Tuesday, April 27, 2010

'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea'- Review


Penguin Classics

Length: 382 Pages

Opening Line:
'The year 1866 was marked by a strange occurence, an unexplained and inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten.'


'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea' by Jules Verne was one of those books that I thought that I should read, but never really got around to doing it. There's no good excuse why I had avoided it for so long, but I finally got around to it and I was pleasantly surprised.

The plot revolves around Professor Arronax, an assistant professor at the Paris Museum of Natural History, who along with his servant/ nature classifier Conseil, is invited to join Captain Farragut to board his ship 'The Abraham Lincoln'.

The purpose of their expedition, is to capture an illusive creature named a giant 'narwhal' , which had been responsible for the destruction of several ships on the seas. They are joined by Ned Land, a harpooner, installed on the ship to do the deed of spearing the creature.

When the'giant narwhal' attacks 'The Abraham Lincoln', Arronax, Ned Land and Conseil are thrown overboard during the struggle and they wake up to find themselves on a strange submarine called the 'Nautilius', captained by the mysterious and unpredictable Captain Nemo and his strange, rarely seen crew.

By coming aboard the ship, Captain Nemo makes the trio captive guests on 'The Nautilus' and they embark on an adventure which takes them to the very depths of the ocean and beyond.

When I first began reading this book, I wasn't sure that I was going to enjoy it. It is full of nautical information and species terminology which to be honest, went right over my head. However, as I continued reading this novel, I realised how by including this type of information, it gave the novel an authenticity to it. I felt that this could have been an account from a real person, rather than a fictitious one.

On reading a novel for me, one of the most important; if not THE most important thing I look for in a book, is how the characters are constructed within it. In my opinion, if a writer can not create a convincing, likable or at least interesting main character, then I don't bother to continue reading. In my opinion, 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea' has very good character structure.

As the novel is written from the perspective on Professor Arronax, this made the book convincing and the way he talks to the reader, draws the audience in, rather than keeping them at a distant.

For me though, the most interesting and complex character within the novel, is Captain Nemo. He acts as a juxtaposition against Arronax, because rather than drawing the audience and characters towards him, there remained a distance which made his character mysterious through the book. I could never really decide whether Captain Nemo was someone I should like or a dangerous character and I found him fascinating. On one hand, he loved the animals living with him in the depths of the ocean and then the next, he would show a brutality towards them, which seemed rather barbaric. So this complexity gave the book edge and an interesting element.

The plot was rather slow at times, but as I'm from the 'MTV Generation' which wants everything immediately, I decided to fight the instinct to want the plot to hurry up and I just let the pace of the story take over. In the end, I enjoyed the more sedate flow of the novel. The story may have had slower parts within it, but that doesn't mean to say that this novel was boring, far from it.

It was filled with wonderful descriptions of the colours and movement of the creatures in which Arronax encountered during the journey and there were parts within the novel which had me on the edge of my seat.

One thing that I would have liked and I'm not sure if this is included on other editions of this novel, but that would be a map of the journey that 'The Nautilus' took throughout the novel. This is because my geography is pretty terrible and so if there were some sort of visual aid, then I would have found it easier to visualize the places which the crew visited a little easier.

One minor criticism of this novel, would be the ending. I felt that this novel had a bit of an anticlimax, but I'm being picky here. This kind of story, would be quite difficult to find any ending to be honest.

It is very rare to read a book which is unpretentious and is just what I call 'a proper story'. However I feel that 'Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea' had a sense of adventure, that most modern books are lacking nowadays and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to reading more of Jules Verne's novels in the future.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Return of the Review- 'The Rapture'- Liz Jensen

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-4088-0110-9

Pages: 341

I'm Back! Did you miss me? Ok, don't answer that, but even though I've been dealing with problems with my building and a nasty bout of the flu, I've still been busy working for the blog, so I'll start off with my return review.

‘The Rapture’ is a book that I saw a review about on ‘The TV Book Club’ and thought that it looked interesting.

In the not so distant future, Gabrielle Fox lives in a world on the edge of environmental crisis. After surviving a horrific car crash, which results in the death of her married lover and her unborn baby, she struggles to deal with her grief and the loss of her lower limbs.

After leaving rehabilitation, Gabrielle is appointed a position as an art therapist in Oxsmith Adolescent Secure Psychiatric Hospital, where she is assigned to help Bethany Krall, a violent and disturbed teenager who killed her mother. Throughout their sessions, Bethany claims that she can foresee a series of natural disasters, which Gabrielle discovers come to fruition.

When Bethany predicts an event of apocalyptic proportions, Gabrielle seeks the help of Frazer Melville, a respected physicist and love between them blossoms. However, will they be able to save the world before the ‘Tribulation’ comes?

On the front cover on the book, there is a quote from ‘The Times’ newspaper which states that this book is ‘unputdownable’ and in my opinion, it’s true. I was so absorbed in this book, that I just wanted to keep reading to see what happened next. Jensen writes so realistically, that I could imagine everything that she was describing. As the book is set in times that are relevant to today’s society, I felt that this gave the book an extra edge of realism, which made the book even more gripping and interesting. In fact, I would like to research more into some of the ideas that Jensen proposes, in terms of the impact that global warming may have on the planet.

Concentrating on the writing itself, the characters were so well written, that I could feel a connection, particularly with Gabrielle and I cared what would happen to the characters next. The pace of the story is fast, but gripping and I didn’t feel that Jensen was rushing the development of the story. In recent novels, I have found that there is a tendency for authors to rush towards the end of the book, without tying the ends up satisfactory. However with this book, I feel that the pace with even and steady.

Also I think that the way in which Jensen deals with issues such as environmental damage, religion and the effect all of these has on people, was thought provoking and unnerving, particularly as some of the events with the volcano in Iceland, had some resonance with the plot of this novel....but I won't give that away!

‘The Rapture’ has been one of the few books that instead of finishing and immediately starting on a new book, I have been thinking about different elements of the book and also imagining what would happen to the characters next.
In fact, I feel that a second read of this book, would clarify the definitive message that this book is trying to convey, because I felt that the book could have several underlying messages. Mainly the message that I believe that it is trying to convey, is that each person should make the best of the circumstances no matter what they are and also each individual’s impact on others.

I love this book, I will go as far as to say that it is better than ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ and I rate that novel highly. This book is original, thrilling and perfectly comments on the state of today’s society. Also this novel has enough fantastical elements to it, to make ‘The Rapture’, an absorbing and often an unnerving read, I highly recommend it.

I'll be back with a review of Jules Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' very shortly...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Taking a break....

Unfortunately I have to take a break from blogging for a while, for unforseen circumstances. I may be able to update the blog via laptop, but I'm afraid to say it might not be updated as regularly as it normally is.

In the meantime, keep reading and I'll give you my review on Liz Jensen's 'The Rapture', as soon as I'm able to.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

So far, so good....

Yesterday evening, whilst I was getting ready to go out, I was surprised to find that our postman had delivered all of these lovely goodies...

Having never really used Amazon for book orders before, not only am I impressed with Amazon's efficiency (it only took just under a week for my delivery to arrive), but Amazon had placed ALL of my books in one neat, little package.

The thing that I had found with Play.com, was that each of my orders were placed separately, thus increasing the chances of my books being scattered everywhere and never arriving....I have had that experience recently.

The delivery could not have come at a better time, having finished the novel 'Clean Cut' by Lynda La Plante yesterday, so I can start on something new right away.

So it looks like I've turned into an 'Amazon' convert.....so far!

Friday, April 9, 2010

'Clean Cut'- Review

Publisher: Pocket Books

Length:400 Pages

Opening Line: 'Anna was in a foul mood.'


Having previously seen some of Lynda La Plante's work, writing for crime programmes such as 'Prime Suspect', I thought that I would give this book a try. Added to the fact that this book came free with a magazine, what had I got to lose? I also haven't really read many books in the crime/thriller genre, so I thought I would mix things up a bit.

The plot begins with the brutal attack of DCI James Langton, whilst in pursuit of illegal immigrants. During his slow and painful recuperation from the horrific injuries, he relies on his partner and fellow police colleague DI Anna Travis to help him through the pain. This makes Anna reconsider her feelings for Langton and the relationship ends.

Just when DI Anna Travis thinks that things are improving, she is assigned to finding the killer of a library assistant and she is forced to put her personal feelings aside and work alongside Langton, to solve a succession of brutal murders. Little does she know, that Langton has a hidden agenda, working alongside the investigation.

Firstly, it took me until I was nearly half way though the book, until I really got into the plot. Even then, I still had problems with it.

I found the relationship between Langton and Travis, one dimensional and unconvincing. Towards the end, I didn't care what was going to happen to them and I think that their relationship wasn't needed anyway, as it didn't really contribute much to the plot.

Also I found that there were discrepancies during the book. One being a spelling mistake which in the grand scheme of things isn't very important, but I found that it detracted my attention away from the plot. Also at one point, Langton is struggling to walk and then further along in the book, he kicks a man without having any pain, despite it being made clear that he has live a life with constant pain. I found that this change made Langton's situation, unbelievable and inconsistent.

The way which La Plante used character such as Harry Blunt and Langton, to voice political views about the effects of immigrations within the UK, was very off putting in my opinion. I like it when a book has a political or social comment, but I believe that the message being delivered throughout the book should have been less obvious. I found that it hindered the story's fluidity.

Being a fan of writer's such as Kate Atkinson, who cleverly connects several strands of story throughout her books, I thought that to begin with, La Plante's use of this technique made the story gripping. However towards the end, there were so many strands of plot, that I felt like there were 2 book's worth of content, crammed into one book.

In her defence, she did repeatedly give updates throughout the story, as to what was going on. However, I felt that that gave the book a 'stop/ start' pacing to the book. This got quite annoying to be honest, because even with plot explanations, at times I still was confused as to what was going on, as I felt that the storyline was rather muddy. I also wasn't keen on the ending. I think that the book would have had a better ending, if it had one chapter less than it did.

You may be reading this and thinking that I didn't like that book, but it did have a few redeeming points. La Plante's writing kept me interested and I felt like I wanted to know what was going to happen, despite its flaws. So she must have been doing something right. There were parts of the book that kept me riveted, but then also left me bored. I felt the elements when Anna was interacting with the traumatised children, were heart wrenching and sensitively written.

I'm not particularly fond of reviews that sit on the fence. However with this book, I have to do just that. I neither liked, nor disliked the book. If you like a complex plot aren't sensitive to swearing and grisly scenes, then you might like this book.

As for me, I don't think that I am going to read another Lynda La Plante book, in a hurry.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

'Heston's Chocolate Factory Feast'

Last night, I watched a programme called 'Heston's Chocolate Factory Feast'. In this programme the eccentric, award winning chef Heston Blumenthal, re-created some of the iconic sugary inventions from the 1960's classic book, 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory' by Roald Dahl.

As 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' has been one of my favourite books since childhood, I was excited to see how he would recreate some of the fantastical creations featured within the book. For example he made lickable wallpaper, edible golden tickets and an incredible chocolate waterfall, complete with edible rocks and plants. I really wish that I could show you some pictures of his incredible inventions, but sadly I couldn't find any. Trust me though, they were mindblowing.

Heston's sense of fun, eccentricity and innovation makes him a person who I admire. In my opinion, he is the Willy Wonka of the food industry. I'm looking forward to his interpretation of Fairy Tale food, next week.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Splurging and Sorting

Well, Easter as come and gone in a flash and as you can see, I've been busy making changes to the blog.

You can now search blog posts and I've organized my book reviews into categories of genre, which is a lot better in my opinion.I'm also thinking about making categories based on author,in the future.

At this point, I have to give a special mention to Nicki from Fyrefly's Book Blog, who has adviced me about technical issues of the blog and has also given me plenty of encouragement. I just hope that I can make this blog,half as good as hers.

Anyway I've not splurged too much on chocolate, although chocolate has been consumed over the last few days. I've been on a bit of a book slurge. I have ordered the following books:

'Brixton Beach' by Roma Tearne- I saw a review of this on 'The TV Book Club' and thought it looked interesting.

'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll- I want to see how the book compares to the recent film adaptation of the novel.

'The Rapture' by Liz Jensen'- This is from another 'The TV Book Club' recommendation. This is about an apocalypse scenario, brought on by climate change and I thought that this was an interesting and relevant topic for a book, as society is concerned with the damage that climate change in making on the planet.

'20,000 Leagues Under The Sea'- Jules Verne- A friend of mine was appalled when I mentioned that I had never read this book. As it is a classic novel, I thought that I would give this a go.

I have ordered these books with Amazon this time, as regular readers will know that I have had a lot of problems with Play.Com. Time will tell whether they are reliable or not. However I don't feel guilty about my book slurge, these new books will give me plenty to talk about in future blog posts and I would be interested to hear your thoughts on these novels too.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

'100 Reads in a Year' challenges

There are a lot of book blog writers, who seem to be on a mission to complete 100 books in a year. This is a possible task, but is it worth it? Surely, the main aim for reading is to enjoy the experience, rather than to notch up an impressive number of books in your repertoire?

If you're a quick reader, then reading 100 books within the year would be easy. However, I prefer to take my time and savour every word because in my opinion, books are there to be enjoyed.

How about you, are you a speedy reader or do you like to enjoy the experience of reading a book for as long as possible?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

My Favourite Book Covers

Firstly, I want to wish all my lovely readers a very happy Easter. I hope you are all enjoying the break.

For my latest favourite book cover, I have nominated one of my all time favourite books 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by Roald Dahl. This isn't the exact cover of the copy that I owned as a child, but it's the closest one that I could find.

Quite frankly, I could pick any of Roald Dahls' book covers. They may even feature in future book cover selections. The reason being, is because they are illustrated by Quentin Blake.

I adore Blake's quirky, edgy style of illustration, his frantic line work seems to be able to convey movement and a character's personality, by only using a few lines. His work is so full of energy and excitement, that combined with Dahl's equally quirky style of writing, in my opinion, makes a perfect partnership. There was a exhibition of his work in London a few years ago and I would have loved to have visited it. However maybe one day, I hope to be lucky enough to catch it.

In the meantime, I'm tempted to buy another copy of 'Charlie and Chocolate Factory' to replace the one that I lost. In that way, it will help me to recapture the fond memories of my childhood in which Roald Dahl books, played such a bit part.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

'The TV Book Club'

Following on from yesterday's post about how publisher's are selling out by publicizing celebrity novels, I have found a way in which celebrity status is actually helping the publishing world, in a positive way.

Recently I have been watching a programme called 'The TV Book Club', in which a panel of celebrities, joined by a different guest reviewer each week, discuss a different book of the week.

When I first saw the choice of panelists, comprising of an actor, a comedian, a former soap opera actress and a fashion expert, I thought 'There's no way that I can take this seriously'.

However, I was plesantly surprised at how interesting and intelligent their different opinions actually are. Also, even though the panelists are quite well known, in my opinion, they represent a vast section of society, both through sex, race and sexual orientation.

The programme has a chatty, friendly style, which makes it accessible to the general public which is good because I think at times, programmes and discussions about literature can be seen as 'high-brow' or intimidating. So I think that this programme is important, as it can bring the activity of reading a novel to the masses.

Also in my opinion, programmes like this are important on a social level, because if children see their parents reading books, it will encourage them to do the same and thus the literacy level will go up.

So far, I have been tempted to purchase several of the books that 'The TV Book Club' has featured and I think this programme is working in a positive way, to encourage people to enjoy reading more. Unfortunately, 'The TV Book Club' is having a break for the summer. However, I'm looking forward to watching this programme again, when it returns to our screens.