Poems / Three Men in a Boat / Through the Magic Door

Poems in Two Volumes
by William Wordsworth  
Overall rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Just what the title says: a (incomplete) collection of poems, by Wordsworth.  Some are narrative, some are world events-inspired, and many deal with nature (particularly flowers).  The Prelude was not included, but the book contained a decent selection, overall. 

Sometimes I just find myself in the mood to read poetry.  If you have these moods, too, then this is a nice, relaxing read.  It’s not nonstop epically wonderful, but there are some gems here and there.  Certainly gives you a good sample of Wordsworth’s work.       

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) (1889)
by Jerome K. Jerome
Overall rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars.  There is one use of a racist word.  I read a public domain and presumably unedited version, though, so this might be omitted in other editions.

Victorian England.  Looking to get away from the daily grind, three friends–and Montmorency, a fox terrier–spontaneously decide to go on a boating trip, up the river Thames.  “J.”, the narrator, alternates between reminiscing about past excursions and describing the present trip, with all its ups-and-downs, incidents, and hilarity. 

This book was a blast–I was sad to come to the end!  The antics of George, Harris, and J. made it both fun and laugh-out-loud funny to read.  From managing their canopy-covered boat, to opening a can of pineapple…the book is a series of hilarious events.  Don’t read this in a quiet zone.

Recommended if you enjoy late-Victorian lit and old-fashioned, clever humor.

Through the Magic Door
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars.

Ever wished you could travel back in time and interview the author of Sherlock Holmes?  You can.  This non-fiction book reads like a conversation with Conan Doyle, as he discourses on literature, history, and authors, to be found on his own bookshelf of favorites.  Dr Johnson, Napoleonic wars, boxing heroes, and more–Doyle covers a wide range of topics, including his own thoughts on writing.

Personally, I loved, loved, loved this book.  Conan Doyle writes with such enthusiasm and so conversationally that it’s quite a page-turner.  I enjoyed hearing his opinions on other books and authors; and he was very fair about it.  He was really good about naming the pros and cons of others, and he avoided saying too much about his contemporaries.  Also, he never once mentioned his own books (though if you’ve read Brigadier Gerard or Sherlock Holmes, you’ll find a couple of nods toward them).  Finally, he ended by talking about fellow Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson, which I thought was a nice touch.  Great read.

Recommended for fans of Doyle and/or British lit.

Round the Red Lamp

Round the Red Lamp, Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Round the Red Lamp is not a novel, but a collection of short stories.  Each is somehow connected with doctors and their work, of the late Victorian era; but beyond that, they hold few similarities.  Nostalgia, romance, horror, comedy, science-fiction, realism–the genres vary drastically from story to story, with plots ranging from the heartwarming to the nerve-wracking.  And oftentimes, the reader can only guess at what is Fact and what is Fancy.

The subject of Victorian doctors may sound, at a glance, boring; but I found this book to be a real page-turner and excellent reading (with a couple of exceptions).  I especially loved the “day in the life” stories that seemed firmly based on reality (i.e. “His First Operation”, “A Medical Document”), and the hilarious “A False Start”, about a young doctor desperate for patients.  “Lot No. 249”–a creepy, Egyptian mummy story set in Oxford–is probably my favorite.  And “A Physiologist’s Wife” was another one that stood out to me, such a sad story.

As in the Sherlock Holmes series, Doyle’s writing style is particularly powerful in the short story format.  Within a few pages, you can go from disliking a character to liking them; and the action flows naturally, with plenty of witty dialogue and vivid, but efficient, description.  The characters, too, are very life-like, especially for a short story.  I don’t know how he does it, but it’s genius… 

Recommended for anybody who likes late-Victorian lit.