Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My Top 13 Reads of 2013!

2014 is almost here, so it only seems right to look forward to a year which I hope will be full of great reading by sharing with you my favourite reads of 2013.

Without further ado, here's my list!

by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Living a lonely existence in a remote schloss in Styria, on the border of Austria and Hungary, Laura and her father play host to an unexpected guest, the beautiful young Carmilla. Her arrival is closely followed by an outbreak of unexplained deaths in the area, while the young women's growing friendship coincides with a series of nightmares and mysterious nocturnal visitations, and a gradual downward spiral in Laura's health. A chilling tale of the un-dead, 'Carmilla' is a beautifully written example of the gothic genre. Believed to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker's gothic masterpiece 'Dracula', written over twenty years later, 'Carmilla' stands out as an all-time horror classic.

by Lauren Oliver

There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world. People would go to the end of the earth to find it. They would tell lies for it. Even kill for it. 

Then, at last, they found the cure.

by John Green

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

"I've left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don't, put the book back on the shelf, please."

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of 'Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist'. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a cosmic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

by Susan Fletcher

The Massacre of Glencoe happened at 5am on 13th February 1692 when thirty-eight members of the Macdonald clan were killed by soldiers who had enjoyed the clan's hospitality for the previous ten days. Many more died from exposure in the mountains. Fifty miles to the south Corrag is condemned for her involvement in the Massacre. She is imprisoned, accused of witchcraft and murder, and awaits her death. The era of witch-hunts is coming to an end - but Charles Leslie, an Irish propagandist and Jacobite, hears of the Massacre and, keen to publicise it, comes to the tollbooth to question her on the events of that night, and the weeks preceding it. Leslie seeks any information that will condemn the Protestant King William, rumoured to be involved in the massacre, and reinstate the Catholic James. Corrag agrees to talk to him so that the truth may be known about her involvement, and so that she may be less alone, in her final days. As she tells her story, Leslie questions his own beliefs and purpose - and a friendship develops between them that alters both their lives.

by Moira Young

Saba's twin is golden. She is his living shadow. He is strong and beautiful. She is scrawny and dark. Nothing will separate them... Raised in isolated Silverlake, Saba is ignorant of the harsh and violent world beyond her home. But when her twin is snatched by black-robed riders, red rage fills her soul. How will Saba find him in a wild, scorching and lawless land? Racing across the cruel dustlands to find him, she can spare no one. Not even the boy who saves her life. She must silence her heart to survive. Blood will spill.

by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. 

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

by Susan Ee

It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

by Maria V. Snyder

Avry’s power to heal the sick should earn her respect in the plague-torn land of Kazan. Instead she is feared. Her kind are blamed for the horrifying disease that has taken hold of the nation. When Avry uses her forbidden magic to save a dying child, she faces the guillotine. Until a dark, mysterious man rescues her from her prison cell. His people need Avry’s magic to save their dying prince. The very prince who first unleashed the plague on Kazan.

Saving the prince is certain to kill Avry – yet she already faces a violent death. Now she must choose – use her healing touch to show the ultimate mercy or die a martyr to a lost cause?

by Maria V. Snyder

Yelena has a choice – be executed for murder, or become food taster to the Commander of Ixia. She leaps at the chance for survival, but her relief may be short-lived.

Life in the palace is full of hazards and secrets. Wily and smart, Yelena must learn to identify poisons before they kill her, recognise whom she can trust and how to spy on those she can’t. And who is the mysterious Southern sorceress who can reach into her head?

When Yelena realises she has extraordinary powers of her own, she faces a whole new problem, for using magic in Ixia is punishable by death...

by George Orwell

Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." 

by C. J. Sansom

Summer, 1545. England is at war. Henry VIII's invasion of France has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel. As the English fleet gathers at Portsmouth, the country raises the largest militia army it has ever seen. The King has debased the currency to pay for the war, and England is in the grip of soaring inflation and economic crisis. Meanwhile Matthew Shardlake is given an intriguing legal case by an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr. Asked to investigate claims of 'monstrous wrongs' committed against a young ward of the court, which have already involved one mysterious death, Shardlake and his assistant Barak journey to Portsmouth. Once arrived, Shardlake and Barak find themselves in a city preparing to become a war zone; and Shardlake takes the opportunity to also investigate the mysterious past of Ellen Fettipace, a young woman incarcerated in the Bedlam. The emerging mysteries around the young ward, and the events that destroyed Ellen's family nineteen years before, involve Shardlake in reunions both with an old friend and an old enemy close to the throne. Events will converge on board one of the King's great warships, primed for battle in Portsmouth harbour: the Mary Rose...

by Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. 

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

There we have it, my Top 13 Reads of 2013! I'd love to know which books you enjoyed reading the most this year, and hopefully 2014 will be a great year to read for all of us.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 27 December 2013


Hello, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and if it's not something you celebrate I hope the 25th of December was a fantastic day for you anyway!

Shockingly, I received some new books for Christmas:

That's right, marvel at my photography skills! (But if I'm honest I don't think it's too bad a shot considering I took it on my phone...)

So that they're easier to make out, the books I was given, from top to bottom, are:

  1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  2. Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle
  3. Burn Mark by Laura Powell
  4. Burned by Ellen Hopkins
  5. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey
  6. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
I'm really looking forward to reading all of them! I've been meaning to read something by Shirley Jackson and Ellen Hopkins for a long time, and the other four just sound cool. I've left links to each of them so you can go ahead and check them out if you're not already familiar with them - maybe you'll see something you fancy reading, too!

I'd love to hear which books (or anything else, for that matter) Father Christmas left for you this year, so feel free to let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading! J.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Review | The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

by Holly Black

My Rating: 

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

I'd be surprised if anyone who reads the blurb of Holly Black's latest novel doesn't want to pick it up and read it, it just sounds cool. I first stumbled across this book just before it was published in a copy of SciFiNow, where it was being reviewed; the first thing that struck me was that gorgeous cover, then the incredibly interesting premise. I didn't have this urgent need to purchase a copy as soon as it came out but I remembered it, so when I did come across it in Waterstones and the cover was even prettier up close and I had a little bit of birthday money left I went ahead and bought it.

As I said this novel has a very interesting premise, and its opening scene is just fantastic. The way Black describes Tana waking up in a bath tub - like something out of a Ke$ha music video - is incredibly well done and, for lack of a better word, realistic. Obviously we don't live in a vampire-ridden world full of cornered off Coldtowns, but there is nothing melodramatic about Tana's behaviour when she comes across the bodies of the other people in the house; her shock and her hysteria feel real.

However, for me the novel began to gradually lose something after that first scene, particularly as the pace became rather halted by every other chapter which included a flashback or concentrated on a character other than Tana. As a whole, without some of those extra scenes, I felt as though the novel could have been shorter than it is - and it's not huge to begin with! In that sense it seems it's quite easy to tell this world started in a short story.

Having said that I do think the worldbuilding itself is brilliant. Vampires and vampire culture are not unheard of in YA fiction, so whenever another author takes on the challenge of bringing their own flare to such famous mythological creatures there's often the chance they're not going to do it well! A lot of fictional vampires tend to be miserable, brooding creatures who are constantly complaining about their fate - and if I'm being honest there was still a little something of that in this book - but through her inclusion of the Coldtowns and both the people trying to get into them and the people already there, Black explored many different aspects of vampirism and the consequences of it.

Now enough of the world, let's talk about our heroine. If I'm perfectly honest I still haven't quite decided whether I like Tana or not. There were definitely ways in which she stood out from other YA heroines; she's one of the few heroines I've come across who hasn't treated having a boyfriend as the be all and end all, and let's face it there aren't many of them. The only two that immediately spring to mind are Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Saba (Blood Red Road).

Instead Tana treats her relationships like an ordinary teenager does (unfortunately I wasn't an ordinary teenager - I was still fairly sure all boys were riddled with diseases when I was 16). She's perfectly aware that her previous relationship with Aidan wasn't 'true love' and she wasn't looking for it. He was cute and available, so she dated him. We need more of this in YA, I think! 

I initially enjoyed her relationship with Gavriel because it was more about a need to be physical and a need to feel wanted more than anything else. Unfortunately, by the end of the book, the two of them have magically fallen in love over the space of a few days in which a lot of people have died, and Gavriel becomes yet another brooding, 'woe is me' love interest. When did vampires become so depressing? Dracula had a whale of a time in his book!

I'm bored of brooding love interests and I'm also starting to get pretty bored of all these similar family units in YA fiction. Once again we have a girl with a younger sibling she loves, one dead parent she loved and one living parent she doesn't get on with very much. Not to mention Tana's little sister is in fact the most unhelpful little sister ever known to man. Plenty of young people have families which are 'dysfunctional' (I hate that word) and that they are represented in fiction is wonderful, but not every teenager has a miserable family life. In a lot of YA fiction there seems to be this need for the hero/ine to have some form of tragic backstory in order for them to be liked. I love a tragedy just as much as the next person, but I'd love to read about more people in YA who are actually pretty boring. I want to read about the people who aren't bullied, who are doing fine at school, who get on perfectly well with their family, and then I want to read about those people still being extraordinarily heroic anyway.

As for the side characters, I disliked most - if not all - of them. Aidan was infuriating (if I was Tana I would have left him on the side of the road somewhere) and Winter and Midnight weren't much better. Gavriel was a little more tolerable because every sentence he spoke was brimming with hysterical grandiosity; he's like the love child of William Shakespeare and Lestat.

So, to summarize, would I recommend this book? Yes, I probably would, especially to people who love reading about vampires. The worldbuilding here is cool, and it's certainly an interesting take on vampirism and contemporary culture.

Would I read it again? No, probably not. It was a fun read, but I didn't actually like most of the characters - in fact I can't remember what most of them were called! Even if you don't like someone you can still read about them if you're given a reason to read on, but this book just didn't provide me with that reason. Personally I hope it stays as a standalone, I don't really care what happens to Tana and Gavriel next. But like I said I did enjoy the world, and I think a selection of short stories set in this world would be wonderful.

Thanks for reading! J.

Friday, 29 November 2013

End of Hiatius + About Me!

I think it's about time I shook off this hiatus and got back into blogging, don't you? I was planning on posting a review of Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for my first post back, but I thought it might be nicer to write something a little more personal first instead, because other than my profile you guys don't know that much about me at all and I figured that should change if I expect you to read what I have to say.

First and foremost: my name's Jess, I'm 22, I'm from England and in July I graduated with a degree in English Literature with Creative Writing. I'm currently working towards an MA in Creative Writing, which I'm using to write my very first novel and teach myself discipline when it comes to writing because I severely lack self-discipline when it comes to my creative projects. I think of an idea, obsess over it for a while, plan it, start writing it, and then another idea pops into my head and I start working on that one instead. Luckily for me the MA's really helping me so far, I get ideas for other projects but now I just jot them down and get back to my current novel. 

I've written a little poetry in my time and plenty of short fiction, but I've always wanted to be a novelist. It's one of my dreams to be a published author, but I'm not aiming to make a career out of it - that's a pretty difficult thing to do! I still have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life - I want to do a whole range of things! - but I'm currently very interested in going into either publishing or librarianship. Pretty much anything that keeps me around stories, I guess!

I actually have some publishing work experience lined up for next year so that's pretty exciting, and I'm also applying for a few placements as and when they pop up. I imagine I'll write a post or two here about my work experience when it comes around.

As well as literature I'm a huge lover of film and history (in fact the novel I'm working on right now is a piece of historical fiction!) and I spend more time than I probably should going to the cinema and wandering around museums.

Now that my hiatus is over I'm aiming to review even more books, share some of my personal recommendations and even talk about my writing journey over the course of my MA and beyond!

Speak to you soon!

Saturday, 19 October 2013


So my Halloween reviews really failed, didn't they? Sorry about that! 

I really enjoy blogging; I love writing down my opinions, and reviewing books is something I've really enjoyed so far, but I'm going to be going on hiatus for a little while (not that I was posting much anyway!) just because I need to settle into my new routine.

Now that my MA has officially started I need to be submitting around 3,000 words of my in-progress novel to my workshops each week while also critiquing everyone else's work (which I thoroughly enjoy doing), and on top of that I'm trying to get involved in as much extra-curricular activities as I can. This year I'm volunteering at Litfest (the annual Literature Festival in Lancaster), applying for part-time jobs and work experience, as well as regularly attending open mic nights and other local writing events. As I'm still getting into the swing of things I'm struggling to read things regularly never mind review them!

So for now I'm going to be taking a little hiatus until my life is a bit more organized, I just thought I'd post this here so that my blog is one less thing I have to worry about for now. I'm tired of feeling guilty for not updating when really my other stuff is more important right now.

With any luck I'll be back sooner rather than later with a lot more exciting content.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Well this is awkward...

So the 1st of October has come and gone and yet you've had no review from me. Really it's just typical that the first day of a new challenge I would fail utterly, but I do have my reasons! As some of you may know I travelled back up to Lancaster last weekend to begin an MA in Creative Writing and today I had to register on my course. Yesterday, however, I discovered that to register I would need a bunch of documents that no one told me about until I'd already arrived back at uni. So I spent the entire day (and most of the night) panicking in case I wouldn't be able to register.
     As it turned out, out of the five documents I was told I'd need OR ELSE, they only looked at two. Bloody typical. So I'm very sorry that I failed my challenge at the first hurdle!
     So instead of daily reviews (they are pretty much ruined now) I'm going to do weekly reviews instead, and these weekly reviews, to make up for my utter failure, will be texts outside of The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories. I may review something by Stephen King or something by Susan Hill, or perhaps even a well known text like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
     I hope this makes up (in some way) for my failure! I guess I should have known from the beginning that something would go wrong...

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Reading Wrap-Up | September 2013

I managed to get through two books in September which, given that one of them wasn't even a hundred pages long, is pretty pathetic. I do have my reasons though! Last weekend I moved back up to Lancaster to begin my MA, so I spent the majority of September packing up and getting all my finances sorted. So I'm not really that disappointed with my progress this past month, and I'm definitely not surprised.
     October looks like it's going to be even busier - especially with the challenge I've set myself - so I have no idea when I'll be able to get back into reading novels regularly, but I'm not going to let it worry me. I'm just three books away from completing my fifty books challenge; I'm pretty sure I'll have gotten through three books by December 31st.

     Anyway, on with the wrap-up!

Misery by Stephen King

My Rating: 

After a car crash, writer Paul Sheldon is saved by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes. She brings him home, splints his mangled legs, and all he has to do in return is write a very special book, one all about her favourite character. Because if he doesn`t, if he is bad, she will be cross - very cross.

I'll be honest, I've never really been a fan of Stephen King. I've tried on multiple occasions to read one of his novels but each time I haven't been able to get into his writing style, which is particularly frustrating when he gives such good writing advice; I desperately want to like his work.
     I watched the film adaptation of Misery starring James Caan and Kathy Bates several months ago and really enjoyed it, so when I came across a little copy of the book for 50p I decided to pick it up - I had nothing to lose - and I'm so glad I did! For the first time ever I managed to get through a Stephen King novel; in fact I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It was suspenseful, nerve-wracking and, at times, pretty horrifying too.
     Now that I've read Misery I'm hoping I might be able to read more of King's work in the future, but now that I've finally finished one of his novels I won't be too disappointed if I can't get through another.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

My Rating: 

Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." 

Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of my all-time favourite classics but, until just a couple of weeks ago, it was the only one of Orwell's books I'd read. Many friends of mine had the chance to study Animal Farm at school but it was never on my syllabus; we studied books like Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and Golding's Lord of the Flies which, let's be honest, aren't any more cheerful than Animal Farm.
     I found a copy of Animal Farm in my parents' local library and was surprised upon discovering how short it was - I'd never realized it was less than a hundred pages long, so I decided to borrow it with the intention of reading it in one sitting. Instead it took me two days to finish, which just goes to show how busy this September was for me.
     In short, I loved it! It was so bizarre and there was a creepiness to it in that it felt as though I was reading a children's story, like one of Aesop's Fables or one of Kipling's Just So Stories, rather than a piece of political satire - but that's why it's so effective. I'm looking forward to reading more Orwell in future.

So this update is short and sweet. With any luck I'll have more books to talk about at the end of October!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Top Ten | Book to Movie Adaptations (Part Two)

Last Monday I gave you the first five of my top ten favourite book to movie adaptations. Here are the final five. Enjoy!

Howl's Moving Castle, dir. Hayao Miyazaki (2004)
Based on Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

With the recent announcement that the incredibly talented Hayao Miyazaki is retiring I was very pleased when I remembered I could add one of his amazing films to this list. Miyazaki's adaptation differs from the original text quite a bit, but it still deserves a place on this list for its gorgeous animation and Miyazaki's amazing vision as a director.
     Howl's Moving Castle takes place in the land of Ingary, a fantastical land which exists alongside our own. Sophie Hatter is the oldest of three daughters and as such sees it as her duty to take over her late father's hat shop while her younger sisters pursue their dreams elsewhere. When one of Sophie's sisters offends the Witch of the Waste, she mistakes Sophie for her sister and curses her, turning her into an elderly woman. Now tainted with magic, Sophie leaves her hometown and winds up becoming the new cleaning lady of the Moving Castle; a bizarre building which is home to the Wizard Howl, who is famous for eating the hearts of beautiful young women.
     If you're a fan of wizards, witches, demons and castles with feet then this film is perfect for you; it's funny, entertaining, dramatic and beautifully animated. And if the film sounds good don't forget to check out the book too! The two mediums are very different, but the story's just as fun a second time round.

Jane Eyre, dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga (2011)
Based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is certainly not lacking in adaptations, but this one is most definitely my favourite. Charlotte Brontë's classic tale of the orphan-turned-governess has been adapted for television more than once, but it's this filmic adaptation, which flits between the past and the present, that entertains me the most.
    Not only is the acting superb (Mia Wasikowska should definitely be praised for her Yorkshire accent) but the film has the spectacularly gothic feel to it that the story needs; Thornfield Hall is claustrophobic and spooky and beautiful, and Michael Fassbender is a wonderful Mr. Rochester. Unlike other adaptations I've seen Jane and Rochester are real people, and not simply stiff representations of how we often perceive the Victorians.
     The supporting cast are also wonderful, with Dame Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers, and even the smaller roles of St. John's sisters played by Tamzin Merchant and Holliday Grainger, both of whom are famous for their roles in The Tudors and The Borgias respectively. 
     So if you're a fan of Jane Eyre and you still haven't seen this particular adaptation, you're missing out!

10 Things I Hate About You, dir. Gil Junger (1999)
Based on The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Okay, maybe I'm kind of cheating with this one. Shakespeare's plays were certainly never meant to be read in the same way a book is and 10 Things I Hate About You certainly isn't a direct adaptation of the original text, it's far more postmodern than that, but we can still argue that it deserves a place on this list. It does, after all, popularize one of Shakespeare's less satisfying plays - The Taming of the Shrew.
     Set in an American high school (as so many postmodern adaptations of classics strangely are, like Clueless; a film loosely based on Austen's Emma), 10 Things I Hate About You primarily focuses on Kat and her younger sister Bianca. While Bianca is trying on cute dresses and flirting with boys, Kat would much rather be alone with a book while preparing for college elsewhere, and she's certainly not afraid of telling people to get lost. Sleazy Joey Donner, who previously slept with Kat, now wants to bed her younger sister instead, but Bianca can only go to the prom if Kat goes. Enter Patrick: a rebel and outcast in his own right whom Joey pays to get close to Kat so that she will go to the prom, thus allowing Joey to make his move on Bianca. But trouble ensues when love begins to blossom between Kat and Patrick.
     Shakespeare lovers out there will find fun little details throughout the film, such as Kat's surname 'Stratford' and Patrick's surname 'Verona', as well as Kat's best friend Mandella who is something of a Shakespeare nut herself. If nothing else this adaptation is entertaining, and its ending is a lot more satisfying for the women in the audience when compared with the original play.

Little Women, dir. Gillian Armstrong (1994)
Based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott's semi-autobiographical tale is one of the most famous pieces of American Literature out there, and most definitely one of my own personal favourite classics. Little Women follows the four March sisters: pretty Meg, who works as a governess but longs to marry well and live in a house full of fine things; shy Beth, who wants nothing more than to stay at home with her beloved family and play her piano; spoiled Amy, the baby of the family who loves to paint and wishes to be filthy rich; and the tomboyish Jo, who longs to be a famous author and travel the world as a spinster.
     It's Jo whom we follow most closely through her adventures, from her improvement as a writer, her friendship with the lonely boy next door whose marriage proposal she refuses, her journey to New York, the loss of her most beloved sister, and her eventual romance with a German professor. For me it's this adaptation which really brings to life the feeling in the original story; as with Jane Eyre the cast are spectacular, particularly Winona Ryder as the rambunctious Jo, and there is real chemistry between the characters.
     Not only is this one of my favourite adaptations but also one of my favourite films. It's a little on the long side, but it's well worth it - particularly during the days when you need something nice to cheer you up.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, dir. Peter Jackson (2003)
Based on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Peter Jackson's adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's most famous work are some of the most famous and well-loved adaptations out there, so it made sense to include one of those films on this list.
     These films really bring the fantastic world and precious cast of characters that Tolkien created to life; they can make you laugh, cry and gawk in amazement all in one scene, so it was difficult to just pick one of the films for my list.
     Ultimately for me it had to be the final installment in the trilogy, The Return of the King, purely because it includes the happy ending. I do love a happy ending, and wow do these characters deserve one after everything they're put through.
     I'd be very surprised if you haven't seen these films yet, and if you haven't I'm shocked and appalled. You're missing out!

So there we have it, my top ten favourite book to movie adaptations. I hope you liked my selection, feel free to leave a comment with your own personal favourites down below!
   Thanks for reading!

Friday, 27 September 2013

October Daily Reviews!

Everyone knows October is the spookiest month of the year, so in honour of our annual build up to Halloween I'm going to be challenging myself to review a ghost story every day in October. 31 ghost stories in 31 days!
     These won't be just any ghost stories, but stories plucked from The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories, which I was lucky enough to study in my final year of university. I've chosen these stories in particular because the Victorian era is well known for having embraced the Gothic (we can see it in their architecture as well as their literature) and for its developments in science, which led to people questioning the presence of God and the afterlife. It was these anxieties Victorian writers played on when they wrote their terrifying tales.
     So pop back here in October if you're interested in seeing some ghost stories!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Top Ten | Book to Movie Adaptations (Part One)

Lately in the film world it seems as though there have been more film adaptations of books than films which have been written as just films. Film adaptations aren't just a recent phenomenon, however, they've been around for a long, long time; there are plenty of terribles ones (*cough*Eragon*cough*) but every so often a film is adapted so perfectly, or so uniquely, that it pleases readers of the book and even introduces film buffs to the original source material.
     So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are the first five of my personal top ten book to movie adaptations!

Holes, dir. Andrew Davis (2003)
Based on Holes by Louis Sachar

As it was a book I was assigned to read in school, Holes was a book I was certain I wasn't going to like. Oh how wrong I was. Holes follows the story of Stanley Yelnats IV who, after a severe case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is accused and found guilty of a crime he didn't commit and sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention and correction facility where the 'inmates' are made to dig holes in the desert to build their character. But all at Camp Green Lake is not as it seems. The story includes a family curse, a doomed love story, a teacher-turned-outlaw, a hunt for treasure, yellow-spotted lizards and some onions. This story is not to be missed.
     I enjoyed Holes immensely and, luckily for my class, we were able to watch the movie adaptation in school too; we'd read a section, and then see how it had been adapted, and while there are some differences, as there always are in movie adaptations, I personally think it's very true to the book. The core feeling of the story is there, so whether you've read the book or not this is a film you simply have to see. But if you haven't read the book, what are you waiting for?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, dir. Alfonso Cuarón (2004)
Based on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

As probably the most famous book series and film franchise out there, a Harry Potter book-turned-film just had to be on this list. In this third installment of the series the threat against Harry's life is not coming from Voldemort but from notorious criminal Sirius Black, who is not quite what everyone thinks and who is much closer to Harry than anyone could possibly imagine.
     Amongst Harry Potter fans, such as myself, this film is often considered one of the best adaptations in the franchise; it's very true to the book, stylistically beautiful and - this is very important! - Harry's hair is perfect. The Prisoner of Azkaban focuses much more on giving Harry a sense of home and family, and giving him a connection to his deceased parents, which is just what he needs given the amount of crap he's going to go through in his fourth year. I love this adaptation.

A Little Princess, dir. Alfonso Cuarón (1995)
Based on A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This film has a special place in my heart, alongside other childhood classics like Beauty and the Beast, The Swan Princess, and Tom's Midnight Garden. I watched this film a lot as a little girl. A lot. And as I grew older its simple message that: 'All girls are princesses; it is our right' would easily cheer me up if I was feeling glum, because let's face it every little girl wants to believe she's a princess.
A Little Princess follows the young Sara Crewe, the only daughter of a wealthy widower, who is sent away to Miss Minchin's boarding school in America from her beloved home in India when her father goes to war. When her father is killed in action Sara is left penniless, and she is forced to work as a serving girl for the cruel Miss Minchin. 
     In the original text, Sara is sent to a boarding school in England because she's at the age where wealthy little girls are sent to boarding school. Rather than being called to war, her father instead dies of jungle fever, and leaves Sara penniless after investing all of his money into diamond mines. Like in the film, Sara must earn her keep at the boarding school as a servant girl. Despite the differences, this adaptation is beautiful and very true to the message in the original story.
     Whether you approach the story through the book or the film - or both! - it's a hopeful tale for the princess in all of us.

Treasure Planet, dir. Ron Clements and John Musker (2002)
Based on Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

If you thought the changes made to A Little Princess were severe then you obviously weren't anticipating Disney's take on Robert Louis Stevenson's swashbuckling adventure story. While the title has had a bit of a tweak, the only major difference between Treasure Island and Treasure Planet is the setting; while the former takes place on the seven seas, the latter takes place in space. Pretty cool, right?
When young delinquent Jim Hawkins finds himself in possession of the map to the infamous Captain Flint's treasure, he sets out on a quest to find the fortune that will solve all his problems, and along the way he befriends a cyborg cook who's missing a leg...
     If nothing else this adaptation is a lot of fun; seeing such a classic story re-told with a steampunk/sci-fi twist brings it to life in a whole new way for a whole new generation. Don't knock it 'til you try it!

The Silence of the Lambs, dir. Jonathan Demme (1991)
Based on The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

"Buffalo Bill" has been murdering and skinning young women, and the FBI need to stop him before he strikes again. Clarice Starling is pulled from training at the FBI Academy to interview the dangerous and charismatic Hannibal Lecter, an incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, in the hope that his knowledge may prove useful in the FBI's pursuit of "Buffalo Bill". Clarice and Dr Lecter begin to develop a peculiar relationship in which Clarice trades personal information, mostly involving the premature death of her beloved father, for Lecter's insight. Time is of the essence, particularly when the daughter of a US Senate goes missing.
     Only two words are needed to explain why this adaptation is on my list: Anthony Hopkins. In 1991 both he and Jodie Foster won Oscars for their leading roles in this film, which is amazing when, altogether, Hopkins is in the film for just over 16 minutes in total. A 16 minute Oscar winning performance, do you need any other reason to watch the film?

So there we have it, the first half of my top ten favourite book to movie adaptations. Check back next Monday to see the final half of my list!

Thanks for reading! J.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Banned Books Week!

September 22nd-28th, 2013 is Banned Books Week, so celebrate freadom by reading a book that was once judged too naughty to be read! If you're not sure if one such book is sitting on your shelf then here are just three examples from a very, very long list:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Journey with Alice down the rabbit hole into a world of wonder where oddities, logic and wordplay rule supreme. Encounter characters like the grinning Cheshire Cat who can vanish into thin air, the cryptic Mad Hatter who speaks in riddles and the harrowing Queen of Hearts obsessed with the phrase "Off with their heads!" This is a land where rules have no boundaries, eating mushrooms will make you grow or shrink, croquet is played with flamingos and hedgehogs, and exorbitant trials are held for the theft of tarts. Amidst these absurdities, Alice will have to find her own way home. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland began as a story told to three little girls in a rowboat, near Oxford. Ten year old Alice Liddell asked to have the story written down and two years later it was published with immediate success. Carroll's unique play on logic has undoubtedly led to its lasting appeal to adults, while remaining one of the most beloved children's tales of all time.

In 1900 Lewis Carroll's classic tale was removed from the syllabus in Havervill, New Hampshire at the Woodsville High School due to the belief that the story contains references to masturbation, sexual fantasies, expletives and derogatory characterizations of religious ceremonies. It was also banned by the Chinese Governor of Hunan Province in 1931 on the grounds that: "Animals should not use human language, and that it was disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level."

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman moves among the young and trendy in 1980s Manhattan. Young, handsome, and well educated, Bateman earns his fortune on Wall Street by day while spending his nights in ways we cannot begin to fathom. Expressing his true self through torture and murder, Bateman prefigures an apocalyptic horror that no society could bear to confront.

Ellis's shocking novel was originally due to be published in March 1991 by Simon & Schuster, but the company withdrew due to "aesthetic differences". When it was published Ellis received numerous death threats and hate mail, which is ironic given that the reason it was banned in several countries and states was because of its graphic violence and sexual content. In Germany the book has been deemed "harmful to minors", while in Australia it is sold shrink-wrapped and classed "R18" under national censorship legislation. Sale of the book is still theoretically banned altogether in Queensland. In Canada, during the trial of serial killer Paul Bernardo, the book generated renewed controversy when Bernardo revealed that he owned a copy which he read "as his bible". Ellis's own views on censorship can be found here.

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

Vivian Gandillon relishes the change, the sweet, fierce ache that carries her from girl to wolf. At sixteen, she is beautiful and strong, and all the young wolves are on her tail. But Vivian still grieves for her dead father; her pack remains leaderless and in disarray, and she feels lost in the suburbs of Maryland. She longs for a normal life. But what is normal for a werewolf?

Then Vivian falls in love with a human, a meat-boy. Aiden is kind and gentle, a welcome relief from the squabbling pack. He’s fascinated by magic, and Vivian longs to reveal herself to him. Surely he would understand her and delight in the wonder of her dual nature, not fear her as an ordinary human would.

Vivian’s divided loyalties are strained further when a brutal murder threatens to expose the pack. Moving between two worlds, she does not seem to belong in either. What is she really—human or beast? Which tastes sweeter—blood or chocolate?

Given that Blood and Chocolate is classed as a YA paranormal romance novel you might have thought it as unlikely to see this book on the list as to see Twilight or Vampire Academy, but Blood and Chocolate was in fact challenged in Greensville, South Carolina and La Porte, Texas, where it was also banned from libraries (again ironic given that Klause is a librarian herself), due to it tackling the somewhat touchy subject of teenage sex. Given that the book is about werewolves, its theory that rough sex is better sex is rather frowned upon by parents. Not so much by the teens.

Music can be censored, television can be censored and film can be censored. That's the beauty of the written word, once you've read it there's no going back. So celebrate our freedom to read whatever we want by picking up a book from this list. Happy reading!