Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Characters in Modern Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale Retellings

This is my seventeenth Top Ten Tuesday post! Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is 'Top Ten Favourite Characters in X Genre', with the X being whatever genre you chose. Firstly, I considered writing about contemporary YA, but I decided that I write about contemporary YA almost all the time, so I'd do something different this time around! I'm not sure that 'modern fairy tales' or 'fairy tale retellings' are genres in their own right, but it's my topic, and I'll write what I want to, and just hope you enjoy reading the post and check out some of the books!

Photo by Wicker Paradise
How amazing is this bed‽ It would be the perfect place to lie while reading even more fantastic modern fairy tales and retellings.

Top Ten Favourite Characters in Modern Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale Retellings

1. Puss from 'Puss in Boots' in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, by Angela Carter - I love 'The Bloody Chamber' and the wolf tales but 'Puss in Boots' is my favourite story in this collection. It's just so much fun, and Puss is a charming, funny narrator.

2. Rosie from Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley - Rosie was born a princess, but was cursed by a witch to prick her finger on a spindle on her 21st birthday and fall asleep forever. To avoid this fate, she is taken away by a clever young fairy to grow up in a small village as an ordinary girl. I really liked Rosie. She deals with the situations she finds herself in really well, and she can talk to animals!

3. Clara, from Ash, by Malinda Lo - not the heroine this time, but a background character that I liked and found really interesting.

4. The dog from 'The Princess Who Stood On Her Own Two Feet', by Jeanne Desy (also found in Don't Bet on the Prince, edited by Jack Zipes, and The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales, edited by Alison Lurie) - because he loved her then.

5. Ellie, from Avalon High, by Meg Cabot - does a King Arthur retelling count? Anyway, I really liked Ellie. She's courageous and won't stand for the nonsensical idea that she's the reincarnation of tragic Elaine, rather than someone much more powerful.

6. Granny, from Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones - she's so much better than either of Polly's parents!

7. Little Red Riding Hood from Revolting Rhymes, by Roald Dahl - You have to respect a little girl that pulls a pistol from her knickers and shoots the wolf dead. Or at least fear her. The way in which she 'helps' the Three Little Pigs is erm, unorthodox as well.

8. The witch, from 'Prince Amilec', by Tanith Lee (found in Don't Bet on the Prince, edited by Jack Zipes, and The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales, edited by Alison Lurie) - She breaks all the witch stereotypes, and is very crafty.

9. Val, from Valiant, by Holly Black - Val has many flaws, but she ultimately manages to make the right decisions and fight for what is important.

10. Jacky, from Jack, the Giant Killer, by Charles de Lint - a young woman who discovers not just a whole world of magic, but also her own personal power.

Who are your favourite fairy tale characters, whether traditional, re-told, or modern?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Spellbound, by Cara Lynn Shultz

Photo by Richard Hurd

After Emma Connor's stepfather nearly gets them both killed with his drunk driving, and she becomes the centre of school gossip, her aunt Christine offers her a place in her home and at the school she is on the board of, Vincent Academy in New York City. Emma gladly accepts, resolving to strive for a quiet life and tell none of her new classmates the truth about her past. But that plan gets thrown to the wayside when she meets Brendan Salinger. She thinks she just has a crush and nothing will come of it, but his interest in her becomes more and more obvious. Then she begins having vivid dreams, all set in past eras, in which she dies, and her twin brother Ethan, who died when they were fourteen, tries to warn her. As Emma follows the supernatural clues scattered all over their lives, she begins to fear that their growing love will lead to her death, again.

Spellbound is basically a Cinderella story - girl with tough family life gets rescued by fairy godmother (aka Aunt Christine) and introduced to handsome, wealthy prince (Brendan). The backbone of the novel is a cliche, but when the Mira Ink team described it as 'Gossip Girl with witches', I was intrigued, so with some trepidation I plucked Spellbound from the depths of my TBR stack.

I was pleasantly surprised. For the most part, Spellbound is an easygoing supernatural romance, but it has charm (pun intended) and a sprinkling of wit. I liked the characters, especially Emma, who narrates the story, her enthusiastic younger cousin, Ashley, and Angelique, the knowingly described school goth/witch. I enjoyed the silly friendship dramas, in which characters mostly just glare at each other across a room, and the insult-slinging, though I think Emma is a bit too judgemental when it comes to her arch-enemy Kristin's boy-obsessed nature. I also enjoyed the action scenes, especially the last one, which really had me on the edge of my (train) seat.

I was less convinced by the romance, but that's down to personal taste. Firstly, Brendan is not my type, partly because 'bad boys' do nothing for me, and partly because of his name. I hold my hands up and confess: Hollyoaks ruined the name 'Brendan' for me forever. Fans of the mustachioed one may disagree, but it is not a 'hot boy' name.

Secondly, it is heavy on the ol' instalove. If you hate instalove with an eternal, all-encompassing passion, you should probably avoid Spellbound, but if you only hate it some of the time, you might still enjoy Spellbound. The instalove here didn't irk me as much as it usually does because a) Emma and Brendan were lovers in their past lives, and b) Emma is aware of the potentially destructive influence Brendan has on her life. However, as I've said before, I do prefer to read about relationships that grow at a more moderate pace.

Although it is the first in a series, the ending is quite neat, and there are few clues as to where the plot will go from here. Until I read a preview of the second book, which is about the continued supernatural problems that Emma and Brendan have to face, I was hoping that it would have a different narrator. As much as I liked Emma, with her witty one-liners and seemingly endless supply of courage, I would happily leave her be to read a story from the point of view of Angelique, or Jenn, or somebody else at Vincent Academy. I'm not sure that I want to revisit the mind of loved-up Emma, because once she started dating Brendan, she became less interesting to me, repeatedly telling us how plain she feels in comparison to her super-attractive boyfriend, and describing his eyes. I  I don't think eye-obsessions are unrealistic, one of my closest friends (aged 28, I hasten to add) will happily blather on about her boyfriend's eyes for half an hour at a time. But I do find it annoying, so she is banned from mentioning the word 'eyes' in relation to her boyfriend (she tells me about her cat's eyes instead), and I struggled to resist skipping over all the eye descriptions in Spellbound.

Will I read Spellcaster, the sequel? Hopefully. I am keeping a open mind about this series. I did enjoy Spellbound, despite Brendan not being quite my type, and I want to find out what happens next.

Thank you to Mira Ink for the review copy. Please note that this review was based on an uncorrected proof.

How do you feel about instalove? Do you think it's acceptable in some stories, such as this one?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Romances

This is my sixteenth Top Ten Tuesday post! Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I have taken a rather broad view of this topic, choosing to pick my favourite romances within books, rather than my favourite romantic novels, because I don't read many books that could be simply classed as romantic novels. I then narrowed it down by choosing only books that I've previously reviewed. Enjoy!

Photo by Katerha

Top Ten Favourite Romances

1. Jeane Smith and Michael Lee from Adorkable, by Sarra Manning - Girl dislikes everything boy represents, boy cannot understand girl at all. But their lust for each other starts to overpower their initial reluctance.

2. Ruby and Noel from the Ruby Oliver Quartet, by E. Lockhart - because they're completely adorable, as frustrating and confused as they can sometimes be.

3. Val and Ravus, from Valiant, by Holly Black - the only Beauty and the Beast retelling that I have read so far that didn't stink of Stockholm Syndrome, and Val kicks butt.

4. Mia and Adam, from If I Stay and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman - because before the accident they were such a vomitously cute couple, and they proved their love after things got all, well, car crashy.

5. Riley and Dylan, from Everything Beautiful, by Simmone Howell - two unconventional teenagers that meet at Christian summer camp, and go on to combine an adventure with their unusual romance.

6. Naomi and Will, from Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin - because he loves her so patiently, even though she is afraid of her feelings.

7. Nicola and Battle, from Empress of the World, by Sara Ryan - because of Nicola's journey towards self-discovery, and the open ending.

8. Anthea and Robin, from Girl Meets Boy, by Ali Smith - First non-YA book on the list! This is a short book mainly about a) two sisters with very different ways of seeing the world, b) gender, and c) love.

9. Ash and Kaisa, from Ash, by Malinda Lo - hello, slow burn.

10. Tom and The Perfectionist, from All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman - I'm worried that anything I could write here would spoil your enjoyment of this book. So just go read it.

Honourable mentions to some of my other favourite fictional couples: Aria and Perry from Under the Never Sky, Allie and Carter from Night School, Flora and Charles from Cold Comfort Farm (it's okay that he's her cousin because it's a satire, right?), Heather and Morag from The Good Fairies of New York, Frankie Landau-Banks and pranks, Sam from Slam and maturity, everyone and everyone in How I Paid For College, Maria and Michael from Roswell (hated Max and Liz on rewatch, but Maria and Michael forever!!!1one), Seth and Summer from The OC (in honour of my sister), and obviously, Edie and Dylan from the Diary of a Crush books.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book Review: Fly on the Wall, by E. Lockhart

Photo by Kevin Bowman

Fly on the Wall is a loose retelling of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, narrated by Gretchen Yee, who feels like the dullest of girls at a creative arts school where everyone has big talents and bigger personalities. She spends her time drawing Spider-Man and crushing on the gorgeous Titus, while trying to ignore her drawing teacher, who disapproves of her comic-style work. Gretchen only has one close friend, Katya, who doesn't seem to want to hang out with her much anymore. When her parents announce their separation, she really starts to feel invisible. But then, in a moment of frustration at the apparently alien behaviour of boykind, Gretchen makes a wish that changes everything. She wishes she could be a fly on the wall of the boys' locker room.

At first, when Gretchen finds herself in fly form, it's quite funny. She has both human and fly desires - she wants to see what the boys have under their boxer shorts, but she also wants to sniff that delicious-smelling wet patch on the ceiling. She watches and listens as different classes arrive to get changed, and slowly she comes to realise that boys aren't mysterious, alien-like creatures and are in fact just people. Gretchen discovers what she has in common with boys that she had never had any interest in before, observes friendly banter, and finds out what boys keep in their lockers. The story turns serious as Gretchen sees both overt and subtle forms of bullying, and learns a few secrets that change the way she sees Titus and his friends forever.

Fly on the Wall is a thoughtful and entertaining novel, from Gretchen's first few tentative moments as a fly, to the confrontations she overhears about the homophobic words that Titus's friend Adrian throws about casually. E. Lockhart explores the dynamics of friendship beautifully, with the romantic plot giving the story impetus and direction.

E. Lockhart writes school settlings so well, and just as with Tate Prep, the Wildewood Academy for the Performing Arts, and Alabaster, I found myself absorbed quickly in the world of the Manhattan High School for the Arts. We don't really have many specialist schools in the UK but I did go to an arts university where at times I felt a bit like Gretchen does, the plain girl amongst the peacocks. I love it when people dress creatively so all those details were like delicious chocolate for me.

I think that setting most of the action in the boys' locker room was very brave, as it requires the mention of certain body parts, or as Gretchen calls them, 'gherkins', but its never gratuitious and before long Gretchen becomes more absorbed in the friendship politics and injustices she witnesses and her growing feelings for one of the boys.

I loved the ending, it was great to see how Gretchen deals with things when she is back in human form, armed with her locker-room knowledge, but to say any more would spoil the story. 

No surprise really, but I would recommend it Fly on the Wall to fans of YA contemporary and if you've loved any of E. Lockhart's other books, you should definitely get your hands on a copy as soon as possible!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Ten Things I Love About Libraries

Photo by Daniel2005. The King's Library was collected by George III and given to the nation by George IV. The rules set out at the time of the gift state that the books in the library have to be kept together, and away from any other collection. The King's Library is currently stored in The King's Library tower, at the British Library, as seen in the above photograph.
Today is National Libraries Day. I have always loved libraries, having had a library card since I was just two years old. As a child, I couldn't afford to buy enough books to satisfy my love of reading, so I relied on libraries to provide an endless supply of new material. As an adult, I have used libraries when studying but also, as always, to find new worlds to visit through novels, short stories, plays and poetry.

Recently, many libraries have been closed or threatened with closure, due to council budget cuts. Some people think that libraries are unneccessary, because books can now be bought cheaply online, but I do not agree at all. Not only do libraries have more to offer than just books, but as cheap as buying books can be, nothing is less expensive than free. I believe that anyone with a voracious appetite for reading should be encouraged to keep at it, and not every reader can afford to keep buying books, or wants to download them illegally, paying authors nothing. Libraries allow everyone to educate themselves, no matter their income or their parents' income.

I think it is important that we make the most of what libraries have to offer, and make sure that other people are aware of what libraries have to offer them. To celebrate National Libraries Day, here are some of my favourite things about libraries:

1. Libraries provide books for free! An obvious one to start with, but although libraries also have many other resources available, books are the heart of libraries.

2. They are fantastic places to browse. Before I started book blogging, I used to choose books just by going to the library and checking out what was on the shelves and in displays. I like bookshops, but there isn't the same freedom to browse that you experience in libraries, where you can spend as long as you like reading a book before you decide to borrow it or not.

3. They are comfortable places to read and work. Libraries are usually quiet, and often have large tables that you can work on, and squishy chairs to relax in whilst reading.

4. Libraries host a whole range of events, from book groups to author readings. These activities are often free or low-priced, so why not investigate what your local libraries have to offer?

5. Increasingly, libraries also offer e-books and downloadable audiobooks from their websites. I don't have an e-reader but I have downloaded a few audiobooks to listen to whilst cleaning, crafting, or travelling.

6. I can use online library catalogues to track down the books I want and request them, so that I can pick them up from my local library.

7. As well as books, libraries have computers for patrons to use and a huge range of other research materials, such as local history collections and newspaper and magazine archives.

8. Three important words: inter-library loans. If my local library doesn't have the books I want, I can request them from other libraries in the system for a small fee. 15 of the London boroughs are members of the London Libraries Consortium, which means that if you belong to one library in the Consortium, you can borrow books from all of the others - and request them online. All libraries in the UK are able to order any book you'd like from the British Library, but this does cost more.

9. When books have reached the end of their library lives, they often go on sale. I've enjoyed many great books that I bought from the library for 20p!

10. Libraries pay authors! In the UK we have a Public Lending Right scheme which means that many authors get paid when their books are borrowed. 27 other countries have their own versions of PLR.

What do you love most about libraries? If you're on Twitter, you can use the hashtags #lovelibraries and #NLD13 to share your words of appreciation for libraries. @readingagency have been retweeting mini love letters to libraries all day.


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