Classic, Horror

Review: Carmilla

Cover of "Carmilla," featuring a black and white drawing of a girl in bed, looking at horror at another girl standing in the doorway with her back to the viewer.
Image from Fantastic Fiction

Title: Carmilla

Author: J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Genre: Horror/Classic

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood

Back Cover:

Laura, a young woman deprived of much social interaction on her father’s isolated estate, is disappointed when an expected visitor dies before arriving at her father’s chateau. So she is thrilled when a carriage accident leaves another young woman staying with them until her mother returns from her urgent journey. But there is something darker hiding inside the captivating and charismatic Carmilla.

A classic Victorian vampire novella, Carmilla influenced Bram Stoker’s later treatment of the vampire mythos in Dracula.


I saw a post on Tumblr recommending this, and it was free on Project Gutenberg and a short read. (Short enough to read while waiting for my fiance to stop snoozing his alarms and get out of bed, actually, which was about 40 minutes.) It’s a short novella, so this is going to be a short review.

This is an old book, and it’s written with a definitely older writing style – dense, exposition-heavy, and packed with vocabulary words that may make you turn to a dictionary. It did take some getting used to (it’s been a while since I’ve read an old book), but I do like that kind of style.

The characters are pretty bare-bones, but that’s kind of expected in a book so short. (And in my opinion, the elegant and lengthy writing made up for what lacked in characterization.) You get the impression that Laura (who narrates) is overall happy with her life but still lonely. Carmilla gets the most characterization – she was charismatic and vibrant, though prone to physical weakness, and intensely affectionate towards Laura, but there are also hints that an equally intense temper underneath her veneer.

I also found it interesting that the female vampire only preyed on female victims, and there were definitely some gay vibes in Carmilla’s affection for Laura. (Of course, that could be my modern brain reading things into 1800s ways of expressing feelings, but I like to think it was at least a little gay.)

Carmilla was a short book, but it was good. It had interesting vampire lore, a cool vampire character, and actually a pretty good atmosphere for as short as it was. Plus, it’s free on Project Gutenberg, so why not give it a shot?

Classic, Science Fiction

Review: A Princess of Mars

Cover of "A Princess of Mars," featuring a nearly-naked man carrying a naked woman; they are standing above the corpses of several green aliens
Image from Loyal Books

Title: A Princess of Mars

Series: The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs #1

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Genre: Science Fiction/Classic

Back Cover:

Suddenly transported to Mars, John Carter found himself captive of the savage green men of Thark. With him was Dejah Thoris, lovely princess of Helium. And between them and rescue lay a thousand miles of deadly enemies and unknown dangers.


This book has been on the bookshelves in the office for a long time (it came in a box of adult sci-fi and high fantasy books Dad got off eBay), but I avoided it because of the naked people on the cover. Then we got the movie John Carter on Netflix, and when I learned a really good movie was based off this book, I decided to give it a try.

I was surprised at how much I liked John Carter. He was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, then a gold prospector, but always a gentleman. (Having learned a lot about the Civil War recently from a pit stop in Gettysburg on my way to Washington, D.C., most men were gentlemanly back then.) He could fight (and he was good at it), but he was also kind, protective, and respectful.

Unfortunately, the other characters fell pretty flat. Dejah Thoris was beautiful. Sola, the green woman assigned as John Carter’s servant, was peaceful for a green person. The rest of the green people were wild and violent. And … that’s about it.

The rescuing Dejah Thoris plot that is mentioned on the back cover? Dejah Thoris doesn’t even show up until halfway through the book. The first half is John Carter adapting to life as a sort-of prisoner of the green men and fighting his way up from prisoner to chief of sorts. Then Dejah Thoris gets captured, and since the green men and Dejah’s people are enemies, they decide to kill her. So about two thirds of the way through the book, John and Dejah escape.

The John Carter movie had a lot of similarities to the plot of A Princess of Mars. The movie producers didn’t follow the same timeline as the book and glossed over some parts, which made for a better movie. But the parts they skipped made for a better book. I loved John Carter’s time with the green men, and I highly enjoyed learning about their society. Of course, once they escaped, I enjoyed that, too.

The biggest thing that bothered me about this book was that clothes apparently don’t exist on Mars. Everything was done in the nude. Nothing is actually described, and it’s not awkward for the characters, but I just felt a little weird knowing that whatever is going on, everyone is naked. (On the bright side, the cover makes sense.)

Like a lot of classic books, the writing is a little dense. Despite being an action book, it’s still full of long paragraphs and heavy on description. For the most part, I didn’t mind (although I did find myself glossing over paragraphs here and there), but if you’re used to snappy action, this would certainly be a change of pace.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Will I be reading the other 10 books in the series? Probably not. Besides the fact that we don’t own the rest of the series, I think A Princess of Mars had a perfectly acceptable ending and see no reason to continue past the conclusion.

The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs:

  1. A Princess of Mars
  2. The Gods of Mars
  3. The Warlord of Mars
  4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  5. The Chessmen of Mars
  6. The Master Mind of Mars
  7. A Fighting Man of Mars
  8. Swords of Mars
  9. Synthetic Men of Mars
  10. Llana of Gathol
  11. John Carter of Mars




Review: The Three Musketeers

Cover of "The Three Musketeers," featuring a red painting of a bearded man on a horse
Image from Books Into Films

Title: The Three Musketeers

Author: Alexandre Dumas

Genre: Classic

Back Cover:

When hot-blooded young d’Artagnan comes to Paris to seek his fortune, he finds himself challenged to a duel with not one, but three of the King’s Musketeers. But Athos, Porthos and Aramis are to become his greatest friends, and companions in dangerous adventure when he becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the Court and the beautiful, evil Milady.


This is one of those classic books that I’ve had the intention of reading for a while – ever since I read Dumas’s amazing The Count of Monte Cristo. Plus, I’d enjoyed the movie. Anyway, I finally got around to reading it.

D’Artagnan was an interesting character. He could be hotheaded, reckless, and impulsive at times, which tended to get him in a lot of trouble. But he was smart, had some common sense which he sometimes ignored, and was very loyal to his friends. I had some issues with his morality, but overall, I didn’t mind him.

Athos, Porthos, and Aramis didn’t have quite as much personality. Their main personality trait was loyalty to each other. Athos had a very secret past, and kept a tight hold of his emotion. Porthos was vain, and that’s about it. Aramis wanted to be a priest (but I’m not sure if that’s a personality trait). They were just mediocre characters.

Milady was a perfectly evil villain. She was a fantastic actress, had a scheming mind, and was brilliant at reading people and finding their weaknesses. Then she played them like a piano. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say she was capable of getting every man and most women under her control. Astonishingly cunning and utterly evil, that was Milady.

I’m not sure I can identify what the main plot was. I think it was made up of all the intertwined subplots. The kind and the cardinal had different political ideas, and the cardinal schemed against the king. The cardinal sent Milady to humiliate the king. D’Artagnan and his friends foiled the plot and ran afoul of Milady. Plus romance subplots, Athos’s secrets, political unrest between France and England…everything was brilliantly and delightfully complicated, but it all tied back together in the end.

Except for d’Artagnan’s horse. I expected a little more closure with that plot point.

My biggest problem with this book was the morals – or lack thereof. Aside from Athos, it seemed like every major character was having an affair. D’Artagnan’s romance interest was married, even. It may have been prevalent in France at that time, I don’t know. But I didn’t like the lack of morals.

The movie adaption I saw can only be called The Three Musketeers in the sense that the main characters were named Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan. The plot was loosely based on the first third of the book. If you’re looking for a good idea of what the book was about, you won’t get it from the movie.

Overall, The Three Musketeers (which, in my opinion, should have been called by Dumas’s original title, The Fourth Musketeer) wasn’t as good at The Count of Monte Cristo. But it was still an enjoyable read.


Review: A Journey to the Center of the Earth

Cover of "A Journey to the Center of the Earth," featuring a small golden image of several people on a raft on a brown background
Image from Jules Verne Books

Title:  A Journey to the Center of the Earth

Author:  Jules Verne

Genre:  Classic

Back Cover:

Harry is perfectly happy living with his eccentric uncle, Professor Hardwigg, and loving the beautiful Gretchen.  But then Professor Hardwigg discovers an ancient Runic manuscript telling how to reach the center of the Earth.  The last thing Harry wants to do is go off on some wild goose chase following the advice of a mysterious cryptograph.  But his uncle insists.  And so begins their strange and wondrous journey…


Journey to the Center of the Earth was my favorite book when I first discovered it at age ten, but I hadn’t read it in years.  So when it was a book club pick, I looked forward to the reread.

The book was definitely written in a the style common to most classic books – huge words, references to obscure works, not much by way of characterization.  But honestly, I didn’t mind.

Since I read this as an ebook, I didn’t have worry about breaking out the dictionary every other paragraph (although I did press the dictionary button occasionally).  The obscure works weren’t as easy to look up, but I mostly just glossed over those, and it didn’t detract from the story hardly at all.

The characterization, like I said, was minimal.  Professor Hardwigg was the kind of guy who wouldn’t give up an idea once he’d had it.  Harry was the more logical, reasonable kind, but he also had no sense of adventure and no desire to do anything other than what he was accustomed to.  And Hans, their Icelandic guide … I think I can count the number of words he said on both hands.

I did enjoy the journey, though.  This is one of those books where the classic books’ excessive description was a good thing.  They were traveling through new and unknown territory, and the description let me see everything.  Even the rock tunnels were somehow made interesting (although that could be because of their tendency to get lost in them).

The absolute best part of the story was the middle, though, with the underground lake/ocean.  Between prehistoric creatures, monster battles, and huge storms, the sea voyage turned out to be fascinating.  And the plants and other things they found on the shore were even more so.

The beginning was a little slow, and the end seemed a tad anticlimactic, but overall, I enjoyed the story.  Not as much as I did when I first read it, mind you, but it was definitely worth the reread.