Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Wishes I'd Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me

Top Ten Wishes I'd Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me

Presumably I'd summon him via a spell in an old book...

1. Firstly I'd wish for a signed first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Obviously because I love Harry Potter and not because I could sell it at auction for tens of thousands of pounds...*innocent face*

2. Next I would wish for Libba Bray to be given the ability to write her brilliant books really quickly so that I don't have to wait long for the next two sequels to The Diviners.

3. See also Candy Harper so that I can have the third Faith book now!

Play this video to hear me talk about how amazing the Faith books are.

4. I would also wish for Robin McKinley to be given the overwhelming desire and inspiration to write a direct sequel to Sunshine in which EVERYTHING IS EXPLAINED.

5. I would wish to meet Angela Carter.

6. And Virginia Woolf.

7. And Shakespeare.

8. Actually I'd also like the Book Genie to transport me back in time so I could see one of Shakespeare's plays being performed for the very first time.

9. And tangentially, I'd like a TARDIS in my flat to serve as my library.

10. I'd also like the ability to finish writing my own books really quickly, and for me to get an agent, and a publisher, and for my books to be wonderful and successful, and the same for my boyfriend...

...oh wait, I'm out of wishes, and this isn't real, it's just a Top Ten Tuesday


Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish, as always. Let me know in the comments if you did this week's Top Ten, and if we have any of the same wishes! That way, if we are visited by the Book Genie, we can save wishes by wishing that both of us get to do x...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book Review: Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause

Vivian is loup-garou, a child of the Moon, a werewolf, and she loves it. She relishes the thrill of the change, delights in running through the forest in the dark, feeling powerful and beautiful. She used to love being part of the pack, as well, until one of them killed a human, and vigilantes burned down their home, killing Vivian's father, the leader of the pack.

Now they have moved to a town, leaving their old lives and hopefully their fears behind. Vivian feels isolated and lonely. She wants friends. So when she finds a poem about werewolves in the school magazine, she is intrigued. The writer is human, but could he be the one to truly understand her? Will they fall in love?

Blood and Chocolate was first published in 1997, but for the most part it doesn't feel that dated. The review quote from Publishers Weekly on the front of my copy calls it 'as addictive as chocolate' and I have to agree, I really struggled to put it down! Vivian is a teenage girl with no self-esteem problems at all - she's hot and she knows it. She's very aware of her own sexuality and desire, and she sets out to seduce Aiden, the poem's writer, rather than waiting to be approached. She also pays a lot of attention to the politics of the werewolf pack, and her own role in the group - her confidence is tempered by her fear that it was her fault that her father died.

Whenever she's rejected or anyone attempts to order her about, she's angry and defiant. On the other hand, she desperately wants peace and longs to be able to run free with the pack without worrying that there is a killer in their midst or that they will be hunted by humans. These internal conflicts drive the story and make Vivian a compelling and unusual protagonist.

This novel is by no means perfect. It's hard to know what the author is trying to say about the gender politics of the pack for most of the novel, and ultimately a lot of those issues are unresolved. I guessed who the killer was before it was revealed.  I strongly disliked the ending and the resolution to the romantic storyline.

But I loved the energy throughout, and Vivian's refreshing confidence. I would recommend Blood and Chocolate with the caveat that there may be aspects of it that you really hate, but that overall it's very interesting. Definitely a book I want to discuss with other people.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Book Review: Killing the Dead, by Marcus Sedgwick

I hadn't read a World Book Day book in ages. I may have only read one World Book Day book previously - Shop Dead by Kate Cann, which was one of the books in 2001. It's about a girl who is obsessed with shopping and the way she looks, told from the point of view of a guy who takes her on a date. Kate Cann is amazing at writing teenage boys. I remember my sister got it with her voucher (I invariably forgot to use mine). Shop Dead is pretty dark, as is Killing the Dead.

Apparently Killing the Dead has some relationship with The Ghosts of Heaven, one of Marcus Sedgwick's full length novels, or at least they both heavily feature spirals. I didn't want to look into it too much in case of spoilers. I did enjoy Killing the Dead so I'm very intrigued by this and will have to give The Ghosts of Heaven a go.

At first Killing the Dead seemed like an odd choice for a World Book Day book. It's historical fiction, set in an American all-girls boarding school in 1961. I've always thought of World Book Day books as being aimed at reluctant readers, and the setting and time period won't be familiar to most teenagers, as you learn almost nothing about the Sixties at school. But then it got really dark. If there is one thing I believe about teenagers' reading preferences, it's that they love it when things get dark. I did. I still do.

Killing the Dead is set during the aftermath of the death of a schoolgirl, Isobel, and in the run-up to the school's annual Procession Day. We see this time from the perspective of different characters, slowly building up a picture of what Isobel was like and what might have happened. Then there's a twist that contradicts this picture and our assumptions.

I thought that both the build-up and the twist were very well done. It's a very short book - 117 pages of quite large type - and Marcus Sedgwick doesn't have a lot of space for characterisation but I found almost all the characters well-drawn and easy to imagine. There were two exceptions. Isobel is a mystery. Even when we learn what happened, she maintains some mystery, but this seems appropriate - she is, after all, dead. Margot, another schoolgirl, the new Procession Queen, apparently haunted by Isobel's ghost, is also a mystery, but it felt less like she should be. Her personality isn't really detailed until her role in Isobel's death is explained, which works for preserving the mystery, but as I was reading the chapters in the run up to the reveal I felt like I should have more of a handle on her character than I did. I couldn't really imagine what kind of girl she was and why she did things. I was left trying to fill in those gaps for myself without much to go on.

I'd love to discuss Killing the Dead so please let me know what you thought in the comments or tweet me!

Monday, October 05, 2015

A Garden of One's Own, or, Book Review: Return to the Secret Garden (Return to the Secret Garden Blog Tour)

The Secret Garden is one of my favourite books of all time. It's certainly my most reread book, my copy boasts a heavily creased cover and spine as well as yellowed, torn pages. When I was a teenager I had a habit of reading just my favourite scenes in books over and over, so until quite recently it had a bookmark in it at the scene where Colin gives a lecture about Magic. When I reread it in preparation for Return for the Secret Garden, I was slightly underwhelmed by that scene - I'd mythologised it in my head, remembered it as longer, more dramatic.

That's what I do with my favourite parts of my favourite books and films and songs, especially when I haven't revisited them in a while. Those scenes or dramatic moments become bigger to me than they are, and I forget the rest of what made them so great. As I reread, or rewatch, or relisten, I reevaluate it, and the thing as a whole, and this often leads to surprising revelations. See my previous post about Harriet the Spy - in that case I thought I loved best the parts about sneaking around and spying on people, but it was the stuff about writing that really sunk in.

Anyway, remembering that scene so fondly, I thought what I loved most about The Secret Garden was the Magic. Wrong again! As an adult, reading it, I realised what actually I loved most is the secret garden! (And this isn't just because I've recently become obsessed with plants.) I love seeing private spaces. Photographs of lived-in houses. Scenes in films with carefully constructed and personalised rooms - the teenage bedroom, the shop the character owns and decorated themselves. At night, on the top deck of a bus, I look out for open curtains and gleefully stare into other people's houses.

Mary Lennox is a girl who doesn't have anything of her own, a space where she can be herself. Her bedroom is a place she is brought to and taken out of on the orders of others - but the garden she finds by herself. It's her sanctuary. On this reread, I was actually slightly disappointed when she starts letting other people in!

My much-loved copy of the original book. View on Instagram.
Return to the Secret Garden is set thirty years after the original, and follows another young girl's search for a place where she belongs. Emmie has never really had a proper space of her own. She lives at an orphanage, where she shares a dormitory with other girls. To snatch some privacy, she climbs through a window onto a rickety old fire escape. It's there she meets a stray cat, the first thing she has that's really hers (as much as a cat can be owned!). But then along comes the Second World War, and the orphanage is evacuated. Emmie has to leave her cat behind and travel a long way to a strange old house in Yorkshire, one Misselthwaite Manor.

I was a little apprehensive about reading a sequel to a book I love so much, but I found Return to the Secret Garden charming. It was great to see another little girl find a kind of home in the garden, even though it's no longer locked, and she has even less right to it than Mary, being an unconnected orphan, rather than the niece of the manor's owner.

Like Mary, she is grumpy and sometimes rude, but also very determined once she gets an idea in her head, and I loved all these characteristics in Mary. Many people prefer Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess to The Secret Garden, but I am a Secret Garden person through and through. It helped that I actually owned a copy of The Secret Garden. I read A Little Princess one time and returned the book to the library. I  saw the film once for my birthday. That was enough (though when I rewatched it as an adult, it did make me cry).

Sara, the 'little princess', is too good to be relatable, she's always kind and sweet, no matter what happens. Whereas Mary gave me hope - that even if I wasn't perfect, I could be likable, and I could try and improve. Emmie is the same. She's an orphan, but she is neither tediously pathetic or overly good. She seems realistic, as do all the children, who fight and fall out but ultimately help each other out.

My least favourite part was seeing the children of The Secret Garden as adults, but that might be only because I have never ever imagined them grown up! I think children reading this after the original won't find it jarring at all.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed reading Return to the Secret Garden as a child - it takes some of the best features of the original and puts them into a familiar yet strikingly altered setting. It's a cute, quick read. Many thanks to Scholastic for sending me a review copy (it's a particularly gorgeous little hardback) and to Faye Rogers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

Have you ever read a sequel to a children's classic that wasn't by the original author? What did you think? Don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour and enter the giveaway! Yes, Scholastic are giving away a copy of The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett and a copy of Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb to one lucky blog tour follower!

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