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!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Reading Wrap-Up | August 2013

Since finishing university August has definitely been the best reading month for me. I managed to get through ten very varied books this month; including a memoir, a children's book, three classics and a graphic novel. So on with the wrap-up!

Dante's Inferno

My Rating:

"Through me you go to the grief-racked city. Through me to everlasting pain you go..."

Depicting one man's horrifying journey into the depths of Hell, 'Inferno', the first part of Dante's 'Divine Comedy', is a soaring spiritual epic that continues to echo through the centuries with its moving portrayal of human sin and the tragedy of those condemned to eternal damnation.

For years Inferno was something I'd only read extracts of when I came across it while studying, but I'd never read it from start to finish. I knew that had to change when I came across the pretty new Penguin Classics addition in The Works for just £2.
     Journeying through the nine circles of Hell with Dante was both bizarre and fascinating, and the footnotes proved more than helpful whenever someone appeared whom Dante harboured a particular hatred for. What surprised me most was how easy Inferno was to understand; despite studying plenty of classics through school and university, I was worried that I'd find Inferno difficult to follow because of how long ago it was written, not to mention it was intially written in Latin! So I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be pretty easy to understand - all the footnotes certainly helped! - and I'd recommend it to anyone who's been putting it off because they're worried it's a difficult read. It isn't!

Titanic Survivor: The Memoirs of Violet Jessop, Stewardess

My Rating:

'I did not like big ships...I was secretly afraid' admits Violet Jessop in this unique eyewitness account of the most written about disaster of the twentieth century. Joining the Royal Mail Line in 1908 at the age of twenty-one, Violet Jessop spent her entire career at sea, travelling on more than 200 voyages. She was a stewardess for first-class passengers on the Titanic when it sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912 after hitting an iceberg. Her description of the sinking is chilling as she sees to the needs of the passengers before finding a warm coat for herself. While in the lifeboat, someone threw her a 'forgotten baby', and she watched, fascinated as the ship went down 'as if by looking I could keep her afloat'. Four years later, she was a wartime nurse aboard the hospital ship, Britannic, when it struck a mine and sank to the bottom of the Aegean. These memoirs give us a unique glimpse of life below decks aboard one of the great ocean liners. From Jessop's unusual vantage point, we learn what life was like for those who worked on the ships: hilarious fellow stewardesses, cramped quarters, wartime alerts, impossible passengers ('the haughty, gimlet eyes of a certain well-known society woman'), philandering shipmates, exotic ports, unrequited love and tragic deaths.

My second read in August was the memoirs of Violet Jessop, a woman who led an amazing life which included surviving both the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and of the Britannic in 1916. The memoirs span from her early childhood all the way through to her later working life and are written with wonderful wit and humour.
     Though I thoroughly enjoyed reading Violet's memoirs the title, and indeed the cover, of this book are very misleading. While it is true that Violet survived the Titanic, only two chapters are really dedicated to her time on the ship; the book is more about her life in general than her time on the Titanic. So if you're looking for something centered entirely around the doomed ship I would not recommend this book, I do, however, recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs and non-fiction and to anyone who is a lover of history. Titanic aside, this woman's life is well worth reading about. 

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My Rating:

Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student at Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies, is devastated when her adored, indulgent father dies. Now penniless and banished to a room in the attic, Sara is demeaned, abused, and forced to work as a servant. How this resourceful girl's fortunes change again is at the center of A Little Princess, one of the best-loved stories in all of children's literature.

My second classic and third read of the month was Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, a book I have been meaning to read for years because I spent so many afternoons of my childhood watching and loving the 1995 adaptation. Though there are some differences between the book and the film I enjoyed reading it just as much as I enjoy watching it. It's a charming story and, though a classic, so easy to read that I read it in a day. It was a day well spent.
     The story centres on Sara Crewe, the beloved daughter of a wealthy widower who is sent to a boarding school in London which is run by the spiteful Miss Minchin. Despite the fact that she has never wanted for anything, Sara is always kind and considerate to those around her, earning her the nickname of 'Princess Sara' which she takes in her stride. When her father suddenly dies and leaves her penniless, Sara's strength of character is put to the ultimate test. It's no wonder this story's a classic, it's just wonderful. So if you're in the mood to read something heart-warming, go ahead and pick up a copy of A Little Princess.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

My Rating:

Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark is not afraid of Laszlo. 

Laszlo lives in a house. The dark lives in the basement. 

One night, the dark comes upstairs to Laszlo's room, and Laszlo goes down to the basement.

This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark.

Don't judge me. I managed to land myself a few weeks of work experience in my local library this August, and one afternoon while the library was particularly quiet one of the librarians showed me Lemony Snicket's The Dark. Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) is perhaps best known for his children's series A Series of Unfortunate Events, which follows the lives of the Baudelaire siblings, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. Short children's read The Dark follows Laszlo as he learns not to be afraid of The Dark.
     Whether you're a child or not this short read is adorable. Snicket's sweet personification of The Dark will quell any child's fears (or even any adult's!), and the story tells the wonderful, age old message of how there can be no light without the dark.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

My Rating:

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

I'd been meaning to read Divergent for a long time because I'd heard so many good things about it and, to my delight, it's one of the very few YA dystopias out there that doesn't include a bloody love triangle. It was a fast-paced read, I'd recommend it to anyone out there who often gets bored of slow moving books, but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get into it. I desperately wanted to like Divergent, but in the end I couldn't finish it.
     Was it the characters? Not really. Tris certainly isn't the best heroine I've ever come across but she was pretty good, and I liked Four and Tris's mother a lot. Was it the writing style? Definitely not, Roth certainly knows how to pace an action packed story. My issue with Divergent was the world building. I like my dystopia to be believable; I want to really believe that society could end up like this in the future because that makes it all the more frightening, but the world in Divergent seemed, to me, entirely unbelievable. I didn't see how anyone could possibly believe the factions were a good idea. If I can't believe a story, I can't finish it. So I'm very sorry to say Divergent was a disappointment.

Vampireology by Nicky Raven

My Rating:

Explore (if you dare) the true history of the Fallen Ones — and follow the fate of a 1920s investigator lured by a beauty with violet eyes.

Long before the term vampire was born, long before Bram Stoker fictionalized this being’s ways, blood-drinking demons were banished to Earth by Michael’s host of Angels, or so the Bible describes. Now this rich, mesmerizing resource, written in 1900, sheds light on what happened hence to the three vampire bloodlines — especially the tortured souls known as the Belial. Interspersed are booklets, flaps, and letters between a young paranormal researcher who discovered the book in the 1920s and an oddly alluring woman who seeks his help. Among the phenomena explored are:

* vampires’ genealogical origins, attributes, and range
* myths about the making of vampires
* secrets of vampires’ powers and shape-shifting skills
* tips for spotting vampires, protecting oneself, and fighting back
* case studies of famous vampires — and vampire hunters — through history
* a shocking overview of vampires "living" among us

One of the books in the Ology series, Vampireology, like The Dark, was just another entirely fun, quick read. I came across this in The Works a couple of years ago for around £3 and just had to have it because I love the way the book is set out as a series of letters, booklets and research 'proving' the existence of vampires - the 'Fallen Ones' - in our world.
     The book looks at different types of vampire, and even suggests that some famous figures in our history, such as Elizabeth Bathory and Jack the Ripper, may have been vampires. This is a great read for anyone interested in the origins of vampirism, and I'd definitely like to read some of the other books in the Ology series.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

My Rating:

Following the demise of bloodthirsty buccaneer Captain Flint, young Jim Hawkins finds himself with the key to a fortune. For he has discovered a map that will lead him to the fabled Treasure Island. But a host of villains, wild beasts and deadly savages stand between him and the stash of gold. Not to mention the most infamous pirate ever to sail the high seas . . .

I actually started Treasure Island last year as it was required reading for one of my modules at university. However, I ended up being ill the week we were due to look at it and I didn't end up finishing it. Like A Little Princess it's such a short classic read that I decided to pick it up in August and finally finish reading it.
     Robert Louis Stevenson's swashbuckling story follows the adventures of the young Jim Hawkins as he sets out on a quest to find the notorious Captain Flint's hidden treasure. Along the way he learns about life at sea, mutiny and how difficult it is to distinguish a friend from a foe when he befriends the infamous Long John Silver. I really enjoyed this read, it was a lot of fun and, like the other two classics I read in August, a very easy read. The reason it only garnered three stars rather than four or five was simply because I felt as though the pace of the story became very slow once Jim reached the island, and I actually enjoyed his time at the Benbow Inn and his journey to the island a lot more. That being said it's still a classic well worth reading, especially if you're a lover of pirates.

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

My Rating:


A quick death

Or slow poison...

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...

After reading Snyder's Touch of Power in July and really enjoying it I decided it was about time I finally got around to reading the start of her most well known series, and I'm pleased to say I wasn't disappointed. Poison Study takes place in the fantastical land of Ixia and follows Yelena, a young woman who has been sentenced to death for murdering the son of the man who took her in when she was young and orphaned. Instead of being sent to the gallows, however, she is instead offered the job as the Commander of Ixia's new food taster where, like all the food tasters before her, she will eventually die by poisoning. Yelena's story isn't as simple as that, however, for she is hiding secrets; secrets about the abuse she received at the hands of the man she murdered and secrets about her own abilities: Yelena is capable of magic in a land where magic is forbidden.
     I absolutely adored this novel. The world-building was fantastic, Yelena is one of the best fantasy heroines I have come across in a long time and, like in Touch of Power, Snyder once again refuses to use any form of instalove; the relationship between Yelena and Valek, the mysterious and charismatic assassin who hires her, develops naturally over time. In a reading world which is currently full to the brim with instant and predictable love triangles this is a godsend. I think it's pretty easy to see that Poison Study was my favourite read of August, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into Magic Study this month.

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

My Rating:

Returning home from a visit to a client late one summer's evening, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow takes a wrong turning and stumbles across the derelict old White House. Compelled by curiosity, he approaches the door, and, standing before the entrance feels the unmistakable sensation of a small hand creeping into his own, 'as if a child had taken hold of it'. Intrigued by the encounter, he determines to learn more, and discovers that the owner's grandson had drowned tragically many years before. At first unperturbed by the odd experience, Snow begins to be plagued by haunting dreams, panic attacks, and more frequent visits from the small hand which become increasingly threatening and sinister ...

I came across two beautiful little hardback additions of Susan Hill's Dolly and The Small Hand in the library and simply had to borrow them. Susan Hill is best known for the famously chilling The Woman in Black, but that is not her only ghost story. Having only read The Woman in Black before August I decided it was about time I read another ghost story of hers. The Small Hand follows Adam Snow who, after stumbling across a derelict house in the countryside, is haunted by the presence of a small, cold hand in his own which slowly begins to turn sinister.
     I enjoyed this story. It was nice to dip back into Hill's writing because she writes beautifully, and many of her descriptions were stunning. I was a little disappointed, however, that The Small Hand didn't creep me out anywhere near as much as The Woman in Black did. But that being said that can't be an entirely bad thing; The Woman in Black stopped me from sleeping. If you're a fan of ghost stories then be sure to pick this up, but if you're looking for a ghost story that's going to frighten you I'd look elsewhere.

Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy

My Rating:

Joe is an imaginative eleven-year-old boy. He can't fit in at school. He's the victim of bullies. His dad died overseas in the Iraq war. He also suffers from Type 1 diabetes. One fateful day, his condition causes him to believe he has entered a vivid fantasy world in which he is the lost savior—a fantastic land based on the layout and contents of his home. His desperate attempts to make it out of his bedroom transform into an incredible, epic adventure through a bizarre landscape of submarine pirate dwarves, evil Hell Hounds, Lightning Lords and besieged castles. But is his quest really just an insulin deprived delirium—from which he can die if he doesn't take his meds—or something much bigger?

Joe the Barbarian is another book I came across in the library and just had to borrow for two reasons: a) because I've been meaning to read a graphic novel for ages and b) because the title is Joe the Barbarian. Why wouldn't I want to read it? The story follows Joe who, while in the midsts of a severe dip in his blood sugar levels, enters a fantasy world which parallels his own in many different ways.
     This was an absolutely charming read. It was sweet, sad and funny all at once, and I really enjoyed the mixture of writing and beautiful illustrations. The ending was just lovely, and I can't wait to read some more graphic novels in the future.

So that's everything I read in August! With any luck September will be another great reading month for me. Check back at the end of the month for another wrap-up, and keep your eyes open for plenty more reviews, rants and discussions throughout the month!
     Thanks for reading! J.