Book Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

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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?

 

Wednesday Wondering: Twenty-Eighteen Book Awards

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Time for another special edition of Wednesday Wonderings by yours truly, Friendly Bookworm! Unlike my other posts which consist of talking about specific books, here, I like to discuss and focus on different elements of literature and reading in general. So let’s get started!

I know it’s past the new year now, but hope that you will forgive my tardiness for this post. For this, I thought I would run an edition of Wednesday Wonderings and take some time to reflect back on how my reading went in this past year, and maybe even hand out some awards. But first and foremost let us rewind to January last year and start from the beginning….

I remember sitting and chatting with my younger brother about his course reading and he mentioned having to read East of Eden for one of his classes. I’m embarrassed to admit I have never heard of that book or that author, having completed an English literature degree (DOH!). After a brief conversation about the book and his studies, I opted to try reading the first chapter to test the waters. Of course, as you know now, I was immediately hooked and couldn’t put it down. This of course gave me the idea of trying to come up with a joint book list along with my brother – a nice idea that didn’t really pan out in the end!

It was a nice idea and I enjoyed compiling the book list together – we sat together and researched some books we were meaning to read, making sure to account of different time periods, genres and country of origins. That is how the 2018 Reading List come to be.

Of course, reality and life took it’s course so along the way some new books were added and I’m afraid there were two books that I didn’t get around to reading in the end, but let’s first focus on the positive.

Without further ado, I present to you, the first annual Friendly Bookworm Reading awards for the year twenty-eighteen! Let’s start with some positive surprises first…

 

The Dark Horse

I really did feel like I pushed myself this year in terms of my reading list, choosing books that felt like a nice read, instead of heavily researching or just going with old favourites. I read different genres from historical fiction, non-fiction historical books, biographical, dystopian, contemporary, adult fiction, black comedy, animal fiction, etc But the one book that really surprised me this year, and the winner of the Dark Horse 2018 award is definitely got to be Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. I knew absolutely nothing about Elon Musk, but was absolutely sold on his life and what his plans are for this future of Earth after reading this. I think the reason is, that Vance wasn’t afraid to show different sides of Elon’s personality – the good, the bad and the ugly – making it feel authentic and inspiring.

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Wish I Liked It More

Obviously, no one wants a book to be a failure, especially when so many people seem to appreciate and enjoy it. For this one, there is a tie for me, as there are two books I’ve read this year that I really, truly wished I had enjoyed more than I did. These books I was really looking forward to, heard quite a bit about, and are kinda of a big deal. The two books that tie and take this title for Wish I Liked It More are Catch-22 and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I really struggled with the narration and writing style of these two authors. Catch-22 especially was a shock as I normally love character development, but I just couldn’t get past the author’s writing style to enjoy it. For The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you have no idea how much I wanted to like this as it’s a world phenomenon really, but it was just not meant to be for us. On well, onwards and upwards!

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The Letdown

It’s never easy being critical, especially of authors that you really like, but we are only human and some of our works can be better than others (trust me, I am first one to admit that some of my reviews are less than note worthy!). This year’s Letdown award is going to have to go to Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. I absolutely love Bill Bryson’s writing style, and have read several of his other novels which thoroughly impressed me. Unfortunately, this one was an utter disaster. I was very shocked and surprised just how negative and critical he was – really didn’t inspire me to do much else than put it down!

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Favourite New Series

I actually ended up reading a few books that were part of a series (Mortal Engines, The Tale of Shikanoko, The Name of the Wind, Anne of Green Gables, One Damned Thing After Another and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and arguably The Silver Brumby). The winner for me though has had to be The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. I don’t normally get into fantasy (trust me I tried the Wheel of Time series and have been put off) but this series is just amazing and like nothing else. It gave me Harry Potter vibes , that’s how amazing it is, so therefore this book gets the Favourite New Series award!

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Favourite Book of 2018

So who takes the cake for 2018? This was really difficult as I did hand out a few 5 stars this year to books that really inspired and intrigued me, so how do I just pick one? After tossing and turning in bed a few nights, considering my options and re-reading my reviews I have come to the conclusions that my Favourite Book of 2018 award goes to: East of Eden by John Steinbeck! This book had some of my favourite elements of a novel figured out down to a T; historical fiction, varied and interesting characters and fantastic narration style. What more could you hope for?

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I think overall I did well this year, re-reading some old favourites, venturing out into different genres, and along the way I found some real gems, but also realised that not all famous books are for me. I’m nonetheless quite pleased with myself and my accomplishments. Let’s just forget the two books I never got around to reading….

Anyway, this concludes my Twenty-Eighteen Book Awards. If you want to check out all my reviews for this year, click here on my Reading List 2018. If that’s not enough reviews for your to peruse through, I recommend you check out my entire Book Review archive by clicking here.

If you’ve done all that, or can’t be bothered at this time, all there is to do now is to keep your eyes peeled on the big 2019 Book List reveal, coming real soon!

Q: How would you evaluate your reading year for 2018?

Teaser Tuesday: March 31

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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!)

This next week or so I will be reading a hefty biography of Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang. I thought of giving myself a little extra time to read this book because this Easter weekend I will be heading down to do some skiing for about four days. Woot woot! I am actually really excited about this book, and I have been looking forward to reading it mostly because I am interested in learning about Chinese history. I know so little about that ancient part of the world it’s quite embarrassing, and have always wanted to discover a little more about it. So I am excited to get started!

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“Prostrating himself before her, the prince talked for an half and hour. An irate Cixi told him off: ‘With the border situation like this, you are talking about birthday presents! It shouldn’t be on the agenda at such a time; why are you bothering me with this business?'” (163)

What are you reading this Tuesday? Share your teasers with me!

Book Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

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Published: 2014

I’ve read the first bestseller by “Robert Galbraith” aka JK Rowling, The Cuckoo’s Calling and thoroughly enjoyed the read and so I was excited to pick up the next novel in the series. Honestly, based on some of the reviews that I have read, it seems I was fairly lucky not to have the influence of the Harry Potter world creeping into my head as I read both the books, as a lot of people couldn’t seem to adjust.

I do have to give Rowling credit here though, the voice of the The Silkworm’s narrator can’t be compared to that of Harry Potter. She does a very good job in distancing herself from that Harry Potter world, not only in genre and plot but also in her writing style. I did not see any resemblance between the two novels, with The Silkworm dealing with adult subjects as opposed to the adolescent woes of Harry Potter. It’s actually really neat to think that I grew up with the Harry Potter series, and now I seem to be partners in crime (tehehe pun definitely intended) with Cormoran Strike. I can relate to his love for the Arsenal football club, and his preference for Doombar (a British ale), because these are all things that concern me today that didn’t when I was younger.

The one thing I did not like, particularly in this novel, was how female characters were depicted in the novel. Every woman than Strike spends time with is described as this beautiful bombshell that makes every man’s head turn. His previous relationship of many years was with another stunning and model-esque woman with black hair and green eyes that every man wanted as a wife. But aside from her stunning looks, she’s got an awfully controlling and selfish personality.

The other female role is of course Robin, Strike’s secretary. I like how she is pushing traditional female roles and wanting to find a career instead of just a job until she gets married and settles down (not that there is anything wrong with that of course). She’s willing to put in the time to become a detective like Strike, despite her fiance’s protests and lack of understanding. I really respect and admire that about Robin. At the same time she is sort of ruined in my mind when Strike constantly notes how attractive she is and how, again, men stare at her all the time. I am not sure why that is the only feature that the two most common female characters have in common.

Verdict: Really great murder mystery read, with lots of references to British life and culture which I really enjoyed (maybe that’s a personal preference as I am currently living in the UK). Once you start you can’t put it down, and I like the practical and shrewd Cormoran Strike.

Book Review: Danubia- A Personal History of Habsburg Europe by Simon Winder

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 Published: 2013

I’ve been working through this book for the past two and a half weeks, and to be quite frank I read 75% of the book in three days. Why did it take so long for me to get into it?

I think there are a couple reasons. One, it is non-fiction so it takes a bit more focus on my part, especially when dealing with the Habsburg decades of rule, hence I can’t skim pages. True, Simon Winder makes clear that he is choosing to focus on a handful of monarchs instead of drowning the reader with names and titles spanning over multiple centuries. That I could appreciate. Nonetheless the reader must focus on each phrase to make sure that you don’t miss a key name-drop of a person and then get lost for the next 10 pages (I think this is what happened to the first 25% of the book and the reason it put me off a bit.)

What could have made this book so much easier to read is to have photos of the main monarchs discussed. Aside from a couple of maps at the beginning and the blurry pictures at the beginning of every chapter, the book lacked visual images to compliment the writing. There are several very strong paragraphs by him, that have me really intrigued, yet when he’s discussing artists instead of trying to describe a painting or place for a few pages, he could have just put in a photo.

The biggest reason why it took me so long to get into this was also because I had juxtaposed it with the brilliant One Summer in America 1927 by Bill Bryson. And to be honest, he is no Bill Bryson. This is not to say that it was a boring, draining read. Not at all. And the author did try to add some unconventional person touches into the book to make it lighter, like this passage:

“I realize with a chill that this section could go on almost indefinitely and it would be possible to bludgeon the reader with items from page to page of my notes, which should perhaps just be quietly binned.” (456)

I did really enjoyed the topic, and it was such a relief to come across a book about central Europe instead of always reading about WWI, WWII, French, British and American history. Certainly, I will go further with this, and there are several intriguing characters that I would like to spend some time reading up on thanks to this book.

Verdict: I can’t think of a better book for central European history in English as this, however, not as awestruck as I was with Bill Bryson’s non-fiction writing.

Teaser Tuesday: October 21

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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!)

Again, apologies for last week. Alas, the fruits of my labour at work were blossomed as my team and I pulled off our company’s biggest event of the year. Needless to say, we stayed up until 10pm Tuesday night, and it took me all weekend to recuperate from the craziness. The good news is that I sunk my teeth into this pleasant read. Another non-fiction account, seemingly similar to Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927 ,which I enjoyed tremendously. This one doesn’t have as flawless and engaging of a narrative but I am just at the beginning so who knows.

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“Through cunning, dimness, luck and brilliance the Habsburgs had an extraordinary long run. All empires are in some measure accidental, but theirs was particularly so, as sexual failure, madness or death in battle tipped a great pile of kingdoms, dukedoms and assorted marches and countries into their laps.” (1)

Any good non-fiction books that you would recommend? Really starting to enjoy these!

Teaser Tuesday: July 24

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I have really been quite lazy in the past few days in terms of my reading. I blame it on the fact that I am running out of books, and I am waiting for my next shipment to arrive from Amazon. But I managed to pick up this little pleasant read about Law. It’s a really short introduction, and it covers the basics so it’s nothing revolutionary so far. I was just potentially interested in going into law so I thought I would pick this up to grant me a brief overview. Sometimes it’s nice to change it up and read something more on the educational side.

1law“In a perfect world, the law would be clear, certain and comprehensible. The reality is some way from this Utopia vision. Law in all jurisdictions is a dynamic organism subject to the vicissitudes of social, political, and moral values.” (34)

Review: One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson

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Published: 2014

“Now suddenly America was dominant in nearly every field- in popular culture, finance and banking, military might, invention and technology.” (562)

The year that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. Charles Lindbergh becomes the first man ever to complete a non-stop flight from New York to Paris. Television is created. Al Capone enjoyed his last year of eminence. Mississippi flooded like never before. Countless of absolutely amazing feats were accomplished or born out of the year 1927 for America, that would greatly alter the future for the whole world. Bill Bryson does an incredible job in creating a gripping, enjoyable and delightful read about a period that I personally knew very little about. His writing style is just impeccable and he knows exactly what to reveal and when.

As you may or may not know, besides my degree in English Literature, I also have a minor in History. It was this combination of literary genius, humour and historical fact was what attracted me to this read. I was a bit hesitant; primarily worried by the prospect of reading 600 pages of just facts with little connection. That hesitation disappeared immediately, as I noticed a clear narration of the book being established from the offset. He focuses a lot on aviation, a theme that comes up at every section of the book, but done in such a clever way as to help you understand the grand scheme of things happening in that year. The author does a wonderful job of bringing a variety of sides to every person discussed from the time period: the good, the bad and the ugly. This assures me that I can trust that I am getting multiple sides to one story, something every historian strives toward.

The book gives you a proper snapshot of the season in which America took a big step towards a more modern world. It’s truly a captivating read filled with biographies, lots of humour, and absolutely shocking details about the way of life, while still maintaining integrity. There is a full bibliography spanning many pages that allows you to get more information on the subjects he has discussed and an index at the end, useful for refreshing your memory of anything you may have missed/forgotten.

Vedict: I honestly could not put this book down, no matter how hard I have tried. It made me realize just how far not only America, but also the world has come. His writing style is engaging, and easy to follow making it a great book to read over the summer and fitting for just about any reader that is even remotely interested in history and people in general.

Are there any narrative non-fiction works that you have enjoyed particularly? I want to know 🙂