Book Reviews

The Time Machine – Book No. 10

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

64. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)

Dates: 5/9/20 (4 hours)

Basic Plot: A Victorian scientist discovers a way to travel through time and heads to the year 802,701. He tells his story to his friends.

Experience Before Reading: I knew that this was the book that brought time travel to pop culture. I can’t remember if I had to read it for school. I don’t think so since the story wasn’t overwhelmingly familiar.

Takeaway: This book is a mash-up of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and an episode of The Twilight Zone. Told by a Victorian narrator, the story includes theories on the human condition which were very enjoyable to me. And like The Twilight Zone, the conceptions of the future were a bit absurd.

I’m a little biased because I don’t particularly care for futuristic novels. I typically don’t respond well to any notions of the future because they often age poorly. If there’s even a single element of a futuristic world that’s implausible I instantly get pulled out of the story. Especially when the introduction to the book is so realistic, to dive into a not-so-realistic future isn’t really my cup of tea.

That being said, I can see why people would like this book. It’s fun and has a whole bunch of radical ideas. In terms of pacing though, it seems like some elements of the story were an afterthought and others were so meticulously thought through. I do wonder if pacing were different how I may have responded to the book.

The concept of time travel is a fun one and a lot of our ideas of time travel originate from this book. The machine itself kind of gave me TARDIS vibes – though I never really watched Doctor Who so I’d be curious to hear other people’s opinion who know more than I do!

Would I Recommend It?: All in all, it was fun. If you’re a sci-fi fan or like a bit of adventure, give it a shot. It’s short enough that it’s bearable even for the non-fans.

Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/9/20 (2 hours)

Plot: Our narrator writes down the story of a time traveler’s escapades into the future. There he encounters the evolutions of humans.

Experience Before Reading: I had literally never heard of this book before.

Takeaway: I loved the writing in this, and the story was incredible. I felt the set up in the beginning was believable enough, and the epilogues lasting picture of the two flowers leftover from the time travelers experiences are very poignant and show that while cultures can have huge barriers, generosity and kindness are a language of themself.

Would I Recommend It?: This was a great book and a very quick read. I think if you are looking for a book that will make you think, you’d probably like this one.

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Book Reviews, Project 4

A Clockwork Orange – Book No. 9

18. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

Dates: 4/20/20 – 4/23/20 (3 days)

Basic Plot: In a futuristic society where young gang members are active at night, the narrator, Alex, finds himself indulging in “ultraviolence” which leads to potential reform.

Experience Before Reading: I was technically assigned this book alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school. I didn’t really read either and just read enough Sparknotes to get by. I think my knowledge on the plot was blended with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because there were moments I thought were in the other book and moments I expected to turn out differently. Regardless, the one thing I remembered was a feeling of staunch hate for the book.

Takeaway: I didn’t like it. However, I’m not going to completely bash this book because I can see why others would enjoy it. There are certainly good elements to this story. Anthony Burgess is a talented storywriter and I do feel there is a clear theme that could strike people. (Slight spoiler warning) The message that it is our ability to choose that makes us human is very interesting and I do feel it was unpacked in a way that was different from other philosophy books.

A Clockwork Orange is set in a futuristic society where gangs run rampant at night. Many of these gang members use heavy slang known as nadsat talk. I think this is where the book leaves a bad taste in my mouth (or in nadsat: leaves a baddiwad taste in my rot). The slang is so thick it’s often difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. While I recognize that it’s used to hide the graphic scenes and portray his youth – since not all characters use the slang – it was too much for me. For instance, take this scene where he describes a beautiful woman he sees:

O my brothers, to viddy. That is to say, she had real horrorshow groodies all of which you could like viddy, she having on platties which came down down down off her pletchoes. And her nogas were like Bog in His Heaven, and she walked like to make you groan in your keeshkas, and yet her litso was a sweet smiling young like innocent litso.


While context clues can give you a sense that he likes what he sees, even after reading the entire book, I’m not sure exactly what he’s saying. Personally, this slang created a massive barrier to relating to the narrator, Alex. I couldn’t find much to his personality besides the fact that he likes “ultra-violence” and classical music. Because his personality was centered around, well, bad, I found him forgettable as a character. Maybe there was more, however, I couldn’t decipher it from the nadsat madness.

The slang itself is massively creative and I do want to applaud that. Much of it is Russian-based but other elements are rhyming slang or other linguistic techniques. Basically, each word really does have a reason that it exists which I very much like. I appreciate the effort that went in to creating a cohesive universe.

Lastly, I do want to call attention to the book’s title. I don’t want to spoil the meaning for someone that intends to read the book, but the title is full of symbolism. It was very creative and well-crafted, so again, props where props are due.

Would I Recommend It?: Unfortunately, I think this is a skippable classic. While you may find it entertaining, I think the message of the book is not strong enough in relation to the amount of work you have to put in to decode it.

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Book Reviews, Project 4

Murder on the Orient Express – Book No. 8

55. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)

Dates: 4/18/20 – 4/19/20 (2 days)

Basic Plot: There’s a murder on the orient express. Obviously.

Experience Before Reading: In high school I worked at a bookstore. For some reason, I equated Agatha Christie with Toni Morrison, since books by those two came in so often. I apparently took that observation and conflated it quite a bit into adulthood. But I assure you that those two women wrote very different books.

Takeaway: Allow me to first clarify that this review is entirely spoiler-free. I do think this is something everyone should read and I’d hate to be the one to ruin the fun.

I’ve been in a bit of a train phase lately. This began, no doubt, with Atlas Shrugged. But I also watched a few travel videos on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, played Ticket to Ride for the first time, and recently played a Nancy Drew game with Abbey about a disappearance on a train. (The Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon – I cannot recommend these games enough if you want to solve some really difficult mysteries and puzzles. Abbey and I are suckers for the Nancy Drew games!)

Anyway, my toddler-like obsession with trains is mostly irrelevant – besides the fact that it got me to pick up this book.

I really picked it up alright. I have spent the last 15 hours doing nothing but reading this book and sleeping. I’m serious – the only thing I did during this entire experience was write my post for Arabian Nights. I knew I had to stop to write it or my thoughts on it would be washed away by this mystery.

It was written in an almost formulaic way: the exposition, the crime, the character’s testimonies and alibis, pondering the evidence, following up on their theory, and the reveal. I actually really liked this structure because it allowed you to play along.

To be entire honest, I did figure out who the murderer was. However, I do not think predictability should be a deterrent to read it. First, I didn’t solve it until the back half of the evidence analysis. Second, I don’t think it’s an obvious solution. Third, it’s more fun to hear the howdunnit than the whodunnit which comes right at the end.

Rave-review aside, I do have a little bit of criticism. There were absurd moments and connections of evidence the reader cannot do with what was given to them. Regardless of the nonsense, it comes together to click in a solution that could be reality.* (Or at least, reality-adjacent.)

I realize not everyone is a fan of mystery books like myself. But there is something different about this one. It was a pioneer in the genre and it is a fantastic adventure, both of which lead to my high rating.

And I’ve gotten lucky just like I did with Call of the Wild and a movie remake has just been made. Hello, quarantine movie night!

Would I Recommend It?: Absolutely. Because of its brevity and general amusement, I think there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/15/20 – 5/31/20 (16 days)

Plot: A man is murdered in the first class carriage of the Orient Express. Poirot, a famous investigator, must solve the case while living among the only suspects – the other first class passengers.

Experience Before Reading: I saw the movie when it came out, but couldn’t remember the ending. I was constantly remembering plot points while I was reading, which was quite an odd experience.

Takeaway: This is a quintessential murder mystery, a genre I hold very dear to my heart. I often find myself reaching for mystery novel whenever I am in the mood for a book, as I usually find them a quick and enjoyable read. This did not disappoint. 

Would I Recommend It?: If you are even a small fan of mystery books, I would definitely recommend reading this. Agatha Christie is a God among mystery writers, and for a good reason. The final reveal, in the last few pages, is a wonderful culmination to this novel.

Who got it right? Have you read Murder on the Orient Express? Share your thoughts with us down in the comments below.

Read our next review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Click here to see our full list of 100 classic books

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Book Reviews, Project 4

The Arabian Nights – Book No. 7

7. The Arabian Nights (c. 1706-1721 in English) (My version was the one translated by Andrew Lang)

Dates: 3/21/20 – 4/18/20 (28 days)

Basic Plot: A compilation of folk tales with Arabic, Persian, Indian, Greek, Jewish, or Turkish roots.

Experience Before Reading: Just Disney’s Aladdin. Turns out it’s not so accurate.

Takeaway: I’ve got to be honest here: I really thought I was going to enjoy this one much more than I did.

I’m not really sure why I didn’t much care for it either. I’ve come up with some reasons that could contribute to this feeling, but I’m not sure which one is most influential:

  • I was coming down off of Atlas Shrugged, with which I’m still very much mentally pre-occupied.
  • A lack of cultural context: I was constantly googling to learn more. While I very much liked learning about other cultures, I think since I was still learning, I was unable to put these stories in a wider cultural context.
  • The plots of stories that often didn’t finish. Many stories fade from one to the next with a character finding themselves in trouble and offering that if they tell a tale more wild than their own, their lives will be spared. Sometimes it came back and finished the story, but there were a few times where the original story was lost in the Russian-nesting dolls of these tales.

I think the best way to describe my experience with this book was I wouldn’t often want to pick it up on my own volition, but when I did I was entertained and could read for a few hours.

The stories themselves are framed around one major story of King Shahryar and his wife Scheherazade. Shahryar had been scorned by his first wife and after he would marry a woman and kill her the next morning. When he married Scheherazade, she told nighttime stories for 1,001 nights until she ran out; however, by that time the King had fallen in love with her and spared her life. This is why some versions are titled One Thousand and One Nights. In my version, however, the initial story was told, but the book failed to address the ending to that story.

I wonder how my translated version differs from other versions. The translations have a rich history. In fact, three of the most popular stories from The Arabian Nights were added by a Frenchman, Antoine Galland, and it’s unclear whether these were actually Eastern stories. These include “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor,” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The last was not even in my translated version.

To anyone not familiar with The Arabian Nights do note that these stories are not specifically Middle Eastern. The scope of these stories extends far beyond to cultures such as Indian and Chinese. For instance, Aladdin was originally Chinese. To an average reader such as myself, the only way I could differentiate between cultures was from context clues in political rankings or locations themselves. That being said, some of these cultures may have co-existed in the same areas so it’s difficult to distinguish say a Jewish story from a Greek story from a Persian story.

I’d like to make clear that though my experience was not as fantastic as I may have hoped, several of these stories were incredibly interesting to me. I found a few to put on my list of favorite folk tales. I particularly liked “The Story of the Greek King and the Physician Douban,” “The Adventures of Prince Camaralzaman and the Princess Badoura,” and “The Story of Two Sisters Who Were Jealous of Their Younger Sister.” Actually, looking at the table of contents now, I really did enjoy the majority of the stories. I just didn’t crave them like how you expect a good book to be.

I want to revisit this after I read other folk tales on this list. I want to see if my opinion has been shaped by a familiarity of themes and plots.

Would I Recommend It?: To someone that craves adventure, yes.

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books

Book Reviews, Project 4

Atlas Shrugged – Book No. 6

51. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)

Image result for atlas shrugged

Dates: 2/11/20 – 3/20/20 (38 days)

Basic Plot: Some of the biggest industrialists in America disappear leaving their companies to fail.

Experience Before Reading: This is one of the only books on the list I knew nothing about. I had heard the name of the book before, but knew nothing of its plot. I knew Ayn Rand had some crazy philosophical thoughts, but I didn’t know what they were. My boyfriend claims it’s his favorite book and I know a few others who consistently praise it.

Takeaway: You want my honest opinion? Read it just like I did: with no context. Stop reading this post here and come back once you’re done. I won’t put heavy spoilers below, but still, it’s extremely impactful if you don’t know anything.

The 1,000 page book was most definitely a roller coaster. It took me a month to get through the first 30 pages, a week for the next 900, and another 10 days to get through the last 100. It starts so slowly, rapidly speeds up, and while the ending was certainly just as fast-paced there was one part of the book that was absolute torture to read through.

Okay, here comes the one spoiler: There’s a 56 page philosophical speech. It’s entirely abstract, no mention of other characters, not even any mention of the character giving the speech – just speech.

It. Was. Painful.

Remember the part when I said Ayn Rand had some crazy ideas? Here they were. Right there. For. Fifty. Six. Pages. Don’t get me wrong, they were interesting, but it was certainly beating a dead horse.

Pacing aside, the story line of this book was incredibly creative. Being that it’s over 60 years old, it aged actually pretty well – with the one exception being the descriptions of radical technology. What even was that laboratory lock??? Not very accurate, but I digress.

Regardless of your political or philosophical beliefs, these characters are so complex and beautifully written it’s very easy to attach to them. My boyfriend even pointed out one night while I had my nose buried in it that he said that he felt like I was hanging out with his friends without him. I’d particularly like to point out Dagny Taggert, she’s extremely human and quite frankly, badass.

Another character, Francisco d’Anconia, reminded me so much of men I had fallen in love with. From my current boyfriend to my first crush, he had so many qualities of them all that I often found myself subconsciously reading his lines in the voices of these men.

Whether you agree with Rand or not on her take on a better world, some of her words can leave you thinking. Because of that, I did pay attention for lines that stood out to me. This is an excerpt from that speech and is actually a part of the same sentence that was much, much longer than what I transcribed here:

… Your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing more is possible to you and nothing less is human – that to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear-corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay …

… Your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambition for values is to lose your ambition to live …


All in all, this book jumped quickly up to one of my favorite books of all-time.

Would I Recommend It?: Who is John Galt?

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books

Book Reviews, Project 4

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Book No. 5

98. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

Dates: 3/6/20 (1 day)

Basic Plot: Come on, now. Don’t you know it?

Experience Before Reading: Apparently I’ve read this book before. I was assigned it in high school (which means nothing, by the way – I almost never read my school books). It was filled with red pen markings of my less evolved handwriting. Even with my precarious work, I remembered nothing but the basic plot. I did appreciate my high school literary devices and symbolism notes though, it added some much appreciated context.

Takeaway: For my first day of spring break, this was a good little escape. Nothing too much, but just enough to forget reality. I’ve been trudging through Atlas Shrugged and needed a bit of a break anyway.

The story follows through the perspective of a lawyer who gets curious about Dr. Jekyll’s strange behavior and sets about finding out what’s afoot. This – according to my high school scribbles – juxtaposes the common Victorian theme of silence. It was polite to remain quiet and ambivalent.

However, that’s really the point of this book anyway: duality. Everything foils the next and to be whole, you have to be two. And no, that statement has nothing to do with the entire season of Love is Blind I binged this week. But I guess you could say it shows duality in my daily life though – trashy reality TV mixed with quaint Victorian monster classics.

This was my second Robert Louis Stevenson book and I’ve really taken a liking to his style of writing. He’s constantly progressing the plot but without taking away from the imagery. It’s just that every word has its place. It’s efficiency and I like it.

Would I Recommend It?: On a quiet rainy evening.

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books

Book Reviews, Project 4

The Call of the Wild – Book No. 4

91. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)

Dates: 2/9/20 – 2/11/20 (2 days)

Basic Plot: Buck is a St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix sold for work in Alaska where he finds himself turning away from his domesticated nature.

Experience Before Reading: Honestly, not much. If you asked me to differentiate Balto, The Call of the Wild, and White Fang, I couldn’t do it. Now, at least I know one of them.

Takeaway: This book took me over this evening. Since it’s so short, it took only a few hours, but was I hypnotized for them. This was also the first book where I was left speechless and quiet when finishing. You know, the whole stare-off-into-the-abyss-contemplating-existence when you finish a really, really good book.

My boyfriend recommended this one and I was a bit hesitant. I’m not exactly a dog person and seeing as he spent last summer Deadliest Catch-style on boats off the coast of Alaska, I knew he was a little biased. But he got me good.

And while I won’t rave on and on about Jack London’s writing because really, writing it for every book review is exhausting, I will give a little passage that spoke to me (don’t worry, still almost entirely spoiler-free):

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.”

Jack London, The Call of the Wild

As if that all wasn’t enough – there’s a new movie remake of it coming out in just over a week (starring Harrison Ford – a personal favorite). I had no idea and now I have a good date night coming up.

Would I Recommend It?: Absolutely.

Click here to see my full list of classic books

Book Reviews

The Prince – Book No. 3

96. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1532)

Dates: 2/1/20 – 2/9/20 (8 days)

Basic Plot: Italian diplomat, Machiavelli, wrote a treatise about how princes ought to rule.

Experience Before Reading: “The end justifies the means.” I took AP European History way back in high school, so I was pretty familiar with the premise of the book. That and when my boyfriend saw the list of books, he got excited about this one. He’s read it many times and let me borrow his personal copy (thank you!)

Takeaway: I think I read this book at the wrong time in my life. At a time when I’m doing a lot of academic reading, this book felt like a chore. I found myself skimming for the main points which is how I read court cases – not painting a picture in my head like these other books.

That being said, the content is interesting. It’s often considered the first political philosophy writing and I enjoyed having something as complex as a prince’s ruling experience codified into right and wrong. I felt like it was a college thesis of someone’s experience exploring European history.

It was also very entertaining to think that this is all true. The stories told and the nobles and the common folk and the importance of religion are so far detached from modern society and sound more Game of Thrones-esque than reality.

But these concepts are not far off. Machiavelli spends a chapter talking about how a prince should focus winning the approval of the people over the nobility because they can protect you if the nobility turn on you. Without getting too political, that’s pretty much how Trump won the presidency in 2016 – he had support of a lot of “common folk”.

These ideas haven’t faded away over time and that’s something to appreciate. Whether he was well beyond his years or not doesn’t take away from the power of the conclusions. I’d love to try these stories again when I’m not in school.

Would I Recommend It?: Maybe. If you have an interest in history and philosophy, I might toss it your way.

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books

Book Reviews, Project 4

Treasure Island – Book No. 2

34. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

Dates: 1/28/20 – 2/1/20 (4 days)

Basic Plot: A boy finds a treasure map on a faraway island. He goes to find it with some help – but who can he trust?

Experience Before Reading: Honestly, not really any. I didn’t know if it was about castaways or life in the tropics or pirates. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t know about the Vegas hotel.

Takeaway: I have a confession: I actually had to do a bit of research before writing this part. This book contains so many tidbits of modern perceptions on pirates: the parrots, the black spots, the x marks the spot, and of course all with a yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. With the cook on board named Long John Silver, I began to wonder just how much of our stereotypes were directly lifted from this book?

And from my research came the conclusion: So much. So so much.

Honestly, this is such a fun and simple read I just ate it up. Told (mostly) from the perspective of the cabin boy, it maintains a slight coming-of-age story arc that as a student is always relatable to me.

So why then only a 9/10? Well, dear reader, is anything ever perfect? I’m only 2% of the way through my literary journey and there’s plenty of other books that could usurp it as a favorite. (Oh, and also sometimes the seafaring vocabulary got the best of my little imagination and I had no idea what was going on.)

Would I Recommend It?: Each and every day of the week.

Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/6/20 – 5/8/20 (2 days)

Plot: A young boy uncovered a treasure map to a far away island. He embarks upon a perilous journey to uncover the treasure as the crew begins to turn on each other.

Experience Before Reading: Muppet Treasure Island is something I vaguely remember, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Jacqueline read this one first and told me it was pretty good though.

Takeaway: This was a fun read! The characters were vibrant, and it’s was packed full of so many pirate references that I sometimes had to pause to take stock of what thing meant. I had no idea Long John Silver was a character, and honestly I’m not sure how I missed that. Either way, I still will never eat at the fast food Long John Silvers – regardless of if he was a good cook in the story.

Would I Recommend It?: If you are looking for a fun and easy read I’d definitely recommend this. I don’t think it is a life changing book, but I actively enjoyed reading it. I was a big fan of Doctor Lively, mostly because any man who has a snuff box filled with Parmesan cheese is worth knowing! My only question is, did Ben Gunn ever get to eat that cheese?

Who got it right? Have you read Treasure Island? Share your thoughts with us down in the comments below.

Read our next review: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Click here to see our full list of 100 classic books

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Book Reviews, Project 4

Lolita – Book No. 1

19. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

Dates: 1/21/20 – 1/28/20 (7 days)

Basic Plot: A man, obsessed with prepubescent girls, becomes sexually involved with one after becoming her stepfather.

Experience Before Reading: I had read about 50 pages a few years ago after borrowing the book from a friend. Sam, I will return it, I promise!

Takeaway: I think the point of this book is to be controversial. It’s written to make you feel uncomfortable and force you to develop your own thoughts not just on the thematic vulgarity, but on other morally-gray issues. In a country so politically divided, this book almost becomes more relevant than ever. 

Besides the fact that your skin crawls during some of these pages, Nabokov writes prose like no other. He spins words into images so brilliantly – it’s elegant, it’s witty, and it’s mesmerizing. The narrator pulls you in with his brutal honesty and eerie (but in his mind, well-founded) justifications. He is endlessly clever with all sorts of wordplay. Since it’s told from the first-person, your heart aches knowing the tale is so one-sided and you never hear the perspective of Lolita herself.

Stylistically, I did find an imbalance between the parts the narrator chose to fixate on and the parts where you craved more. Maybe it was purposeful, but it really bothered me – especially during the second half of the book. Not to mention there were parts when he explained so little I almost didn’t know what happened.

In terms of story, it’s obviously not for the faint of heart. However, once he’s pulled you in, the story comes to a standstill. While it was nice to close out the tale and leave no unfinished plot holes, the ending was not what the narrator had built up so many times prior.

Would I Recommend It?: Only if I wanted to start a conversation, but Sparknotes could probably do.

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books