Friday, 30 May 2014

Chapter Twelve - A Book You Don't Like as Much Anymore

Journey to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson

When I was younger I thought this book was quite enchanting.

Maia is a girl sent to live with distant relatives in the Amazon. They are extremely intolerant to the local native ways and are keep Maia for the allowance she provides them – so they may spoil their repulsive twin daughters. In the Amazon, Maia meets two boys who are both remarkably different and helps them to realise what it is they want. The book tells of their trials on the Amazon, and their interaction with the wildlife and old, mysterious traditions. The message: a place is what you make of it.

Although the book still holds its charms I was a little disappointed on a recent re-read. In my mind, the Amazon was written in a wonderful, almost magical way, with many bright colours – I was transported to a different world. It’s a story about children who are thrown into a difficult situation, and their lives there. Maybe my adult reading of it separated me to what it showed me as a child.

Maybe I will keep it on my shelf. I still think of it as enchanting: my image of it remains magical, and it transports me worlds away.

“Those who think of the Amazon as a Green Hell bring only their fear and prejudices to this amazing land, for whether a place is a hell or heaven rests in yourself and those who go with courage and an open mind may find themselves in Paradise.”

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Chapter Eleven - A Book You Hate

Immortal War by Justin Somper


Hate is a strong word. I feel as if the only books I’ve ever really ‘hated’ are Orbital Kin and half of my university reading list. No matter how many times people tell me that Ulysses, Clarissa and The Satanic Verses are fantastic works of literature I’m still going to hate them for their absurd boringness and confusing ‘groundbreaking’ writing. Really, I hate the fact that they highlight my complete lack of intelligence to comprehend and appreciate them completely.

 So for this chapter, I will go for something entirely comprehensible: middle grade fiction!

(Originally posted on

I can remember being absolutely enthralled by these books in the beginning. The set up seemed quite delicious.

I am trying to read 'as a writer' and this series and especially the book itself has definitely taught me how not to write.

I have to agree with some of the other reviews on here - the characters were quite flat and also not much of role models.

Immortal War was full of deus ex machinas...and stupid clich├ęs and phrases. The Four Cardinals suddenly announcing a ‘thank goodness now we don’t have to sacrifice ourselves’ prophecy? Connor can conveniently split into two and thus avoid his death?

But the thing that was most glaring to me was the fact that the book didn't have a secure setting. Or context. It's meant to be about the year 2500 yet we aren't given any obvious clues to how the world developed - except that there was a huge flood that must have written out technology and all ideas of nautical knowledge. Mosh Zu spoke about his prophecy 500 years before the books are set, meaning that it was our present time in which it happened - yet there is nothing recognisable from this. Somper: read Mortal Engines. Reeve quite convincingly builds a world we know is absolutely ravaged by warfare and makes it obvious yet subtle of its context and awareness.

Also: do your research. It's all very well to have hundreds of ships sailing the oceans but apart from the fact they have sails they are very hard to imagine. Are they ships similar to those in the time of Nelson? Get some nautical terminology in there, some decent research. It seems crazy that these pirates are concerned with sword play when things like cannon and guns decided the Battle of Trafalgar. Refer to CS Forester or Naomi Novik, who successfully builds a fantasy world on top of one we recognise.

In all fairness, this book is aimed for middle school readers and so I suppose it satisfies their needs. But it could be much more exciting. I can think of dozens of books written for this age that are infinitely better. Mortal Engines is one.

I did used to like this series. But then it stretched on and on and began to feel strained.

Maybe it would have been more exciting if it was written for young adults.

Also, the Captain was a fantastic character, but as soon as he was revealed as Darke, I was disappointed. Boo!

And where's the sea shanty?

Immortal War feels considerably different from the others.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Shakespeare & Sons, Prague, Czech Republic

All the way back in 2012 the boyfriend and I went for a romantic few days to Prague. 

 It was a truly enchanting city, with a fantastic castle and lots of brilliant history. Did you know that a scene from one of my favourite films, The Fall, was filmed on Charles Bridge?

We came across largely accidentally as we walked through the quaint streets of the city and it was truly a gem. I was afraid of over packing for the plane home so did not buy any books, but this is a gorgeous little retreat for any reader with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore to your heart’s content. I love the way it is presented in the brick arches and with friendly signs.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Chapter Ten - Favourite Classic

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

I first encountered this wonderful novel in an obscure module studied in my first year of my undergraduate degree called ‘writing and the self’. Much like reading Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd in GCSE, I felt like I was the only one in my class that actually read The Mill on the Floss and enjoyed it. Part of our assignment was to write a reading journal, a task I enjoyed immensely, even if I was crazy enough to write it all by hand. Luckily, one of my final entries in my diary was a General Review, which I will copy out here.
Here be spoilers.

I loved The Mill on the Floss. It’s beautifully written, the imagery conjuring works of Eliot’s contemporaries such as John Constable. This beauty is apparent throughout the entire book, enabling the reader to see everything accurately and with great appreciation.

The main character, Maggie, is strong-willed, and not wholly good, nor wholly evil, making her easily relatable. I love her qualities and cleverness as a child. Her relationship with brother Tom is sweet – sometimes too sweet – but still lovely. The presentation of her aunts is more often than not satirical and comical. Eliot captures the world through a child’s yes perfectly – always referring to the senses and forever being subtle. Maggie’s childhood is my favourite part of the book – as Maggie grows older, the book becomes more serious, more melancholy.

Characterisation, then, is one of Eliot’s strong points. Lucy is constantly compared to Maggie as a prim and pristine girl who doesn’t have a bad bone in her body. We get the sense that Eliot is subtly criticising rigid ways of life through such techniques. Her attitudes are displayed very well – from the way she titles each chapter to how she describes everything.

Eliot’s subtleties within the novel make it complete. The foreshadowing of the flood is used constantly through metaphors of water, preparing the reader for the novel’s devastating close. Eliot manages to keep a sense of the whole while picking out minor details for the reader’s perusal.
As Maggie grows up, the novel takes a much more mature tone and references to contemporary literature works as well as scientific ones are made. Eliot is a master of free-indirect speech, enabling the reader to get right into the character’s head.

There’s not much I did not like in The Mill on the Floss. Sometimes the dialogue between the characters was slightly overwhelming and, as to be expected of a novel of that time, long historical passages were quite boring. Eliot avoids mentioning a particular setting of the novel which can be quite distracting to the imagination, and although we are given subtle clues, it is hard to imagine what context the characters are in.

I did not expect Maggie and a relatively new character Stephen Guest, to elope. It makes you think how 19th century audiences would have reacted! It certainly disrupted the almost ‘pretty’ tone of the novel, making it more realistic, acting as a catalyst for the denouement.

The conclusion echoes the beginning of the book because it’s so beautiful, but contrasts to it because it is so sad. I was genuinely upset at the deaths of Tom and Maggie, and I felt the time we had with them at the end was rushed – maybe this is representative of the river washing all they know away. The conclusion wraps up everything, though, and it’s stunning.

The Mill on the Floss is a perfect display of realism and beautiful, articulate writing from a highly skilled author.