Book Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

greenbanner

star1star1

img_6953

Published: 2001

I was told to read this book by my boyfriend who wanted to go see the film. As we happen to have a copy of it at home, I found this as an ideal reason to go ahead and read it before we went to see it opening night at the cinema. The book was relatively short, just shy of 300 pages, and as it was children literature I was able to get through it in a span of a couple of days.

Essentially, the book is about a boy named Tom, a young Apprentice Historian, that resides in London. This is not the typical London that you would expect though, as it’s not a stationary city. Instead most of the cities and towns that populate the world have built themselves on wheels. The world has become a city-eat-city kind of world, with the bigger cities often eating up the few small towns left leading to a bit of a crisis and battle for food and resources.

Tom’s adventure really starts when he comes across an attempt-assassin, Hester Shaw; a girl who tried to murder his idol, Head of the Guild of Historians, Thaddeus Valentine. This attempt assassination ends up revealing to Tom that Valentine is not the man he thought him to be, and learns that he has killed Hester’s mother. The rest of the book they try to survive the new and stagnant world, and attempt to board back on London (as they were both pushed off London by Valentine) to stop him from doing further evil.

The book itself I am sad to say was just okay for me. It wasn’t terrible, but I don’t think I would pick it up and read it again or anytime soon. Unlike other children literature novels, this one very much felt like it as written for kids, not giving much to the adult reader to ponder about. It had a standard adventure, good versus evil story, with a protagonist and antagonist but it didn’t offer anything unique or particularly interesting about the journey. If anything it sometimes felt very rushed and tidied together rather roughly.

I do like the character development, for a children’s novel I think it did okay. I can definitely see the argument that these characters did seem quite predictable, but I did like the attempt at bringing in new and interesting characters later on in the book as this made me interested to read on and see who else we would meet. I also really appreciated that the character relationships felt authentic, and there weren’t any crazy, and unbelievable love triangles getting in the way of the story.

The concept of having cities on wheels, and how the author explains the history behind that shift to moving machines was really interesting. I was really intrigued from the beginning to learn more about how the cities came to be like this, and I’m happy to say that the author does a good job weaving an interesting enough story/explanation. I think that this is why the ending is especially interesting, and possibly the highlight of the book.

What disappointed me the most is probably that I liked the idea/concept that this book presented, I just don’t think it was given the time and level of detail to make it truly engaging and entertaining. I found the plot a bit rushed and fragmented, with superfluous characters that I didn’t quite understand their purpose.

It feels as though the author captured the trend at the time of writing – early 2000s I think gave birth to a lot of YA dystopian and steampunk genres being explored. Unfortunately, it doesn’t withstand the test of the time and now feels a bit outdated to me. I think I may have appreciated this more if I had read it at the time of publishing – when I was 11 years old and living in that time period. Now it just reads a bit like a “has-been”.

In terms of the film, which I was really looking forward to seeing after reading the book as I imagine the cinematography to be top notch, I wouldn’t recommend seeing it as it’s very different from the book and this actually peeved me quite a bit. Aside from the costumes and cinematography of the moving cities, everything else was subpar to the book. They completely missed out on a lot of plot, making it even more fragmented, and we didn’t get to see the character relationships develop at all. I did think that the casting was really good for Fang, Hester and even Valentine.

Q: Have you read a book shortly before watching the film? How did you feel about the experience?

 

Book Review: Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

greenbanner

star1star1star1star1star1

img_6916

Published: 1962

Wow, I was certainly not expecting what I have received from this book at all. I was completed captivated by the writing style and plot of this novel and I couldn’t put it down once I picked it up. I think I got through it in about 48 hours – and that’s rounding up!

When I found out that Anthony Burgess, the author of this novel, was born in Manchester (England) and even went to Manchester University I was immediately praying that I would love this book and it probably biased me to liking it. Manchester has a special place in my heart, but don’t let my bias fool you, this book has been included on Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, and it was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. So not to worry, it’s not just me.

I didn’t know much about the book itself, sort of half guessing it to be of dystopian nature which was an accurate assumption, but I don’t think I was ready for the black satirical humour that encompassed it along with all the other elements of this novel.

The book follows a teenager named Alex and his little gang of friends as they commit various crimes in near dystopian England. Alex is a barbarous and cruel anti-hero who is cleverly complimented with an affinity for classical music. Before we get into the classical music, I’d just like to address what I mean about Alex being a cruel teen. You can’t really phantom the sheer brutality that Alex and his gang of friends commit throughout the novel to innocent victims, starting with chapter 1. Within the first 12 pages of the novel, the gang spot an old man carrying books from the library which they attack as follows:

“’You naughty old veck, you,’ I said, and then we began to filly about with him. Pete held his rookers and Georgie sort of hooked his rot wide open for him and Dim yanked out his false zoobies, upper and lower. He threw these down on the pavement and then I treated them to the old boot-crush, though they were hard bastards like, being made of some new horrorshow plastic stuff.” (12)

There are further horrors that appear in that paragraph which I am going to omit for everyone’s safety and also because I don’t want to get reported for violent language via WordPress. Burgess doesn’t shy away from really depicting how addicted these boys are to committing violent acts, and after the attack on the old man Alex proceeds to drug and rape 2 younger girls later on in the book, and terrorize a young couple including raping and murdering their wife. Burgess does such an incredible job of telling the story of Alex and his gang, that I couldn’t turn away.

For a while after reading the book, I thought there was something seriously wrong with me – why did I love reading about all this violence, teenage angst and brutality?! What I realized is that, but by flipping each page, I was desperately hoping and praying that there is a happy ending and that something will happen that will make them realize that what these boys are doing is not okay. I think a part of me wanted to believe that this boy just had a rough start at life, and that he’s going to develop into a better human being after a eureka moment (I was so naïve and hopeful, it’s like I’ve never read a dystopian novel before!).

For a while I was buying that lie and the author even hinted that there might be a solution for Alex and his affinity to violence. When he gets jailed in Part 2 of the novel an opportunity presents itself to Alex, or more specifically an experiment. In order to have this sentenced terminated he would take part in an experiment that would make him averse to violence, and reform him. The experiment itself was pretty brutal, as Alex was injected with nausea-inducing drugs while watching graphically violent films, which eventually conditioned him to become severely ill at the mere thought of violence. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of this experiment is that Alex is no longer able to enjoy his beloved classical music as before, because they played it as background music during his sessions. But it does appear to work:

“ ‘But,’ I said, ‘I don’t understand. I don’t understand about feeling sick like I did. I never used to feel sick before…’
‘What is happening to you now is what should happen to any normal healthy human organism contemplating the actions of the forces of evil, the workings of the principle of destruction. You are being made sane, you are being made healthy.’” (119)

Afterward, he’s released from jail but he struggles to fit into regular life. He’s lost the only love in the world, classical music, and due to his past his family and friends don’t fully trust him and abandon him. Despite having the right behavior, he’s an outcast with no purpose in life.

The moral questions that the novel raises are incredibly interesting – like the freedom to choose between good and evil. When Alex had the freedom to choose his own actions, it lead him to intervene and destroy the lives the innocent other people. Yet, I’m not convinced that it was morally right for the government to program and engineer a desired choice of behavior for Alex, by exposing him to their experiments, as that didn’t help him either.

I think that this book is amazingly simple, yet simultaneously complex. The novel is formed of three very obvious parts: the first is when we meet Alex and exposed to his criminal and hooligan behavior, part two is his being reformed by the government, and the third is when he has to live his new life as a non-violent man. There is a strange satisfaction behind having such a clear split of the book, and makes it really easy to go back and read through the parts or sections that were of interest to compare and contrast the main characters development (or perhaps lack there of!).

The book also has a layer of complexity, as the author created his own language that the characters use throughout the book. I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of a pain to get used to the Nadsat words for the first few chapters as was constantly flipping to the index to learn this new vocabulary. Having said this, there is a lot of repetition and after the initial steep learning curve, it does make the book feel more special. It also cool to learn that Burgess was a linguistic and that he was able to connect with that knowledge on a different level with the creation of the Russian influenced English language. You don’t get to see that very often!

If you can’t tell already, I am completely taken with this book and actually can’t wait to read it all again as I find the questions of morality and the psychological reflection and development of Alex extremely fascinating. With no hesitancy, I am happy to profess that this has now become one of my top 10 books of all time! So what are you waiting for, go out and read it!

Q: Have you come across a book that really resonated with you in the last 6 months? What was it, and what did you enjoy most about it?

 

Book Review: The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

greenbanner

star1star1star1star1

IMG_6672

Published: 1995

Finally I have broken my streak of disappointing novels – just in time for the new year! I remember hearing good things about this when I did some research on the internet, and after reading a quick synopsis about this book online it sounded quite interesting and appealing to me – particularly the fact that it’s a historical novel. A nice change from the dystopian and fantasy books I have been reading.

I was also quite intrigued by how the author came across the subject and idea for this novel. From what I had read about the author, she became interested in knowing more about the history of philosopher and poet Friedrich von Hardenberg after reading Hymns to the Nightand Heinrich von Ofterdingen, particularly when the latter mentioned the ‘Blue Flower’, which was an idea of profound importance to the philosopher-poets of that mind-crowded period. I don’t normally get this sort of explanation or back story to author’s so this appealed to me quite a bit.

The other element that grabbed my attention, was the fact that Penelope Fitzgerald loved writing stories and biographies of people that were outsiders or misfits – she was drawn to unsettled and imperfect characters; characters that seem profoundly lost and doomed. You can definitely see this theme permeate in this novel, and I couldn’t help but appreciate that as well.

The novel is based on true events and life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772-1801), before he became famous under the name Novalis, with his Hymns to the Nightand Heinrich von Ofterdingen(the novels that inspired the author). The novel takes place from the years from 1790 to 1797, and follows primarily the life of von Hardenberg (eldest in his family) as he finishes university and as he embarks in his professional life. We also get snippets into his siblings’ lives as well, and it plays a nice contrast to that of our main protagonist. This novel is unique in the sense that there is no real antagonist in then novel – perhaps one might argue that death takes on this role.

I absolutely loved the way that the author, Penelope Fitzgerald, really embraces the Romantic period of the day and makes an effort to keep German diction throughout and where possible – making the story feel much more authentic. She doesn’t shy away from bringing about the realities of life in that time – she dedicated paragraphs to highlighting how poor hygiene was back in these years when she talks about the washing day:

Dietmahler’s own mother supervised the washing three times a year, therefore the household had linen and white underwear for four months only. He himself possessed eighty-nine shirts, no more. But here, at the Hardenberg house in Kloster Gasse, he could tell from the great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard, where grave-looking servants, both men and women, were receiving them into giant baskets, that they washed only once a year.  (1)

The novel is heavily character driven – with little actual plot taking place (you know this is fine by me!). Each character is carefully described with beautiful diction, and you can’t help but feel like you understand these characters on a deeper level.

The author also cleverly employs the role of diaries to not only fast forward, and quickly sum up days and weeks, but also to highlight the different character’s personalities. Before we don’t know much about Sophie – the apple of von Hardenberg’s eye – but after reading through her diary entries we get a sense that she’s not particularly astute, and rather a simpleton considering she is meant to be of noble standing:

Tuesday September 11

Today the painter did not come down in the morning for breakfast. My stepmother sent up one of the menservants with this coffee, but he said through the door, namely that he wished to be allowed to think.

Wednesday September 12

We began pickling the raspberries.

Thursday September 13

Today was hot and there was thunder and nothing. (149)

Fitzgerald is clearly a very talented writer and I absolutely love her writing style. She is able to paint so vividly such a wide range of sensory details. Take this sentence for example:

In her mouth was something bitter, that tasted like the waters of death. (165)

Such rich and vivid imagery and sensory details are absolutely brilliant. Especially as they are cleverly woken into the text, and not over powering. Sometimes authors can take this too far and make it feel heavy and complicated, but I think Fitzgerald chooses very wisely and poignantly the best times to sprinkle this in, which makes it stand out.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the main character, von Hardenberg, which is a shame as that’s who inspired the author to write this historical novel in the first place. I love imperfect characters that have flaws and weaknesses, but his weakness, or I should say obsession, with Sophie is very annoying, and diminishes my respect for him a little bit. I find the characters of Caroline Just, Jacob Dietmahler, Bernhard and Erasmus von Hardenberg more interesting.

Overall, I was really pleased with this novel and enjoyed reading it. The short chapters (there are only 282 pages with 55 chapter) keep you interested, as the author makes each one quite to the point. Again, thanks to the authors rich writing she can do this and get away with it I think. I would definitely recommend!

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

greenbanner

star1star1

51Hqy7tUbcL

Published: 2013

My luck with picking up good books is clearly on a bad streak. What is wrong with me? This was a book that was on my reading list for 2018 as I loved the idea of reading a book where Historians are portrayed as heroes, and history is seen as cool not only nerdy. However, I could not come to grips with the author’s writing style, lack of character development and overall plot.

I think what annoyed me most was the first person narration and overall writing style of the author. So sorry Jodi, international bestseller and all, but it was not gripping and I would gladly put your book down, I’m afraid. Her writing was choppy and didn’t feel well written out at all. I understand that as first person it was what the character was meant to be thinking, as she was thinking it, but I felt she went too far and the writing style really began to irritate me. Here’s a fun little challenge for you, count the number of periods in this single paragraph:

“I tried to pull myself together. There would be extensive loss of life. There wasn’t anything I could do. There wasn’t anything I should do. Well, so that for a game of soldiers. Maybe I wasn’t very important in the scheme of things, but there’s always something you can do.” (97)

That’s literally just a randomly chosen paragraph from the book. If you like. The start and stop effect. You would really. Enjoy this book.

Secondly, I wish to discuss the lack of character development, as well as the general lack of character variation as well. I think by now you know that for me characters are the main driver of books and therefore they can make it or break it. After reading the book I just don’t feel there was any character development at all. The main character Madeleine Maxwell, is the same when she started – stubborn, confident and courageous – and ends with having learned nothing new. She is the absolute be all and end all of the book.

There is absolutely no complexity in the characters to make them interesting and stand out. They may have different names, but their mannerism and behaviour feel identical, with no defining features. Likewise, none of the other characters do anything memorable or interesting besides the main character, they feel extremely incompetent given their titles and roles. This might be with the only exception of Sussman who we find out plays a different role to the one initially assigned. The role of Max’ lover aka Leon Farrell is absolutely cringeworthy. His entire purpose is to love Max unconditionally, and ask her how she feels every time she gets back from one of her adventures. That relationship also doesn’t feel authentic at all, and is missing the depth and believability that would make it successful in my eyes.

In terms of my second point about characters, they have no individual personality traits. The protagonists tend to all be hilarious, smart and want-to-be-hip, and the antagonists are evil, rude and ruthless. I was so grateful for having the dramatis personae at the beginning because I used that extensively throughout the book to differentiate the characters by their roles in the book, as you couldn’t distinguish them based on their personality or language.

Last point about characters – sorry this book has just properly butchered it! – is that everything exciting happens to Max, the main character. Every single time she goes on an mission in a pod, it always goes wrong. Everything she does is always a novelty and exception to the “norm”. As the norm was never properly established anyway, her uniqueness just guides the whole book and makes it all very predictable and therefore not entertaining to read.

Okay, I just really needed to get those points off my chest as they were suffocating me! Now I did give this book some stars, so it wasn’t all completely bad. I still really appreciate the author trying to make History trendy and fun. She does warn on the first page that she did make all this up and that she’s not to be held accountable for the historical accuracies within the book. I liked that she added that because it didn’t make her pretentious, and right away set the tone for the book – adventure and humour are the key themes here, so don’t get bogged down by the details.

I also liked that she put in red-headed characters in the book – that’s right multiple, not just one! I do feel that we (yes I fall into the ginger camp!) are somewhat underrepresented in novels and media, and the author displayed that she wasn’t afraid to take risks and pave her own path by choosing unique characters instead of the stock ones.

I also appreciated her attempting to give reader some back story to the historical events that took place, for example Manchester’s Peterloo Massacre:

“In August 1819, sixty-thousand demonstrators assembled in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. They were anti-poverty and pro-democracy which did them no favours at all in the eyes of authority…equally looking forward to the day, but for completed different reasons were the local Yeomanry, led by Captain Hugh Birley. The protested linked arms to prevent this and were struck down by the Yeomanry…the crowd panicked; this was seen as an attach and six hundred Hussars went in. Eighteen people, including one woman and one child, were killed.” (p73)

I actually did not know about this, and as I reside in Manchester this hit home and I thought was really neat to include – particularly as for the rest of the book characters would go on adventures in the bigger scenes of the Cretaceous and Egyptian periods.

So overall, I have been left rather disappointed and underwhelmed. Needless to say I will not be reading the other 7 novels in the series.

Q: Have you ever been stuck on a bad reading streak?

 

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

greenbanner

star1star1star1

IMG_5792.jpg

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!

 

 

Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

greenbanner

star1star1star1star1star1

beartown

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?

 

 

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

greenbanner

star1star1star1star

IMG_5582.JPG

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?

 

 

Book Review: Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

greenbanner

star1star1star1

IMG_4673.JPG

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?

 

 

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

greenbanner

star1star1star1star1star1

51-TOtX11mL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

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?

 

 

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

greenbanner

star1star1star1star1star

IMG_3463

Published: 1985

I am going to acknowledge that I haven’t been reading as many Canadian novels as I should be really, but I blame living on another continent for that! I actually came across Hulu’s TV series of the Handmaid’s Tale on the plane that reminded me of this book and convinced me to read this a second time. I watched the first episode and was so hooked that when I got home I immediately had to re-read it!

Yes that’s right I have already read this book, but it was a little while ago now, when I was in university studying English Literature. I remember at the time that I enjoyed the book, but it hadn’t stood out for me a lot. Thinking back, I think this might have been because the course/module was all about dystopian novels so the theme got a little repetitive and I read it on the back of one of my favourite books of all time, Don DeLillo’s White Noise so maybe that’s why it didn’t stick with me.

However this time around, I couldn’t put the book down. It was such a haunting book – primarily because I could imagine the themes dealt in it happening in the real world. Any dystopian novel that gives me the creeps because it feels plausible deserves 4 stars!

We journey through the novel through Offred’s narration. To me it feels like an interview, with her sitting across from me re-telling me her life story, often skipping to moments before the totalitarian and theocratic state took over the United States to highlight and help us understand how we even got there. What we learn, is that the country is experiencing dangerously low reproduction rates due to pollution and chemical spills.  A political coup takes over whose solution to this issue is to restrict women’s freedoms, where women cannot own property or have jobs. They forcefully indoctrinate fertile women, to be subservient to men and to focus their entire lives around producing children. Once they graduate from the Red centre, the women then become Handmaids and are placed in the homes of the elite that are struggling to produce offspring. Offred sole purpose in life now becomes to perform wordless, emotionless sexual intercourse with the commander of the house once a month in an attempt to produce them a child that she will then never see again.

I found this theme of restricting women’s freedoms especially poignant in todays society, given the media rise and attention to inequality in the modern world today. It’s a little scary reading this book alongside the #metoo movement and media’s slow reveal of the constant and current gender inequality in the workforce, as it highlights are own imperfections and issues. Of course, the book is playing on an extreme, but you can’t help but see how easily it could happen should the political and economic atmosphere changes rapidly, especially if people in todays world demonstrates some of that sort of behaviour and beliefs.

 

Q: Which dystopian novel most resonates with you? I’d love to understand why!