Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Halloween Book Tag!

I saw Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight doing this and had to have a go of it myself, so here goes!

Heebie Jeebies
Favourite Scary Story

I think Susan Hill's The Woman in Black is one of those iconic scary stories. It's been a long time since I read the book, but what really scared the bejeezus out of me was the play, which I went to see while I was at school. It's a fantastic play, and I'm pretty sure I slept with my light on for about a week after seeing it. I do think the book's worth reading, but if you get the chance to see the play go and see it!

Favourite Book with a Murdery Mystery Plot

This has made me realise that I need to read more murder mysteries. To link in with the Halloween theme, I think I have to go with My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland; it's the start of such a fun urban fantasy series, featuring zombies as you probably haven't seen them before - check it out!

Favourite Book with a Ghost

It has to be The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which is one of the best books I've read this year and has a firm place on my list of favourite books. It's fantastic.

Monster Mash
Favourite Paranormal Supernatural Book

I decided to change the wording of this one a little because, to me, paranormal means something that might be explained by science - like ghosts or aliens - and I don't tend to read many books about aliens and I've mentioned two books with ghosts already, so I think it's best I talk about something else! In terms of the supernatural, my favourite book is probably Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, a pre-Dracula 19th century novella featuring vampirism. It's so good, and it's a great place to start for anyone who finds classics intimidating.

Halloween 2007 Remake
Favourite Retelling

The Lunar Chronicles, of course! I know this is probably cheating, but I can't pick just one book from the series because I think Marissa Meyer has done such a good job at mixing these tales together into one big story while also fitting each retelling so wonderfully into the narrative. I love the way she's reimagined traditional fairy tales for a sci-fi setting, and Cinder is one of my favourite heroines.

Female Character You'd Most Want to Dress Up As

Okay so she's not a book character, but one day I'd love to dress up as Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. It's one of my favourite films - I watched it religiously as a child - and I just think it'd be a really cool costume.

Male Character You'd Most Want to Dress Up As

I think Sirius Black could be pretty cool, especially Sirius as he's seen in his wanted poster. He has long hair, so I wouldn't need to cut mine, and it'd just mean making myself look a bit grimy and unwashed. Plus I bet everyone would know who I was!

Favourite Villain

This is a tricky one because I feel like a lot of the books I really love don't tend to have villains in the traditional sense. A lot of the time the villain is circumstance or even the protagonist's own decisions. I do love Mrs. Danvers from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, though. That woman is terrifying!

Fun Size
Favourite Short Story/Novella

For Halloween that'd have to be 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson. It's so worth a read if you haven't read it yet, it'll only take five minutes!

What's Your Favourite Scary Movie?

I don't tend to watch horror movies that much because I'm a bit of a wuss, and also because some of them are just gratuitous for the sake of it. One film I really love though, and one that's perfect for Halloween, is Sleepy Hollow. It's historical, which is right up my street, it's got Johnny Depp in it, also right up my street, and it's directed by Tim Burton, who's one of my favourite directors. I love it!

If you want to do this tag then consider yourself tagged! Happy Halloween!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Book vs. Adaptation | Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Part Two)

On Monday I discussed Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 adaptation of Rebecca (you can check that post out here!), and today I'm back to talk about the 1997 miniseries.

This adaptation was first broadcast on ITV in the UK and PBS in the US; it's around 180 minutes long and is split into two episodes. Emilia Fox stars as Mrs. de Winter in her very first leading role. Opposite her are Charles Dance as Maxim de Winter and Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs. Danvers; two actors who would later also star opposite each other in HBO's Game of Thrones.

That's it. That's the show.
Unlike the previous film, Daphne du Maurier never saw this adaptation; she passed away in 1989 at the ripe old age of 81 - in fact this adaptation was broadcast 90 years after her birth! I think she would have been pleased with this adaptation, though; luckily for us, Rebecca is one of those rare novels which doesn't have a lack of decent adaptations for us to seek out, whether you're interested in a radio production, a film, a television series, a play or even an opera!

What I loved most about this adaptation is little Emilia Fox, whose portrayal of Mrs. de Winter is practically perfect. The cast as a whole is wonderful in this adaptation - it's not a bad adaptation at all - and I think both Charles Dance and Diana Rigg are wonderful. For me, though, I prefer Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson's portrayals of these characters; I think Charles Dance is a brilliant Maxim, I particularly like how much older than Emilia Clarke he looks because there is definitely a peculiar paternal relationship between Maxim and his second wife as much as a romantic one, but in my head Laurence Olivier looks a lot more like Maxim than Charles Dance does.

Similarly, as much as I love Diana Rigg, and as much as I think her portrayal of Mrs. Danvers is fantastic, there's just no competition with Judith Anderson. Anderson's Mrs. Danvers is perfection and her shoes are awfully big ones to fill, though they do both bring something different to the role; Diana Rigg's portrayal is more vulnerable than Judith Anderson's - not softer, because nothing about Mrs. Danvers is soft - but she feels more human and more beatable. Perhaps that's why, if I had to pick, I'd rather watch Hitchcock's adaptation; villains are a lot more fun when they seem invincible.

Unlike the 1940 adaptation, however, I do think this adaptation's version of Mrs. de Winter is much more similar to the book, in fact the adaptation as a whole is a perfect adaptation whereas the 1940 adaptation makes tiny tweaks here and there. To say Emilia Fox is a 'better' Mrs. de Winter than Joan Fontaine is some praise to give to a woman in her very first leading role, but Emilia Fox's Mrs. de Winter has none of the glamour that an actress like Joan Fontaine can't not have. I think being very new to acting onscreen - before this her first screen appearance was in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice - aided her in portraying that child-like, innocent and nervous way Mrs. de Winter carries herself throughout the majority of Rebecca; she even looks like a child dressing up as an adult.

Emilia Fox as Mrs. de Winter and Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs. Danvers.
In fact I can't help wondering if they based Mrs. de Winter's appearance off Daphne du Maurier's own appearance in her younger years.

Daphne du Maurier in her youth.
It wouldn't surprise me if they had based Mrs. de Winter on du Maurier herself; it's believed that Manderley is based on Menabilly, the house du Maurier restored and lived in for a while, and her husband Frederick Browning was nine years her senior.

Daphne du Maurier with her husband, Frederick Browning, and their three children.
So if you're after a decent adaptation of Rebecca, both the 1940 adaptation and the 1997 adaptation are worth checking out. I won't say one is better than the other because I think whichever adaptation you prefer is all down to personal taste, but in my opinion neither of them are poor adaptations. If you're in the mood for a direct adaptation, for a period drama, then I recommend the 1997 adaptation, but if you want to watch something that totally captures the atmosphere of the novel I recommend Hitchcock's adaptation - it's a brilliant film to watch as Halloween approaches!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Review | Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

by Elizabeth Gilbert

My Rating:

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

I came across this book when I saw Jen Campbell talking about it on her YouTube channel; the amount of books I've gone out and bought because I've seen her talk about them is kind of ridiculous. I just can't help it.

I think there is a bit of a stigma around self-help books, though I'm not 100% sure this book is a self-help book. There's advice here for people with any interest in the arts, but it doesn't feel like Elizabeth Gilbert is trying to tell you how to live a creative life, she's simply giving advice and tips that she's learned through her own experiences and the experiences of people she knows. I think that's why I enjoyed the book.

I didn't agree with everything Gilbert said by any means, this isn't the creator's bible, but I don't think anyone will; I didn't go into this expecting it to change my life because I was more interested in reading about another writer's process. That doesn't mean I didn't find any of it helpful, because there are few a tips in here I'd definitely like to try out when I can feel procrastination tugging on my arm, but I think anyone who goes into this book expecting it to be a creative epiphany is simply setting themselves up for disappointment, and being a bit unfair on the book, too!

It's very easy to read. Before this I hadn't read anything by Elizabeth Gilbert, but since finishing it I've picked up one of her novels, The Signature of All Things, to see how her fiction compares to her non-fiction, and also because it sounds right up my alley. Big Magic is one of those books told in really small chapters, each of which is essentially a new story or tip, meaning you can either read it in one go or dip in and out of it whenever you like. For us creative types, this could be a very good book to keep by your bed.

What I loved most about it was the emphasis on just keeping going. There was a lovely section in which Gilbert talked about Harper Lee, and how she thought it was such a shame that the success of To Kill a Mockingbird frightened her from writing anything else because how could it possibly beat that? Gilbert's point is that you don't need to look at your work as the next bestseller, you just need to enjoy making it and put everything you can into it, and I thought it was great advice because, let's face it, pretty much every creative person - whether you're a writer or a painter or an actor or a musician or a florist - struggles with crippling self-doubt. Probably on a daily basis.

Ultimately I really enjoyed this, and I recommend it to any creative person out there!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Top Ten Tuesday | Recommended Halloween Reads!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a Halloween themed freebie, so I thought I'd recommend some books that I think are ideal to read as Halloween creeps closer!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: There's a reason this is Daphne du Maurier's most famous novel, and it's almost certain that if this had been the only book she ever wrote du Maurier would still be a famous author today. Rebecca is so atmospheric and beautifully written; you open the first page and you fall into Manderley. There are no 'boo!' moments here. If you're not a fan of slow reads this book might not be for you, but whatever your taste I recommend at least giving it a try.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: Shirley Jackson is my favourite horror writer, and in all honesty anything she wrote would be a great read for Halloween. Still, you can't go wrong with a good ol' haunted house story, can you? If you'd rather read something shorter, check out 'The Lottery'.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger is quite similar to The Haunting of Hill House in its mood, and another great book if you want to read a haunted house story that, like Jackson's book, is genuinely creepy.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant: Rolling in the Deep is like a literary version of a found footage horror movie. If you like movies like Trollhunter, The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield then I think you'll like this, but if found footage movies aren't your thing I still recommend giving this novella a try. I read it in one sitting, and really enjoyed it.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield: This is another very slow book, and one that I'm still not 100% sure that I understood. It's a difficult book to describe, and one that I think was marketed in a misleading way; Bellman & Black has been described as a ghost story, but it isn't really, although there is a kind of haunting. I recommend reading this one, though, because Diana Setterfield's writing is beautiful. Even if you come out of this book a little confused, the act of reading it is enjoyable.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu: Carmilla is one of my favourite classics, and one of the most interesting things about it is that it's actually a pre-Dracula example of vampirism in Victorian literature. I've tried reading Dracula several times, for pleasure and for university, but I've never been able to finish it. Carmilla, on the other hand, I devoured. I think it's fantastic.

Misery by Stephen King: I'm not really a Stephen King fan, so the fact that I enjoyed this book says a lot if your tastes happen to be similar to mine. I know King has a humungous fan following, but for the most part I don't think his writing style is particularly great, I really don't like how the majority of his main characters are white male writers (seriously, Stephen, can't you try writing about someone other than yourself?) and I feel like a lot of his stories just go too far. IT is scary enough if it's just about a clown that kills children, so why does there have to be a supernatural element, too? Anyway, I did enjoy Misery; Annie Wilkes is terrifying, and the film adaptation starring Kathy Bates is very good if you'd rather watch that than read the book.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman: In all honesty The Graveyard Book would be another wonderful read for Halloween, but Coraline is short and sweet - if you're looking for something to read in one sitting, then Coraline's for you. Henry Selick's film adaptation is also well worth checking out, especially at this time of year!

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland: This one's less spooky and more fun, although there's a lot of fascinating detail about autopsies, but it's the start to such a brilliant urban fantasy series that I had to stick it on here.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I'm not actually the biggest fan of Wuthering Heights - I'm forever going to be on the 'Heathcliff is NOT a romantic hero' side of the argument - but it is one of the pinnacles of Victorian Gothic literature. It's very atmospheric, and very wild, and very fitting for Halloween because it's full of despicable characters.

What did you talk about this week?

Monday, 26 October 2015

Book vs. Adaptation | Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Part One)

I'm back today with another Book vs. Adaptation post, and the second Halloween-themed adaptation chat this month. If you want to see me chat about Henry Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, you can check it out here!

Today, however, I'm going to be talking about Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's masterpiece, Rebecca.
Rebecca was published in 1938, and Hitchcock's adaptation followed two years later in 1940. The film is 130 minutes long and stars Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson.

After I finished reading Rebecca - a book I read around this time last year, and one I've thought about a lot since - I wasn't all that surprised to discover Hitchcock had adapted it; if anyone could adapt an exquisitely psychologically book that creeps under your skin and takes root there the way Rebecca does, it'd be this man. However, Daphne du Maurier considered withholding the film rights to Rebecca after seeing Hitchcock's 1939 adaptation of Jamaica Inn which, despite making an awful lot of money upon its release, was disliked by critics, by du Maurier and even by Hitchcock himself for completely lacking any of the suspense the novel has and turning the story into something of a comic romp. Luckily for us it seems du Maurier trusted Hitchcock to get her masterpiece right.

And did he? Yes, I'd say he did.

My mum and I are both fans of du Maurier, it's one of the few things we have in common, so one gloomy summer night we decided to watch it together and the two of us really enjoyed it!

This adaptation isn't without its faults by any means. There are the odd tweaks to the plot, but for the most part it's a very faithful and very atmospheric adaptation. Laurence Olivier makes for a tortured yet charming Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine, though a little too beautiful for Mrs. de Winter for me - she's a character I've always pictured as very plain, and Joan Fontaine is anything but that - certainly acts the part of Mrs. de Winter beautifully.

The star of this film for me, however, is Judith Anderson whose portrayal of the villainous Mrs. Danvers is just perfect. The woman's terrifying! She's quiet, still and so threatening, but threatening in the same way that voice in the back of your mind is when you're having a rough day; Mrs. Danvers is that part of our subconscious who makes us feel ashamed when we treat ourselves to that extra slice of cake or feel stupid when we introduce ourselves to new people. Perhaps it's just the English student in me, but there are times when, to me, Mrs. Danvers is the perfect personification of anxiety.

Something else I really loved about this adaptation is that we never see Rebecca. Some adaptations have her appear in flashbacks, but in this adaptation she doesn't appear at all and it makes her presence even more keenly felt because of it. We don't need to see her, we just need to see her 'R' emblazoned on almost everything Mrs. de Winter touches. 

(I promise that isn't a spoiler. Maxim de Winter is introduced as a widow very early on in the book, something I imagine most people can guess from the blurb anyway!)

Yes this film's old and yes it's in black and white, but I recommend checking it out. I was so surprised when I discovered it was made in 1940 because for such an early film I think it's pretty fantastic, and if black and white films bother you I promise that, after a while, you won't even notice it - in fact it really suits the mood of the film. I highly, highly suggest only watching this after you've read the book, though; it's one of those books which, whatever your tastes, I think everyone should read. It's that good.

Hitchcock's adaptation of du Maurier's work didn't stop here, either. The Birds (1963), probably his most famous film next to Psycho, is based off one of du Maurier's short stories. I think it's safe to say Hitchcock was a du Maurier fan, just stay away from his adaptation of Jamaica Inn!

I'll be back to discuss the 1997 miniseries soon!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Theatre Review | Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale

'They've disgraced our trade. Ruined our art. They've put a woman on the stage!'

I'm here with a little something different today. I don't tend to review plays mainly because I don't tend to see them that often; when I go to the theatre, which isn't as often as I might like, it's usually to see a musical or a ballet, but very rarely a play. In fact before I went to see Nell Gwynn I couldn't even remember when I last saw a play - probably during the last year of my undergrad when I went to see The Winter's Tale, around two or three years ago.

It was my birthday on the 10th October, and myself and three of my friends spent the weekend in London so we could go and see this play. I've been fascinated by Nell Gwynn for years; a 17th century woman who started out life as an orange-seller, then became an actress, and then became probably the most famous of Charles II's many mistresses. She was boisterous and cheeky and vivacious, and I was so happy to see someone had finally written about her and given her a story, and that the person to have done so was a woman.

Jessica Swale previously wrote the play Blue Stockings, so I was pretty confident that she could bring Nell to life, and with Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the starring role, how could she not? Mbatha-Raw is probably most famous for playing Dido Elizabeth Belle in the 2013 period film Belle, directed by Amma Asante. What I really loved about this is that Swale and Mbatha-Raw have been friends for years, much like Nell Gwynn's own good friendship with the 17th century writer, and spy, Aphra Behn.

Nell Gwynn (left) and Aphra Behn (right) were good friends; Aphra even dedicated one of her plays to Nell.
The play follows Nell from her discovery by Charles Hart, an actor and eventually one of Nell's lovers who introduced her to the stage, through to her meeting Charles II and her life afterwards when she tries to juggle being an actress on the stage while also being an actress at court, not to mention her strong feelings for the king.

The thing I loved most about this play? It was funny. And I don't mean 'ah yes I see what you did there' funny, I mean 'ow my ribs hurt' funny. Swale's script is fantastic - it's full of dirty jokes, as Renaissance plays so often were - and the actors were brilliant; Amanda Lawrence, who recently appeared in Suffragette, played the part of Nell's friend and confidante, Nancy, and she was a comedic genius. Some actors have a real talent for comedy, and she has it in waves. I also loved David Sturzaker's portrayal of Charles II - he was so much fun and, despite the rather ridiculous wigs men wore back then, really quite sexy.

I also appreciated that Swale didn't fail to mention the fact that Charles was never a one woman at a time kind of man. In fact I was rather surprised that the two of them declared their love for one another in the play, as I'd always thought of the two of them as having a 'friends with benefits' kind of relationship. Charles had other mistresses alongside Nell, and though Nell often teased them there are also accounts of her playing chess with his other mistresses. Ultimately, the real Nell knew what she was there for, and it's believed that Charles favoured her so much because she knew how to have a laugh. I imagine there was a very deep connection there - on his deathbed Charles asked his successor, his brother James II, to 'let not poor Nelly starve'. James kept his promise and Nell received £150 a year for the rest of her life, which is about £150,000 in today's money - but I don't think they were 'in love' in the traditional sense.

I'll admit I was a little bit disappointed that Aphra Behn didn't appear in the play. She's briefly mentioned, but she doesn't make an appearance; I suppose if she had Swale might have had to try and fit too much into one play, but considering the two of them were such good friends it would have nice to catch just a glimpse of her.

Before Nell Gwynn I'd never been to The Globe before and I'm so glad to have seen this play there. It's such an interactive theatre, especially if you stand by the stage. (We booked seats for the balcony so we could see everything instead, which was just as good!)

I just really enjoyed this play. If I could go and see it again I would, and I'm hoping it goes on tour so people who couldn't get to London can see it elsewhere. It's so bizarre to think that there was a once a time in which people thought that letting women act would bring about the end of theatre; one of the characters, whose name I've completely forgotten, is rather put out because he always plays the female roles, and when Nell joins their troupe he has something of a tantrum: 'No woman can play a woman as well as I can play a woman!'

There was also a fantastic line, delivered by the wonderful Amanda Lawrence to a character who is a playwright, which was probably my favourite line in the entire play: 'If women play women, you won't have to write them so feminine anymore.'

I really hope this play is performed again, and when it is I hope you get the chance to see it. It's wonderful!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Review | What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

by Robin Talley

My Rating: 

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

I received an eARC of What We Left Behind from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review - thanks to MIRAInk and NetGalley for letting me read this book early!

Check out my review of Robin Talley's debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves, here.

Last month I read Robin Talley's debut novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves, and with her third novel, As I Descended, being one of my most anticipated reads of 2016, I think it's safe to say that Talley is an author I've been keeping my eye on, so I was thrilled when my request to receive an eARC was approved.

Sadly, I didn't love this one. In fact I struggled to finish it.

Something that really excited me about this book is the inclusion of a genderqueer protagonist. Before now I hadn't read a single book with a protagonist who identified as genderqueer, and it's so important that people who identify as such are given a voice in literature just as much as any other member of the LGBT+ community. Now the first thing I must say is that I am cisgender and, as such, my reading experience with this book is probably very different to someone who identifies as genderqueer - in other words, people who identify as genderqueer will know a lot more about the representation of gender fluidity than I do, so please keep that in mind when reading my review. If you identify as genderqueer and haven't read this book yet, it could be that my opinion of it doesn't help you to decide whether you should read it or not. Okay? Okay.

There is a lot of discussion about sexuality and gender in this book. I love that. Sexuality and gender need to be discussed more, and lately, in YA in particular, I've seen a lot of LGBT+ representation, which I think is fantastic. Having said that, there were times when this novel felt more like a piece of non-fiction; it was as though Talley was simply using Tony (I will be using 'Tony' and 'he/his' pronouns throughout this review) as a puppet through which she could discuss all the thoughts about gender that are bopping about in her brain.

I'm sorry to say that Tony got on my nerves, too. He doesn't have a great home life, and for that I completely sympathised with him, but there were times when he was just so selfish. It's important for us to have stories like this one about people who are trying to figure themselves out - I think we spend our whole lives constructing and deconstructing ourselves - but Tony is so concerned with his own self-discovery that he forgets the people around him are people with their own hopes, dreams and fears. He assumes Gretchen is just going to follow him everywhere and do whatever he wants, and yet he refuses to explain his worries to her because he doesn't think she'll understand. Then he accuses her of not understanding. I also didn't appreciate his jealous streak, or his pretentiousness; at first he doesn't like to use gendered pronouns, which is totally his call to make, but he never considers how not using pronouns for other people might make them feel. Some people feel uncomfortable when gendered pronouns aren't used for them, and it's hypocritical of Tony to demand something for himself he's not willing to do for others.

I wasn't keen on Tony's thoughts concerning heterosexual women, either; two of his roommates are pretty horrible, but he thinks they don't count as feminists simply because they like to 'conform to gender stereotypes'. It was almost as thought anyone outside the LGBT+ community wasn't worth his time, and I didn't like that.

The person I hated most in this novel, though, was Gretchen's 'best friend' Carroll. Despite being a gay man from a very homophobic background, and therefore knowing what it was like to feel belittled and anxious because of his sexuality, he was incredibly rude to other members of the LGBT+ community. He was particularly rude to Gretchen when talking about Tony - the guy had some serious transphobia going on and it really bugged me that Gretchen never told him where he could shove his frankly disgusting opinions. I spent most of the novel hoping he'd get hit by a bus.

I appreciate what Talley was trying to do with this story, I just didn't feel it; it didn't move me in the same way Lies We Tell Ourselves did, and I wasn't too keen on the insinuation throughout the novel that people who identify as genderqueer simply haven't decided whether they're male, female or non-binary yet. It's almost like saying that someone who is bisexual hasn't decided if they're gay or straight yet. I don't think that is Talley's view - and one thing I did appreciate is that neither of her protagonists are perfect, not by a long-shot - but it still came across that way and it made me uncomfortable.

So I didn't love this, and I'm disappointed that I didn't love this, but I'm still looking forward to reading more of Talley's work, because I think we need more authors like her who are willing to tackle subjects like this one.

I'm going to leave a link to Layla @ The Midnight Garden's review here, because she felt very similarly to me about the book and managed to phrase everything far more eloquently than I have!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

From Screen to Page #2

I'm back today with another instalment of From Screen to Page! You can find the first post in this little series here.

In my experience, dramas with the BBC can be a bit of a hit or miss. The Tudors? Yes. The White Queen? No. The Crimson Field? Yes. Birdsong? No. You get the drift.

Thankfully, if you're into period or historical dramas, whether they're original scripts or an adaptation of a book, the BBC is one of the best places to turn to. I've lost count of the amount of books they've adapted at this point. This year alone they've adapted Poldark, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Partners in Crime, Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Go-Between, An Inspector Calls and Cider with Rosie, and will soon be broadcasting The Last Kingdom, an eight-part adaptation of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories, and an adaptation of War and Peace this winter.

They're well-known for their 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and their 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and let's not forget their incredibly popular 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre. On top of that there's all their original drama, like The Scandalous Lady W.

Basically, the BBC are no stranger to a period drama. In 2011, BBC Films produced The Awakening, an original British drama and ghost story. I love ghost stories, particularly haunted house stories, so I knew I was going to watch this. I didn't watch it straight away, I'll admit; I'm a bit of a wuss and, even though I love ghost stories, they do still give me the heebie jeebies, but then one summer it happened to be showing on the BBC, so I decided to sit down and watch it. And I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The film is set in 1921 and follows Florence Cathcart, an author whose fiancé was killed during the First World War and who now works with the police to expose supernatural hoaxes. She is visited by a teacher, Robert Mallory, who works at a boy's boarding school in Cumbria where a child has recently died. Everyone at the school believes that the building is haunted and that this haunting may have had something to do with the recent death, so Florence is hired to investigate.

If you haven't seen this film, I recommend checking it out. Perhaps I'm biased but I really enjoy British films and dramas, particularly ghost stories like this one, and it's an ideal watch for this time of year! I recommend curling up with a blanket and a hot chocolate. If you have seen this film and you'd like to experience more stories like this one, then there's a book you simply have to read.

The Little Stranger was first published in 2009 and is Sarah Waters' fifth novel. Sarah Waters is one of my favourite authors; she writes historical fiction set in the 19th and 20th centuries, and The Little Stranger is the only one of her six novels that doesn't have a queer female protagonist. Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch and The Paying Guests all have LGBT* characters in the leading role.

You can check out my review of The Little Stranger here!

While The Awakening is a post-WW1 story, The Little Stranger is a post-WW2 story. Our protagonist is the middle-aged Dr Faraday, who finds himself becoming increasingly involved with Hundreds Hall, an old Edwardian house that is crumbling into ruin, and what remains of the aristocratic family who live there: the Ayreses.

Hundreds Hall is an eerie building, and the servants are convinced its haunted. What's wonderful about this story, though, is that it teases you - is there really a ghost, or are the Ayres family simply the unfortunate victims of mental illness and coincidence?

I adore this book. It's one of the best books I've read this year - I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I put it down - and if you enjoy atmospheric, 20th century ghost stories like The Awakening or The Others you simply have to check this one out. It'll creep under your skin and take root there, and with Halloween on the way could you really ask for anything more than that?

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Top Ten Tuesday | Genie in a Bottle

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is '10 Wishes I'd Ask the Book Genie to Grant Me', and I managed to think of ten a lot quicker than I thought I would!

  1. I wish I had more shelf space: I'm seriously running out of room, but because I have no self control I still buy books. Now that I have my kindle I have quite a few books on there (and by quite a few I mean over 50) but I still like to buy physical books, especially pretty books like these two. You'd think it'd be easy enough to put some new shelves up, but in all honesty I just need a bigger room. In fact maybe this wish should really be 'I wish I had my own personal library'...
  2. I wish my bookshelves were neater than they are: I'm so envious of people who organise their shelves by colour, or genre, or author. One day I'd like to be able to do that myself, but I have so many books that just the thought of rearranging them all tires me out.
  3. I wish I could stick to book-buying bans: I'm weak. WEAK.
  4. I wish publishers didn't do cover changes right in the middle of a series: Mismatching books didn't used to bother me as much as they do now, but now that I'm more of a shopper who will seek out a particular cover of a particular book I hate it when my series don't match. It's so satisfying to see a complete, matching series on my shelf. I have no problem with cover changes, I just wish publishers would at least finish off the series in the original covers.
  5. I wish authors travelled more: As someone who doesn't live in London, it's so frustrating when an author I love only does events in London or another big city like Birmingham, which is also nowhere near me. Neil Gaiman came to the UK earlier this year to help promote his new short story collection, and I think he only did a couple of evenings in London and then he was back in the States. I understand he's very busy and he lives in the States now, but it's a shame that he doesn't travel around more of the UK.
  6. I wish it was the law that every copy of Fifty Shades of Grey must be used as kindling: Do I really need to explain this one? If you like Fifty Shades of Grey that's your call, everyone's tastes are different, but it really does romanticise an abusive relationship. I don't mean the BDSM aspect, because BDSM is all about consent, but Christian Grey wouldn't know what consent was if it punched him in the nose. Kill it. Kill it with fire!
  7. I wish there was more diverse historical fiction: I'm a big lover of historical fiction, as I'm sure any of you who have been following my blog for a while will know, and there is diverse historical fiction out there. My main problem is the amount of historical fiction novels set outside Europe and North America that still have white, western protagonists. I'm not interested in the colonisers' stories, we already have those: they're called history.
  8. I wish I was better at buddy reads and reading books I receive to review: I love receiving review copies of books and I love buddy reads, and yet whenever I sign up for one or the other I so often fail miserably. It's like as soon as I say I'm going to read a book for review or for a buddy read it becomes the book I'm least in the mood to pick up. I don't whether it's because I feel pressured to love it, because I'm reviewing or reading it with someone else, or whether I'm just a bit hopeless. Probably a mix of the two.
  9. I wish more bloggers stepped outside of the YA bubble: I'm hoping I don't offend anyone with this, because it's honestly not my intention to do so, but one of the comments I so often receive on my TTT posts is 'Your list is so original, I haven't even heard of most of these!' It's a lovely comment, but my list only seems original because I don't tend to stay in the YA bubble that means I'm reading similar books to what people who mainly read YA are reading. I have nothing against YA - I really enjoy YA, and one of the best books I've read this year is a YA book - but I do think it's possible to get caught up in a bubble that means you don't step out of your comfort zone and try something new. It happens the other way around, too; I knew several people at uni who refused to read YA because they thought it was beneath them, but you miss out on some fantastic books that way. Plus, on a more selfish note, I'd love to be able to talk about more non-YA books I've loved with other bloggers who've read them!
  10. I wish Hogwarts was real: I'm still waiting for my letter.

What did you wish for?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Review | Carrie by Stephen King

by Stephen King

My Rating: 

Carrie White is no ordinary girl.
Carrie White has the gift of telekinesis.
To be invited to Prom Night by Tommy Ross is a dream come true for Carrie - the first step towards social acceptance by her high school colleagues.
But events will take a decidedly macabre turn on that horrifying and endless night as she is forced to exercise her terrible gift on the town that mocks and loathes her...

This is a very frustrating book.

Throughout October I'm trying to read as many spooky books as I can, so I figured now was as good a time as any to cross Carrie off my TBR. It's only a little book, after all, and it was King's debut novel, so I was interested in reading the book that began his impressive career.

It's no secret that I'm not a big Stephen King fan. I think the guy's pretty amazing - he's one of those authors who's really managed to make a career out of writing - but I don't get on with his writing style. The only book of his I'd previously read and enjoyed, and actually managed to finish, is Misery, but other than that he and I just don't gel. That being said, I'd been wanting to read Carrie for a while; Carrie is the prom night gone wrong kind of horror story. Not only that, but I was eager to read a story by King where the main character isn't a male writer. He has a lot of those.

I didn't go into it with high hopes, so you can imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying it. The story is pretty straightforward - it's probably the most linear of King's novels not that I'm an expert - but I liked it. I loved the themes of religion with Carrie's insanely devout mother, and the connection between puberty and the realisation of Carrie's previously latent telekinetic powers. It's twisted, but I wanted to see Carrie's fellow students punished because, let's face it, they all treat her diabolically. By the time they've learned to fear her - respect her - it's far too late to make amends.

I really enjoyed the way the book was set out, too. It alternates between the actual story - we see Carrie, her mother, her teachers, the other pupils - and then several non-fiction books within the book that are talking about Prom Night. There's one book all about telekinesis which talks about Carrie's past and the genetic aspects to the ability, and another which is an autobiography of one of Carrie's classmates who survived. There were times when I found the 'non-fiction' more interesting than the story because I liked the way King tried to find a scientific explanation for telekinesis.

Then the second half of the novel happened, and everything I'd liked about the first half just unravelled. It's only about halfway through the book that Prom Night happens - it literally says: 'Part Two: Prom Night' - so I assumed that the majority of the latter half of the novel was going to be Carrie wreaking her revenge on the entire town, and in a way it was, but it didn't feel quite as tight as the first half. King wrote about a lot of the events in hindsight, writing about police reports and witness testimonies, and I thought the scene in which Carrie killed the people who'd pulled the final prank - coating her in pig's blood - was very weak, and not written all that clearly. I was hoping the rest of the book would be formatted like the first, with the odd bit of 'non-fiction' but mostly Carrie destroying the town and everybody in it. Instead, it was rather underwhelming.

I didn't dislike the book, but I didn't love it either which is a real shame because I think I could have if bits of it were a little neater or a little tighter or a little better. It's a story with a lot of potential, but, for me, that potential wasn't realised.

I did enjoy it, though, and I think it's a good read for this time of year. I'd like to check out the 2013 adaptation with Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore soon!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Review | Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

by Grady Hendrix

My Rating: 

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

I am in no way a horror connoisseur, in fact I'm pretty sure I scare more easily now than I did when I was a little girl, and I scared fairly easily as a child. You might think I'm exaggerating, but I don't even like to watch Shaun of the Dead on my own; I hate dead, decaying things and the noises zombies make are enough to give me nightmares for weeks, and there was that time when I was about eight years old that my family watched I Know What You Did Last Summer - a film I ended up watching with them, probably because I was too stubborn to go to bed - and it terrified me that much I haven't been able to watch it since, which is ridiculous considering it's just another teen slasher movie.

I'm not hysterical - the Scream franchise doesn't bother me and I really enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods - but I have an overactive imagination which likes to frighten me even more when I'm tucked up in bed and all the lights are out. Sometimes, though, I like scaring myself. I think we all do, otherwise why would the horror genre exist? I'm not big on gore - I'm not all that squeamish when it comes to blood and guts, thanks to an upbringing filled with a lot of historical dramas where people were hanged, drawn and quartered left, right and centre - mainly because I think psychological horror is so much more skilful. I think frightening people with a gratuitous use of violence is a rather neanderthal approach to horror.

I've always loved ghost stories, though. I've been fascinated by ghosts since I was very young, and when you grow up in Yorkshire it's hard not to find them all the more interesting; York is said to be the most haunted city in Europe, if you like to believe in that kind of stuff (which I do). I love haunted house stories in particular, so when I stumbled across Horrorstör, described as a haunted house story in a department store, I had to have it.

Orsk is a furniture superstore that's not quite IKEA - it's cheaper, and the furniture's not quite as good - but it's certainly trying to be IKEA. Bless it.

At this particular superstore, however, things are becoming a little odd. Sales are down despite customers constantly buying, and every morning employees arrive to find mirrors and cabinets destroyed and a pungent, swamp-like smell seeping into some of the furniture. Recently the employees have been receiving one word text messages from an unidentifiable number: help.

Our protagonist, Amy, hates working in retail, but life hasn't been kind to her these past few years. Add to that a feeling that the world owes her something and she's not a happy bunny. She can't stand her manager, Basil, who seems to think Orsk is the centre of the universe, but when he offers her extra money and a transfer in exchange for her to work an overnight shift with him and one other employee, Ruth Anne, to find out who's breaking into the store, she agrees. And that's when the trouble really begins.

The first thing I have to say is that I LOVE the way this has been published. The book is formatted to look and feel like a department store catalogue: inside there are diagrams of the furniture, a map of the store, adverts for upcoming sales and even an order form. It's adorable, and I love it when publishers put effort into the way a book is produced. I'm glad to own this book just so I can take it off my shelf and go 'LOOK AT THIS IT'S LIKE A CATALOGUE'.

Reading Horrorstör felt like reading a horror movie. It doesn't mess around, it just pulls you into the story; like many horror films all the action takes place over the course of one night, and all you have to do is sit back and see who survives.

I loved the idea of a haunted furniture store - a haunted house story 'for the modern age' (though considering we still live in houses I'm not sure what to make of that statement) - but sadly I was a little disappointed by it. I was looking forward to discovering why a furniture store was being haunted; was it going to be a secondhand furniture store full of misplaced ghosts from other houses, or was it going to be something completely new? Instead it went down the (in my opinion) over-done route of a building 'built on haunted ground', which I thought was a shame.

I didn't hate it by any means, as you can see by my rating I enjoyed the book, I was just hoping for something a little different.

I wanted the characters to succeed - Amy, Basil, Ruth Anne, Trinity and Matt are all people you don't want to see get hurt, unless you're particularly sadistic - but sadly I didn't feel totally connected to them. Like I said, reading this felt like watching a horror movie, a movie like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer, where the characters could be characters from any other 'try and survive the night' story. There were little sections that fleshed them out, but I would have liked to have known them better because what I did discover I found pretty interesting. Amy in particular isn't the typical sweet and virginal heroine you usually find in the centre of horror stories, and that made for a nice change.

One thing I must say is to stay away from this if you're not a big fan of gore. I was a teensy bit disappointed that Horrorstör seemed to rely more on physical horror than psychological horror for its scares. It's nothing hugely gratuitous, but if you find the description of someone's fingernail peeling off 'like a wet stamp' then you might want to give this one a miss.

So, I didn't love this book but I did like it. It's a great read for this time of year, and it's also a great read for readers who really like horror movies; if you're a big fan of slasher movies or games like Until Dawn I think you'd like this book, and even if you don't end up loving it I think it's so fun to have it on your shelf because it's testament to what publishers can create.