it had been awhile since the last chapter.  Because this novel is told from several viewpoints, it felt pretty fast paced to me.  I also was really impressed by the characters.  Although Count Fosco and Laura Fairlie in particular resemble familiar, melodramatic Victorian characters (think of Lucy in A Tale of Two Cities), they don’t take away from the drama of the story.  It is really very well-written.  I give this book four and a half stars, and I’ll be adding it to my list of great Halloween books!  ★★★★1/2

Little me and little Becca dressed up for Halloween

Little me and little Becca dressed up for Halloween

photo credit: Simon_K via photopin cc


Slight Delay

Hi everyone,

Sorry I won’t be able to post the last installment of the Halloween series tonight.  I’m recuperating from a sinus infection, and I’ve fallen behind on my reading and reviewing.  Instead, why not turn on PBS and watch an adaptation of P. D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley?  You can also reread my review here.


Halloween Book Suggestions

Ok, it doesn't quite look like this yet, but we're getting close!

Ok, it doesn’t quite look like this yet, but we’re getting close!

Fall is finally in the air here, at least in my section of the East Coast.  The maple leaves are looking good, but we’re still waiting on the oaks to change colors.  With a little less than two weeks until Halloween, it’s the perfect time to check out a scary book!  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova   This is a fantastic novel.  You might want to read Dracula first, since its based on it.  Fair warning: this book will make you want to travel to central and eastern Europe.  I still have the travel bug to go to Slovenia, and it’s been at least four years since I read it….
  2. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James   Quite simply the best ghost story I have ever come across.  If I had my way, it would be a core book for any basic American Lit class.  I listened to this as an audiobook (on the CraftLit podcast) and was absolutely amazed by James’s masterful plot.
  3. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux   In junior high, my classmates and I were big fans of this book.  Try to ditch any expectations you might have as a result of seeing plays or movies-the original is different and well worth reading.  Interesting side note: the author, Gaston Leroux, is also credited with writing the first locked room mystery.  It’s called The Mystery of the Yellow Room, and I’ve been meaning to read it for years.
  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker   I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one.  It’s a classic for a reason, and the handful movies I have seen don’t do it justice at all.
  5. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen   If you’re not in to horror stories, how about a book making fun of gothic novels?  If you don’t want to lose any sleep over your Halloween reading, this is definitely a fun option.
  6. The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright   This is a ghost story for older children or young adults.  I read it in second grade and it thoroughly freaked me out.  It’s a great book though, just probably better suited to readers over the age of 10.


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photo credit: Schub@ via photopin cc

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

Hello everyone!  Today I’m continuing the Print and Prose Halloween series with a new Halloween book: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla.  It was originally on my summer reading list, but I decided to wait for October since it was a Halloween book.  (This required great restraint, since I have been a fan of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series for years.  In 2009, Becca actually mailed the latest book in the series to me in Europe so that I wouldn’t have to wait until the summer to catch up.)

Manzanilla (aka manchineel) tree

Manzanilla (aka manchineel) tree

The Pink Carnation series is set in the early 1800s, usually in England.  If you’ve ever read The Scarlet Pimpernel by the Baroness Orczy, these books are supposed to be about the spies who took over after the Scarlet Pimpernel’s retirement.  They are historical fiction with elements of adventure, mystery and romance.

In the latest book, Miss Sally Fitzhugh has gotten a little tired of life as a debutante in London.  Unimpressed by the latest society rumors that the Duke of Belliston is a vampire, she takes a dare to go into his gardens at midnight.  There, she unexpectedly meets the duke himself.  Lucien has recently returned to England to solve the mystery of his parents’ murder, which has haunted him since childhood.  It quickly becomes clear that someone doesn’t want him to find out what really happens.  When Lucien is framed for a murder, Sally tries to help, and begins to suspect the Black Tulip, a deadly French spy.

Readers of the series will happily recognize the reinforcements from the Pink Carnation’s league who arrive to help Sally and Lucien.  Sally is convinced to pose as Lucien’s fiancee so that an agent, posing as her chaperone, can investigate.  The duke’s relatives plan to celebrate the engagement with a masquerade ball on All Hallow’s Eve.  Can Sally and the duke solve his parents’ murder before the killer strikes again?  And what will happen to their pretended engagement if they do?


I recommend this series to absolutely everyone, because I want to be Miss Gwen next Halloween.  🙂  I love this series, and if you like books that are smart, funny, and thoroughly entertaining, please check out either this book or the first in the series, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.  I particularly recommend them to students.  Remember that dull ache in your head that you get when you’ve spent all week (or more) studying for midterms?  When I was an undergrad, I found that these books are the perfect cure!  I’ve been a fan ever since.  I give both the book and the series five stars.  I can’t wait for the next one!  ★★★★★

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photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Hello everyone, and happy October! Here at Of Print and Prose, we’ll be getting ready to celebrate Halloween by posting a Halloween-themed book review every Sunday. We’re starting with an old classic: The Castle of Otranto, the original gothic novel by Horace Walpole.

Cathedral of Otranto

Cathedral of Otranto

I have seen The Castle of Otranto and other gothic novels referenced in books before, so I wanted to read one for myself. I had an opportunity this summer to read it with a friend from my old book club. It was interesting to finally read a book I have seen mentioned so many times.

The Castle of Otranto has some supernatural elements, but it isn’t particularly scary or suspenseful. The basic premise is that unexplained events start happening to a family who may not have rightfully inherited the title and lands of Otranto. Everyone suspects the mysterious occurrences may be signs of divine retribution against the descendants of the usurper. Several mysterious strangers arrive and are caught up in the drama as the current Prince of Otranto tries to escape an old prophecy about his family.

This is an older novel than what I usually read, so it was a little challenging. In the edition I read, the punctuation, mainly the lack of quotation marks in dialogues, made it a little difficult to understand. Of course, Walpole also introduces the novel as a much older manuscript that he had discovered and edited, so it was meant to sound old-fashioned even to eighteenth century readers.

I would recommend reading this book mainly because it is the first of its kind. The whole genre of gothic novels and many horror novels were influenced by this book, so if you like having some historical context when you read, this is a great option. Also, if (like me) you felt you missed a lot of inside jokes while reading Northanger Abbey, this is the perfect place to start. I give this book three stars-I’m glad I read it, but probably wouldn’t be interested in reading it a second time.  ★★★


Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll be reviewing a much more modern book!


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In The Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Readers, would you agree that you stumble upon some really great books when they aren’t books you would choose for yourself?  It is hit or miss for me, but generally, when I read something I never would have picked up off the shelf of my own volition, I’m pretty impressed.  You can expect a lot more books like this since my happiness project involves a monthly goal to read or watch something I never would have considered otherwise.  This book, In The Time of Butterflies, I picked up in an effort to change up the 10th grade novel at our school (I also hoped to make our curriculum a little less old, rich, white guy centered).  While Alvarez’s novel won’t be used as our school-wide novel for 10th grade, it was an interesting read nonetheless.

Set during the reign of dictator Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, In The Time of Butterflies is a fictionalized account of 4 revolutionary sisters, the Mirabels – 3 of whom were assassinated for their work as revolutionaries opposed to Trujillo’s rule.  Told through four differing viewpoints – from each sister at varying points of the revolution – Alvarez artfully captures both the revolutionary activity and every day activity of these famous sisters.  She develops the characters to seem very much like real people, which is quite an undertaking when writing characters out of historical figures who actually existed.  The reader gets to follow the very unique experience of each sister from their first days in school, through marriage and children, to the fear and imprisonment leading up to their murders.

The thing I liked most about this novel was that it sparked my curiosity about a period in history that I don’t know much about.  I remember vague murmurings of Fidel Castro in Cuba during my history classes, but similar dictatorships in the Dominican Republic were never mentioned, and I’m already interested in learning more.  Additionally, I loved how real the characters were.  Yes, they were iconic revolutionaries.  They were also women with families who experienced exactly what you might expect when their world as they knew it came crashing down around them.  Throughout, I had a very real understanding that though working for the revolutionary was worth it for the fictional versions of the Mirabal sisters, it wasn’t always easy.  In fact, it rarely was.

There were times that the book was hard to read.  Admittedly, at times it was because the narrative became very long-winded and I was waiting for something to actually happen.  This is one critique of the novel.  However, other times, through no fault of Alvarez or her writing, the story simply became very intense, and something I needed to read in smaller doses.

If you’re interested in historical fiction, I’d recommend this book.  The different accounts were well-written and the characters were multi-dimensional and real.  Additionally, it’s an area of history that is recent and occurred close to home – yet many of us don’t know much about this, and that should be changed!  I give In The Time of Butterflies 3 stars.  ★★★

– Becca

Elizabeth’s Favorite Banned Books

BBW_Banned_200x200Hello again and Happy Banned Books Week!

In honor of Banned Books Week, I wanted to post a list of my favorite books that have been banned.  For a list of frequently challenged books, visit the American Library Association’s website.  There are a lot of familiar names on there, some more surprising than others.  As a public school employee, I was interested to notice that Children’s and Young Adult literature are well-represented on the recent lists of challenged books.  I’m glad to say I’ve had the chance to read many of these books, and as always, I’m grateful that the adults in my life encouraged me to read a wide variety of books.

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird
    • This is my nomination for the great American novel and has been since the first time I read it.  It is an amazing book.
  2. A Wrinkle in Time
    • It makes me so sad to see this book on the list.  Sixteen years after reading it, I still love it (and A Wind in the Door too)!  It’s a great adventure story with some really strong, smart characters (both girls and boys.)
  3. The Harry Potter series
    • A lot of my students are just discovering these books, and I’m excited to see more readers enjoying them!  I think they are classics.  (Also, I really need to stop judging other books by them.  Sets the bar way too high…)
  4. Gone with the Wind
    • I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book.  Scarlett O’Hara is quite the antihero-I know I would hate her if I met her in real life, but I had to keep turning pages to see what she would do next!

Sorry for the short list, but I just noticed the promotional items on the Banned Books Week website, and it’s time to go shopping!  Maybe I can find something to go with my Wrinkle in Time t-shirt.