From January to June: The books that I’ve read

Over the past six months, I’ve read a number of books as part of the wider reading task set by my English teacher. Though I probably would have still done some reading nonetheless these past six months, having this wider reading task has helped greatly with giving me a compelling reason and incentive to read new books and explore new tales full of wonder and excitement.

The first book which I read this year was “Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Expanded Edition’’, a novelisation of the science fiction feature film “Star Wars: The Last Jedi’’ released back in December 2017.

Now I had already seen the feature film which the novel was based on when it was released back in December 2017 and it was a film which I thoroughly enjoyed and remains a favourite of the Star Wars saga in my opinion. Yet when I heard about a novelisation of the film being released in March 2018 and that it would be an expanded edition, I was instantly curious of what new material was to be added and how it would impact the overall narrative. So in March 2018, I picked up the novel from my local Big W, with every intention of reading it. But due to already have pre-existing novels which I needed to finish reading, the Last Jedi ended up stuck on my bookshelf for the rest of my fourteenth year, gathering dust.

However, once I had finally come to the end of the school year, I had decided that I had postponed it long enough and committed myself to finally reading the novel. Once I had finally completed the novel a couple of months later, I put it back onto my bookshelf having been quite entertained and heavily satisfied.

The Last Jedi novelisation by Jason Fry is a great novel, that successfully recounts the events of the movie with straightforward description, while also adding some meaningful new material that I was genuinely intrigued and surprised by. Jason Fry doesn’t write with heavy, explicit description, instead choosing to go a more straightforward route. Nonetheless, his descriptions are well-written and quite informative, and he’s especially talented at describing the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters in a way that isn’t possible in a film, which helps greatly to add more depth to the characters.

The biggest new additions to the narrative are new insights into the character of Luke Skywalker. There is an excellent prologue detailing a dream of Luke where he never left Tatooine, and it provides some great insight into the torment and regrets which Luke has felt after suffering through so much loss and pain since the events of Return of the Jedi. There is also another incredible part where Luke hears a voice telling him to let go while he’s projecting a force vision, which adds some more mystery and almost magic to Luke’s final stand. All of these extra new insights and elements to Luke’s story helps strengthen his character immensely and you truly feel his transition from being tormented by his losses and devoid of hope, to accepting who he is and believing that he can do what is necessary to save the galaxy. It’s riveting material and is absolutely wonderful to delve into and experience.

Now I chose The Last Jedi as my fantasy novel for the wider reading checklist and while some may consider it be only science fiction, it certainly has plenty of fantasy elements such as the Jedi, the Sith and the Force. Much of the narrative is dedicated to exploring the conflict between the light (Rey) and the dark (Kylo Ren), which is quite reminiscent of classic fantasy battles of good versus evil. However, in this story, it feels more complex and layered as both Rey and Kylo Ren have elements of light and dark, which makes their characters feel more human and not simply archetypes. This helps greatly in relating to their outer-worldly struggles and all the fantastical elements of the story which were easily my favourite aspects of the novel.

The novel unfortunately still retains some of the major issues of film such as the Canto Bight sequence with Finn and Rose, which is still quite a slog to get through and easily lost my interest. The book tries its best to make this aspect of the story more engaging, but ultimately it can’t quite elevate an otherwise boring subplot.

Overall though, The Last Jedi is a fantastic novelisation that recounts an already engaging and captivating novel, but with added new content which helps to enhance and create an even more immersive and enjoyable reading experience.

Rating: B+

The second book which I read for wider reading was the novel, “Looking for Alaska” by John Green.

Before I began reading this novel, I had previously read another John Green novel, that being “The Fault in Our Stars” which I thought was a very engaging, relatable and emotional rollercoaster. I had instantly been captivated by John Green’s writing style and the relatable teenage characters of his stories. As such, I was interested in reading John Green’s first novel, “Looking for Alaska” and I can say that I was immensely riveted and very satisfied with the novel.

The novel follows Miles Halter, a teenager obsessed with the last words of famous people, as he attends the boarding school Culver Creek, to seek the Great Perhaps. It is at Culver Creek that he meets Alaska Young and his life is changed forever.

Now I chose “Looking for Alaska’’ as my banned book for the wider reading task. It was primarily banned due to its sexual content and its profanity, however, these elements don’t ever feel forced or unnecessary. It is a story which follows angsty teenagers so having profanity and sexual elements in the story feels natural and makes the story more realistic and grounded.

What surprised me most about “Looking for Alaska’’ was how profound and deeply affecting it was. The title character of Alaska is quite a complex human being, whose actions and emotions are backed by very complicated motives. Yet despite her mysterious facade, Alaska’s struggle is easily summed up in her own favourite last words, “How will I ever get out of the labyrinth?”. The whole novel revolves around this question and each major character goes on a journey through the story to overcome their own inner struggles. It’s very thought-provoking material and helps greatly elevate what on the surface seems like a simple young adult story into a classic of the genre.

John Green writes very passionately and his realistic descriptions of teenage life and everything that comes along with it is astoundingly well done. There are hilarious and joyful moments where the characters are simply having fun together and not worrying about life’s problems, and it’s this fantastic levity from the more serious and philosophical aspects of the novel which helps make it an entertaining read which doesn’t overwhelm the reader emotionally. It’s this balance of comedy and drama which John Green is so adept at and is something that he’s carried forward to his other novels quite effectively.

Overall, Looking for Alaska is a great experience and makes for a hilarious, dramatic and profound novel that truly encapsulates the highs and lows of adolescence brilliantly and greatly proved how competent a writer, John Green was and still is.

Rating: A

The third novel I read for wider reading was “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” by Agatha Christie.

I had previously read another Agatha Christie novel that being “Murder on the Orient Express”, a mystery novel which I loved and had watched the television series “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” a show which I’ve really enjoyed. As such, I was quite intrigued to read another Poirot novel so for my next Poirot novel, I decided to read “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”, as it was well-known as being one of Agatha Christie’s best novels. Another reason that I wanted to read it was so that could check off the female author category for my wider reading checklist. So I went ahead and read the novel and while I was overall fairly entertained, I ended up feeling quite underwhelmed with the finished story. It’s not a terrible novel at all, but it certainly feels underwhelming considering the critical acclaim which this particular Poirot novel has gotten.

One of the aspects of the novel which I felt was lacking was a great atmosphere. The story is just set in a typical British countryside town and as a result, I never felt truly absorbed into the world. It keeps the story feel grounded but compared to some of the more exotic and unique settings that other Poirot stories have been set in such as a train stuck in the snowy mountains or the Nile, it feels quite lacklustre and uninteresting. There are many mystery stories set in a countryside story, so the story would benefit from a more unique location so as to create a more interesting atmosphere that would help keep the reader more engaged.

Another element of the story which I was felt was lacking was some great supporting characters. Beside Dr Shepard, the rest of the characters don’t have any memorable aspects or intriguing backstories, which makes them mostly forgettable and once more restricted me from getting fully invested in the mystery.

Besides those issues, the rest of the novel was executed quite brilliantly. Having the story written in the first person from a supporting character makes for a unique perspective and pays off greatly at the end in an immensely satisfying and gratifying conclusion. The whole construction of the mystery is wonderfully done by Agatha Christie who proves herself a master of the mystery genre and the way that all the clues and red herrings link together is simply extraordinary. Once you realise how all the pieces of the mystery fit together, it’s simply riveting but it is quite a drag to gain that satisfaction.

Overall, “The Murder of the Roger Ackroyd” has a great mystery story at its core and an immensely satisfying conclusion. It’s so unfortunate then that the journey to getting the end isn’t that compelling, which has a lot to do with an uninteresting atmosphere and underwhelming supporting characters. Still recommend reading, but not incredible by any means.

Rating: B-

Future reading:

The next novel which I am planning to read for wider reading is the science-fiction novel “Dune” by Frank Hebert. It acts as my novel set in the future for the wider reading task, and I’m quite excited to read it considering the critical acclaim it’s received as the supposedly best science-fiction novel of all time.

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