Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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Published: 1979

If you mention this book to your average British bookworm their eyes light up and they get super excited – similar sight when someones mentions Harry Potter to me. You can tell their are avid fans. In fact, this book is a prominent series in British popular culture, and as well as becoming a international phenomenon. This is just the first book in a 6 part series, it’s got a radio show (thats actually how it started!), TV series, stage shows, video games, comic books and most recently a film starring Martin Freeman. The world is positively obsessed!

Sadly, I cannot say I fall into that category. Trust me, no one is more upset about this news then I am. I just did not find it entertaining, funny or prolific in any sense of the word. There were several factors for disliking this book, and I’ve managed to narrow it down to two things; characters and theme of absurdity.

I struggled with the fact that all the characters were quite annoying, meaning I wasn’t really rooting for anyone. You have Arthur, the main protagonist, who is meant to represent the human race and I believe the reader as well, that is just shocked for most of the novel and confused (as are we!). Then there is his vague and preoccupied best-friend alien Ford Prefect, who occasionally answers Arthur’s questions and seems a bit on edge for most of the book. He’s meant to represent the nomad journalist longing for adventure and wanting to update his guide to the universe. There is also a depressed robot (who I probably relate to most on this book while reading it), an arrogant president of the Imperial Galactic Government, Zaphod Beeblebrox (slightly more intelligent than Trump). I understand that most of his characters are trying to prove a certain point i.e. Vogons are a stab at the beaurocrats while the mice are meant to be a higher intelligent version of humans, etc but the author wrote the book made these characters like subjects in a lab rather than characters that you can sympathise or get to know better.

The other struggle for me was the theme of absurdity that forms the basis of this book. I understand that this is Douglas Adams just poking fun at the government, establishments  and the absurd world we call home. It just really didn’t fly with me, if anything it agitated me as it was hard to follow the plot and get into the book. What kind of absurdities do you say? Take the entire page written about the importance of towels. Yes, you’ve read it correctly:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value…more importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. (22)

I guess he was trying to be funny here? Just not really a laugh out loud moment for me. There are other things, that aren’t only absurd, but that happen randomly, without any cause of meaning. Take Ford Prefect’s question to Arthur whether he was busy, when he was trying to stop the bulldozer from destroying his home:

‘Ford! Hello, how are you?’

‘Fine,’ said Ford, ‘look are you busy?’

‘Am I busy?’ exclaimed Arthur. ‘Well, I’ve just got all these bulldozers and things to lie in front go because they’ll knock my house down if I don’t, but other than that…well, no not especially, why?’ (11)

What a hilarious and unexpected response! I could just hear the audience laughing in the background. I can tell that these are meant to be funny, and highlight the absurdity of what was happening but I kept just looking at how many pages were left in the chapter and hoping it would get better I’m afraid to say!

There are many contradictions throughout the novel as well. Such as mice ruling the human race, instead of them being our lab rats. Or the name of the ship that Zophad commands is called Heart of Gold, implying someone that is caring and nice, which is a contradiction because he’s a devious, narcissistic and irresponsible fellow. The fact that he’s the president of the Imperial Galactic Government just shows us how Douglas Adams views government officials and how manipulated the government body is. Most of the other characters and machines that they encounter in the galaxy are all selfish individuals who are pretending to be all sorts of things if it benefits them.

Douglas Adams is also trying to test our understanding of intelligence, by shattering our view that humans are the more intelligent life forms on the planet, and instead declaring that dolphins and mice are actually the more superior species in the galaxy, for the dolphins knew about the destruction of Earth and tried to, unsuccessfully to warn the humans, and we learn that it was the mice who had actually commissioned Earth to be made:

‘Earthman, the planet that you lived on was commissioned, paid for, and run by mice…they are merely the protrusion into our dimensions of vast hyper-intelligent pan-dimentional beings.’ (138)

I know this comedy/science fiction novel is meant to be a satire and a stab at establishment and authority but I just couldn’t get into it at all. The most fun I had was actually writing this review and looking back and trying to analyse some of the passage and their meaning. He’s a brilliant guy and I applaud him for trying something a bit different with this novel, I just can’t say I enjoyed the journey particularly. Maybe if I read it a third time…

Q: What do you think of this book? I’d love for someone to shine the light on it for me!

 

 

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Teaser Tuesday: Nov 6

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Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

My boyfriend saw me looking through some books on Amazon and when he noticed this one asked me if I had read it. I actually did read this maybe like 10 years ago and honestly didn’t remember it super fondly, but his enthusiasm for the book made me want to pick it up and give it another go – a decade later 😛

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“‘Tricia McMillan?’ he said. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Same as you,’ she said, ‘I hitched a lift. After all with a degree in maths and another in astrophysics what else was there to do? It was either that or the dole queue again on Monday.’ ” (93)

Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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Published: 2016

I was certainly not expecting this book to be as good as it was! I normally don’t like to get too swept up in current reading trends but this one was pleasantly surprising.

Plot wise, not much happens, in fact I can probably summarise it as a hockey team going to play the final of their league and being desperate to win. What’s more appealing about this book is the characters that we are introduced to, and character development they experience throughout the book. We are introduced to over 10 main or supporting characters and the author dips from one character to the next, each time revealing something new we didn’t know about their personality or past. I think by doing this it enables him to explore such a wide range of power themes and societal issues, from sexual assault, community, diversity, betrayal, sport, loss, injustice, loyalty, love, and family just to name a few.

The characters are all varying ages, personalities and stages of life which makes this extra interesting and applicable to a wide audience, from young adults, to teenagers to older adults. Even though it’s a third person narration, you still feel like you get to the bottom of their feelings and biggest fears. Like with Kira for example:

“Not a second has passed since she had children without her feelings like a bad mother For everything. For not understanding, for being impatient, for not knowing everything, for not making better packed lunches, for still wanting more out of like than just being a mother. She hears other women in Beartown sigh behind her back: ‘Yes, but she has a full-time job, you know. Can you imagine?’ No matter how much you try to let works like that run off you, a few of them stick.” (75)

You really get to the core of the characters and then see them behave and take different actions in general settings is fascinating, for you better understand why they make the choices their do and demonstrates how single actions can mark and affect each of the characters differently. Likewise, it highlights the fact that even the characters that seem the most most well-off and successful have their demons and issues. For example, the General Manager of the team, who played in the NHL and achieved some level of success still feels vulnerable and inadequate as a man and father:

“Peter stands next to him shivering, full of the sense of inadequacy that only afflicts a man of a certain generation when he watches another man from the same generation repair his wife’s car. Hog straightens up and spares Peter any technical jargon.” (121)

Then there is the fact that author chooses to tackle a tremendous heavy topic of sexual assault. I don’t want to reveal and spoil too much, but for any author to tackle that topic and explore it from different perspectives of a the victim, the accuser and the surrounding community has made this book a fascinating, albeit a somber read. I felt it particularly poignant and relevant as I was reading this book just when Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh were going through the senate hearing.

I can’t say that these themes are particularly unique to this author, but he manages to engross us into the issues in a way other authors have not done – the writing style is completely captivating. You can hear the narrators voice throughout the book, coming out of the pages and says what he wants to say without shielding behind the characters. For example:

“Sooner or later, almost every discussion about the way people behave towards one another ends up becoming an argument about ‘human nature’. That’s never been an easy thing for biology teachers to explain: on the one hand, our entire species survived because we stuck together and cooperated, but on the other hand we developed because the strongest individuals always thrived at the expense of the weak. So we always end up arguing about where the boundaries should be drawn.” (334)

These little moments when the author speaks to you directly are always linked to the novel’s story perfectly, it feels like the novel is there to backup his theories on human nature and community. It’s absolutely fascinating! If you can’t tell already I am well pleased with this book and I could not put it down once I started reading it.

When I explained this novel to the flight stewardess on my way home she said it sounded  very similar to Friday Night Lights (which I have never read so can’t say for sure!) but from reading more about Friday Night Lights, although some of the main themes overlap the journey and writing style is very different – much more sombre in Beartown.

Q: Have you ever read a book that you really enjoyed, but likewise made you sad/heartbroken after reading it?

 

 

Teaser Tuesday: Oct 23

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Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

Finally reading a book that I am meant to from my yearly list! I just had a look through and it would appear that I have managed to take a little detour from my initial reading list, sadly. But I still have a few more months to go, so thought I would start with this one!

So far it’s a complete gripping book that I can’t put down. Love the multiple different little stories that the author has going on, and I am interested to see how they all come together at the end!

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“When the kids were little she saw so many other parents lose control in the stands at the rink, and she couldn’t understand them, but now she does. The children’s hobbies aren’t only the children’s hobbies – the parents put just as many hours into them, year after year, sacrificing so much, paying out such huge amounts of money, that their significance eats its way even into adult brains. They start to symbolise other things, compensating for or reinforcing the parents’ own failures.” (129)

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

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Published: 1908

I came across this book rather randomly – in the discount section at Waterstones. I don’t normally shop for books in physical stores but my mom was visiting from Canada and wanted to check it out and so we went in. I was surprised at their selection of books in discount – I saw some interesting titles, and then, stumbled across this one. It immediately transported me back to my childhood – when I would spend hours reading whole bunch of series in the library, including this book. Must have been around two decades since I have read this book and was immediately intrigued to give it a read, even just to compare to what I thought about it as a child.

I remember being confused by some of the parts of the novel as a child – which I think I could be forgiven given I had only learned to read and speak English a couple of years prior to giving this a go. The book is published in 1908 and often the expressions used aren’t common today or have slightly different meanings. The edition I got recently actually has a “Words and Phrases” guide at the back of the book to tackle this problem – so you’ll have toe cut me some slack.

The initial appeal to me as a child was that the main character was A) a girl and B) had red hair. A super rare combo in children series for some reason! Unfortunately, the main character of Anne is a tad annoying. Yes, it feels quite realistic as I have met children like her in my life (that like to talk a lot, and get lost in their imagination) and that I can appreciate, but about halfway through the book it did start to get irksome and I did find myself starting to drift during her monologues. Having said that, she’s a very observant child and often speaks of truths that the village would rather not discuss even though they might think so.

“Marilla felt helpless that all this should be sternly reported, but she was hampered by the undeniable fact that some of the things Anne had said, especially about the minister’s sermons and Mr Bell’s prayers, were what she herself had really thought deep down in her heart for years, but had never given expression to. It almost seemed to her that those secret, unuttered, critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity.” (85)

The story is about an orphan named Anne who gets adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, a brother and sister that live together in a small village in Prince Edward Island (a province in Canada). They are in their late 50s/early 60s so not the most lively bunch, but are well respected in their small village. They initially wanted to adopt a boy to help run the farm as they get older, but there was a bit of a mixup at the orphanage and they ended up with Anne.

The rest of the novel is about Anne growing up and becoming a woman. I really enjoyed the small moments that the author chose to highlight, such as making friends, going to school, dealing with school bullies and finding love. She chooses her events very carefully, and helps the reader to understand Anne’s feelings, regardless of what age you might be. I kept on getting flashes back to my own childhood to see how it compares, especially when the events were quite similar.

I also love how independent she’s is and not afraid to go against the social norms for women. She’s not trying to fit into her female roles (which was so important during that era), but rather trying to push the boundaries. She’s really into studying and even when her best friend chooses to stay in her own town and not get extra education, she’s not dissuaded but rather works even harder and ends up being top of her class in her high school and university.

There is a good tempo to the novel, up until the end where the author decides to speed through the years. It’s very abrupt and as a reader it was very confusing, especially as when she grows up there are many changes to personality, as the characters discuss below.

“‘I must say Anne has turned out a real smart girl,’ admitted Mrs Rachel, as Marilla accompanied her to the end of the lane at sunset. ‘She must be a great help to you.’

‘She is,’ said Marilla, ‘and she’s real steady and reliable now. I used to be afraid she’d never get over her feather-brained ways, but she has and I wouldn’t be afraid to trust her in anything now.’

‘I never would have thought she’d have turned out so well that first day I was here three years ago,’ said Mrs Rachel. (259)

It was a bit of a shame as it felt the author missed a trick there. I wouldn’t have minded the book to be longer or for it to be a series where she properly explores the different stages of childhood and teenage years.

Due to the rush at the end, I can’t give this novel more than 3.5 stars. It really put me off sadly! Overall, still a great read and the author does a great job of capturing the life of a girl in the early twentieth century Canadian town.

 

Q: Have you ever re-read a book you had read as a child? How did you feel about it the second time around?

 

 

Teaser Tuesday: Oct 9

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teasertuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

I found this book in the discount section of Waterstones and I just had to have it. This is because the last time I came across and read this book was when I was about 11 years old and much of it I had forgotten, but I did remember feeling a little confused after reading it. This might have been because at that age I wasn’t familiar with the style of writing (published in 1908), but I remember enjoying it so I thought I would give it another go!

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“Marilla felt helpless that all this should be sternly reported, but she was hampered by the undeniable fact that some of the things Anne had said, especially about the minister’s sermons and Mr Bell’s prayers, were what she herself had really thought deep down in her heart for years, but had never given expression to. It almost seemed to her that those secret, unuttered, critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity.” (85)

Book Review: Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

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Published: 2016

I came across this book when I was back in Canada and it immediately caught my eye. I went to Japan a year ago and loved the culture and land, so much so, that I didn’t want to go home. That might be the reason for my attraction to the novel’s cover and plot line I read at the back. I don’t speak Japanese and sadly don’t know the history as much as I would like to. I hoped that this book would give me a little taste of Japan, while being on the other side of the word.

The Emperor of the Eight Islands, is the first book, out of four, in The Tale of Shikanoko series by Lian Hearn (real name Gillian Rubinstein). The story takes place on a fictional island that strongly resembles medieval Japan, and apparently references real life events in Japan’s history. I did some digging on the author who I was surprised wasn’t Japanese but rather a British-Australian who was inspired to write the series after watching a sword and deer dance rehearsal in Iwate prefecture during her visit. She has previously written a fantastical historical-fiction series based in a fictional land resembling Japan, but she wanted to explore different Japanese warrior tales with this series.

I think that the author does a good job of trying to sound authentic, and by this I mean by using terminology and phrases that sounds like it would be written from that time period i.e. avoid using phrases such as ‘buzzing with electricity’ as electricity wouldn’t have existed in that time. The author had written on her website that:

“I wanted to try and recreate this medieval world where the human response to both nature and the spiritual world was one of awe and wonder.” (Lian’s Website)

I definitely feel that she accomplished that with this book. It merges medieval Japan with magical and spiritual elements like no other book I have read before has done. It makes it feel quite fantastical, similar amalgamation of real world with the magical world as Patrick Rothfuss has done, which the exception of his being much more comprehensive.

The book is about a boy, Shikanoko, who’s father dies and mother abandons them from the grief, who is then left under the care of his ambitious and hard-lined uncle.  Although, Shikanoko is the rightful heir to the land, he quickly realises that he:

“…would probably never be allowed to grow up, let alone inherit the estate” (8)

With his life being at the mercy of his uncle he realises that there is nothing left for him at his home, and contemplates escape. His suspicions are confirmed when on a hunting trip with his uncle he finds him pointing his bow at him rather than the stag they both spotted. That very stag saves his life by frantically jumping on top of him, taking the arrow instead and knocking him down a cliff by which time the uncle presumed him dead. And so begin his adventures…

I think the contents and general plot is fantastic, and I found myself breezing through the book. However, at 250 pages I think the novel falls short of being an epic saga that it’s trying to be. I wish it had more depth to the story and that we got a better glimpse into Shikanoko and some of the other supporting characters. I felt that it all happened quite quickly and ended too soon for my liking.

In terms of the writing style, I really quite enjoyed the neutral and disjointed manner in which the author wrote the book in. I appreciated it because it felt quite Japanese and reflective the era it was trying to write in; medieval Japan. At the same time, it lacked the level of detail (can’t believe I am saying this!) that enable me to get properly immersed in this tale and the fictional place she was trying to create. Maybe this was because I had it read it after Patrick Rothfuss’ novels which are so rich and detailed, so this stood out as a bit of negative for me.

Q: Have you read a book that has been based in a culture or region that you were interested in?

 

 

Teaser Tuesday: Sept 4

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teasertuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

Moving on from the magic and fantasy of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles was quite tough, as I am sure you could tell from my reviews of it, but I can’t stress how engaging and interesting this non-fiction book has been so far! Such a fascinating and relevant theme in the current political climate!

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“Individual leaders, ideas, technology and other factors all play a role in shaping events, but they are temporary. Each new generation will still face the physical obstructions created by the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas; the challenges created by the rainy season; and the disadvantages of limited access to natural minerals or food sources.” (xi)

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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Published: 2007

To start off, sorry for not taking a nicer photo of the book, but I have lent it to my brother in Canada so I don’t actually have the copy on me at the moment. I’ve also read this book over a year ago but just getting to the review now as I have recently finished the second book in the series, and wanted to review each one separately. So here I go!

Sadly, I’ve been a little bit let down by fantasy books in the last year or two, primarily because I attempted to read the Wheel of Time series (after a high recommendation from my boyfriend) and really, really struggled my way through that one. I did not connect to any of the characters and struggled with the detailed writing of the author which put me off tremendously. I somehow managed to get through 3 of the books in the 13 book series, before giving up (I really did try I promise!). That’s why when my boyfriend recommended this series I was very cautious and took some time off from fantasy before trying this one.

Nonetheless, I was not disappointed. Although similar in length to a Wheel of Time book, it was a million times more engaging and interesting. The book is a coming of age story; instead of centring around an epic showdown between good and evil it’s more about following the main character’s, Kvothe’s, life and development. We are introduced to Kvothe in the pub that he owns. As the story progresses we instantly pick up that this character possesses unique qualities and there is something special about him. Eventually, he begins to recite the story of his life to the Chronicler, essentially a scribe, and this is where our journey begins. We then flutter between third person narration in the present tense and Kvothe’s first person narration of his life throughout the novel.

What I absolutely love about this book, is that even though it’s set in a completed fantastical world, it feels very realistic. It strangely gave me very similar vibes to Harry Potter in this way. Although the world created is completely fantastical, and filled with magical elements, it’s very relatable. I think the key to making this feel relatable, similar to Harry Potter, is the way Patrick Rothfuss captures and highlights the main characters growth and transformation. For me, that’s the fascination and the main appeal to the book for me. Why does he behave or react in that way? That’s what keeps me so intrigued. Even though I may not necessarily agree with the main character, I can follow his thought process and understand where he’s coming from. His personality is so vivid and clear to me, it’s almost like I know him in real life as well.

That’s not to say there is no plot and it doesn’t matter. Not at all. There is loads that happens and we travel along with Kvothe on his journey between different places and points in his life. However, the author isn’t afraid to stay in the same location for a period of time and get into a routine of life either. I think this is another element that makes the book realistic. It’s not fantastical action all the time, but rather, Kvothe faces problems and dilemmas very similar to real life like trouble with friends, making enemies, not having sufficient funds, studying for school, and just generally how to behave and act around people. All very relatable issues for us, yet all based in a magical land.

Speaking of magical land, Patrick Rothfuss does an amazing job with creating a complex yet clearly very well thought out world. There are so many elements that he manages to tie together and sound convincing. At the same time, he doesn’t over-do it and make it so complicated that you are flipping between the map and the text every 5 minutes. If you are looking for a Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time complicated type of fantasy world, I think you might feel a bit short changed. However, this is exactly why it does appeal to me. The world is complex yet manageable and it doesn’t feel like he gives you any superfluous information and detail that takes up pages but doesn’t actually lead you anywhere.

Overall, I was tremendously pleased with this book and I couldn’t recommend it more. Judging from the positive ratings and reactions on the internet it seems that it has managed to capture the imagination of many other readers out there! So what are you waiting for?

 

Q: Have you heard of this series? If so, what do you think?

 

 

Teaser Tuesday: Aug 14

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teasertuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

I have been recommended this series by my boyfriend and have read the first book maybe a year ago now. Not sure why it took me a year to start the second book, seeing as I loved the first one. Check out the little teaser for The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.

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“‘No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leverer, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass.  A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of  quiet introspection.” (847)