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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-02-14 08:54
Birth of the Boy Book
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson,Patrick Scott

Despite this book being the progenitor of pretty much all of the pirate books of the 20th Century, as well as being an influence of many of the adventure and 'boys' books that came afterwards, I found this book rather dull. Maybe it has a lot to do with my lack of enthusiasm for 19th Century English novels (which does not include [author:Jules Verne], since he is French). In fact, I can't really think of any 19th Century English novels that I would actually jump up and say 'this is brilliant'. Personally, I really don't know what it is that makes me find much of the literature of the 19th Century boring, but generally I do (though I probably should make a note of the fact that Stevenson is actually a Scot).

 

Anyway, this is a story of a boy, Jim Hawkins, who stumbles across a treasure map and then goes and shows it to a mutual acquaintance, Dr Liversey. Together they hire a crew and go and look for the treasure on Treasure Island. However, while they are hiring a crew, they bring on board a cook, Long John Silver, who then goes and hires the rest of the crew. As it turns out, Long John was the cook on the ship of Captain Flint, the pirate who buried the treasure originally, and the crew he hires were all pirates on that same vessel. So, when they arrive at Treasure Island, Long John and his men take over the ship, and those still loyal to Hawkins and Liversey, manage to escape. However, to cut a long story short (not that Treasure Island is really all that long), they outsmart the pirates, get the treasure, and all return to England happy men.

 

Now, this was Stevenson's first novel, he wrote travel narratives before that, but this book was his first foray into the realm of the imagination. Further, his adventure into this realm pretty much changed the scene of the novel ever since, and many of the 'boys books' of the 20th Century can all look back to Stevenson for inspiration. It is not that Stevenson wrote the first adventure novel. Such stories have been floating around for eons. What Stevenson did is that he constructed it so that that appealed to the modern reader. Not only is it supposed to be exciting (I didn't find it all that exciting) but it was also short and easy to read. It is aimed at a young audience, though many adults have read and come to appreciate it (me not being among them).

 

Now, the best character in the book by far is Long John Silver. I always expected him to be a pirate captain, but he is much more sneakier than that. The fact that he escapes at the end of the book goes a long way to show this character's shrewdness. However, he also has a sense of morality (one which almost gets him killed). When he had captured Hawkins, the other pirates wanted to kill him, but Silver intervenes (and in the process almost gets himself killed). Silver, while being the man with the plan, demonstrates that it is not easy to take charge of a gang of pirates. He planned on taking over the ship, but the pirates ended up jumping the gun, as they do most of the way through the book, which in the end sows the seeds of their failure.

 

However, the character that I found the most out of place would have been Jim Hawkins. He is a seven year old boy who is looking after his sick mother after his father dies, and he simply runs off on an adventure to find a lost treasure. Granted, one could argue that he went off after the treasure to support his mother, but considering the time it takes to travel, and the fact that the adventure would take at least a year, if he is lucky, then it really makes no sense. However, this is a 'boys' book which means that the character is one way to appeal to boys.

 

The other interesting thing is to notice all of the pirate jargon and paraphernalia in this book. Phrases such as 'pieces of eight' and 'shiver me timbers' as well as the Jolly Roger, all find their birthplace in this book. While I may consider the book, and the story, somewhat dull, one cannot help but admire the influence that Stevenson's writing has had upon the literary world.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/220453075
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review 2017-02-01 14:42
Centuries of Change
Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw The Most Change? - Ian Mortimer

Throughout the later part of 1999, many programs were dedicated to showing the impressive change in the 20th Century over any other time in the previous 1000 years.  Author Ian Mortimer thought this was presumptuous and decided to research to find which century of Western civilization in the previous millennium saw the most change.  In Centuries of Change Mortimer presents the fruits of over decade worth of research to general audience.

 

From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods.  Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began.  Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization.  At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.

 

The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book.  The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion.  Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions.  When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.

 

Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one.  While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.

 

While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time.  Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.

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review 2017-01-21 04:07
Playing Chess
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There - Lewis Carroll,Peter Glassman,John Tenniel

Hot on the tails of the rabid success of Alice in Wonderland comes the similar, but somewhat different, sequel. The absurdity of this volume is of the same scope as the original, but in many cases, being a sequel, it seems to lack some of the uniqueness of the original. One thing I noticed with regards to the original is that there simply did not seem to be any plot. Thus, the absurdity of the entire volume was complete. There was no reason for Alice to be there, and no goal that she had to reach, and the end simply comes all of a sudden.

 

However, come the sequel, we have a plot and a quest. Initially Alice simply wants to see what is on the other side of the looking glass, and sure enough, she enters a world that is similar, but different, to our own. In a way it is a world of opposites, so when she is thirsty she is given a biscuit (when what she really should have asked for is a biscuit, because more likely than not, she would have been given a drink).

 

The story is based around a game of chess, and there are numerous metaphors in relation to the chess board. For instance the journey across the third square (Alice is a pawn so she starts on the second square) is by train which represents the pawns ability to jump the third square. The queen moves at a rapid pace, which is representative of the queens ability to move as far as she likes, and the knight stumbles, representative if the rather odd way that the knight moves.

 

As for the quest, well, as soon as Alice meets the queen she decides that she wants to be a queen, so the queen tells Alice that she must move to the other side of the chess board, and in doing so, she will become a queen (which is a rule in the game of chess). Some have said that the story itself was written by Carol when he was teaching Alice Liddle how to play chess, though I must say that I did not learn all that much about the game of chess in this book.

 

It is interesting how some of the characters from this story make their way into the other story in the more main stream productions (though I am not talking about the Tim Burton movie here). For instance Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum seem to appear in the Alice in Wonderland story in the films when in fact they appear in this book. It is also noticeable (and something that I did not realise until I read this) was that the poem Jabberwock appears in this book. I always believed that Jabberwock was a poem that Carol had written separately from this book. By the way, this is what a Jabberwocky looks like:

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d0/Jabberwocky.jpg/220px-Jabberwocky.jpg

 

 

 

I quite like the pictures that Carol put in the book, and some of them seem to be quite absurd in themselves. For instance there is a scene on the train when the ticket inspector comes along and asks Alice for her ticket (and I have found myself on the wrong side of a ticket inspector, as we probably all have, though I will also have an aversion towards the ones on the trains in Italy). However, it was quite bizarre how he seemed to always look at her through a pair binoculars, like this:

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Through_the_Looking_Glass_Gentleman_dressed_in_paper.png

 

 

The ending was pretty cool as well, because the story ends with her shaking the red queen and suddenly waking up from her dream world and realising that she was doing this:

 

 

 

Oh, and look at who also makes an appearance in the story:

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d5/Peter_Newell_-_Through_the_looking_glass_and_what_Alice_found_there_1902_-_page_110.jpg

 

Not that Humpty actually first appears here. He was no an invention by Carol, but actually had been around in his own nursery rhyme a long time before hand (though according to Wikipedia the first appearance was in a book of nursery rhymes published in 1870, two years before Through the Looking Glass).

 

 

 

 

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/630760976
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review 2017-01-10 15:41
Murder most foul
Death Descends on Saturn Villa: The Gower Street Detective: Book 3 (Grower Street Detectives) - M.R.C. Kasasian

Death Descends on Saturn Villa is the third book in the Gower Street Detective series by M.R.C. Kasasian. (Go here for the review of the first book and here for the second.) The tension continues to ratchet higher and higher between the famous detective Sidney Grice and his protege March Middleton as we inch closer and closer to the truth about Grice's past and his connection to March's mother. Kasasian is finally starting to clear up some of the mystery revolving around their pasts but he's still weaving webs of intrigue around them both (only fitting I suppose). This book centers on a case which is high stakes and multifaceted with March as the prime suspect. DUM DUM DUUUUUM (That's supposed to be menacingly tense music not a commentary on the intelligence of the storyline by the way.) Once again, I feel I need to caution readers who might have sensitive stomachs because Kasasian has a gift for detailed descriptions of gore. I must also mention that if you get triggered easily then you should approach this book with caution. (You'll probably be fine but I just want to make you aware.) This book ultimately raises more questions than it answers but one thing it does do is make Grice a little more human. If you've enjoyed the first two books in the series then you're sure to enjoy this continuation. The fourth book in the series, The Secrets of Gaslight Lane, is due out on April 4th of this year so get caught up while you still have plenty of time. XD

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-01-07 06:07
Another Collection of Holmsian Mysteries
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

In a way I’m not entirely sure how I should approach this book, particularly since I generally don’t review short story collections as a whole but rather each story on its merits. Mind you, that is probably going to cause a little bit of a problem when I get around to reading the Collected Tales of Edgar Allen Poe, particularly since I can’t do The Raven the injustice of lumping it together with a bunch of other stories. Then there is At the Mountains of Madness, though it has been a while since I have read anything by Lovecraft, and even then it was only one story, ironically ‘At the Mountains of Madness’. However, I will get around to writing about them when I finally get around to reading the books (and I might read them a short story at a time, as I did with a collections of stories by Joseph Conrad).

 

However, the problem with Sherlock Holmes is that it is, in a way, the lack of variety in the stories. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the stories themselves are bad, it is just that pretty much, with the exception of the content, all of the stories end up being of a similar structure. In fact the novels also followed this structure as well, namely: Holmes is confronted with a problem (which takes up the first part of the story), Holmes wanders about and works it out, Holmes then spends the rest of the story explaining what happened. As it turned out this formula worked out really well, if the five collection of short stories, and four novels, are anything to go by.

 

It’s not as if these stories are unoriginal either – a lot of mystery novels that I have read basically all deal with murders, and in a way it starts to become a little dull and dry. However, while people do die in a Sherlock Holmes story, and of course you have the occasional one where the eventual victim hires Holmes due to some mystery, murder isn’t always the case. In fact, you have ones that involve missing objects, or objects that have been discovered and Holmes is attempting to locate the owner. We have another one that involves a child of a previous marriage that the mother is trying to keep a secret, or a naval treaty that has become the centerpiece of a mystery. In fact it is not the crime that is important, it is the mystery, as in some cases it turns out that no crime has actually been committed.

 

I guess that is one aspect of our human nature – we love mysteries. In fact not knowing is far more exciting than actually discovering the answer, because once we know the answer all of a sudden it ceases to be a mystery and the revelation turns out to be really boring. Mind you, it isn’t as if the revelation is boring, it is just that knowing the answer is boring. It is sort of like hunting, or even courting a future wife – it isn’t the success that is exciting, it is the journey to reach that point. Sure, not all journeys are thrilling – being stuck in economy class traveling from Singapore to Frankfurt (which takes something like 12 hours) isn’t at all exciting, especially if you have somebody behind you kicking your seat (something that fortunately I didn’t have to experience), or the guy in front of you lying his seat back as far is possible and leaving it there for the entire journey meaning that I can’t use my laptop (and that is after having the previous occupant kicked out of the seat because ‘he must has a window seat’, though as it usually turns out, the previous occupant is usually moved to business class as compensation for the inconvenience – something that has happened to me).

 

One interesting thing is that it seems to be apparent that Doyle was attempting to wind up his Holmes stories – why else would he finish the final story by having Holmes thrown off the top of a waterfall. Personally, I’m probably not surprised because while people may have enjoyed the stories, Doyle might have been having a lot of trouble coming up with new stories – writers block if you will. Otherwise, it simply might have been that he had become somewhat bored with the character and wanted to move on. The problem is that once somebody creates something that is beloved by the community, then it can be pretty hard to put it behind you. In a way it is the curse of the celebrity status – once you have become a celebrity you are no longer your own person – you are now what the media, and the fans, make you out to be, and if it turns out that you break this mould, then you run the risk of losing that status all together – while it is painful, it is also incredibly addictive. One simply cannot stop being a celebrity.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/470321982
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