Book Reviews · books · Literature

An Unbearable Journey! ..The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Book Review

Spoilers ahead, featuring a few unavoidable grievances about the film adaptations.

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I first attempted reading The Hobbit around 7 or 8 years ago but never really got into it. I then gave it a second go shortly before the release of the first Hobbit film (I still don’t understand why a 364 page book was split into 3 films) and again I wasn’t able to get through more than a chapter or two. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, I decided to pick up The Hobbit again and this time, give it a real go, and I have to say this book isn’t at all what I expected.

Synopsis: The Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien’s introduction to the spectacular world of Middle-earth. It follows the adventures of a reluctant hero – Bilbo Baggins, who accompanies the wizard Gandalf and 13 Dwarfs on a quest to regain their lost Dwarven kingdom from evil dragon Smaug

It’s been long while since i’ve read any high fantasy novels and this one definitely took some getting used to. Despite being familiar with the world (mostly through The Lord of the Rings movies) I really didn’t know what to expect and by that I mean Tolkien’s writing. For starters, i’d forgotten that this was a children’s book. The opening chapters make this quite plain in both the tone and writing style which was both simple and easy to read. Moreover the style of the book also lends itself better to be read aloud – because there are so many names, locations and creatures to remember, I found myself often re-reading sentences or going back to check if I had missed something. Not to mention the songs throughout, which again I think would be more appreciated by a younger audience.

Another major thing which caught me of guard was the journey itself, which takes up pretty much the entire book. I’d based my expectations for this part of the story on the films, which was my mistake because it really made me wonder why this book was titled The Hobbit: There and Back and Again when really it should have been called The Hobbit: An Unpleasant Journey or The Hobbit: An Unbearable Journey or The Hobbit: A Journey I Could Have Avoided If I Had Just Listened To My Own Advice And Stayed At Home.. as we’re so often reminded by the protagonist. It’s literally the worst journey I’ve ever read about – setback after setback with only very few triumphs. I suppose it does show the amount of tenacity the characters have, but for a children’s novel the story itself is rather bleak.

Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?

I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly fond of the main characters. Bilbo I liked because we spent the majority of the novel through his point of view, I found even Gandalf to be annoying at times. What’s more I didn’t think I would come across a character that could surpass the broody, A Song of Ice and Fire’s (Game of Thrones) Jon Snow but the character of Thorin Oakensheild – King and leader of the dwarfs, I think definitely takes the cake. On a more positive note, the world building is truly fascinating and the different beings and creatures we’re introduced to throughout the novel make you want to learn more about their history and how they came to be – it’s things like this that really bring to the forefront Tolkien’s extraordinary ideas and the depths to his imagination.

Lastly, (and this is me just being nit-picky) I was really looking forward to reading about Legolas who appears in the adaptations, unfortunately, there is no Legolas… none at all. If by chance you haven’t read The Hobbit or seen any of the Hobbit films, I would advise you to read the books first before seeing any of the films.

Overall, though I liked learning more about Middle-earth, The Hobbit was not quite the enjoyable read I was expecting it to be.

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3/5
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Book Reviews · books

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol 🗝 : Book Review

Spoiler free!

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Prior to The Lost Symbol, the only book I’d read by Dan Brown was The Da Vinci Code. I was aware of the controversy surrounding the plot and I even had people suggest that I not read it I went to a Catholic school so I could understand why those trying to deter me did so. But curiosity got the better of me and I like a good story, so the inevitable happened. I ended up really enjoying The Da Vinci Code, I don’t think I’d ever read a book that merged so much fact and fiction, based it in reality and made me think beyond my imagination. The Lost Symbol offered something similar so naturally I was very interested.

Before I get into my review let me give a brief summary: The story follows Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building by his mentor Peter Solomon – a prominent Mason and philanthropist. Within minutes of his arrival, the night takes a bizarre turn – his mentor has been brutally kidnapped and Langdon is forced into a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, freemasonry and unseen truths… all under the watchful eye of Brown’s most terrifying villain to date.

 Now… Where. To. Begin… Firstly, this book is not for the faint-hearted, it’s one that requires a more than average amount of time and attention. There is a lot of information thrown at you, some which is useful in furthering the plot, some that you may be familiar with if you took a history or a religious studies class and some that requires you to have Google search open by your side. With that being said, one of my favourite things about this novel is the way Brown combines historical facts with fiction. Because he includes real organisations, artwork, monuments and most importantly real places he writes in a way where there is just the right amount of plausibility that the reader begins to question where the fact begins and the fiction ends.  

“Language can be very adept at hiding the truth”.

Despite the unusual circumstances, the characters are both well written and realistic. The mystery itself was solid and I remained engaged for most of the book. Again, Brown is incredibly good at using historical facts to move the plot forward, however, he tends to incorporate them to serve as cliff-hangers (and there are many) – which despite their momentary intrigue do not always payoff as the game changers we are led to believe that they are.

One of my biggest criticisms is the length of the book – it easily could have been around 150 pages shorter. For me, its lengthy feel is due to Brown’s inclusion of so many POV characters. For example: Brown will write one POV chapter about a character finding out about a plot point and then write another chapter about another character also finding out about the same plot point but under slightly different circumstances – he does this multiple times throughout, and at times with several characters which makes the story feel repetitive.

I have long since stood by the saying – “A story is only as good as its villain” – In this case the antagonist has a lot more of a presence than I’m used to, which for me made the character, though impressive in his execution, even more unlikable. Is he intriguing? Yes. But is he compelling throughout? No. – This was pretty much how I felt about the book overall.

Don’t get me wrong, The Lost Symbol is fascinating and interesting and thought-provoking and i’ve definitely learned things from this book, that I otherwise would have never looked up on my own (not to mention the plot twist which I did not see coming) but this unfortunately doesn’t supersede some of the issues I had with the book.

If you’re interested in semiotics, noetic science, linguistics or US history, then The Lost Symbol will definitely be a treat. If not, make sure you have Google or whichever search engine you prefer to use by your side!

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3.4 / 5
Book Reviews · books

It’s Sherlock Time! A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle: Book Review

Mild spoilers ahead…

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I usually have trouble separating characters from their on screen counterparts, especially if i’ve enjoyed watching them. In this case however, I was surprised to find that my imagination for the most part remained intact and was not clouded by the faces and performances of the most recent iteration, à la the BBC series. With that being said, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into – I thought, I knew the story and well… I was wrong! Going forward I need to remember that the word adaptation can be presented in the loosest of ways. I implore you do the same.

A Study In Scarlet (1887) is Arthur Conan Doyle’s first book in the Sherlock Holmes series. It introduces readers to the pairing of our narrator Dr John Watson and the enigmatic Sherlock Holmes who shortly after becoming acquainted, are summoned to a South London House by the news that a man has been found dead. This grim discovery is complicated further by the complete absence of wounds on the body or signs of a struggle and the word “RACHE” – German for ‘revenge’ – being written in blood on the wall. The only piece of evidence to accompany the scene is a woman’s wedding ring. 

The book, not including the intro, is only 141 pages long and within them Doyle manages to produce a multi-layered story with an intriguing set of characters. As well as his coherent and well structured writing style, the intricacies of his characterisation of Sherlock and hence his deductions make you wonder whether Doyle himself were a detective at some point during his life. Sherlock is impressive as is Watson’s ability to be endearing; moreover, while the narrative is written to adhere to our two protagonists adhere, Doyle is also able to –  however small of a role – provide the reader with just the right amount of characterization to have you both care and understand their motivations. 

“One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature.”

During the second part of the book there is a huge jump in narrative voice and setting which completely caught me off guard. It’s jarring because it has almost nothing to do with either Sherlock or John, the story instead shifts from a Who narrative into a Why narrative, and though it eventually ends up tying up with the overall plot, it feels like you’re reading an entirely different novel.

Overall, I found myself rather enjoying how Doyle decided to write this book. Despite being presented as a detective story, it is in fact, one of revenge and in writing these two contrasting but connecting parts, Doyle rather inadvertently asks for you to choose which account you prefer and whether the crime can be now viewed as justifiable. To make the decision somewhat challenging he writes them in a way to leave the reader to decide whether certain characters should be viewed as perpetrators or victims. As for me, I like both parts equally the same, was the crime justified? Perhaps. The outcome implies a more objective resolution but really it’s up to you to decide. 

If you want to get into detective fiction, I highly recommend you give A Study in Scarlet a read!

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4 / 5
Book Reviews · books · Uncategorized

Happy Christmas?! – Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon: Book Review

Mystery in White - J. Jerfferson Farjeon

I’ve had Mystery In White on my shelf for almost two years now. I bought and began reading it a few days before Christmas back in 2015 and just didn’t get round to finishing it, so after having a browse of some of the books I hadn’t yet read, I thought i’d give this story another go.

Mystery in White was first published in 1937 during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and to my surprise, despite having written over 80 books, author J. Jefferson Farjeon is today, pretty much unknown. Nonetheless, the synopsis caught my attention and similar to other stories of this genre, I became interested in finding out ‘Whodunit’.  

The plot is  fairly straightforward: we’re introduced to a group of several passengers travelling by train during a heavy snow storm, their journey, as a result of the heavy snow comes to a halt and they eventually find themselves seeking refuge in a deserted country house – the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea but nobody is home. Things take an even stranger turn when secrets, lies and murder get thrown into the mix.

This novel covers most of the conventional styles and clichés of the genre, however Farjeon writes in a way that makes you question the motivations of each and every character, even the ‘detective’ of the story elicits an air of ambivalence which is clever because it made me focus more on the characters movements than I did on noticing clues. Some of the crime-solving involves a Sherlockian style debrief, which I, in regards to preference and enjoyment, remain unsure of; particularly as it, in some ways takes away from the reader feeling like they’ve come close to solving the crime.

Farjeon’s writing style was a bit jarring for me at times – it reminded me of James Joyce’s writing (shudders) – whereby you really have to pay attention to the text, particularly the dialogue, he has a tendency to switch from character to character without using pronouns to differentiate between each character; he relies on his characters being distinct enough for the reader to know when a character is speaking or not. And though this isn’t an uncommon way to write dialogue, for a novel which already asks for you to think about the ‘whodunit‘, where and what each of the seven plus characters are doing and how their stories all interconnect, trying to figure who is saying what and when, does become somewhat of a pain. There are also a number of filler chapters throughout this book, which again, adds more to your impression of the characters but does little in furthering the plot in an intriguing way. Whether the payoff is satisfying is debatable – for me, the build up, the suspense and the unexpected revelations make up for what the story lacks.

Overall, is Mystery in White memorable? No. Would I buy another of Farjeon’s detective novels? Yes!

If you’ve read the book, let me know what you thought about the ending in particular!

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3.7 / 5
Book Reviews · Lifestyle

Introvert and Proud? Quiet Power by Susan Cain – Book Review

Quiet Power - Susan Cain

I don’t really like the word introvert, I often hear it said in relation to the words shy, reserved or timid – words which have plagued my existence since I was a pre-teen. Over time I’ve learned to disguise this part of myself when necessary, so depending on where you meet me I might seem like an extrovert. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like doing things that lean more on that side, it’s just that more often than not, my extroversion has its limits. For example, I can attend parties where I don’t know anyone except the host, but you won’t ever catch me being the ‘life and soul’ of the party. It’s pretty weird to explain (it always has been) which is why when I saw Quiet Power on a list of ‘books you must-read’, I decided to buy it.

Just to give a brief synopsis: This book is about introverts, how they see the world and why being labelled as quiet may not be the most accurate of terms when describing said individuals.

When I began reading this book, I thought I’d be reading the biography of the author (Caine) who herself is an introvert, however after a brief introduction about her beginnings and where she finds herself in the present day, the book along with a few more antidotes about her life includes a combination of many stories and experiences about other introverts and how they manoeuvre their introversion in their day to day lives. While these stories were both interesting and necessary (to an extent), the book, as a result of this felt less personal – I was unable to entirely connect to the narrative because it switched from story to story so frequently. Though I understand the purpose is to make the reader (who is likely to be an introvert) feel like they’re not alone. I would have much preferred the author to elaborate more on her own personal experiences and how she went from a textbook introvert to being able to give speeches and give TED Talks in front of thousands of people, which is as an introvert myself both remarkable and inspiring.

What this book is good at doing is encouraging the reader to embrace being an introvert, it also helps parents and particularly teachers put themselves in the shoes of introverts. It’s no secret that the classroom environment favours the extrovert, i.e. being called upon to answer questions, group work, presentations, reading in class etc. all of which can be terrifying for an introvert. Caine offers great suggestions throughout which adhere to both introverts and extroverts and how the two complement each other, especially in regards to team work. Moreover, as a person who enjoys facts, Caine also includes a number of studies which help put words to the feelings and the actions of the introverted mind.

I enjoyed reading Quiet Power, it was well written and well researched but I would have benefited a lot more from this book if I had read it as a teenager or when I first began university. Nonetheless, whether you’re a parent, sibling, teacher, friend or like me, has accepted and embraced most of their introvert-ness, Quiet Power offers a variety of perspectives, approaches and ideas that anyone who picks up this book will be able to relate to.

3.8 /5
Book Reviews · books · Literature · Uncategorized

Review: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – ‘All is not as it seems’

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Fun-Fact: Did you know the word Scientist didn’t exist when Frankenstein was first published in 1818. Before the word was coined in 1833 by William Whewell, Scientists would have been referred to as Natural Philosophers, who were studiers of nature and the physical universe.

Gothic literature isn’t my go-to genre but it caught my attention when I had to read a book called, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764) for a module I was taking at university. The book also happens to be the first gothic novel and became a source of inspiration for future gothic writers. When I think about it, I don’t actually like Gothic or horror movies at all, i’ve dabbled a bit but after watching Nosferatu (1922) as a kid when I was supposed to be asleep, I pretty much stayed away from the genre up until a couple of years ago where again I had to watch a number of gothic films for a module.

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When you hear the word Frankenstein, I’m sure some version of the image to the right comes to mind, comes to mind – along with the indistinct groans, the out-stretched arms and every Halloween costume sold during the month of October. However, all was not as it seemed… When I began reading the book, two things became very clear:

1 – Frankenstein is not the name of the monster; but the name of his creator.

2 – The monster is not a mindless creature in a blazer but is in fact, an intellectual, compassionate, conscious being who speaks as if he’s a character taken straight from one of Shakespeare’s plays. He craves human interaction, to the point where he is so lonely that he begs his creator to create another being like himself, after he is rejected by human beings. Who would have thought it?

Victor Frankenstein spends the majority of the story becoming increasingly deranged after he creates the monster’ and the rest trying to avoid then search and destroy his creature. The two main narratives make for sympathetic characters which enables the reader to gain enough of an understanding as to why both characters make the decisions they do. Ultimately the story becomes one of revenge, remorse and regret. It’s interesting, had the story been written solely from the perspective of Victor, I probably would have shared his opinions about the monster but as the story progressed and I learned the drastic reasons behind his motivations, the scary ‘Frankenstein’ monster many of us imagine upon hearing the name, began to steadily disappear.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading Frankenstein, it wasn’t the story I expected when I started reading and I definitely didn’t expect to feel sympathy for the monster. Moreover, the questions it raises about creation, evolution and humanity become very intriguing, particularly when you consider the time the novel was published in.

Would I recommend reading this novel? Absolutely! The story was compelling, it’s an easy-read and I feel, a good introduction to the monster side of the gothic genre. And for you English-lit buffs out there, I think one of the better (Western) literary canons.

4.1 / 5