Book Review: Swallowdale

Swallowdale is the second book in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome.

John, Susan, Titty and Roger return for another summer adventure, camping in the hills and sailing in the Lake District. However, when the explorers are shipwrecked; the Swallows and Amazons are left in a new place, to make a new camp and new expeditions.

I really enjoyed Swallows and Amazons but, unfortunately, Swallowdale took a little longer to engross me. I’m not sure why this was – perhaps my attention was initially lacking, or the story didn’t gather pace in a way I expected.

The style of Ransome’s writing is as witty and wholesome as it was in the first book – the rather random “voodoo” scene midway through Swallowdale is particularly ridiculous, but incredibly amusing.

I liked the settings of Swallowdale more than those of Swallows and Amazons. I think, given the shipwreck, the fact the child spent more time exploring on land as opposed to sailing helped me visualise surroundings more easily.

The descriptions were wonderfully vivid, and poetic in places too, reminding me (again) of the children’s adventure series The Famous Five – right down to the inclusion of both a “cave for a larder” and “bracken for bedding” (convenient).

I liked the introduction of new characters, as well as cameos of characters from the first book.

The conflict of Nancy and Peggy versus their Great Aunt, a woman averse to the idea of young girls with rough-and-tumble natures, touches upon the theme of gender I raised in my last review. Nancy and Peggy’s determinedness to have adventures with their friends, “despite” the fact they’re girls, is a great challenge to stereotypical expectations of girls at the time.

Whilst on the topic of characters, my love for Roger has increased enormously after reading Swallowdale. He is the smallest, sweetest, most boisterous (and most accident-prone) and I loved both seeing what he got up to, and watching Susan and the others keep a careful eye on him. I can’t wait to see him grow and develop throughout the rest of the series.

To echo thoughts from my first review, I think Swallowdale is a great sequel – it’s a fun, light, heart-warming read and I look forward to getting stuck into the next book in the series.

If you didn’t read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it.

If you did read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it again.

 – Judith

Advertisements

Book Review: War of the Worlds

“Haven’t you heard of the men from Mars?” said I. “The creatures from Mars?”

War of the Worlds, page 36

War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by H.G. Wells that tells the tale of a Martian invasion of Earth, when a supposed meteor lands in Surrey. The narrator discovers that the meteor is not in fact a meteor, but an artificial cylinder, containing alien life forms. It is not long before these Martians adapt to the environment of Earth and wreak unimaginable havoc.

War of the Worlds is quite possibly one of the most exciting 19th century books I’ve read.

It’s narrated by an anonymous first-person narrator, which, although my preference is for third-person narration, didn’t affect me in the slightest because the focus of this book is not on character development, but retelling the shocking events of an alien invasion.

The descriptions are vivid and imaginative, making the entire story more exciting and fun to read because it clashes so obviously with the stereotypical context and style of most literature I’ve read from this time.

Short chapters kept the pace moving, and there were plenty of action-packed scenes to keep the tension and drama throughout.

According to Wikipedia, ‘The novel has been variously interpreted as a commentary on evolutionary theory, British imperialism, and generally Victorian superstitions, fears and prejudices.’

I noticed this ‘evolutionary theory’ theme in the book, as there are clear references to scientific subjects such as natural selection and human biology, as well as raising the question ‘is there life on other planets?’ and if so, how do humans compete with alien life: will we be wiped out?

As clarification, I don’t believe in aliens – but that didn’t stop me from enjoying pondering on the questions War of the Worlds raises anyway.

It’s a short, exciting read and I strongly recommend it!

– Judith

Book Review: Commune Book Two

Commune Book Two by Joshua Gayou is the sequel in his dystopian series.

My Photo [Commune 2]

Following on from Commune Book One, the plot follows Jake and Amanda’s group, who have settled in Wyoming, fighting day in and day out to establish a home for themselves in a near-empty world. When a new group turn up, running on fumes, and searching desperately for a place to settle, it’s only a matter of time before short-term solutions to survival run out.

It seems an age since I read Commune Book One, but you can read my review of it from May here:

In his personalised note to me in the cover of his book, Joshua writes:

‘I’m pretty sure I’m still using the word “chuckle” in here, but you bear with me, won’t you?’

Over recent months, I’ve developed a strong aversion to the word “chuckle”.

My Photo [Commune - Twitter Exchange]

However, whilst I noticed the first ‘chuckle’ a mere 23 pages into the book (sorry), I decided to let this go and indeed ‘bear with’ Joshua because of how impressed I was by almost everything else in Commune Book Two.

Narration

Like Commune Book One, the sequel is written in first-person narration, alternating between perspectives from new characters as well as old ones.

This was enjoyable to read because it really helped to flesh out the characters of the main protagonists: Jake, Amanda, and Gibs, and I particularly liked this narrative style when it circulated between these three characters, each doing different tasks at different times in different locations. It helped highlight the wide range of jobs needing doing amongst the group and how every member plays a different role.

However, when the narrative switched between these three during one singular event, I think this let the book down a little. To me, retelling the same or an incredibly similar event from different character perspectives came across as somewhat redundant.

Characterisation

Speaking of Jake and Amanda, Commune Book Two draws out their personalities even more, particularly as they interact with newest members of the group.

Gibs, an ex-Marine, is the new addition to the group of protagonists in the series and, although his language is incredibly … explicit, he feels a very naturally written character.

Thus, as an ex-Marine, his authoritative style of voice, paired with his knowledge of guns and mechanics made the explanation of certain weaponry much more appropriate – I remember finding myself lost at the use of over-technical language in Commune Book One; I did not have this same problem again, and this is a great improvement to see.

Turning my attention to the minor characters however, it was difficult to remember who was who because a lot of the minor characters seemed to have their own small strands working in the background of the overarching narrative. Now, whilst it is completely natural that, in a group of survivors, some will be leaders, and some will be followers, I query the necessity of having to provide each minor character with a backstory and family, particularly when their lives and their roles are not the ones we follow for a lot of the book.

Furthermore, with only some throwaway details about some minor characters, it was difficult for me to care about the injuries, or incidents that happened to them. This contrasted with the first-person perspectives of the main characters, who would always seem to respond as if they’d just lost a best friend, despite them only being mentioned in a few pages or chapters.

Style

Moving on from this, I liked Joshua’s style of writing; his descriptions were very imaginative, without bogging the reader down in too much unnecessary detail.

There were lots of action scenes throughout Commune Book Two, with lots of variation each time – such as location, characters, the nature of the incident – so it never felt like “generic gunfight #3”.

Each action sequence was fast-paced, and I found the ending scenes with Gibs particularly exciting.

The fear of survival, emphasised by violent incidents and practical problems like a lack of supplies eradicated my longing for overarching problem – like a zombie apocalypse. I remember discussing that at times in Commune Book One, life felt more straightforward than scrambling for survival, leaving little for characters to do. However, by describing scouting for supplies, building a base, and dealing with any opposition, there was never a dull moment.

The ending of Commune Book Two was good; it introduced new story elements, as well as tying up other narrative strands, reminding me of how an episode of The Walking Dead would end, leading you to want to find out what happens next.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed the story of Commune Book Two.

The protagonists were developed in more depth with more proficiency, the introduction of new characters meant watching the groups merge together and settle into life in this new dystopian landscape in an enjoyable way.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Commune: Book Two is available to buy as an e-book or a paperback from Amazon.com or Amazon UK.

– Judith