Monday, 28 February 2011

Why I LOVE Mondays!

Until I started blogging, I absolutely despised Monday morning, but now I cannot wait for it! This is because the library is closed on a Sunday, and in my current internet-less state, Monday morning means the return of my blogging ability. It feels like ages since my last post, and I was starting to have withdrawal symptoms. There are so many things I need to post about! I do find that if my ability to blog is hampered, then my reading pace slows down. I think it's a subconscious thing - I don't want to get too behind on my reviews, so I stop reading! Saturday when I came to the library, it was absolutely packed out, and I couldn't get onto a computer. Consequently, I watched a loooot of TV...
Anyway, here's what's been happening since my last post...

I've signed up for the Affinity Readalong over at Estella's Revenge. Also decided to participate in another challenge (as if I wasn't already doing enough!). The Booklovers Project, hosted by Amanda at the Zen Leaf is basically a big list of authors, and it's based around The Booklovers Song by The Divine Comedy, which I'd never heard of before I read about this challenge, but I listened to it, and it is awesome. Go. Listen!

In real life, I've been up since half past stupid this morning, finishing up the first bit of 'Operation Make Wedding Invitations', and making invite lists and suchlike. Here's a (terrible) picture of the preliminary stages:

Ok. So, this is the major reason I was so immensely frustrated about not being able to share my joy with the blogosphere on Saturday:

The Hunger Games Trilogy
by Suzanne Collins
I basically started reading these books (and this isn't the sort of thing I usually do) because everybody else was. I kept seeing reviews popping up everywhere I looked, so when I came across the first one in the library, I had to get it out.
From the very first, the trilogy blew me away. I loved the intensity of the story, and I particularly loved Katniss and Peeta, the main characters. Let me preface this by saying that anything involving children being hurt is usually the one thing I cannot deal with. It makes me go all weird and shaky and angry. These books didn't make me feel like that, though, although they probably should have, given the subject matter. Collins is extremely clever in the way that she can reduce children being forced to butcher each other merely to being a statement of fact, but then infuse such emotion into other deaths that it leaves you reeling. The great triumph of the books is that they manage, for the most part, to escape being predictable, and to retain the humanity of the characters.
The trilogy is set in Panem, a dictatorship where people have been divided into 12 districts, each specialising in production of a different raw material e.g. food, wood, coal etc. Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, with her mother and sister Prim. Since her father died, she has been the sole provider, by means of poaching, and selling her loot on the black market. The story really kicks off when her sister is picked for the annual Hunger Games, a barbaric reality TV show in which 'tributes' (a boy and girl from each district) are forced to go head to head in an arena full of horrible things. The last one alive, wins. Katniss volunteers to replace Prim in the arena, and the story goes from strength to strength from there on.
My favourite thing about the series was the depth of the characters. All of them were so beautifully human to me, and Katniss especially really developed as a character. It was like an extreme coming of age, in which the responsibility for keeping herself and others alive is part of her life way before falling in love and other such typical teenage girl things.
In every book, there was another character I fell in love with. In The Hunger Games, gorgeous little Rue absolutely broke my heart, in Catching Fire, Finnick really won me over, and in Mockingjay, it was Katniss' little sister, Prim. Throughout it all, though, it was really the strong, dependable character of Peeta who held everything together, including Katniss.
These books were immense. I read Catching Fire and Mockingjay back to back in the space of two days, and when I'd finished, I just sat there holding the book and grinning like a moron.
Read them. Read them now :)

Rating: ***** (million!)

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Household Guide to Dying is a moving, witty, and uplifting novel about Delia, who writes an acerbic and wildly popular household advice column. When Delia realizes that she is losing her long battle with cancer, she decides to organize her remaining months - and her husband and children's future lives without her - the same way she has always ordered their household. Unlike the many faithful readers of her advice column - people who are rendered lost and confused when faced with dirty shirt collars - Delia knows just what to do. She will leave a list for her daughter's future wedding; fill the freezer with homemade sausages, stews, and sauces; and even (maddeningly) offer her husband suggestions for a new wife. She'll compile a lifetime's worth of advice for her children, and she'll even write the ultimate "Household Guide to Dying" for her fans. There is one item on her list, however, that proves too much even for "Dear Delia," and it is the single greatest task she had set for herself. Yet just as Delia is coming to terms with this, an unexpected visitor helps her believe in her life's worth in a way that no list ever could.

I first found this book over at Page Turners, while looking for another book for the Australia section of the Global Reading Challenge. After saying over and over again how I need to cut down on the amount of challenges I'm doing, I went and upped my participation level to Medium, meaning I've got tor read 2 books from each continent now, instead of one....Anyway! 

I expected The Household Guide to Dying to be much heavier than it actually was. For a book about death, it is very much, as the subtitle suggests, a story about life. My favourite part of this book, was the references to Mrs Beeton, and keeping hens. This is something that I really want to do. I'm not sure why, but for absolutely years I've been seized with an insane desire to keep hens, and have fresh eggs in the morning. Well, if I'm honest, actually I'd just like to have a farm,but don't think I could bring myself to kill the animals...

Aside from that, I liked the way that the story expanded, to involve not just the present and the future, but also the past. I have to say that while I enjoyed the novel, I did find a bit disjointed and slightly less than coherent. The story of Delia's past never really connected with her present for me. While I understand that when people have a tragedy in their past they will often try to distance themselves from it, it wasn't like she'd cut it out of her life completely, but nor had she managed to reconcile it with her life in the present. Despite constantly talking about the fact that she is dying, it didn't seem to really affect her emotionally until the end. However, I did think that her husband, Archie, was the strongest character from this point of view; throughout the story, he is clearly struggling to come to terms with what is happening, and the book follows his emotional journey much more so than Delia's. There were some moving scenes, but I did feel that the book was ultimately more about other people's experiences and tragedies than Delia's own.

I read this for the Global Reading Challenge, but although I will still count it, it did not have a very strong sense of place for me. It is set in Australia, but really it could be anywhere, as there is not much reference to weather, culture, or place throughout the novel.

Overall, I read the book quickly, and enjoyed it, but it didn't quite manage to live up to my expectations.

Rating: ***

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Book to Movie Adaptations

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week is a different theme!

This is my first Top Ten Tuesday, and I'm excited. Mostly because I looooove lists, but also because I'm particularly fond of movies. So, here's my top ten best book to film adaptations:
1. Alice in Wonderland - the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton version, rather than the animated Disney film. I actually have to admit to thinking that the film is much much stronger than the book, and the costumes, sets etc are just mindblowing. Love it.
2. Scott Pilgrim vs the World - So unbelievably well cast, and amazing how they managed to condense 6 books into 113 minutes of AWESOME!
3. The Lord of the Rings Triology - These were the first films that I saw which were absolutely as good as the books, if not better in some places. Although, I do have to say that I'm not a huge fan of the amount that they just made up in the second film...
4. Watchmen - I saw this at an Imax cinema, and it was absolutely amazing. Just such an intense experience.
5. Breakfast at Tiffanys - Audrey Hepburn. Moon River. And that is all.
6. Stardust - The film and the book are very very different, but I actually loved them both. First time this has happened for me. Well done, Mr. Gaiman
7. The Railway Children - the 1970 version with Jenny Agutter as Bobby of course. The ending is just gorgeous.
8. Harry Potter 4,5,6, and 7 - The earlier ones were total crap, but the later ones (especially since Luna came into it!) much much better. As almost everyone else ever has mentioned, the adult cast are just unbelievable, and I am totally loving Evanna Lynch!!
9. The Phantom of the Opera- I was a big fan of the stage musical before I saw this, or read the book. But, having read the book, I'm now a massive fan, and although both Emmy Rossum and Patrick Wilson really really annoyed me, Gerard Butler made the film for me. Which is the way it should be.
10. To Kill a Mockingbird - Atticus Finch was voted by the American Film Institute to be the greatest hero ever in 2003. And I have to agree. Every time I read the book, I notice something else about it, and fall a little bit more in love, and in the film, Atticus's closing speech gets me every time. Gregory Peck was a genius!

I just thought that I'd add onto the end of this the two films that I can thing of which are adaptations of two of my absolute favourite books of all time, that I really really disliked.
These are Little Women and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Despite both having really good casts, they failed to live up to the books so much that I can't even sit through the first without wanting to slap somebody, and the second one just makes me sad, for Douglas Adams, Martin Freeman, and anybody else involved, really.

So that's my ten, what are some of yours?

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Man who Would be King and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

In my last post, I wrote about the difficulty I was having wading through this book, short as it is. Well, I've finally finished it, and it's taken me a week. I am literally so relieved to be done! That being said, at no point did I feel like giving up on it. On paper, the collection is the kind of thing I should really love: the women and children are the heroes, and the men, mostly, are fairly useless. However, and for no reason I can work out, it just didn't grab my attention like a lot of the things I've been reading lately have. While reading it, I could see all of its' literary merit, and that it was very well written and structured. I think that maybe I just didn't relate to it too well. Having said that, the stories that I enjoyed the most (and actually got through without counting how many pages it was until the end!) were the ones featuring children as the central protagonists, and heroic characters. Most notably, 'Wee Willie Winkie', 'Baa Baa Black Sheep', and 'His Majesty the King'. They all showed the way that children unconsciously relate and respond to adults, and also, their resourcefulness, bravery, and the pain that they can go through as a result of adults not always understanding them. I think what I liked the most about these three stories was the authenticity of the children's voices. As opposed to the adult characters in other stories, they were very genuine and guileless, rather than contrived and manipulating, which is how many of the adults came across.
Oddly enough, I've not been put off wanting to read more Kipling. I'd still like to give 'The Jungle Books', and 'Kim' a go, but I think it will be a while before I attempt another one...

Rating: ***

Friday, 18 February 2011

Struggling with Kipling...

So, I got let out of work earlier than expected today, and it was one of those days that's really gorgeous and sunny, but absolutely freezing - perfect reading weather! Too cold to be outside but bright enough to flood my living room with light. My intention was to curl up in my awesome armchair that I got off of ebay for 99p, and finally finish 'The Man who Would be King and Other Stories' by Rudyard Kipling.
awesome 99p armchair!    

Apparently, this just was not to be. I am finding this book very hard to finish, and I'm really not sure why, as I don't dislike it. I'm actually enjoying it. He has a great way of portraying characters just at the moment they realise that they are not, actually, the pinnacle without which society cannot survive. His social commentary is really quite witty, and stylistically he reminds me a lot of E.M Forster, whose work I love. It's a total mystery to me why this book (and just as an aside, it's only 200 pages long, which fact only increases my frustration!) is taking so long to get through. In fact, I haven't even got to 'The Man who Would be King' yet! Every time I sit down to read it, I remember something else I have to do, or another book I really want to read, or a post (like this....) I really must write. It's driving me crazy!
Since writing this post, I have practically finished one other book, and read half of yet another. Neither of them are by Kipling...

Has anybody else had this problem? Any clues as to why it is this happens?   

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A new monthly feature! (and a review..)

Oh my goodness, this week is already insanely busy! Due to working hours and hours more than usual, I won't be able to blog very much for the next week or so... So, rather than double posting, check out the new fairytale feature I'm planning here! I'll be comparing original fairytales with one or more retellings on a monthly basis, and I'm really excited about it! The good thing about all the extra hours is that we may actually be able to get the internet at home soon, fingers crossed! Yay for being able to blog/surf/chat after 6pm!

Anyway, on to the actual review...

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is one of those books which just followed me around until I finally read it! I decided I wanted to read it for the Historical Fiction Challenge. Then, as asoon as I'd put it on the list, I found out about the film, which I'm super excited about! And then I started seeing posts about it everywhere. I had to order it from my lovely library, and I'm really glad I did.

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive 'ship of fools'. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival

Since I was a kid, I have been obsessed with the Circus, (for which I blame a combination of Noel Streatfeild and my mum) so when I found out what the book was about, I was really excited to start it.
Water for Elephants was much less sparkly than I expected, but I learned a lot from it. It's an interesting depiction of the reality of living in a train circus in the '30s, and its particular effectiveness lies in Gruen's choice of narrator. Jacob Jankowski is a young student vet, who misses his final exams following the death of his parents, and jumps onto a circus train by accident. Told through the eyes of his ninety- three year old self, from a nursing home he hates, the novel is the story of him getting to grips with the circus way of life, and his realisation that in many ways, it does not live up to his expectations. For me, the absolute visciousness and violence was hugely memorable, and in parts very upsetting. I really liked that Jacob reacted to things the same way that I did, and you got the feeling that he would never accept, as the other members of the circus had, that the cruelty and evilness was 'just the way things are'. I also like the circular arc of the story, which goes from the repression of youth to the repression of living in a nursing home, and shows escape from both. 
What I loved most about the book, though, was not the central love story, fraught with secrecy, violence, and obstacles as it was, but the story of the relationship between Jacob and the elephant. Rosie the elephant (more a fan of whisky than water!) provided some humour in an otherwise very heavy book, and was also a focal point for shaping many of the characters' personalities. Gruen has created a very thorough and even view of circus life in '30s America, and I cannot wait for the film!
While I didn't finish the novel feeling uplifted, I was satisfied at having finished a very well told and engaging story.
Rating: ****

Friday, 11 February 2011

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Sometimes I do this really geeky thing when I really like a book, where I'll do an Amazon search on it, and then make a list of 20 books. I take the first one from the 'Customers who bought this also bought' list of the first book, the second one from the list of that book and on and on until I have 20. Eat, Pray, Love is one of those book that made me want to read lots of other books like it. It also made me want to eat lots, cook lots, learn to meditate, take up yoga, and live in an ashram, as well as reinforcing my feelings that it's probably time for a major lifestyle change.
Eat, Pray, Love (for those who don't know) is about Elizabeth Gilbert, and her journey of self-discovery following her divorce. She goes to Rome, purely because she wants to learn to speak Italian, and to eat, India, where she lives on an ashram and learns a lot about herself, and Indonesia, where she makes a lot of friends, and falls in love. I've wanted to read this book for a while, and am waiting on lovefilm to send me the movie, so it can be part of my Page to Screen challenge.
I was absorbed by the descriptive power of the book, and by the depth of experience contained in the story. As someone who was brought up Catholic, and currently considers themself a Christian without denomination (we've lately been attending the Baptist church, as it has the most people in our new area!), I was impressed by the sincerity of Gilbert's quest for a relationship with God, and recognised in it something I'm after myself.
Back before I got engaged, I was in the middle of planning this big (imaginary) word trip, and Italy and India were two of the countries that I really wanted to visit. I was never that excited to go to Indonesia before, but having read so much about it recently, and having a friend who recently went there and loved it, I may be changing my mind.
The major thing to adore about Eat, Pray, Love, is the fact that it made me want to travel again - in fact I've already started to delve back into travel writing with a vengeance! :-)

Rating: *****

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw

Reading this book made me realise just how much 'easy' reading I've been doing lately. Map of the Invisible World is about Indonesia in the '60s, a country I know next to nothing about, so it was very interesting from that point of view, as well as for the actual story. It's a book that requires concentration, and I found it really rewarding to read.

The storyline focuses on Adam, an orphan, who has been adopted by Karl, and Indonesian born Dutch man. At the beginning of the novel, Karl is seized by the polic, and taken away to be 'repatriated'. The basic focus of the novel is on Adam's struggle to find Karl, and the people that he meets while doing this. It is a reflection of the struggles within Indonesia, told with a combination of the naivety of Adam, a teenager who is still very innocent, the experience of the country from the point of view of an American, who has lived there for years, a girl who wants to make a difference, and the anguish of a Sumatran extremist.

According to the blurb, the novel is about the seperation of Adam from his brother, Johan, as a child. In actualilty, Johan only seems to appear in order to lend more depth and understanding to Adam's story. His struggle to come to terms with his past and identity, mirror the struggles within the country, to assert itself, and for me, this made the novel very beautiful and poignant to read.

Map of the Invisible World was both beautifully written, intensely engaging, and hugely informative. It reminded me that my cognitive faculties are alive and well, and for this I'm very grateful!

Rating: ****

The Irresistibly Sweet Award!

I'm immensely excited about my first ever award :-) Thankyou so much to Teacher/Learner for passing it on to me! For this, I'm meant to list 4 guilty pleasures, and then pass the award on to 6 other bloggers. So... when I thought of guilty pleasures, these are the first things that came to mind:
1. Gossip Girl - I really hate that I love it so much, but I can't stop. I have seasons 1-3 on box set, and I will just sit and watch the episodes back to back all day, until somebody comes and makes me get up and do things...which ties in quite nicely with,
2. Staying in my pajamas all day!
3. Drinking hot chocolate withe marshmallows from Morelli's (just the most amazing thing, except their hot chocolate with an ice cream float. Weird mixture of hot and cold at the same time. It's like something from Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree, with that land that had the machine that gave you whatever food you asked for...) on the beach.
4. Reading chick lit, and watching silly films that just make me feel happy (i.e. Love Actually, Little Miss Sunshine, Four Weddings and a Funeral, 27 Dresses, Pretty Woman etc...)

And here are my six, purely for the fact that they're the first blogs I read when I started out blogging, and loved them all!

Happy Wednesday!! (also, I really like the cake....!)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley

 So, a while ago, I watched a little film called Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and fell in love.. resultingly, I just had to read the books that the film originated from, and thus my discovery was complete.
'Lost at Sea' is the standalone book which precedes the Scott Pilgrim novels in release date. If they weren't graphic, I guess you would call O'Malley's stories magic realism, for their casual acceptance of impossible things - Ramona's ability to get from A to B via the use of magical doors only she can find, Raleigh's belief that a cat has stolen her soul... However, Lost at Sea is much more abstract than the Scott Pilgrim series. It also felt to me, much less complete in itself. Having said that, this didn't make it a bad novel, in fact I (somewhat predictably) loved it.
O'Malley continues to surprise me with how real his characters are, and how much he can build them up, and make you empathise with them. Initially, I thought that this was because the Scott Pilgrim series, being 6 books long, allowed him the space to do that, and admittedly, there is a lot more back story involved, but Lost at Sea was a standalone novel, and it still had completely 3D characters. Really a story was only given to Raleigh, but that was ok, because the story is really only about her. And I totally loved her by the end.
As an aside, I'd just like to mention that this novel took me about an hour to read. The illustrative technique is absolutely brilliant - just really stark and simple, in black and white with thick lines, it makes it impossible to step away from the book for even a minute.
The illustration is a reflection of the story of the novel: about a girl called Raleigh who believes that she has no soul, on a road trip from 'visiting her dad' in California, back home to Canada, with three kids from school she doesn't know too well. The storyline and characters are all very simple, and O'Malley has the genius of being able to make his readers unquestioningly accept the viability of whatever he chooses to put in a story.
Raleigh starts off the book coming across like a bit of an outsider, and slightly out of this world, and throughout the course of the tale, she become included, accepted, and even finds a best friend for the first time in years. Really, Lost at Sea is a coming of age story - showing first love, friendship, and self discovery, and the graphic format just gives it that extra tinge of awesome.
The only thing that annoyed me is that you never find out what's in the letter! (Read the book, you'll know what I'm talking about!!)
I read this for the Graphic Novel Challenge (and because my amazing fiance bought it randomly..), and I'm really glad I did! So far, I'm totally loving the books I've been reading for this challenge!

Rating :*****

Monday, 7 February 2011

My Year (or week...) of Not Buying Books..

So I've decided to be brave, and attempt to not buy any more books for an entire year, until the beginning of February 2012.... I really don't know if this is going to work, but I'm giving it a go! Especially since I looked through my TBR, and have switched my challenge reading lists around a bit, and it turns out that I can accomodate most of the challenges I've signed up for in stuff I've already bought, or stuff that my amazing library can get for me!

I'll admit I'm absolutely terrified at the idea of not buying books at all. This is an incomprehensible idea to me - I've always bought books! I counted, and at the moment, my TBR stands at around 190 books. And we just moved house, and I gave a load that I thought I'd never get round to reading to the charity shop. I dread to think what it would have been before... I think this will be good for me....

In other news, I'm very annoyed with my lack of access to the internet. Currently we don't have it in our house, so I'm using my (amazing) phone, as a kind of mini computer, but unfortunately, while it allows me to make changes to some things on my blog, it doesn't let me put up new posts or anything quite that sophisticated. So for that I have to come to the library, which I can only do on days I'm not working, and then only for an hour a day... so it's difficult to slot regular posts in, which is very frustrating, as I'm now getting really behind on reviews I've posted compared to what I've actually read!

Things I read in January (with links to reviews):
Good reading month, February's set to be even better, I'm excited!(also, I've just finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, because I was reading so many awesome reviews of it, and I literally read it in two hours, I couldn't put it down! Thanks for the reviews, everyone!)

You Are Next by Katia Lief

  He took everything . . . then came back for more.
Former Detective Karin Schaeffer has nothing left to live for after serial killer Martin Price destroys all she holds dear. Known as "The Domino Killer" because he leaves dominoes as a clue to his next victim, Price doesn't stop until an entire family is destroyed. Even when he's locked away in prison, the shadow he casts over Karin's life keeps her in constant darkness.
Then a policeman brings news to her door: Price has escaped. Karin knows where he's headed because of the message he left behind last time, scrawled in blood, on her bathroom mirror—
You are next.
But Karin Schaeffer refuses to run and hide. She feels no fear and has nothing left to lose. And so she waits. She won't stand by and let Price harm any more of her family. And she won't rest until she's put him back behind bars forever . . . or until one of them is dead.
Description from Goodreads

I'll be honest. When I read the blurb of this book, I got really excited, thinking it would be the first book ever reviewed on this blog that I'd be able to say I hated, but no such luck.
Granted, it's not the genre I usually read. Although I do have phases of reading detective fiction, this was much gorier than what I'm used to. Also, it differs from the stuff I usually read, int hat you already know who did it before you start. Karin's family have been murdered by the Domino Killer, and the book starts with the police informing her that he's escaped from jail and is coming for her. I did wonder where it could possibly go from there, but this book surprised me. It had great pace, believable characters and enough twists in the plot to keep me engrossed. Although it did eventually follow the usual arc of such stories, and actually the ending was very similar to a couple of Dennis Lehane novels I read a while ago (and I mean that in the most complimentary way - I really like Dennis Lehane) there was definately enough in it to keep my interested!
I was also very excited about this being my first ever review copy (won from Goodreads). It's so lovely and crisp and shiny...!

Rating: ****

Friday, 4 February 2011

Friday is For Fairytales - The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

Friday is for Fairytales is a meme hosted by Irena at This Miss loves to Read. Every Friday, you can choose a fairytale you love, or simply find interesting or haunting, and review it or simply say why you like it so much, or why it has captured your attention. Instead of a fairytale, you can choose a favourite fairytale character and describe him/her and tell us why you like them, or you can simply share an experience connected to a fairytale. Fairytales can be old and modern, written by a known author or anonymous, written down or passed on orally, short or in novel form (like re-writings of fairytales), international or typical for your country alone.

My choice this week is a collection of retellings: The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke, whose debut novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, has been sitting on my bookshelf for absolutely years without me reading it!
This book is beautiful, and I'm talking about the cover, the writing, and the illustration. For me, fairytales in any form are always made all the more magical by good illustration. This collection is based around English folklore, and, having read  a lot of Neil Gaiman, there were many references in it which I understood, as there is a theme of English legends and folklore running through a lot of his work. This made me feel extremely smug!

My favourite story of the collection is a tie, between 'On Lickerish Hill', a retelling of the well-known Rumplestiltskin story, and Mrs Mabb, about a man who leaves his fiancee for Mrs Mabb, otherwise known as Queen Mabb, the 'miniature creature who drives her chariot into the noses and brains of sleeping people to compel them to experience dreams of wish fulfillment' (ahhh Wikipedia).

This collection was an absolute joy to read, and I especially loved Clarke's strong and intelligent female protagonists!

Rating : *****

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Wonderful Wednesdays #2 - Biographies

Wonderful Wednesdays is a meme hosted by Tiny Library . It is about spotlighting and recommending some of our most loved books, even if we haven't read them recently.  Each week will have a different theme or genre of book to focus on.

This week's theme is biographies.

I thought about this quite a lot, and I've decided that my favourite biography (although it's by a group, rather than a single person) has got to be The Freedom Writers Diary.

I actually hadn't read this book until after my roomate at the time made me watch the film, but it was (and still is) one of those films which inspired me so much that I immediately went out and bought all the associated reading material. And by the way, if you haven't seen the film, you really really should.
Basically, the diary is a collection of entries from the diaries of High School English students, most of whom live in the Projects in Long Beach, California. It's basically a record of the way in which their English teacher, Erin Gruwell, uses books, and different forms of English, to inspire the children, most of whom are gang members, or living in horrific circumstances, trying not to get shot everytime they walk out of their door.

The reason that I love this book, and the film, is that it helped to reaffirm my belief in the healing,motivating, and inspiring power of books, at a point when I was having doubts. And on top of that, it's a hugely moving and inspring read!

As well as this, the other biography that I would recommend, especially for anyone who actually teaches English, is 'Teach with Your Heart' by Erin Gruwell, which is actually the biography of the teacher, rather than the students. It's also a great book.  

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

White Boots and Dancing Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild

For a while, I've wondered why it is that Noel Streatfeild writes so much about 'shoes', and about children in the showbusiness and entertainment worlds, and then I discovered that she was an actress herself, before becoming a writer. For me, the worlds conjured up by her books were always hugely vivid, and on re-reading them, I was not disappointed. As an adult (supposedly, anyway!) reading Streatfeild's work is as delicious and comforting as it was when I was eight, and I think that this is a product of her consistency and attention to detail, coupled with her ability to create characters who resonate with her readers.

My copy of 'White Boots' is absolutely ancient! It may well have belonged to my mother in her youth, and I certainly remember first having this copy read to me as a bedtime story, many years ago. In comparison, the copy of 'Dancing Shoes that I have is one of the re-released ones, with the very girly pink covers, which makes it look like an Angelina Ballerina book! Subject-wise, though, the books are very similar, probably unsurprisingly, given their respective publication dates of 1951 and 1957.

'White Boots' is about Hilary Johnson, a girl from a poor family, whose doctor prescribes that she go skating as a way to build up her strength after a long illness. At the rink, she meets Lalla Moore, a girl whose father was a skating world champion, and since his death, her aunt has convinced her, and everyone around her, that she will follow in his footsteps. The book follows the story of their friendship, and not only the differences between being rich and poor, but the advantages money can bring as well as highlighting the emptiness it can cause in the life of an only child.

'Dancing Shoes' also highlights social inequality, as well as sharing the sort of morals present in lots of Streatfeild's books; that people who are nice usually get good things happening to them. It has similarites to 'Ballet Shoes', which is a book I love!
It is about orphaned Rachel Lennox, and her adopted sister Hilary. After their mother's death, they are brought to live with their aunt and uncle, and spoiled cousin, Dulcie. Simply put, Dulcie is the star of her mother's dancing school, and really doesn't like it when Hilary turns out to be as good as her. Again, this is basically the story of the relationship between Rachel and Hilary, and about people getting their just deserts.
Streatfeild has a way of describing things exactly as you can imagine a child of the time might, and this, as well as the wish-fulfillment quality of her storylines, where her characters always end up getting the thing they have worked and hoped for, is what makes me love her books. I could keep reading them forever, but I feel that I need to stretch my brain a bit after three of her books in a row, so I'll take a break for now, but there's a pile of her books in the corner which will be calling out to me before long!!

Rating: both *****