Book Review: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne is a quirky French adventure novel – although I read an English translation – from the 19th century. It’s about an eccentric old man, Phileas Fogg, who attempts to travel across the world in 80 days in order to win a £20,000 bet.

Mostly, I enjoyed Around the World in Eighty Days. It feels like quite a long time since I’ve reviewed a classic novel on my blog.

Phileas Fogg is very eccentric; he reminded me of Sherlock Holmes, though with less drugtaking. However, I thought Fogg was a less likeable character than Sherlock Holmes because, whilst he behaved like the perfect Victorian gentleman, he came across as quite aloof, self-absorbed and less personable.

The narrative voice was quirky and sarcastic, which I particularly enjoyed. The plot is quite fun too, mostly because Fogg’s valet Passepartout finds himself in all kinds of difficult and amusing situations.

However, for a travel narrative, it’s ironic that Fogg isn’t the slightest bit interested in his surroundings. I was expecting some  exquisite descriptions of beautiful and exotic landscapes, but that was hardly the focus of the novel.

Instead, the focus was on money – how much Fogg bets, spends, and loses as he travels the globe. Personally, I found it quite uncomfortable that Fogg just threw money at every situation he found himself in.

Around the World in Eighty Days is also obviously a novel of its period.

For example, it focuses on the grandeur and excitement of a white British man travelling to parts of the world colonised by Britain, and using money to get what he wants. Furthermore, there are quite a few problematic racial stereotypes, and the new cultures that Fogg and his companions experience are often described as odd and unusual, in comparison to British culture.

Also, Mrs Aouda is weakly characterised – she may as well not be there. I can only recall her being rescued, crying or falling in love because I suppose that’s what Victorian women do?

I still enjoyed Around the World in Eighty Days a great deal and I think it’s a fun novel. However, there are also some interesting points of contention to be made about it.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: Secret Water by Arthur Ransome

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Secret Water is the eighth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

Secret Water focuses on just the Walker children, as they are “marooned” in Hamford Water, which is an area of tidal salt marshes and low-lying islands. It is the first book where Bridget – formally known as Fat Vicky, the baby in Swallows and Amazons, is old enough to join in on the adventures.

I think Bridget is my new favourite character; everything she said put a smile on my face, and the interactions between her and Roger are so sweet and funny.

Ransome’s light-hearted narration, paired with the humour of Bridget and Roger is just fantastic. As he is no longer the youngest, Roger tries to model more grownup behaviour for Bridget (and fails). Bridget is teased for her babylike innocence, because she is so new to the Walkers’ games. For example, she is so excitable and keen to be a human sacrifice for the children’s game – even though she has no idea what a sacrifice is!

Secret Water is a new kind of adventure for the Walker children as they are left “marooned” on an island and they are forbidden to sail anywhere by their parents. This is an understandable decision, after the chaos that arose when the children were last left unsupervised in a sailing boat in We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea. I liked this, as it meant the book was  more focused on exploring territory and describing the surrounding scenery, unlike some of the other books, which contain a lot more technical language about sailing that I just don’t understand.

As well as the new setting, another new addition to Secret Water are the new children the Walkers meet and make friends with: Don, Daisy, Dum and Dee. I wasn’t particularly bothered about these new characters, as I think the eight book in a series is quite late to be introducing new characters, and I didn’t think there was anything particularly interesting or exciting about them.

Nonetheless, I still greatly enjoyed Secret Water and it’s definitely one of my favourites in the series.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Time Machine (1895) is a science fiction novella by H.G. Wells and is about, oddly enough, a Time Machine.

The novella has a frame narrative and an embedded narrative; the Time Traveller (yes, that is the only name he’s given) hosts a dinner party, inviting a variety of guests to tell them about his journeys through time. The embedded narrative then begins, as the Time Traveller retells what has happened to him.

The opening frame narrative was quite dull, as the dinner guests discuss space, time, mathematics, and psychology. This was not the gripping and dramatic opening I had been hoping for.

Once the Time Traveller arrives and begins to tell his story though, things liven up. He’s eccentric and clever, which I suppose is now the blueprint for other fictional time travellers like Doctor Who.

The Time Traveller travels to Earth, A.D. 802,701, where he meets the Eloi, a species of adults that have child-like language and small attention spans because they have achieved and acquired everything possible, so there is no need for work or intelligence. This is an interesting social commentary: is it better to have everything in life but be forever bored, or to have work and goals to achieve within your lifetime?

There is a second species on Earth too – the Morlocks – who are underworld, carnivorous creatures who prey on the vulnerable Eloi in the dark. The scenes with the Morlocks were a little scary, in a similar way to the vicious Martian attacks upon mankind in Wells’ later novel War of the Worlds. These two opposing species prompt lots of interesting questions and were obvious symbols of good versus bad, upper-class versus lower-class, and so on.

The Time Machine is an incredibly creative work of fiction and good fun to read. Like War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells has provided a social commentary on the society at the time, which is in some ways still applicable today. However, I didn’t find this book quite as engaging as War of the Worlds, which was slightly disappointing, given how many praise it for being one of the first proper works of science fiction.

In many ways, The Time Machine is a science fiction story because of its focus on time, space, physics and aliens. However, it’s also incredibly similar to utopian or dystopian novels such as Thomas More’s Utopia and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. It’s funny how so many novels supposedly predict the future, whilst only commenting on the present.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea by Arthur Ransome

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is the seventh novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea focuses on just the Walker children: John, Susan, Titty, and Roger. They are staying at Pin Mill, in south Suffolk, with their mother and youngest sister, Bridget, as they await for the return of their father from overseas. The children befriend Jim Brading, who invites them for a trip aboard his boat, Goblin. Their mother only allows them aboard on the condition that they promise to stay within the estuary and do not go to sea. Evidently, this promise is broken.

I started reading We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea whilst on holiday at Poole Quay, so the descriptions of boats, harbours and foghorns felt quite apt. However, I couldn’t, and didn’t, understand all the technical sailing terms Ransome includes. Even with the little diagrams provided, I just wasn’t interested in the technicalities of sailing a boat.

The title obviously reveals the premise of the book, and one chapter is even called Nothing Can Possibly Happen, which is ironic.

We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is probably one of the scariest books of the Swallows and Amazons series I’ve read. 4 children become stranded at sea, get caught in the middle of a storm, and Ransome describes it in vivid detail. I’d be terrified!

This chaos leads to some new character development, as John has to take on new responsibilities in order to keep everybody safe, and Susan’s confidence as the mother figure shatters due to the fear and guilt of breaking a promise and being lost at sea.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Despite it’s scarier scenes, We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is still fun and has plenty of humour, particularly from Roger. There are also some rather ridiculous plot moments, as the children end up somewhere so bizarre that their mother doesn’t believe them!

Whilst a rather dramatic story, We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is another enjoyable children’s book in Arthur Ransome’s series and all is cheerfully resolved by the ending anyway.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum is a fun children’s book about Dorothy, a young girl swept away to the magical land of Oz by a cyclone. Dorothy meets and befriends the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion and together the group travel to meet Oz, the great wizard, to ask him for help.

Despite seeing the famous film adaptation of The Wizard Of Oz, I’d never actually read the book. Subsequently, it was surprising to see how many adventurous things Dorothy and her friends do that were omitted from the film.

I thought the story itself was fun, and I liked the vivid, colourful descriptions Baum used throughout.

The characters are also good role models for children, as the focus of the book is learning to be kind, brave, generous and loving.

The narrative style was quite short and blunt – Dorothy did this, Dorothy did that – which seemed a little simplistic, although I suppose children are the true target audience, not me.

Whilst I liked The Wizard of Oz as an adult, but I think this series would be enjoyed most by children.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Pigeon Post is the sixth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

Pigeon Post, unlike its predecessor Coot Club, is set once again in the Lake District. The book unites Dick and Dorothea (the D’s), Nancy and Peggy (the Amazons), and John, Susan, Tigger, and Roger (the Swallows) during the summer holidays. The children are determined to camp on High Topps, on a mission to discover and mine gold. They also, oddly enough, await the arrival of an armadillo named Timothy.

Similarly to Winter Holiday, there were also some genuinely scary and dramatic scenes; High Topps is known for its risk of fires, and exploring caves and mines could lead to all kinds of dangers…

But no spoilers.

Pigeon Post is Ransome’s funniest book yet.

Arthur Ransome’s writing has always been fairly witty but here, humour just exudes from both his narrative style and the characters’ own personalities. My love for Roger has grown even stronger; he is always does something ridiculous or saying something silly, and at one point, he even gets a chapter to himself!

It was enjoyable to see all the children interact together in a large group and bounce off everyone else.

However, I thought it interesting how, throughout the book, I identified most with the children’s mothers  and Susan – the “mother” of the group – to make sure everyone was fed, washed, and in bed at suitable times. This may be a consequence of reading the series for the first time as an adult, rather than a child!

I’m also continually impressed by the cleverness and capabilities of these children. For example, Dick constructs a carrier pigeon postal system, hence the title of the book, which is designed to ring a bell when a carrier pigeon arrives with a letter and he also reads books about metalwork, so that the children can build a blast furnace to attempt to extract their findings.

Nowadays, I know health and safety is incredibly restrictive on what children can and can’t do, but I wonder if modern children are even interested in such outdoorsy, practical tasks. I can’t help but be sceptical and wonder: if there isn’t an app for these things, will today’s youth be interested?

Pigeon Post is definitely one of my firm favourites.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

I was introduced to How To Train Your Dragon, the animated fantasy film, and I loved it. I then watched the sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 (creative) and I loved it more. I’ve re-watched them several times. I didn’t even know there were books.  Until now. So, I finally read How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Spoiler Warning: There will be some.

How To Train Your Dragon is the first in a series of twelve children’s books about Hiccup, the son of a Viking chief, as he overcomes great obstacles on his journey to become Heroic.

Visually, it’s a nice little book. It has childlike My Image [How To Train Your Dragon Book] handwriting and drawings throughout, so it’s perfect for Cowell’s target audience; the idea is that the book was genuinely  written by Hiccup – hence his illustrations and annotations – and she was just his Old Norse translator. A nice touch.

The descriptions are as vivid and not complicated – as you’d expect in a children’s book, and there are also some witty moments.

The key plot points are clearly identifiable:

  • Hiccup is a below average Viking boy who wants to achieve but struggles under the pressure of being the Chief’s son
  • Snoutlout is Hiccup’s cousin, eager for Hiccup to fail so he can become chief instead
  • Hiccup is concerned about not fulfilling his father’s Viking expectations
  • It is only when Berk is placed in danger, Hiccup’s usefulness and value is recognised

These are (no surprises here) “obvious” for an adult reader, but this the sort of good narrative structure a children’s book should have, so I wanted to point it out.

However, it is very different to the films. An enlightening comment, I know.

The characters are different, and their initial descriptions at the start of the book to remember who they are – I found it was hard to keep track of the long-winded Viking names.

My Image [How To Train Your Dragon 1]

Another striking difference between the book and the film is that in the film, Berk is an island scared of, and enraged by, dragons because they believe they are violent creatures that need to be destroyed. The community is only persuaded to think otherwise following Hiccup’s discovery of, and his blossoming friendship with, Toothless the Night Fury, one of the most legendary and fearful dragons in existence. However, in the book, Berk is an island that already believes that dragons can be, and should be, domesticated pets. It is only once the Viking boys in training are given the useless handbook How To Train Your Dragon, Hiccup must create his own, personalised, methods to tame his dragon Toothless.

A third striking difference is that in the book, the dragons can talk. This creates a new layer of characterisation because they can communicate thoughts and feelings with each other, and their owners. This means that, instead of the smiling but silent Toothless from the film, he is whiny and always back-chatting. This meant it was difficult to see him as the loveable, heart-warming, protective but powerful and incredibly rare Night Fury from the film – the Toothless I love.

I’m so clearly biased and, unfortunately, I preferred the films to the book. I can see exactly why children would love this sort of book though: it’s funny, it’s adventurous, it’s easy to read, and imaginative. Perhaps if I had discovered this series before watching the films, I might have a different opinion.

I won’t read the rest of the series, but at least I now have a flavour of the writing which inspired two films I greatly enjoy.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.