Friday, 31 December 2010

Friday is for Fairy-Tales: The Princess and the Pea

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.

My post today is about: The Princess and the Pea

The Princess and the Pea is one of my favourite stories by Andersen. It is a fairy-tale short in length, but it provides the reader with a lovely, romantic story.

The story opens with a prince looking for a wife, but there is something wrong with every girl he meets and he is never certain whether a candidate is a real princess. This is crucial: the prince's wife must be a real princes, of genuine noble blood. There is a heavy storm one night and a young woman seeks shelter from the rain in the prince's castle. She claims to be a princess and the prince's mother decides to test the girl. She puts one single pea under the bed reserved for this supposed princess, which is made of twenty mattresses and twenty featherbeds. It seems it should be impossible for the young woman to feel anything at all, as the bed sounds so soft. But a true princess will feel a pea under twenty mattresses and it is exactly what happens. In the morning, the young woman complains that something hard under the bed kept her awake and she could not sleep at all. This proves she is a true princess, which makes the prince very happy. He has finally found a suitable wife for himself. They get married and the offensive pea is put in the Royal Museum.

There is no mention of love between the prince and the princess, which makes the story a tad less romantic, but since this is a fairy-tale, we may assume they did fell in love, among other things. In all honesty, love is not important when it comes to royal marriages (or at least in the past it wasn't), but I like to believe that the princess in this story did not only get to live as a true princess, but also found love in the prince, and vice versa.

A princess having something to do with peas also appears in The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo. In this fantasy book, the princess, named Princess Pea, is the object of a little mouse's affection. I don't want to spoil the book to you, if you haven't read it (or watched the animation), but it is a lovely tale. I have to say, though, that other than being named Pea, Princess Pea and the princess in Andersen's story have very little in common.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn

GENRE: historical romance

At the age of ten, Miranda Cheever showed no signs of Great Beauty. And even at ten, Miranda learned to accept the expectations society held for her—until the afternoon when Nigel Bevelstoke, the handsome and dashing Viscount Turner, solemnly kissed her hand and promised her that one day she would grow into herself, that one day she would be as beautiful as she already was smart. And even at ten, Miranda knew she would love him forever. But the years that followed were as cruel to Turner as they were kind to Miranda. She is as intriguing as the viscount boldly predicted on that memorable day—while he is a lonely, bitter man, crushed by a devastating loss. But Miranda has never forgotten the truth she set down on paper all those years earlier—and she will not allow the love that is her destiny to slip lightly through her fingers.

When she was ten, Miranda Cheever fell in love with her best friend’s oldest brother Nigel, Viscount Turner. Now that she is nineteen, Turner has changed considerably. His wife turned him into a bitter, sarcastic man and at her funeral, he is a happy widower, surprising Miranda. Yet now, she can admire him without guilt, as he is once more a single man. Miranda is still very much in love with him. And so, Miranda’s love story begins.

This was a fun and sweet read, yet quite slow and boring at times. The whole focus of the story was on the romance developing between Miranda and Turner and nothing else happened, really. No surprising twists, no interesting revelations, no tension. Somehow, the novel lacked life.

Miranda is a lovely heroine. She is intelligent, warm and kind, yet also determined and proud. I became disappointed when she tossed her pride away for Turner. He behaved very badly towards her on several occasions and even disappeared after a passionate night, yet she allowed herself to be persuaded into forgiving him because he can touch her like no other man can. I do no respect a heroine who, although pretending to be strong, tough and stubborn, melts as soon as her lover so much as brushes his fingers against her skin. I don’t care much for spineless women. Turner, although charming and rightfully bitter, is not a hero I can admire, I’m afraid. He treats Miranda poorly, in a patronizing and even somewhat condescending way, yet he is forgiven his behaviour because he had a terrible experience with his first marriage. Which means, he doesn’t learn from his own experience – he hurts Miranda the same way his wife did.

A funny thing about Miranda that I have to point it is that, although she resembles a bluestocking (I like them), she was clueless as to who Mary Wollstonecraft was. Perhaps, that was why Turner could turn her so easily (pun not really intended).

I must also confess that I am not a fan of “childhood sweethearts”. Miranda fell in love with Turner when he was nineteen and she was ten. Ten years later, he is a completely different man, due to his unhappy experience. Technically speaking, she is in love with his version of ten years ago, which is why childhood romances don’t work for me. They are a form of nostalgia; we love something or someone that no longer exists. People change when growing into adults. Perhaps I am a nit-picker, but this is another aspect of the story I did not enjoy.

I have to point out that I love historical romances, but I need strong characters and a good story with some lovely twists tossed in. The characters of The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever were almost stock romance characters and although historical romances follow a certain pattern, it does not mean they cannot vary. The story is a bit mediocre and does not offer anything startling.

However, although I know I probably sounded quite negative in my review of this book, this was still a sweet and enjoyable read and there were certain parts that stood out and showed potential. A lover of historical romances should enjoy this novel.


Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Top Ten Picks: Best Books in 2010

Top Ten Tuesday is a great meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Books in 2010. The ten books I chose really left an impression on me for various reasons.

My picks are:
1. The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. Touching story, powerful and amazingly beautiful language.

2. The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen. This book made me crave cake and muffins all the time.:) But apart from this, it depicts touching stories of every-day people coping with issues that have a pinch of Southern magic in them.

3. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Unique. It's about a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard and the story is delivered in a great, compelling way.

4. Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. I love angels and this story really made them shine, or rather it made half angels - the Nephilim - shine. Very little romance, just pure angelic adventure and mythology. I love it.

5. The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern. I am a sucker for stories in which the past and the present collide. Ahern tried a new genre and succeeded. Great, suspensul drama.

6. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. I love the setting of the story - Salem - and the idea that one can see the future by reading lace. Very powerful, a gripping read.

7. The Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. My second Picoult experience and it has turned me into this author's fan. Touching personal stories, a provocative subject that is discussed so well. As some say - unputdownable.

8. Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain. One of the best works of historical fiction I have read in recent years. I see butterflies quite differently now.

9. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. Wow. This book has been praised to me so much and it met all of my expectations. Taking place in a mental hospital and told from the perspective of a mentally ill man, it definitely provides for a psychological thrill-ride.

10. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. Many people say that it's not Chevalier's best, but to me this book really speaks. Who would have thought that fossils could pull you in so much? In the end, it is a tale about two strong, remarkable females.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Locus Focus: The World of Charn (Narnia)

This Locus Focus is about settings in Narnia. I chose The World of Charn.

In The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the World of Charn is the birth world of Queen Jadis, also known as the White Witch (she is a great, truly evil villain of the book series).

Jadis destroyed this world. When Charn is first presented in the books, it is a lifeless place. It was once populated by the so-called giants, which were basically humanoids. Now, the only living creature in this world is Jadis herself. She destroyed Charn with the Deplorable Word, an evil incantation that destroys all life, except the life of the person who spoke the incantation during a special ceremony.

Every living thing died and the river Charn dried up after the Deplorable Word was uttered. The sky became so dark blue that it appeared to be black. The sun of Charn reddened. In the sky, there is also another celestial object, either a very distant moon or a very weak star with dim light. The air is cold and thin. This is a dead planet.

There is also the House of Charn, a royal palace that still stands and waits to be rescued by chance visitors from other worlds. In the Hall of Images inside the palace, there are life-size figures of monarchs of Charn through the ages. Jadis put an enchantment on the dining table in the Hall of Images, so that everyone seated at the table remained preserved. Jadis took her place at the end of the table.

Jadis also put a short column in the centre of the hall, with a hammer and a golden bell on top of it; with the hammer, one hits the bell. When a visitor to Charn, Digory, hit the bell with the hammer, it produced a sound that grew louder and louder until the roof collapse and the ringing broke the spell of preservation, awaking Jadis from her preserved state.

This is Charn, a destroyed, dark, lifeless world.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Friday is for Fairytales: The Fir-Tree

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.

My post today is about: The Fir-Tree by H.C. Andersen

Tomorrow is Christmas, so I tried to choose a Christmas-themed fairy-tale. Perhaps it’s a bit sad for this time of year, but it’s still a beautiful tale in its own way, so I’m sharing it with you.

The Fir-Tree by Hans Christian Andersen is one of my favourite fairy-tales because it always makes me remember my reading sessions with grandpa. I’m a big girl now, so he doesn’t read to me anymore, but he used to read to me from a beautiful collection of Andersen’s stories with wonderful illustrations and The Fir-Tree had the best illustrations, so it stood out for me.

The Fir-Tree is the story of a little fir-tree who wants to grow up desperately. It is the smallest tree in the forest, so all the trees call it the baby of the forest, which it does not like. The animals also tell him about the adventures of its fellow trees and he wants to be just as big and important as them. One day, when the tree has grown a bit bigger, people cut it down and make it their Christmas tree. They decorate it and the tree, now very beautiful and bright, is in the midst of Christmas festivities, proud and happy. The next day, the tree expects more festivities, but it is taken to the attic and left there, as it is not needed anymore. Now, it is all alone. By spring, it withers and is taken outside where it is cut into pieces and used as firewood. So ends the story of the fir-tree.

When I grew up, I started to see this story as a symbolic representation of the human life. We start as children, eager to grow up and experience the world. Then, we finally grow up and get to experience that excitement we yearned for as children, but a child’s innocence is gone and experience is not always sweet. Eventually, every human grows old and dies. It’s a normal cycle, and although the story of the fir-tree seems sad, it’s very real. I think even this story is beautiful, although it doesn’t end of such a happy note. It’s beautiful, just as life is. It’s not always good to us, but life is still beautiful. It is ours to live.

Before I go all philosophical on you, I recommend thus fairy-tale to you. It’s a short and lovely read.

And to end this post, I wish you all a merry Christmas!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Historical Fiction Challenge 2011

I seriously neglected historical fiction this year, I really did. It's a beloved genre of mine and the main reason I am joining this challenge is to force myself to read more historical fiction.

This wonderful challenge is hosted by Historical Tapestry. For information, click HERE.

Officially, I chose level Daring&Curious, which means I will read 5 books for this challenge. Secretly, however, I am aiming for the level Struggling the Addiction (10 books).

Monday, 20 December 2010

My Guest Review: Company of Angels by Lili Wilkinson

I read and review Company of Angels by Lili Wilkinson, a great historical adventures tackling the Children's Crusade in 1212. You can read the review HERE on Becky's blog The Bookette.

Becky is hosting the British Book Challenge 2011. Are you interested? Read about it HERE.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Friday is for Fairy-Tales: Top 10 Characters in Random Magic

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.

My post today is about: Top 10 Characters in Random Magic by Sasha Soren

In the spirit of the Random Magic Tour, this Friday post will explore the book Random Magic by Sasha Soren further. You can read my review HERE (one post before this one). As Random Magic features many fairy-tale elements, it is perfect for this meme.

I chose ten characters that I enjoyed reading about the most, either because they're brave, or quirky, or funny, or extra gloomy. They caught my attention and today, I'm sharing them with you:

1. Winnie Flapjack: Winnie is a doodle witch who helps Henry in his quest to find Alice, the very girl from Wonderland. How is Winnie a doodle witch? On page 44, she explains: “I’m a doodle witch, practice witchery ‘til I find out what I’m really good at.” She has big green eyes and dark hair in messy pigtails. She is a very interesting and dynamic character, a girl who is intelligent, witty and slightly quirky. She is brave – one of the bravest people you’ll meet – and adventurous. She talks a lot and is fun to be around. It is also very practical to have Winnie by your side because her smarts can save you from just about any situation.

2. Henry Witherspoon: Henry is the one who is chosen by Professor Random to find Alice. Henry is the son of Lord and Lady Witherspoon. At the beginning of the story, he seems to be restless, feeling trapped and wanting something to happen. Then, he is sent on a big adventure into an unknown world and at first, his courage is tested and he is confused, but Henry becomes a brave, adventurous young man on this journey. For him, it is a journey of self-discovery.

3. Brute: He is the wolf from Red Riding Hood. I love his introduction. On page 93, it says: “A huge silver wolf had popped up from behind the tree. He was dressed in a poofy red hood and a long gingham dress. A big straw basket hung stylishly from one furry paw. (…) “I met a girl,” he mumbled, by way of explanation. “In a red riding hood.” “Again?” ” It seems Brute has issues with girls in red riding hoods. He is Winnie’s friend and they met when Winnie saved his life. He is like one of those people who are silent and speak only when they have something to say. He’s a bit of the brooding type.

4. Charon: He is the mythological ferryman of Hades. In the novel, he happens to be on vacation, which I find extremely funny. He is on vacation to change the routine he finds boring. He is dark in appearance and has a dark sense of humour, be he is quite approachable. Winnie outwits him, but as he sticks to the rules of his profession, he honours their agreement.

5. Count and Lady de Morgue: I will describe both under #5 because they are very much alike, with only slight differences between them. First, SPOILER: They are vampires. END OF SPOILER. They are all gloom and doom and melancholy. They are preoccupied because of their teenage daughter who is too cheerful and bored with their way of life. The count is suave and has a hypnotic gaze, but the gloom is stronger. Lady de Morgue is also sensitive. I love this description of them on page 114: “Like a set of matching funeral angels, Lady de Morgue was as beautiful to look at as the count, and doubly gloomy.” I loved their characterization and it was funny how they talked about their meals, the way we do about mashed potatoes.

6. Hypatia: She is the spiritual daughter of Count and Lady de Morgue. In history, Hypatia was the first important female mathematician from Alexandria, Egypt. In the novel, Hypatia is cheerful, rebellious and bored with all the gloom and melancholy of her parents’ ways. Her full name is quite impressive: Hypatia Mandragora Lilith Dementia de Morgue. On page 120, she is described like this: “A young girl, her silver hair in pigtails, burst through the door. Her hot orange T-shirt and lime-green mini-skirt were startling in the gloom. She bounced along on purple sneakers that lit-up with every step she took.” She’s a lot of fun. She helps Henry and Winnie by surfing the internet.

7. Callie: Callie is short for Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. She is the first of the nine muses and she writes, a lot. According to her sister Efterpe (muse of song), Callie knows everyone in every book ever written and with her knowledge, Callie can help Henry and Winnie. Callie likes to drink mead…too much. She’s always drunk.

8. Effie: short for Efterpe, muse of song. She is the fourth muse and she is very charming and obliging. She is the sort of person, uh, muse you would call super nice and would want to hang out with.

9. The creator of the Floating City: She is woman whose wisdom and insight are impressive. She wanted to create an untainted, happy and peaceful city, hidden from the world, but she failed because the city is not quite what she had wanted it to be. The city is her failure, but she is willing to not give up hope just yet, although she has been tempted. And, if I understood this correctly, the creator is Love. She helped Henry a lot.

10. Baba Yaga: She’s a witch in Slavic folklore, so I simply had to include her. (We call her Jaga Baba; same pronunciation, just different spelling and word order). She’s a nasty old hag. She only helps Henry and Winnie in return for a favour. In the novel, she’s on her way to the casino, so Henry and Winnie must find her a lucky rabbit’s foot.

Random Magic by Sasha Soren

GENRE: fantasy/adventure

When absent-minded Professor Random misplaces the main character from Alice in Wonderland, young Henry Witherspoon must book-jump to fetch Alice before chaos theory kicks in and the world vanishes. Along the way he meets Winnie Flapjack, a wit-cracking doodle witch with nothing to her name but a magic feather and a plan. Such as it is. Henry and Winnie brave the Dark Queen, whatwolves, pirates, Struths, and fluttersmoths, Priscilla and Charybdis, obnoxiously cheerful vampires, Baron Samedi, a nine-dimensional cat, and one perpetually inebriated Muse to rescue Alice and save the world by tea time.

If I could describe this book in three words, I’d choose the adjectives clever, whimsical and adventurous and that is exactly how I saw the book.

It all begins when Professor Random, a scatter-brained academic, sneezes Alice out of Wonderland and the world as we know it is suddenly in danger of collapsing. As its savior, Professor Random chooses his student, Henry Witherspoon, and sends him into a strange land to find Alice and bring her back. In that bizarre world, Henry meets intriguing and quirky people, characters from Greek mythology and fairy-tales, and he travels to beautiful and scary places. His guide is a doodle witch, Winnie Flapjack, the bravest girl you’ll ever meet.

I see Random Magic as a very clever and original re-telling of Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), but it is more than just that. It takes characters from many different places and in this respect, the novel can also be viewed as an intellectual read, as the reader must be acquainted with, for example, Scylla and Charybdis, or Charon, to understand the parts of the story in which they appear. I had a lot of fun detecting all the references, allusions and characters from famous literature and mythology. The author characterized them very well in her own, original and fun(ny) way, making the muse of epic poetry, Calliope (but she goes by Callie) eternally inebriated and vampires become very happy and upbeat.

The story follows the frame of Alice in Wonderland nicely, in the sense that it takes Henry Witherspoon into a strange, upside-down world teeming with quirky creatures and featuring fantastical places one cannot see in this world. At the gist of the story is the need to find Alice, but just like in Alice in Wonderland, our two heroes, Henry and Winnie, experience many adventures along the way and get almost sidetracked in their search, but they are good heroes, for in the end, they complete their dangerous, yet adventurous mission.

I thoroughly enjoyed the adventures in this book. The author has an incredible imagination, as she came up with great, fun and even dangerous events, and she created beautiful, unique new places. My favourite parts of the novel involved the garden of the nine muses, which felt like Heaven and featured a lot of very interesting characters (even Hades, who lost control over the Underworld and the place became a casino), and the Floating City. The Floating City is one of the best imagined placed in literature I have ever read about. It is like Utopia at first glance, but it’s a Utopia with an empty core. It is exquisite and unique, it is both beautiful and frightening and if you read the novel, you will know why exactly. It is the place where Henry is tested and it is the place, in my eyes, that makes him the brave, determined young man he eventually becomes.

My one complaint refers to the beginning of the novel. The prologue is quite post-modernist and I have mentioned once that I don’t particularly like post-modernism in literature. The prologue confused me, but that is my fault, as I happen to dislike post-modernism. However, post-modernism or not, the prologue was slightly confusing and off-putting, and the first few chapters didn’t seem to lead anywhere, but it is my belief that good reads often have strange beginnings and Random Magic definitely is a good read. It is quirky and strange, but in a good way. It features fantasy, adventures, wonderful allusions and many interesting characters. The story is engaging and I must compliment the language of this novel. It is very rich, with rich and sometimes complex vocabulary. As a linguist, I could really appreciate this.

This novel may not be for everyone. You have to appreciate quirky and strange to want to read it. I read it, I had a great time reading it and I would recommend it to readers who like something different, something out of the ordinary. The novel offers a lot of adventure and some exercise for your brains. And, if you like fairy-tales, like I do, you will definitely enjoy the ride.

I would like to thank the author, Sasha Soren, for sending me a copy of her novel to read and review! I also have to say that she is a super sweet and kind person, and great to talk to. Thank you for everything, Sasha!


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

GENRE: historical fiction/vampire fiction/thriller

Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to 'My dear and unfortunate successor'. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of - a labyrinth where the secrets of her father's past and her mother's mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history. In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright - a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil.


This novel is not a sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, but it does present Vlad the Impaler, a 15th-century ruler of Wallachia, famous for his atrocities, as the famous vampire Dracula. The story begins when a professor's teenage daughter (who is also the narrator of the novel and is never named) finds old letters while exploring her father's library and what is so striking about these letters is that they are all addressed to 'My dear unfortunate successor'. The narrator begins to question her father and although very reluctant, the professor – Paul – begins a detailed account of his past, slowly revealing that the monster that ruled Wallachia centuries ago is still alive, or rather undead.

This novel is hard to summarise, as truly many things happen and I don't won't to give anything away. However, I will do my best to do this book justice in a vague, yet still understandable way.

The novel tells three stories: the story of Paul's mentor who wrotte the letters, the story of Paul and the narrator's mother, and the story of Vlad Tepes of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler. It is a very detailed account of history and folklore of (mostly) Eastern Europe. It is obvious that the author made a lot of research and incorporated it into the novel. As a result, the novel is slow-paced at times, but still makes for a gripping read, creating suspense just when you think the calm has finally settled into the story. A lot of towns and villages are present, a lot of characters are involved, weaving an intricate labyrinth, some willing to help the narrator find the truth and some determined to keep it hidden for ever. A lot of clues are given, but it takes some time and a lot of effort to piece them together properly and when the narrator does, she is in for a shocking revelation. There is a reason why Vlad Tepes is alive and why he needs someone that Paul's mentor refers to as 'my unfortunate successor'. It is quite incredible that in the end, it all comes down to the love of knowledge and books that even monsters are capable of. I can't say more in my review, but I must say that I found the revelation to be both shocking and beautiful – beautiful in the sense that I value knowledge, books and education very much.

It really is a multi-layered story, involving a lot of events and characters, and one must pay attention, just like the narrator. It is important to note that although the story is very mutli-layered, it never gets confusing. The author kept it well balanced throughout the novel. At the gist of the story is the narrator's need to find her mother and by finding her mother, she must face the danger that she might meet Dracula along the way, for her mother and Dracula are connected. But if that is what it takes to bring her family together gaain, the intelligent and brave narrator will do it.

My favourite parts of the novel were the ones regarding Vlad Tepes. His history is explored in detail and the places where he lived and was supposedly buried are visited and explored. That was a very thrilling reading experience for me. The story follows his life to the letter. I know this because my interest in Dracula made me explore Vlad Tepes years ago. I think the author handled his death and then rebirth very well. At first, it bothered me that Eastern and Central Europe (I live in Central Europe) were presented as being backwater places, as especially countries in Central Europe are just as modern as any other European country, but then I finally realised the book takes place in the 1970s so, sadly, the backwater-issue makes sense due to communism in the past (which is partly tackled in the novel).

This novel is definitely a homage to history and knowledge. It is quite an intelectual read and if you like that, then it is definitely a novel for you. The suspense is great. I kept waiting for Dracula to appear. The vampires, especially Dracula, are always hinted at. They sort of lurk in the shadows and strike occasionally, but the one vampire that has been evading everyone finally appears in the grand finale. I just loved this suspense. Dracula was always present in spirit, in a way, creating tension and anticipation this way, and when he finally appears it is a moment that makes you feel in awe.

After many events, descriptions and character intruductions, after all the tension and web-weaving, the climax seemed rushed, which seems to be a problem of many books that are delightfully slow-paced, as they build tension that way, but when that tension finally reaches its peak, it sort of dies away because of story- rushing. However, the very ending itself offers both comfort and discomfort, which definitely makes up for the rushed climax.

All in all, the novel is perhaps a bit too slow-paced at times, almost running in circles, but it is rich in historical and cultural details, so in this sense, it is definitely a treat to read. I would recommend this novel to those who are both lovers of historical fiction and of vampires. It takes some patience to read, as it is more than 600 pages long, but the final experience is quite rewarding.


Monday, 13 December 2010

My Guest Review: Bloodline by Kate Cary

I read and reviewed Bloodline by Kate Cary, a sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula. You can read my review HERE at Becky's wonderful blog The Bookette.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

What's in a Name Challenge 4

I decided to participate in another fun challenge, this time the What's in a Name Challenge 4 hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Between January 1 and December 31, 2011, read one book in each of the following categories:

1. A book with a number in the title: First to Die, Seven Up, Thirteen Reasons Why
2. A book with jewelry or a gem in the title: Diamond Ruby, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Opal Deception
3. A book with a size in the title: Wide Sargasso Sea, Small Wars, Little Bee
4. A book with travel or movement in the title: Dead Witch Walking, Crawling with Zombies, Time Traveler's Wife
5. A book with evil in the title: Bad Marie, Fallen, Wicked Lovely
6. A book with a life stage in the title: No Country for Old Men, Brideshead Revisited, Bog Child

The book titles are just suggestions, you can read whatever book you want to fit the category.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Southern Literature Challenge

Jen at The Introverted Reader is hosting the Southern Literature Challenge and I am joining in.

RULES: Read a book(s)--non-fiction or fiction of any genre, adult or young adult--written by an author from the South and set mostly in the South.

I'm signing up for Level 4--Y'all come back now, y'hear!, which means I intend to read 4 books for this challenge.

Here is "a list Best Southern Literature list on GoodReads that readers have voted on that should give you lots of ideas."

Friday, 10 December 2010

Friday is for Fairy-Tales: Catherine Hardwicke Goes Red Riding Hood

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.

My post today is about: Catherine Hardwicke's new movie Red Riding Hood

It is time for another movie remake of a well-known fairy-tale, this time (or rather again) of the Red Riding Hood.

It is not the first time this timeless fairy-tale has interested movie-makers. The very first time Red Riding Hood saw the light of day on the big screen was in 1922 when Walt Disney made a short black and white silent cartoon, the copies of which are extremely rare.

I would like to mention more notable animations and movies featuring Red Riding Hood first, before proceeding to the latest version. In 1984, The Company of Wolves was made, which focused heavily on werewolves (instead of mere wolves) and a girl’s sexual awakening. Based on Angela Carter's novella of the same name, it features a lot of symbolism pointing to a girl’s maturation/sexual awakening. (TRAILER) In 1997, Christina Ricci starred as a not-so-innocent Red Riding Hood in a short movie (12 minutes in length) titled Little Red Riding Hood. (TRAILER) Hoodwinked!, a cute animation from 2006, presentes dear Red in a humorous way. (TRAILER)

The whole list of various adaptations so far can be viewed HERE. What most of them have in common is the theme of a young woman’s sexual awakening, accompanied by danger in the form of wolves or werewolves, or men with possible paedophilic inclinations. A young woman can never be too careful. In my eyes, the fairy-tale was meant to teach children to be wary of strangers, but we have started to prefer its Gothic aspects. For the truth is, this fairy-tale offers a great basis for a Gothic or horror story and vicarious excitement is hard to resist.

Catherine Hardwick’s version that comes out in 2011 joins those adaptations that focused on danger, blood and sex. These things are perhaps what draws us to this story - the subtext of danger and the journey of a young person from innocence to experience. But there is a new twist – what if Red Riding Hood fell in love with the wolf that is, for all intents and purposes, the villain of the story? It sure is a possibility, although not a confirmed one. Another possibility people have brought up is that Red Riding Hood herself might be the wolf.

According to IMDb, the premise goes as follows: Valerie (Seyfried) is a beautiful young woman torn between two men. She is in love with a brooding outsider, Peter (Fernandez), but her parents have arranged for her to marry the wealthy Henry (Irons). Unwilling to lose each other, Valerie and Peter are planning to run away together when they learn that Valerie's older sister has been killed by the werewolf that prowls the dark forest surrounding their village. For years, the people have maintained an uneasy truce with the beast, offering the creature a monthly animal sacrifice. But under a blood red moon, the wolf has upped the stakes by taking a human life. Hungry for revenge, the people call on famed werewolf hunter, Father Solomon (Oldman), to help them kill the wolf. But Solomon's arrival brings unintended consequences as he warns that the wolf, who takes human form by day, could be any one of them. As the death toll rises with each moon, Valerie begins to suspect that the werewolf could be someone she loves. As panic grips the town, Valerie discovers that she has a unique connection to the beast--one that inexorably draws them together, making her both suspect...and bait. (TRAILER)

What do you think about/expect from this new version? So far, I think it looks interesting; I only hope it won't go down the typical route. Do you have a favourite Red Riding Hood movie/book version?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Holiday Tag

I got tagged by Pepca at Beyond strange new words. Thank you!!! She found this tag post at Random Ramblings. If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged! I would, however, like to tag a few bloggers specifically. You can find your names at the end of this tag post.

1. When do you usually know and feel that it's finally the holidays?
In all honesty, only when we set up our own Christmas tree. THEN I begin to feel it's the holidays.

2. What do you want for Christmas this year?
Nothing in particular, just to have a good time with my family and to be happy.

3. Do you go all out with decorations?
Not really. We decorate a Christmas tree, put our Nativity Scene set underneath it and some lights on the living-room window.

4. What are you doing Christmas eve?
I pray by the Christmas tree with my family, then we have our traditional Christmas dinner. After dinner, I watch romantic or holiday movies until 11pm and then, we go to church to attend the Midnight Mass.

5. What are you doing Christmas day?
I spend time with my family. In the afternoon, relatives visit us or we visit them to wish each other a merry Christmas. Then, I read and watch TV - again, romantic and holiday movies.

5. It's Christmas time. What are you reading?
I avoid paranormal literature around Christmas because it doesn't feel Christmas-y.:) Other than that, my reading habits stay the same. I seem to have a preference for historical fiction during this time of the year. I do, however, re-read or at least partly re-read The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux every December.

6. Favorite movie to watch during the holidays?
I like several. Home Alone (1+2), Edward Scissorhands, The Holiday, You've Got Mail.

7. Favorite Christmas song?
I have two: Let It Snow by Dean Martin and Carol of the Bells.

8. Favorite holiday drink?
I don't have a favourite holiday drink. But warm milk with honey does feel good on a cold winter evening.

9. How is your Christmas shopping going?

Badly.:) I haven't started yet, but I never buy much, so there's still time for that. I already know what I want to buy for my family and some friends, so all I need to do is go to those stores and buy it. I make Christmas shopping fast. I really hate spending hours in a store.

10. If you could spend Christmas day anywhere else, where would you spend it?
Now, Christmas is a day I always like to spend at home, so I don't feel like being anywhere else on that day.

11. Any holiday traditions?
Prayer with family and attending the Midnight Mass.

12. Favorite thing about the Holidays?

The intimacy of the holiday. Well... commercialism has reduced this intimacy, but for me and my family, this is an exclusively family holiday and we spend it together. We all stay at home on the 24th, 25th and 26th of December. All our close relatives live very close to us, so we really don't have to go far.

Specific bloggers I'd like to tag are:
The Bookette
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
Mary Simonsen
Bookalicious Ramblings
Eating Y.A. Books
Reading Without Restraint!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Top Ten Reading Spots

This great meme is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is: Top Ten Favourite Cosy Reading Spots

Here are mine:

1. My bed. I love to read in my bed in the evening, before going to sleep. As I usually read in the evening, I read in my bed a lot.

2. My mom’s bedroom. It may sound funny, but if I get the chance, I read in my mom’s bedroom. It has a comfy feeling and is close to the kitchen.:)

3. The couch in our living room. I usually read there when I want to read sounds around me, but don’t want them to be music, so I turn on the TV, lower the volume and read on the couch.

4. Our garden. I just read on the bench in our garden or bring out a chair and put it next to a bush of choice. I mostly read in the garden in the summer time. It feels comfy and also romantic, being surrounded by bushes and the sounds of birds and bees. It feels lovely.

5. The cafe where I usually meet my friends. I like to come to that cafe early, so that I can read a book while sipping cocoa or tea. I just love the vintage setting of the cafe. It feels perfect for reading a book there.

6. By the lake. There’s this lake nearby that we sometimes go to during the summer. It’s surrounded by woods and not many people go there, so it’s really nice for a family picnic. I love to make myself comfy in the grass by the lake and read. The lapping of the water against the shore is soothing and really gets me into a book.

7. My uncle’s garden. One of my uncles has a great, lush garden. I like to read in his garden because it’s beautiful and I like it when he’s around, reading himself. We just sit each in our garden chair and read in silence, occasionally commenting to each other if something in our books catches our attention.

8. The local library. Reading in a room filled with books is a true pleasure. I love the dusty old smell of books in the library. It’s also a silent, very peaceful place. I don’t read there often, but when I do, I always enjoy the experience.

That’s it. I have 8 favourite cosy reading places.

I’d love to try reading seated in a bay window once. I don’t know anyone who owns a house with bay windows, but I intend to achieve this goal in the future. I’d also like to try reading in a boat. You know, the person you’re with in said boat is rowing, whistling to him(her)self and you are reading. Sounds great!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Winterlong : A Random Magic Tour, Dec. 10-23, 2010

About: Random Magic
Tour organization: Lyrika Publicis
Tour prize coordinator: @LaFemmeReaders
Contact the tour: @RandomMagicTour

Win something wonderful: Tour prizes
Random Magic (Gift-wrapped, first edition)
Fairy tale mini-dolls (Madame Alexander series, complete set)

Magical Covers art event: Prize pack
Beautiful art journal
This Book Belongs To bookplates set
2011 ARC (pre-pub.) YA winter-themed novel

Dec. 10

Winterlong: Musical Blog Hop
Come sit by the fire and enjoy
some lovely winter tunes...

#1 of 10: Spellbound by Books (@Meeka_21)
Themes: Buoyancy - Good Cheer

#2 of 10: Geeky Blogger (@thehistorychic)
Themes: Reflection - Spirituality

#3 of 10: Ecstatic Reviews (@EcstaticReviews)
Themes: Fortitude - Quirkiness

#4 of 10: Elbit Blog (@MeriGreenleaf)
Themes: Tenderness - Devotion

#5 of 10: The Reading Lassie (@ReadingLassie)
Themes: Mystery - Magic

#6 of 10: A Reader's Adventure (@ReaderAdventure)
Themes: Celebration - Humor

#7 of 10: vvb32 Reads (@vvb32reads)
Themes: Love - Geniality

#8 of 10: About Happy Books (@abouthappybooks)
Themes: Comedy - Creativity

#9 of 10: The True Book Addict (@truebookaddict)
Themes: Hope - Light

#10 of 10: The Fluidity of Time (Twitter n/a)
Themes: Art - Beauty - Inspiration

(Blog Hop Summary - via vvb32)

Notes: Songs on the blog hop are nice songs for winter,
and they also reflect themes found in Random Magic.

Bonus: Free winter song for every stop
on the hop, feel free to visit all blogs to find them all.

Dec. 11

La Femme Readers
Magical Covers: Reimagining the cover of Random Magic
Welcome and prizes info
Voting: Dec. 18 - Winner revealed: Dec. 20

Dec. 12

My Love Affair With Books
Twitter: @Misha_1989
Feat.: ‘Winter Dancers’

and – just for fun!

Unabridged Chick
Twitter: @unabridgedchick
Feat.: Elf Yourself (winter widget)

Dec. 13

Oodles of Books

Twitter: @oodlesofbooks


Books, Sweets and other Treats
Twitter: @lindsiking
Feat.: ‘Winter Drinks’

Dec. 14

Stories and Sweeties
Twitter: @storiesweeties
Feat.: ‘Sweets for the Sweet’

Dec. 15

vvb32 Reads
Twitter: @vvb32reads
Feat.: ‘Dandy Fellows’
Related event: Dandies and Delectables (Dec. 10-23)

Dec. 16

Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
Twitter: @blodeuedd83


Chick Loves Lit
Twitter: @shanynlee
Feat.: ‘The Secrets of Random Magic’

Dec. 17

This Miss Loves To Read
Twitter: @MissIrenne
Feat. ‘Fairy Tale Top 10: Random Magic’

Dec. 18

Booklover - Book Chicks
Twitter: @LexieVmp666
Feat.: Video review of Random Magic
More: The Booklover - Book Chicks video channel


La Femme Readers
Twitter: @lafemmereaders
Magical Covers: Reimagining the cover of Random Magic
Voting on cover entries
Winning cover revealed on Dec. 20

Dec. 19

The Fluidity of Time
Twitter: n/a
Feat.: ‘Subtle Magic: A discussion of Random Magic themes’


Mundie Moms
Twitter: @MundieMoms
Twitter: @katiebmundiemom
Review (book chat format)

Dec. 20

Makeshift Bookmark
Twitter: @makeshiftjen
Feat.: ‘Casting Random Magic’ (gallery)


La Femme Readers
Twitter: @lafemmereaders
Magical Covers: Reimagining Random Magic
Finale: Cover winner revealed

Dec. 21

The Bushwick Book Club (Seattle chapter)

Twitter: n/a
Feat.: Songs inspired by Random Magic (audio/video)
Details: Video performances, two different singer-songwriters.
More: The Bushwick Book Club (Seattle) video channel

Dec. 22

Girls in the Stacks
Twitter: @girlsinthestack
Feat.: Bookshelf Theater: Random Magic (video)
Details: Video performance, cute scene from the book.
More: The Girls in the Stacks video channel

Dec. 23

Winter Reading Circle: Tales for a Winter Night
Find some nice and cozy – or dark and spooky –
reads perfect for wintertime, on this fun blog hop.

#1 of 6: What Book Is That?
Twitter: @heynocupcake

#2 of 6: Willowdust Reviews – Tina’s Book Reviews
Twitter: @BooksatTinas

#3 of 6: Diary of a Bookworm
Twitter: n/a

#4 of 6: A Reader’s Adventure
Twitter: @ReaderAdventure

#5 of 6: vvb32 Reads
Twitter: @vvb32reads

#6 of 6: La Femme Readers
Twitter: @lafemmereaders

Completing the reading circle -- and the Winterlong tour.
Thank you for coming along with us, and happy reading!

My Guest Review: Zelah Green by Vanessa Curtis

You can read this book at Becky's blog The Bookette, right HERE. This is a great novel, presenting a mental illness in a healthy way. People with mental issues are not crazy, only in need of help and understanding. It's very educational. Zelah Green is a great heroine. Learn more in my review!

Thank you Becky for sending me the book for review! My thanks go to Egmont Books as well. They provided the copy.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Survey: The Best and Worst Reads of 2010 Etc.

Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner has created an end of 2010 survey to reflect on this year’s best and worst reads.

1. Best book of 2010? The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw.

2. Worst book of 2010? Violin by Anne Rice.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010? The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Many people had praised it and it just didn’t reach my expectations. It wasn't bad, by no means, just not what I'd expected of it.

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I don’t like the Twilight Saga, but The Host surprised by very nicely.

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I finished just before the end of 2009.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010?
The Harper Connelly series by Charlarine Harris.

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010? Jodi Picoult, Syrie James.

8. Most hilarious read of 2010? Brain Droppings by George Carlin.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010? Angelology by Danielle Trussoni.

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. (I have yet to read it, although I already bought it. Unbelievable…)

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu.

12. Most memorable character in 2010? McMurphy from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw.

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It’s the only book in 2010 that made me cry.

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I love this author, so I don’t know why I waited so long with this book, it’s great.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

British Books Challenge 2011

I am signing up for the amazing British Books Challenge 2011 (BBC!) hosted by Becky at The Bookette.

I'm joining the International Friend category, as I am not from the UK, as well as the subcategory The Royal Family, which means I intend to read 12 books by British Authors in 2011. I should tell you there is also a possibility of winning a Crown if you read 50 British books in 2011. Who knows? I might make it there.:) I WILL try to read as many Brit books as possible. But for now, 12 is a great goal.

I intend to read (the list may change as I progress and find great new books):
1. The Amazing Mind of Alice Makin by Alan Shea
2. The Ice Cream Con by Jimmy Docherty
3. Rockoholic by C.J. Skuse
4. Tyme's End by B.R Collins
5. In the Bag by Jim Carrington
6. The Merry Monarch's Wife by Jean Plaidy
7. Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris
8. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
9. The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon
10. The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan
11. Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris
12. Corrag by Susan Fletcher
13. Drawing with Light by Julia Green

I invite you to join me in this challenge!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Friday is for Fairytales: Politically Correct/Feminist Cinderella

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.

My post today is about: Politically Correct/Feminist Cinderella

When I was a university freshman, I had a professor who lived for political correctness and feminism (and I suppose she still does). She introduced us to politically correct fairy-tales with a very feminist flavour. She had us read Cinderella from James Finn Garner’s book Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times, which is a parody of this strange modern tendency to be as politically correct as possible. Today, I would like to briefly introduce this book of PC fairy-tales and focus on Cinderella to give you an idea of what the book is about and how PC stories are written.

Before I begin, I must make two confessions: I am decidedly against political correctness and I am not a feminist. PC, to me, is a disease that makes people fear the truth and embellish it with foreign-sounding, hardly understandable words/phrases. It actually reduces the importance of something. I think that by saying people still keep slaves in the 21st century, you will immediately understand what I am talking about and the word slave will send a signal into your brain that this is bad. If I replace the word slave with the phrase personal unpaid labourer, will you really think that being such a labourer, as opposed to being a slave is so bad?

(P.S. If you support political correctness, please do not feel offended. This is all my personal opinion.)

This is partly what the book tries to convey and it is a funny parody of this modern need – PC – to not say what you mean. The book changes the plots of famous fairy-tales so as to make them more “morally appropriate” for children, according to the PC policy. Feminist elements are added, turning female villains into good people and male heroes into chauvinistic, sexist idiots (even the poor seven dwarves from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves). It also includes modern elements, like cars and spas, and has a very moralizing tone throughout.

The fairy-tales the book tackles are: Little Red Riding Hood, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Three Little Pigs, Rumpelstiltskin, Billy Goats Gruff, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Goldilocks, Snow White, Chicken Little, The Frog Prince, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

I decided to discuss Cinderella in particular because I have a copy of the story at home. This Cinderella is very feminist. This aspect is even covered with spelling: for example, woman is spelled as wommon (avoiding the man morpheme) and in plural womyn. The Fairy Godmother is called Fairy Godperson (very PC) and the fairy is actually a man this time. Cinderella really wants to go to the royal ball, but her Fairy Godperson is reluctant to dress her for the ball, saying in a PC, feminist manner,

“So, you want to go to the ball, eh? And bind yourself into the male concept of beauty? Squeeze into some tight-fitting dress that will cut off your circulation? Jam your feet into high-heeled shoes that will ruin your bone structure? Paint your face with chemicals and male-up that have been tested in nonhuman animals?”

Of course, Cinderella manages to go to the ball nonetheless. At the ball, all women hate Cinderella because all men are after her like rabid dogs. They engage in a quarrel that makes Cinderella forget about her curfew and her beautiful, tight dress disappears, leaving her in (comfortable) peasant’s rags. The ladies love her look, realising how mean men are for having forced them to dress up in such uncomfortable clothes and then, they kill all the men in the kingdom, start the Cinder Wear line of comfortable clothes for womyn and live happily ever after (until it lasts because we may assume that eventually, without reproduction, the all-women kingdom will be gone).

Whether you support PC and feminism or not, I truly recommend you read this book. It’s a great parody and a fun(ny) read.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

GENRE: romance/Southern fiction/magical realism

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother's life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realises that mysteries aren't solved in Mullaby, they're a way of life. Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbour, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, offering them to satisfy the town's sweet tooth - but also in the hope of rekindling a love she fears might be lost forever. Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily's backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.

I finally managed to read this book – I’ve waited for months to do so – and luckily, it met my expectations. Yet again, Addison Allen delivered a heart-warming tale sprinkled with magic, love and hope.

Set in Mullaby in North Carolina, a town in which everyone knows everyone and their secrets, the story of the novel is about two women – Emily Benedict, a teenage girl whose mother died and she goes to live with her grandfather in Mullaby, a man she didn’t know even existed; and Julia Winterson, a woman in her thirties who returned to Mullaby to pay off her dead father’s debts, but doesn’t plan on staying in a town that wounded her.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Mullaby and of the main characters in the novel. The town is special, although it seems to be a typical Southern town on the surface, and the characters are delightfully multi-dimensional and individualistic. And, there is always a bit of magic involved. Emily’s grandfather, Vance Shelby, is a giant of man – quite literally, for he is 8 feet tall. But he is a gentle, shy giant. The Coffey family, the most important family in Mullaby, is reputed for never leaving their house at night and rumours certainly have wings in Mullaby. Strange lights, known as the Mullaby lights, keep appearing in Vance’s garden and the wallpaper in Emily’s new bedroom keeps changing according to her mood. There is a man, Sawyer, who has an extremely sweet tooth and can actually see smells and Julia Winterson bakes cakes that give people hope, but foremost, they give her hope. The setting and the characters truly are wonderful.

The story begins with Emily’s arrival to Mullaby. Her presence stirs old resentments and long-suppressed feelings and Emily begins to realise that her mother was not always the person she knew and admired. She also experiences first love, which is not an easy affair, as the boy she likes belongs to the Coffey family and the Coffeys are not supposed to like her because of what her mother did – besides, there is the issue of the Coffey secret. Emily also stirs Julia Winterson into action, unintentionally melting Julia’s guard, so that Julia finally faces herself and resolves the unresolved issues in her life. The two women really are great characters, each of them coping with a personal tragedy. Emily is sweet, innocent and eager to be accepted in Mullaby. She is also energetic and sensitive. She is a normal teenager and she actually reminds me of myself when I was that age. Julia looks like a rebel and she used to be one, but she is a vulnerable woman inside, terrified that the one person she has been trying to avoid will notice that she’s not so tough, after all. She is an excellent baker and she always bakes with her windows open, hoping that the sweet smell will bring back a person she lost years ago.

The novel is, essentially, about facing one’s fears and one’s self, not giving up hope and not giving up on love. The elements of magic seem natural and unobtrusive and I love the author’s imagination for being able to come up with such delightful magical elements. There is food involved and I noticed that I always ate something while reading the novel. Both women – Emily and Julia – chase the moon, in a symbolical sense. They perceive the notion of the moon differently, but what I found very important and uplifting is that they persist in their search, for which they are rewarded with finding their moons.

The ending was a bit open, yet not in an annoying sense, as everything that needed to be resolved was resolved and explained. All the transformations that the characters experience seemed plausible and performed at a natural pace. I think the way the novel ended is perfect. You know all will be well after the final chapter, but you are left to imagine the good that will follow your own way.

After reading the novel, I felt very warm and content and I love books that give me such a feeling. I may be a little biased, mind you, as I am a fan of Sarah Addison Allen, but I am not blind in my devotion, so I can honestly say that this was a magical and wonderful read for me.

I definitely recommend this novel. Sarah Addison Allen is a wonderful writer.


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Killing Joke by Alan Moore

GENRE: comic book

One of the most controversial tales from Batman's career returns as a deluxe hardback edition! When the Joker commits an unspeakable crime, Batman must use all his skill to outwit the crazed criminal. But in the end, how different are the Dark Knight and his quarry? Legendary writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland present this all-time classic story, digitally recoloured and featuring a bonus black and white story by Bolland.

Comic books are not something I read very often, but so far, I’ve been lucky because all of the comic books I actually have read have been really good. And all of them have been by Alan Moore, which is a lovely coincidence.

I mostly know the Batman universe from Burton’s and Nolan’s movies, but I dare say this story presents the Batman-Joker relationship and mind games at its finest.

In this comic book, the Joker breaks free from the Arkham Asylum again and goes on another one of his rampages, yet this time his targets are Commissioner Gordon, Barbara Gordon (the daughter) and Batman. The Joker wants to take revenge on the commissioner and Batman, as well as prove that, essentially, everyone is just like him – all it takes is one bad day to have a completely sane man turn insane. In proving that, he comes up with a diabolical scheme worthy of his reputation.

Moore shows that both Batman and the Joker went through a similar tragedy, yet they coped with it differently. For the Joker, madness is the exit out of pain and for Batman, the exit is fighting injustice. In this comic book, the Joker, who is a sadistic, sociopathic killer, is presented as a tragic character. He is the way he is because of a personal tragedy. This is also the only thing that, in retrospect, bothers me in this comic book. The reason for an ordinary man becoming the Joker that is given in the comic book is a bit empty, or rather it doesn’t seem to be enough. People become insane because of bad things that happen to them, no doubt about that. Yet, to become someone of the Joker’s proportions, I only see two possible explanations: either the seed of such evil was already growing inside this man and something simply triggered it to bloom to its fullest potential or he went through something so grotesquely horrible that it is quite impossible to imagine. In my mind, the Joker is not a tragic man, but he does create tragedy.

Aside from that, the comic book is a true delight to read. It is filled with the Joker’s witty and grotesque lines, puns and even some words that sound completely true, which is kind of scary. The Batman is not in the forefront, but his essence is clearly shown. He and the Joker are like yin and yang, yet as much as they are eerily similar in some ways, what sets them apart is the nobility of one man and complete abandonment in the other one.

This is a must-read for fans of the Joker and Batman and it might be a nice introduction into Alan Moore’s comic books, too.

THIS MISS RATES: / (4.5 stars)

My Guest Review: The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin

I read and reviewed The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin, a wonderful fantasy adventure. You can read my review at The Bookette HERE.

Thank you, Becky, for sending me the book for review!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Confinement by Katharine McMahon

GENRE: historical fiction/contemporary fiction/women's fiction

1849: Bess Hardemon arrives at the grimly Dickensian Priors Heath school, little knowing that she will one day end up as an inspiring and legendary headmistress - but at considerable personal cost. 1970: Sarah Beckett is delighted to gain a place at Priors Heath - as much for the pride of her parents as for herself - but will she fit in? The plight of a nineteenth century schoolteacher, trapped by her duty to her job, is mirrored by a modern day woman's fight to escape the shackles of a broken marriage. Bess Hardemon, a tough and canny young teacher is determined to make a difference at her new school. At the cost of her own chance of finding love, Bess remains trapped by her duty, a confinement echoed a century later by Sarah, who must make her own choice between duty and her efforts to save a broken marriage.

Confinement is a story conveying women’s entrapment, how the world encumbered their potential a hundred and fifty years ago and how it may still encumber them today. In the forefront are two female characters – Bess Hardemon, a 19th-century teacher, and Sarah Beckett, a 20th-century modern woman, contrasting their very similar situations, although they are separated by more than a century.

The story alternates between Bess Hardemon and Sarah Beckett. Bess is presented as a young teacher and a true pioneer of education, trying to establish new, modern ideas at Priors Heath, a school for girls that swears on tradition and on the fact that schools for girls are there to hone women and present them to the world as marriageable ladies. Bess, however, wants to educate women differently and give them the same opportunities that are men’s given privileges. To her, a woman is not born only to marry and please men. She is born to learn and be independent. Her feminist and modern views, however, encounter a lot of opposition and Bess must struggle at Priors Heath. She is stubborn, independent and modern, yet confined by prejudices and tradition. Priors Heath is very reminiscent of Lowood School in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Bess is very much a Jane Eyre, yet she goes much further with her ideas than Jane Eyre. Bess Hardemon is an inspiring and likeable character.

Then, there is Sarah Beckett, a woman who, as a girl, did everything to be perfect and experienced a heartbreak that marked her for life. She is confined differently than Bess. She is defined by her family – her husband and her children. For the first time in her life, she wants to do something for herself by returning to her teaching roots, yet she realises how hard that is when you are needed by your husband and children. Sarah is definitely an interesting character, but I found her annoying. She lacks spirit and although she begins to teach again and finds happiness in that, it seems she herself never knows what she truly wants and is a quite passive person, really. I liked her far less than Bess.

The story is driven by these two women, but they are a cover for the important themes that the author tried to present, I believe. This novel features strong feministic ideas and although I am not a feminist myself, I truly appreciated what the author tried to say. We take education for granted and women today can do just about anything they want to do – they (we) can study, vote, travel the world, live as spinsters without being frowned upon because of that, fly a plane, be doctors, etc. But we tend to forget about the pioneers who made all of this possible for the modern woman. McMahon concentrated on women in relation to education in particular. Women had to struggle to be able to study just like men could and although they won, the battle was harsh and it didn’t make their lives very easy, which is shown through Bess Hardemon. Even modern women, like Sarah Beckett, are often confined, so one can only imagine how confined a Bess Hardemon of the 19th century was.

I truly appreciated the themes of the novel – education, feminism, the Victorian vs. modern woman – but the story itself is a bit lacklustre. It has a good basis, but it is delivered in a slightly bland way and remains unresolved. Certain minor characters had important roles, in my opinion, but were not given enough attention. One such example is Imogen, Sarah’s close friend, who experiences a major character change in the novel, yet it is never explained (at least not to my knowledge) why she became the person she is in the novel.

If you like Katharine McMahon’s novels (her later novels are great, in my opinion) or if you like books that explore women in a feministic way, then I definitely recommend this novel to you.

THIS MISS RATES: / (3.5 stars)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

How Well Read Are You?

I found this at Life After Jane and found it very interesting, so I'm making my own post.

"The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here."


•Copy this list.
•Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.
•Italicise the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.
•Tag other book nerds.
•Highlight the ones that you have but haven't read.

Now, let's see:

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien (own, haven't read)
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis (own, haven't read)
Emma -Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (own, haven't read)
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Not that bad, I guess. If I counted correctly, I read 24 books from this list.