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.

 

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.

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 – Turtles all the Way Down – John Green

Genre: Bildungsroman, young adult

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 2017

Synopsis: Aza is trying to be a normal teenager but often she is caught up in the spiral of her anxiety and as result spends a lot of her time stuck inside her own head. Things change dramatically for her when she hears that an old friend’s father has gone missing in the face of being arrested for fraud. Not only is there the memory of Davis Pickett but there is the possibility of a $100000 reward for encouragement. 

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Coming of Age

This was very enjoyable, easy to read, compelling and I read it really quickly. I can see why Green’s books are so popular. As you can see I am heading for a couple of ‘howevers’. Well, here they are.

First of all, I always find that when you read Green’s fiction, you are always aware that you are reading fiction. Here is Aza, she is a ‘character’, here is Davis, he is also a ‘character’. Here is some faintly ridiculous ‘plot’ to throw them together. Let’s have lots of really deep conversations about the meaning of reality. There is so much meaning spilling about, it’s a wonder the characters don’t all drown.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Green captured Aza’s anxiety well but there is never any doubt that this is not a realistic story. There is an almost fairytale element although it seems to be Aza who is rescuing Davis from his fatherless, motherless castle. There are gifts of $100000 flying around as if that happens in real life. This becomes even more apparent towards the end when Aza miraculously and suddenly shakes off her terrible anxiety and seems a whole lot better for no apparent reason. That is the other ‘however’. The ending felt rushed. Suddenly they realise where Davis’s father is. Suddenly the story is over.

For all that, I still gave it four stars. It was interesting philosophically. The fight between Aza and her anxiety was well written and rang true. If I was a teenager, I would probably have loved this book. I’m sure that part of my irritation with it was just from age. it does make me wonder if I should give up reading books designed for teenagers. It was pleasing that it wasn’t a straightforward romance. Green must have felt the temptation to give Davis a happy ending but I’m glad that he didn’t.

Overall, then, a worthwhile read. It’s good to see a book about anxiety directed at teens and I’m sure many will recognise their own feelings in Aza’s. Just don’t expect this to be anything like real life.

Full House Reading Challenge: 1977: Red Riding 2 – David Peace

Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller

Narrative Style: Two alternate first person voices

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2000

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Bob Fraser is investigating the ripper murders but he has a more personal stake than simply wanting to catch the murderer. Jack Whitehead, reporter, is  jaded and desperate but he too wants to get to the bottom of the ripper murders. This is a dark and violent tale of corrupt police, brutal murders and desperate men.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – number in title.

I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would and I’m not really sure why. I liked the first one and there wasn’t much difference in style but something didn’t work for me this time.

It does capture the era well. The police corruption, the racism and sexism all are written in vivid detail. I did find this difficult to take. I realise the reason for it – and it isn’t like this is the first book in this sort of style I’ve read – but it was pretty difficult to stomach.

I didn’t really take to Fraser or Whitehead either. Both men have dark secrets and to say they are flawed would be to put it mildly. They have no redeeming features and it was difficult to sympathise with either of them.

The plot should be driven by the hunt for the ripper and I suppose it is but there is a lot of other stuff getting in the way. Fraser’s relationship with a prostitute which eventually implodes, for example or Whitehead’s haunting memories of a former relationship which are incredibly disturbing. And. of course, there is no closure. Far too early in the ripper story for that.

While I knew this would be a dark book but I had no idea how difficult it would be to read about how the women in this book are treated. Not just the murders but Whitehead with his constant erections and Fraser with his jealousy and mistreatment of his prostitute lover. It was unremittingly bleak and while that may be true to the time, it didn’t make for a great read.

 

Full House Reading Challenge 2018 Sign up.

So I have decided that I will do the Full House Reading Challenge. Despite not finishing it last year, it did give me some focus and also it forced me to read some things from my bookshelf that I had been meaning to read. Hopefully I’ll get all books read this year.

I have some ideas for some of the categories but recommendations gratefully received for the rest of them.

  1. Mystery / Thriller – Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama
  2. Historical – The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
  3. Over 500 pages – Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  4. Four Word Title – The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
  5. Most recent addition to TBR – The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver 
  6. A Classic – Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
  7. Fantasy – Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. Adapted to a movie – The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller
  9. Number in the title – Red Riding 1977 by David Pearce 
  10. Under 250 pages – The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  11. New to you author from another country – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  12. Dual Time Line – White Rose, Black Forest – Eoin Dempsey
  13. Memoir / Autobiography = Americana by Ray Davies
  14. Reread – 1984 by George Orwell
  15. Humour – It’s not me, it’s you – Jon Richardson
  16. Favourite Series – Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  17. Has plot twist – Resurrection Men – Ian Rankin
  18. Coming of Age – Turtles all the way Down – John Green
  19. Set in Library / Bookshop – 84 Charing Cross Road
  20. Holiday season – So This is Christmas – Josh Lanyon
  21. Book to improve life
  22. Redemption theme – Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
  23. From TBR Randomly chosen – Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon – Currently reading
  24. Children’s Book – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  25. N.F. Hobby book