ABR’s #CBR5 Review #26: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

xmas-carolAfter my failed attempt to get in the holiday spirit by reading Holidays On Ice, I picked up the surefire solution, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Nearly all of us know the story … Ebeneezer Scrooge is the original miser who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve in an attempt to redeem him.

You may think you have heard or seen the story so many times there isn’t a point to reading the book, but you’d be wrong. The book is perfect. It manages to be festive and foreboding, comical and creepy without the sentimentality that comes with so many holiday stories (many of which are interpretations of this very story).

Although it is relatively short – 170 or so pages – I spent a week reading it leisurely to my kids. Whether you read it alone, out loud to your family or find an audio version you can enjoy, I would highly recommend making this book part of your holiday traditions.

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Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #50 – The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd

Ah, yet another Victorian era murder mystery that involves Dickens and/or Dickensian characters. Not that I’m complaining, I like this kind of stuff. I’m mostly just jealous of the people who beat me to the idea, especially the good ones. And this one is pretty decent.

The story takes place in London, 1850. Our hero is Charles Maddox, a young man who wanted to be a police detective. Unfortunately, his detective skills and his temper got him dismissed from “the Detective,” and possibly gained him an enemy in Detective Bucket. Charles is named after his great-uncle, a famous thief taker; so now Charles begins a life as a private detective. Charles has some baggage, because what detective doesn’t have any – Charles’ baggage involves the disappearance of his sister, for which he blames himself. As the book progresses, we learn exactly how that event tore his family apart.

Charles is given a job by a famous barrister, Edward Tulkinghorne, who plays a role in Dickens’ Bleak House. In fact more than one Bleak House character appears here, because Shepherd used that book and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White as inspiration and source material. The job is to find a guy who has been sending threatening letters to a baronet. Charles finds the guy, gets his ass kicked by him, and then that guy is (of course) murdered.

There’s a lot going on here, and the author touches pretty much all of the Dickensian touchstones. Squalor of London? Check. Rat catching & dogs killing the rats? Check. Very young prostitutes? Check. Jack the Ripper? Check. It’s all there. Lots of cliches, but somehow the book was still gripping and a good read. The mystery and most of the perversions were pretty easy to figure out, but sometimes that’s Ok.

The author has another book – Murder at Mansfield Park – about which I’m pretty curious. I won’t be reading it until I can get it cheap or free on the Kindle, or through the library. The writer is good, but she’s not quite good enough to make me spend money. Yet.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #4 – Dodger by Terry Pratchett

I got this book as a freebie (or a cheapie) for the Kindle (sorry if I keep sounding like an advert for Kindle, but I do love it. I was solidly anti-e-reader, pro-paper book, until I started reading the Song of Ice & Fire series, which was difficult to lug around, and since I was getting the books from the library, there was the whole sanitariness issue. But I digress). Anyway, I felt like I had read Pratchett before, but it turns out I haven’t. Guess I just heard people talking about him. This book was an excellent introduction, and I kind of feel like I need to dive into the whole Discworld thing.

Part of what drew me to this book was my family’s habit of naming our pets after Dickens characters. I had a dog named Dodger. He was adorable. That, and my love for Oliver Twist. This may or may not be that Dodger. He’s a teenager living in the slums of London, making his living as a pickpocket and a tosher (a dude that rummages around in the sewers, picking up the stuff that gets swept and/or dropped down there). He comes up into the street in the middle of a rainstorm, and sees a young woman being assaulted. He saves her, because this particular Dodger is a paragon. As he’s trying to help her, they’re accosted and aided by Charles Dickens and the guy who started Punch. This begins a mystery, because no one knows who this girl is; it also begins the story of Dodger’s rise in the world.

Throughout the book, Dodger encounters real and fictional characters (Sweeney Todd, Benjamin Disraeli, and Sir Robert Peel, among others). He dodges and outsmarts pretty much everyone, while figuring out who the girl is, and solving the mystery of why she was being chased and beaten.

One of the neat things was that Dodger lived with an older Jewish man, who had been all over the world, and was respected both in the slums and by the gentry. It’s definitely an interesting take on Fagin, almost a redemption of the Dickens character.

There is plenty in this book that defies even the strongest suspension of disbelief, but somehow it all worked for me. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and would recommend it to pretty much anyone. If you like Dickens, historical mysteries, Zelig-type stories, or just a ripping yarn, then I’d grab this one.