For my next reading, I cycled back to the classics and found myself another Wilkie Collins novel, No Name. This is the longest one of Collins that I’ve read so far with 786 pdf pages worth of reading, excluding the Preface. This one’s a bit different from his usual creations because he called the main divisions of his work as scenes (instead of Books). In between the scenes, he used an epistolary form of narration to continue the story. It’s not really one of my favorite Collins story, but it did give me some things to think about. There were truths here that I’ve always taken for granted and seeing them in story form made me realize that they are important insights, even in our time.
No Name is a skillfully woven tale of two young women born out of wedlock who lost their inheritance because of a legal technicality. Norah Vanstone, the older sister, chose to accept their fate and opted to create a life that was very different from what she was used to. In contrast, Magdalen Vanstone, chose a much darker path than her sister’s. For Magdalen, the lost inheritance was stolen property that she needed to recover, both for her sake and her sister’s.
This story mostly revolves around Magdalen’s attempt to recover this lost inheritance. Throughout the book, readers will see her scheme and collaborate with a known con-man to execute her plans. Not surprisingly, most of those plans failed and each failure made her more and more desperate. By the end of the story, readers will see a very different Magdalen from the character depicted in the earlier parts of the book.
In this story, Collins gave us a character that exemplified the struggle between good and evil. This was the main theme of his story. In addition to this reality, I picked up 5 more which brings me to 6 truths that No Name taught me. Cutting short this introduction, I now present the 6 realities revealed by reading No Name:
As always, there are spoilers ahead.
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I wanted to try something different for my next post so I chose a book outside of my favorite genre. When I downloaded Arlene Radasky’s The Fox, I really wasn’t sure what I would expect. I refused to check what Google has on the book. I wanted to be surprised. Nearly a quarter through the book, I realized that The Fox will not allow me to escape from the grim realities of life.
The Fox takes its readers back to first century Scotland where the story focuses on the druid, Lovern, and his wife, Jahna. In here, readers will witness how both of them met and fell in love with each other. In parallel, another story unfolds in the character of archeologist Aine MacRae in the year 2005. Radasky artfully makes the connection between the two stories by providing Jahna’s spirit the ability to travel through space and time, thereby allowing Jahna to communicate with Aine.
The Fox has both romance and magic. More so, it offers us history. For me, the charm of the book lies in the way Radasky presents history to her readers. Aine’s story shows us the challenges faced by archeologists just so they can provide us with concrete evidences of the past. Jahna and Lovern’s story connects the physical evidence to real life events. With both stories running in parallel, a bowl suddenly takes on a new meaning. Whatever Aine finds connects in some way to the story lived by Jahna and Lovern. If history were always taught this way, I would have paid more attention in class.
More than the story, Radasky tackles some very serious themes in this book. Death, rape, and warfare are but a few things that The Fox shows its readers from the point of view of the victims. The magic side may be hard to believe, but the book immediately brings us back to reality when faced with the serious themes that we see every day. For this review, I chose to focus on these realities to pick out 8 truths that The Fox attempts to reveal to its readers and here they are in no particular order:
WARNING: Spoiler Alert
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The Champdoce Mystery is an Emile Gaboriau classic featuring Monsieur Lecoq. The book is divided into 35 chapters, although no chapter numbers were given. Among the classics that I’ve read so far, this one’s not so hard to read.
It’s almost like reading two stories in one. The first half of the book is dedicated to the sad story between Norbert de Champdoce and Diana de Mussidan (nee de Laurebourg). Circumstances just didn’t favor their love for each other which turned Diana bitter and scorned. Instead of marrying Diana, Norbert married Desiree Anne Marie Palouzet out of duty. Diana, on the other hand, found herself marrying Octave de Mussidan, but marriage didn’t change Diana’s desire to avenge herself against Norbert. In the end, she got what she wanted. Somehow, Diana drove Norbert to murder Marie’s former lover in the belief that Marie and George de Croisenois are having an affair. Worse still, Norbert disowned his own child with Marie because he thought the child wasn’t his. In the first part of the story, readers will see just how well Diana played Norbert.
Fast forward to the second part of the story and readers are introduced to the next generation of Champdoce and Mussidan. Diana’s marriage to Octave resulted in a beautiful daughter, Sabine. On Norbert’s side, his disowned son grew up to be a well-respected artist in the character of Andre. Andre and Sabine are in love with each other but what comes between them is a band of thieves aiming for a share of the Champdoce and Mussidan fortune. What follows is an elaborate scheme involving blackmail, arranged marriages, a bogus company, and even attempted murder. As readers follow the adventures of Andre, Monsieur Lecoq remains in the background. I assume that while Andre’s story unfolds, Monsieur Lecoq is sleuthing his way to the truth. It was only near the end of the book that Monsieur Lecoq was actively introduced to the readers. Just like any other detective story, Monsieur Lecoq saved the day by uncovering the plot of the evil Mascarin and his cohorts.
The Champdoce Mystery is a well-told tale of love and crime. As with the previous stories featured in Clues, the story provides readers with life lessons that readers can relate to. Combing through 248 pages of Gaboriau’s story, I managed to pick out 12 truths that this tale teaches us and here they are in no particular order:
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
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For this round, I chose a more modern e-book to read – The Identity Check by Ken Merrell. This e-book takes us back to the more familiar present day time, although the book may have been first published earlier than today. It’s really not one of my favorite downloads but it has its moments of heart-stopping suspense.
The setting for The Identity Check takes its readers to the less charming parts of Las Vegas. The story revolves around a colorful team of civilians who took the law into their own hands to stop a mobster from his evil and oftentimes oppressive schemes. Vincent “Vinnie” Domenico is your typical mobster boss. Name any crime possible and he’s probably got some people working on those. Everyone who knows Vinnie is afraid of him.
If the villain of this book is your typical mobster boss, the heroes of this tale are unlike any that we’ve been accustomed to. We have Rebecca Lambert (aka Nurse), who is an old motherly woman. We have Laurence Elroy Jackson (aka Cap’n), the strongest of all the team members. We have Clarence Weber (aka Smitty), a mute who learned locksmithing from his father back in the days when his father was still alive. We have Sound who used to be an electronics specialist. We have Trenton Ritter (aka Ritter), a native of Yorkshire, England who migrated to the US. All five of them are homeless folks living along Carson Street. In addition to the homeless folks, we also have Greg Hart (aka Sunny) who is a victim of credit card fraud that Vinnie is running. Lastly, we have Mitch Wilson (aka Lightning) who owns a restored antique car that Vinnie managed to steal. Together they hatch a crazy plan to topple down Vinnie’s reign of terror.
What I love most about this book is how this team of civilians worked together. It is for this reason that this post focuses more on the eight life lessons that I’ve picked out with respect to working in a team and here they are in no particular order:
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
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It takes patience to read a Wilkie Collins classic. I’ve probably attempted to read this e-book three times before I finally gave up and let it stay on my PC for a year. I couldn’t get myself to delete it because I know that a Wilkie Collins creation is a treat once you get to the part that makes it interesting. So I tried to read again chapter by chapter. It was bearable when I read one chapter a day. Then I tried two chapters per day. Near the end of the book, I ditched the two chapter ration and just continued reading until the end.
It was indeed something that I enjoyed reading. To say that the plot is convoluted is absolutely accurate, and it’s what makes this story engaging. Armadale is a classic mystery set in the 19th century. It tells us of a story of two best friends named after their father bearing the same name – Allan Armadale. One of the younger Allan Armadale was solely raised by his mother in a remote place called Somersetshire Shores while the other Allan Armadale ran away from home and took up the name of the gypsy vagabond who informally adopted him. So the story proceeds with the other Allan Armadale living as Ozias Midwinter, a name of a wretched drunkard gypsy. It was serendipity that Ozias Midwinter found himself wandering in Somersetshire Shores and it was the beginning of a friendship that he will cherish throughout his life.
A mystery is not a mystery without a villain (or villainess) and Collins expertly introduces his readers to Lydia Gwilt who provided movement to the novel. Allan Armadale of Somersethire Shores is such a lucky fellow that he eventually inherited Thorpe Ambrose estate from his mother’s side of the family (the Blanchards). We all know what happens when money is involved. It becomes a motive for something sinister. Lydia Gwilt originally obsessed over marrying Allan Armadale because of the conveniences that a lady of Thorpe Ambrose may experience. Near the end of the book, her obsession evolved into a desire for murder.
Probably the best part of any Wilkie Collins story is his well-developed characters. Lydia Gwilt may have been a villainess and reading through pages and pages of her twisted schemes made me hate her at most. Surprisingly though, she made me cry when she sacrificed herself in place of Ozias Midwinter inside the room with the noxious fumes of her own doing. If you read the novel carefully and internalize it well, these characters can come to life as if they are real and not just figments of a good writer’s imagination.
Armadale is a work of fiction but it also mirrors humanity as perceived by the author. So cutting short this introduction, I now present 17 life lessons that I’ve picked up from reading Armadale:
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