Full House Reading Challenge – Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne

Genre: Adventure, Classics

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1864

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: On discovering an ancient manuscript that suggests it is possible to travel to the centre of the earth, Professor Liedenbrock sets off for Iceland immediately. The narrator, his nephew, is less keen on the journey, believing that they will be suffocated by the heat of the interior world. The novel catalogues the ups and downs of the expedition. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – A Classic. 

The first thing to say about this book is that it is very much a book of its time. Verne, like many other writers at the time, was clearly fascinated by the discovery of  dinosaur bones, fossils and the early theories about the different stages of man’s development. It may seem strange to us now, with the knowledge we have, but at the time it would have made more sense to readers.

The story takes a while to get started and it would certainly try the patience of younger readers, who might otherwise have been intrigued. 35% of the way into the text and we were still not underground. I’m not a big fan of the way modern novels often dive straight into the story without building character at all but this was the other extreme and I felt I waited a long time for things to get going.

The narrative voice was enjoyable. Axel clearly wasn’t enjoying his journey and his tendency to disagree with his uncle made for some interesting exchanges. He managed to get himself into trouble regularly and often despaired of getting out of their predicament alive. His melodrama was an excellent foil to the Professor’s stubborn determination.

My main problem with this book was the ending. It really stretched my ability to suspend my disbelief. You may say that the whole thing was beyond belief but it was possible to go along with it. It had a certain logic. However, the long ascent, and eventual eruption, of the volcano that rockets them back into the real world really was ridiculous and left me feeling a bit irritated. They also escaped death perhaps one time too many and often by coincidence rather than by any effort on their part.

I’m glad I read it though and would read more of Verne’s work. It makes me imagine what it must have been like at this point in history. These days, science fiction is often taken with the idea of technology and AI, it is interesting to think of what previous generations were interested in and worried about.

 

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Top Ten Tuesday – Books that were disappointing but you are glad you read.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. This weeks topic is books that you hated but are glad that you read. I changed that to books that were disappointing as I hate very few books.

  1. The Japanese Lover – Isabelle Allende. It had been a long time since I had read any Allende when I read this last year. I was expecting some beautiful piece of magic realism akin to Eva Luna. This just a fairly average romance / family saga.
  2. Mockinjay – Suzanne Collins. What a disappointing end to the Hunger Games. There are no games, for a start. The whole thing dragged and the ending was corny. Made me wonder why I had bothered.
  3. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall. I know it’s a classic and really important in the LGBT canon but it really was a struggle. Stephen was a hard heroine to like and it all seemed woefully old fashioned.
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James. To be fair, I was never expecting this to be good. But despite the fact that it is terrible, I am glad to have read it. It makes me feel a lot better about my own writing.
  5. The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough. How this has got itself onto all those books you must read before you die lists is beyond me. It’s badly written, the characters are superficial and it is far too long.
  6. Wonder – R. J. Palacio. This was underwhelming for me. I guess I just have no heart but this genuinely left me cold. It was extremely corny as well.
  7. The Insurgent Series – Veronica Roth. Not quite sure why I persevered with these books. They certainly didn’t get any better.
  8. The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling. Just not as good as Harry Potter.
  9. Hidden Figures: The UntoldStory of  the African American Women who Helped Win the Space Race – Margot Lee Shetterly – This was disappointing because I was expecting something different. I had just seen the film and thought that the focus might be the same but this starts much earlier and the focus is much broader. Not really what I was looking for.
  10. The Angel’s Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafron. I loved The Shadow of  the Wind and was very excited to read this. (Always going to lead to disappointment, being over-excited!) But this was not even in the same league. I haven’t bothered reading any further on in the series.

Full House Reading Challenge – It’s Not Me, It’s You – Jon Richardson

Genre: Humour, Autobiography

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2011

Format: kindle

Synopsis: Jon Richardson is looking for love. The only problem is will he be able to find someone who meets his exacting standards. When Richardson has lived with people before, it hasn’t ended well. Will his imminent date with waitress Gemma prove to be the romantic escape that he hopes?

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – genre: humour. 

This isn’t really an autobiography or if it is, it is very selective, covering as it does only a few days in Jon Richardson’s life. What it does do – and very well – is give an insight into his obsessive need for neatness in all aspects of his life.

It is extremely funny. Although at times I felt guilty laughing. Of course, there is likely to be an element of comic exaggeration but even adding that in to the mix, it felt more like tragedy then comedy at times. Of course, we all have those things that bug us. Every time you get on a bus or carry out a transaction in a shop, you are risking annoyance. However, few of us would go to the trouble of having a landline phone that no one knows the number to so they are not disturbed. Few of us are so anxious about a future relationship that they sabotage it before it even gets to the first date.

Richardson’s written style is very much like the voice of his stand up comedy and so was easy to read. Whilst ruminating on the possibility of his future relationship, he discusses what he feels are the elements of his personality that will affect his future. It is very intimate in places. It is like being inside his head and that is when it feels wrong to be laughing.

Of course, this book is quite old now and all the way through, I kept thinking how on earth is he coping with having a baby. But maybe I should have been thinking how is his wife coping with him and a baby.

Full House Reading Challenge – Resurrection Men – Ian Rankin – Contains spoilers

Genre: Detective Fiction

Narrative Style: Third person from various points of view

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2001

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: John Rebus is in trouble. So much trouble that he has been sent back to  cop school to re-learn how to be a team player. There he meets with a group of equally disgruntled and mis-behaving cops but why is he especially interested in three of them? Meanwhile Siobhan Clarke is working the death of an art dealer and although they have a suspect, she is unconvinced. Could there be a link between her case and Rebus’ tribe of bad cops? 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Plot twist. 

You know it’s going to be a good Rebus novel when it starts with the surly detective throwing a mug of tea at his superior officer, Gill Templer. He is then stuck onto a training course with other equally badly behaved coppers. It’s apparent straightaway that all is not quite what it seems and Rebus is there for more than just his own betterment. This is the first plot twist in a typically twisty effort.

All of the typical elements are here. Rebus goes to extremes in trying to out the corrupt cops and quickly gets in over his head. There in the background is his nemesis, Big Ger Caffety, fingers in all of the pies but also as usual, nothing can be pinned on him. Then there is Clarke and her new partner trying to solve the murder of art dealer, Eddie Marber. Clarke is a compelling character worthy perhaps of a series of her own. Not that she plays second fiddle to Rebus. They are both interesting leading characters.

This hooked me straightaway. Reading about Rebus’ exploits always involves a certain level of despair and worry as to whether this will be the time he finally gets caught. When he comes up with a scheme to steal some drugs from a warehouse in order to test the three cops he is supposed to be flushing out, you know it is not going to go smoothly. (It did make me wonder why you would choose such a loose canon as Rebus to do something so sensitive but that is my only quibble.)

Some of the twists were easy to work out. It is apparent that Rebus is acting when he throws the mug of tea before his ulterior motive is revealed. But Rankin to get the balance right, offering just the right amount of hints to the reader while not revealing everything. I was actually worried for Rebus’ life when at the end, he is kidnapped by the rogue cops. Of course, I knew he must survive because this is the middle of the series but quite how that would happen, I didn’t know. The best twist I feel was the way that the drugs were able to be stolen. I won’t reveal it because its just too good a moment when you read it for yourself.  Sometimes it’s good to be fooled when it’s by someone who so clearly knows how to do it.

 

Contains Spoilers – Full House Reading Challenge – Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Genre: Young adult, dystopia

Narrative Style: First person from two points of view

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2013

Format: paperback

Synopsis: The faction system is broken. Tris is surrounded by violence and nothing seems to be any better than before. Tobias is caught between his warring parents. Perhaps they can find a better life outside of the city? 

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre: Favourite series. 

First of all, I should point out that I don’t really have a favourite series but this is a series that I needed to finish. I thought the previous books were ok -certainly enough to decide that I needed to know how it ended.

I really wish I hadn’t bothered.

I’ve had some problems with accepting the idea of the factions in the previous books. It just doesn’t hold water for me. Discovering that it was all a giant experiment to try and return the  world to genetic purity didn’t help me suspend my disbelief any. In fact, it made it all seem a bit more false.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that Roth was trying to make a point about the use of genetics as an excuse to treat some people as second class citizens. Definitely a point worth making. However, Roth spoils any political point she may have been trying to make by the way that Tobias and co. win their freedom.

Instead of a realistic battle with the government, Roth settles instead for allowing all the government’s memories to be reset by a serum so they could be given a new history and would no longer be obsessed with genetic purity. This seems to me to be a slightly more grown up version of ‘and then I woke up’. Had she run out of ideas? It certainly seemed a lazy way out of the problems the city was in.

This wasn’t the worse thing though. No, that was the death of Tris who happily sacrifices herself for the rest of the group even though there is no reason for her to. This annoyed me so much, I nearly didn’t finish the book. (Especially the whole scene with her hallucination of her mother which was needlessly sentimental.) Why bring a character so far through a story, make her battle so much, to not have her survive and enjoy the victory?

Finally, the epilogue made everything just too perfect. It was too easy. Real political battles are much more hard won. I admit, I don’t like uncomplicated happy endings and so I was never going to be pleased with this. However, I know I would have been happier if Tris had been in the final picture.

 

Full House Reading Challenge – Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Genre: Thriller, Detective fiction, Japanese literature

Style: Third person from the point of view of lead detective, Yoshinobu Mikami

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2012

Format: paperback

Synopsis: Yoshinobu Mikami has just been transferred to the media relations department, not a role he relishes. At the same time, his teenage daughter has run away from home. When he has to organise a visit by the commissioner to the father of a kidnapping victim, on the anniversary of the case, he begins to discover problems in the original case as well as intrigue and scheming within the Criminal Investigations and Administrative affairs departments as they seek to gain power over each other. 

It is always interesting to read literature from another culture and I have to admit, I haven’t read much Japanese literature before. I don’t really know much about the culture apart from some stereotypical aspects. This book, not only is an interesting thriller but gives an insight into Japanese culture and the way that their police system works.

At the beginning of the novel, it was easy to sympathise with Mikami. His own daughter has just disappeared, he has been moved to a department he didn’t like and he missed being a detective. When he is tasked with arranging the visit to Amamiya, the father of the kidnapping victim all those years ago, we can see the toll it takes on him and his despair when the visit is refused.

Throughout the novel, my empathy level and even how much I liked Mikami changed quite considerably. It was often clear to see why he behaved the way he did, even when you could see the mistakes he was making. Mikami is not perfect and doesn’t always make the right decisions but I never stopped wanting him to win, if that is the right way to phrase it. I wanted him to succeed in his role, to win over the reporters, to help solve the crime.

Sometimes it was hard to grasp the bureaucratic details. Without a detailed knowledge of the different areas of the police force, it was difficult to understand exactly what the issues were between Criminal Investigations and Administrative affairs. Why was it so important that one of the divisions might lose their director? Why was media relations so looked down on? But ultimately, these questions were overridden by the tension in the book and, towards the end, the pace of the action.

I didn’t spot the twist at the end. It was incredibly clever and while I had some inklings of what it might be, I would never have completely worked it out. I found it difficult at the beginning to remember who was who as their were a lot of similar sounding names. I had no idea that this would become a crucial detail of the plot

Full House Reading Challenge – Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

Genre:  Fantasy, Dystopia

Narrative Style: first person

Rating: 3/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 1963

Synopsis: Dr. Hoenikker has created a deadly weapon which, if deployed, will freeze all of earth’s water. John, the narrator is writing a book about the day of the bombing of Hiroshima which brings him into contact with Hoenikker’s children and then his supervisor, where he learns of Ice-Nine, the deadly substance that  Hoenikker has invented. Later, he ends up on the same Caribbean island as the Hoenikker children. the island is ruled by dictator Papa Monzano and is in thrall to banned religion Bokononism. Will John discover the Ice-nine in time to stop the end of the world? 

Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – genre fantasy

That was one of the hardest synopses to write. It is extremely difficult to explain exactly what this novel is about. Of course, Vonnegut’s novels are always a little crazy but even by that standard, this was off the wall.

It is probably easier to say what it satirises. First of all, there is Bokononism which is based on foma which are harmless untruths. Vonnegut has any number of stabs at the concept of religion. Bokononism is absurd and ridiculous but no more than most real religions seem when viewed from the outside. For me, this was the most successful part of the book which made me laugh a number of times.

Ice-nine is a frighteningly simple concept, even more dangerous than the nuclear weapons actually being developed at the time of writing. The book is filled with the fear of the end of the world. I think I’d have enjoyed this book more if it had been more about ice-nine and less about the flight to San Lorenzo and the many eccentrics that John meets on the way there. The beginning, where he discovers its existence and at the end, when it has been deployed are successfully sinister but the middle of the book didn’t really go anywhere or further the story very much.

All in all, I didn’t like this book as much as other Vonnegut I have read but there were still some excellent moments of satire and humour that could only have come from him. A mixed read but I would certainly read more of his novels.