Tuesday 29 April 2008

Alanna: the first adventure - Tamora Pierce

Alanna is determined to become a knight. Even if she would be the first maiden knight in more than a hundred years. Her twin brother instead wants to become the best sorcerer in the world, and doesn’t have any interest in fights and armours. That’s why when the times come for them to be sent away from home, Thom to court and Alanna to the convent, they decide to switch places. Both red-headed and with deep purple eyes, they are easily mistaken for one another, the only difference being their hair length. Alanna only needs to cut hers to look exactly like a boy. And that is how she becomes Alan of Trebond.
Becoming a knight is not easy though. The training is hard for everyone, and Alanna has to work twice as hard to prove to herself that she’s just as good as any other boy, if not better. But her challenges are not just physical ones. She will have to learn to accept her Gift, a magic that can both heal and destroy, and make good use of it. And she will have to rely on her instincts to discern good and evil, enemies and friends.

After reading Tales of Earthsea (which I'll review soon, I'm still writing it!) , Tamora Pierce’s style felt simple and unsophisticated. I love Ursula Le Guin and I could read anything she writes, just to take pleasure in her use of words, in the atmospheres she creates, in the musicality of the prose.
With Alanna, the language is free of any ornament, and is used straightforwardly to tell the story. That’s why, even though the Earthsea books are aimed at young adults as well, Alanna is definitely written for a younger audience, or maybe for those who prefer easier and quicker reads.
This said, I must admit I enjoyed it and I will definitely read the rest of the books in the series, because I want to know what happens to our heroine and what she will make of her life.

Alanna is set in a typical sword and sorcery world. The medieval society of Tortall is strictly hierarchical, with a king ruling over it, and with an aristocracy formed by knights, dukes and earls, who earned their nobility solely by birth. Typically, it’s men that rule, while women can only hope to become ladies and find a good husband.
While the hierarchy is never challenged (and the revolutionary side of me rebelled against it) the rules that command that a boy must fight and a woman must be weak are defied by Alanna and her twin brother, who simply cannot think of conforming to what is decided by their gender.
I was a bit suspicious, though, of Alanna’s way of disregarding her femininity. It just seemed to confirm the idea that women are the weak, gentle and silly sex. Too often Alanna is caught thinking how she hates being a girl, or how she doesn’t want to be thought as one. As if being physically powerless was the only kind of weakness that matters. As if being strong was the only way of asserting herself in the world.
And yet, even if I can’t help thinking this way, I am always fascinated by women who can fight and can defend themselves. I personally am against the use of violence as a means to solve conflicts, and would rather argue to death instead of starting a fight. I appreciate when in books as in films, problems find a way to be solved without killing or beating anyone.
And yet…I just love when women can kick some ass! It gives me a strange sense of satisfaction and freedom. I know this is very contradictory, but some of my favourite characters are fighting women: Buffy, Eowyn, Trinity…My favourite tv series as a child were Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman.
I can’t explain why. I am totally against women in military because I’d rather not have armies at all! But when it comes to fantashttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gify and other worlds, I find it very liberating to have a female hero who could save my life.
So yes, I like Alanna as well. I also must say that, even though she hates being a girl, people keep telling her to accept herself, letting the reader understand that this will be an important issue for her in the future. Also, in the preview of the second book Alanna’s thoughts explain exactly what I’ve been thinking all the time:

Her fellow squires at the palace would laugh if they knew she feared spiders. They’d say she was behaving like a girl, not knowing she “was” a girl. “What do they know about girl anyway?...”Maids at the palace handle snakes and kill spiders without acting silly. Why do boys say someone acts like a girl as if it were an insult?

I’m looking forward to reading her next adventure now. Judging by the preview, it sounds promising.

Other blog reviews
Someone's read it already
foxy writer

Monday 28 April 2008

Picture Book Monday: "The Flower" by John Light and Lisa Evans

I don’t remember how I found out about this gorgeous book. Probably when I was browsing Amazon in the shop pretending to work! Well, if I didn’t have I would have never come across The Flower and Lisa Evan’s illustrations. And it would have been my loss.

The flower is the story of Brigg, a sad-looking kid in a sad-looking city. He lives in a grey building, and goes to work every morning under a grey rain, in a grey library. But libraries are the place where the dangerous books are kept and one day Brigg finds one. It has pictures of beautifully coloured things called flowers. Brigg is filled with joy looking at the pictures but he’s sad because there is no flower in the city. He looks everywhere until he arrives in the old part of town where in the window of a junk shop he sees the picture of a flower! They are seeds and when he takes them home he gathers a bunch of dust and waters them. One morning, the seeds blossom and Brigg’s room is filled with wonderful colours….until the room cleaning system sucks them away. But Brigg knows where the flower might be. Outside the city, where the big hips of dust are…

This is a strange and fascinating book. It’s set in the future, where flowers have disappeared, probably sucked away by the cleaning systems. The sad feeling of greyness is perfectly conveyed by Evan’s illustrations. So much that when the picture of the flower appears, so pink and bright, it lights up the whole page.
I love almost every illustrations of this book. I like when things that are not in the texts are added independently. Like Brigg’s big funny looking cat. Or the lovely patterned kettle with which Brigg waters the seeds. The junk shop is a great example of this. It spreads over two pages and kids could play at spotting all the things and animals hidden in the windows. And then there’s the explosion of flowers and plants and happiness when the plant grows in Brigg’s room. If you look closely you can spot two stripy socks, the kettle, an umbrella, the book, an alarm clock and the omni present cat.
It really is visually stunning. Even when the flowers are not in the pictures, there’s always something unusual to notice, like the way the words He buries the seeds in it and added some water look like they're pouring out of the kettle into the mug.
But what I love most maybe is the message. Flowers can give happiness only by looking at them. They are extraordinary and yet so natural. I couldn’t imagine living in a world without them, and any book that reminds us of how precious they are must be treasured.

Lisa Evans is a relatively new name in the world of illustrations. But she has already been noticed: She was selected as one of the top ten best new illustrators, together with some of my favourites (Oliver Jeffers, Polly Dunbar, Emily Gravett, Catherine Raynar…).
As a result, her work is on display till the May 3rd, at the Illustration Cupboard in London. I’d love to go but I know I won’t. It’s great to know, though, that there’s a gallery dedicate to the art of illustrations. I MUST go there next time I’m in London.

Lisa Evans has also a lovely website, complete with gallery and blog. You must visit it!
I can’t post a direct link to the gallery, so you need to go to the main page, click on "gallery", then on "sequential" and then find The Flower. You can see 4 full pages.
Make sure you browse around cause she has some pretty amazing stuff. My attention was caught by two books in particular: “One upon a holiday” and “The star belly monster” on her blog, but unfortunately I can’t find a way to buy them. But I’ll keep trying.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

The Book of a Thousand Days - Shannon Hale

The latest Shannon Hale’s book is also my first encounter with this author. It seems like the blogosphere can’t get enough of raving about her, and with reasons, I might add.
Hale’s favourite themes are fairy tales, retold and refreshened. This time she reworks a long-forgotten tale from the Brothers Grimm, Maid Maleen, and decides to set it in a world which resembles a lot the Medieval Mongolia.

The Book of a Thousand days
is the diary of a princess’s maid, during the days of their confinement in a tower. The princess’s father wants her to marry Lord Khasar, and when she refuses, he locks her and her new maid up, sure than seven years of solitude will be enough to cure her insolence.
The princess is sulky and spoiled, but her maid, Dashti, can’t believe her luck. Before arriving at court and be employed as the princess maid, she was a mucker from the steppes, where she used to live with her mother, in a felt tent called gher. They used to travel with the seasons, herding ships and yaks and horses. Until her mother died and left her alone. Now, locked in the tower, she has food for seven years and doesn’t have to worry about starving anymore.
But after a while Dashti realises that the princess is eating off all their food too fast and if they don’t find a way out, they won’t survive another year.

What makes this story so enjoyable, and original despite the fact that it’s a retelling, is the way Shannon Hale created a whole world, completed with religion, culture and songs, that makes it unique. It’s a very hierarchical society, where nobles are regarded as the closest relatives to the Ancestors, their gods. Our heroine, Dashti, is well aware of this and of her position. But I liked that, as the story goes on and Dashti experiences so much more than a normal mucker would ever do, her perspective changes.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this world was the power of the healing songs of the muckers, which Dashti uses to ease the suffering of her lady. They are songs whose lyrics don’t have much to do with the pain they’re easing, but manage to go through the heart of the person and help them, as long as they want to be helped.
Another feature that makes this one a book to treasure, is the drawings in Dashti’s diary. They are simple but they really enrich the story and help identify the setting as a Mongolian one.

If you add Shannon Hale’s humour, a tender romance, and a beautiful ending, you really have a must read of a book!

The author’s website has an extensive section for this book. She explains how she came to write this book, how she invented this world and how her trip to Mongolia affected the settings for it. You can even read the first few pages of the book.
She also says something about the new point of view in the story that explains why it was so much more engaging than a simple retelling.

I was attracted to this tale because I wanted to tell the story of the maid. She’s mentioned in “Maid Maleen” but nothing is ever said about how she feels about all this, where she came from, where she goes. More than a broad, sweeping story, I just wanted to hear her voice, get inside her, experience her life. The purpose of a third person narrator is to take a step back from the main character, let the reader see and hear a little more than the main character might, have a little perspective. But with much of the story taking place in a dark tower, there was no where to step back. The setting made intimacy paramount. The story is Dashti. First person seemed the best way to tell it.

It was a brilliant read which left me wanting for more. I’m glad I still have all her other books to read.

other blog reviews:

Darla at Books and Other Thoughts
A fondness for reading
Estella's revenge

Monday 21 April 2008

Now I love Neil Gaiman even more...

...even if I knew he would have said something like this about J.K.Rowling and her copyright battle:


"My main reaction is, having read as much as I can about it, given the copyright grey zone it seems to exist in, is a "Well, if it was me, I'd probably be flattered""


"My heart is on the side of the people doing the unauthorised books"

When I commented on Stephanie's post about the Harry Potter's rights, I wanted to add that somehow I didn't think that Neil Gaiman would have made such a fuss about it. But I didnt't cause I didn't want to just assume it. Now I have the proofs, and I admire him so much more now that he has said it out loud.

I will always love Harry Potter's books, and I admire J.K. Rowling for creating such a wonderful world, but I don't believe this whole thing is doing her any good.
I wish there were more people like Neil Gaiman in the world.

Picture Book Monday: Moon Dog by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson

The Man in the Moon lives peacefully with his Moon Dog. The moon is usually a nice and quiet place, but from time to time some nasty and loud visitors arrive with their fairy bus, to disturb its tranquillity. The Man in the Moon knows how annoying these visitors are, so anytime they arrive, he shuts himself in his living room, sits on his comfortable armchair and read some good books, imagining to be somewhere else.
But Moon Dog is curious, he is eager for adventures and the visitors seem like such an interesting crowd. So, one night, when the Man in the Moon is snoozing on his armchair, Moon dog sneaks out the back door and joins the loud fairies. At first he has a great time. The fairies build him a pair of mechanical wings so he can follow them around. Then they cuddle him, they tickle him and they make him laugh. Moon Dog loves playing with them and he forgets all about the Man in the Moon. But these are nasty fairies and they’re up to no good…

It seems like I tend to like Helen Ward’s work, and I might feature another one of her picture books sometimes, one which she actually illustrated herself. But this time I’m drawn to Moon Dog mainly for Wayne Anderson.
His illustrations look like they are made of the stuff of dreams. They are ethereal, as if sprinkled with stardust. They’re soft as a cloud and enchanting like the best fairy tales.
I’m never tired of looking at them, they make me smile all the time.
Luckily for those who are not familiar with his work, Anderson has a lovely website with a fairly big gallery of illustrations, which you can browse in awe: www.wayneandersonart.com
And this is the Moon Dog page: http://www.wayneandersonart.com/gallery4.html

Anderson illustrated the Dragonology series, even though you can admire his dragons in his gallery better, as they’re pretty small in the books. Apparently he is a dragon lovers because most of his illustrations have dragons as the main subject.
I can’t wait for the Dragon Machine to arrive in the shop, and possibly review it here. Same for his illustrated version of The Wizard of Oz.
I might even have a Wayne Anderson section in the shop, because all his books are simply beautiful.
His work shows exactly what I mean when I say that picture books are Art. Just look for yourself.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Odd and the Frost Giants - Neil Gaiman

Sometimes you have to be odd to save the world.

This is the story of the Viking boy Odd. Although his name meant “tip of a blade” and it was a lucky name, he was actually odd. Nobody in the village could understand his thoughts and his smile would drive them crazy. Even when his father died trying to save a pony from drowning, he only shrugged and smiled. Even when he broke his foot cutting a big tree with his father’s axe, and remained crippled for life, he just smiled.
After two years from his father’s death, his mother, a Scottish woman who used to sing beautiful ballads, re-married Fat Elfred, a big guy with too many kids of his own to care about a crippled stepson, so Odd spent most of his time in the woods.
One year, though, the spring failed to arrive. The frost didn’t thaw when it should have, and the people got more and more nervous in the great hall, after four months of staring at each other. They started fights and tell mean jokes, until Odd decided he had enough and ran away.
He packed some salmon and some embers from the fire, and went to his father’s cabin in the woods, with the firm intention of never coming back.

This is where he met a strange fox, a huge bear and an eagle, who seemed to need his help, and that’s how the adventures of a crippled and odd boy began.
He would go to Asgard, the land of Gods, he would confront a Frost Giant, meet the gods, and eventually save the world. All just by being himself.

I love this little tale. It’s funny and uplifting. Odd was a lovable character, with his infuriating smile and his calm matter-of-factly attitude. The gods, especially Thor and Loki, were hilarious, in their endless squabbles. The ending was perfect.

It also made me think about Gaiman’s choice of crippled characters. I’ve only read three stories by him, and in two of them, the main characters (Odd here and Yvaine in Stardust) limp throughout the story. These are fantasy books and you would expect that in the end, when the hero has saved the world, or when it’s time for a happily-ever-after, that these problems would be solved by magic of some sorts. Instead, magic can only ease their pain, but never restore their bones to complete health.
On one hand it shows the unchangeable consequences of accidents. On the other, it seems to say that these characters are hero not despite their disabilities, but because of them.

All in all this was extremely enjoyable, a perfect bedtime story and a great introduction to Norse mythology for kids. It is also a must read for any Neil Gaiman’s fan.

other blog reviews:
Nymeth at Things mean a lot
Chris at Stuff as dreams are made on
Alix at Not enough bookshelves

Saturday 19 April 2008

342,745 Ways to Herd Cats, OR tl;dr

This is brilliant. Another challenge, similar to "Something about me", but not quite.
Choose 10 favourite books. Then browse the master list and choose 3 books or more to read between May 1st and November 30th. Easy Peasy. Click on the pictures for details and for joining.

My list(I've looked at the list so far and people already added some of my favourites so maybe I'll try and choose different ones)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman
Charlotte's web by E.B. White
Momo by Michael Ende
The Snapper by Roddy Doyle
The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The clan of the cave bear by J.M.Auel
Ronja by Astrid Lindgren

A very random mix. Some children's, some classics, some (very) adult fiction...something for everyone and books I think should be in that master list.

For what I can see now the books I'd like to read are:

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
Life Of Pi by Yann Martel
Castle Waiting: Volume 1 by Linda Medley
Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo by Obert Skye
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Of these I only own 3 so this is definitely a provisional list to be changed or updated shortly before the challenge starts!

Monday 14 April 2008

Picture Book Monday: Varmints [part one] - Helen Ward and Marc Craste

There was once only the sound of bees and the wind in the wiry grass, the low murmuring of moles in the cool dark earth...and the song of birds in the high blue sky.

So begins Varmints, a delicate yet striking story of an idyllic world turned into a noisy and dark hell, where the sound of bees is lost and no one can hear themselves think. But high above the streets, there's still someone who nurtures a little piece of wilderness, someone who still knows how to listen. And one day his wishes find hope in something growing among the towers. A miracle in the middle of all the darkness.

From the moment I picked this picture book up I knew instantly it was something special. The graphic is astonishingly beautiful. The words are lyrical and ethereal. The story is somewhat enigmatic but still so touching and poetic. It felt a bit like finding a treasure.
It doesn't look at all like a normal picture book. It resembles more a graphic novel, or an animated film transported into paper. That is because its illustrator is an animation director who was awarded the 2004 BAFTA for best animated short film for Jo Jo in the stars.
His illustrations play with light and darkness, using few colours, mostly gold, black and light shades of green and red, to portray a world that is surreal and authentic at the same time. Its characters are some rodent kind of animals, something like mice in bunny suits, with big noses and adorable sad eyes. They are kind little creatures who love to look after their plants and enjoy the sound of nature. Until the Others come and star building a world of cement and noise. This is a simple but riveting story. An ecological warning and an invite to listen more for the hidden treasures that Nature still donates us.

The title says this is "part one", so I'm hoping to be able to enjoy part two soon!

Sunday 13 April 2008

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Margaret Lea is a bookworm. She lives for her books, she looks after them with her father in their antiquarian bookshop. She doesn’t have a life of her own, instead she craves to know about past lives, about ordinary people who don’t exist anymore, but whose lives she can reconstruct through her biographical studies. She loves novels as well, but she won’t read contemporary fiction, claiming that modern stories don’t have proper endings. There are too many books to read in a single lifetime – you have to draw the line somewhere.
One day, out the blue, she receives a letter from England's most popular and most loved author, Vida Winter, asking her to be her biographer. Many journalists had tried to find out the truth about her, but all they were able to get was just another well-crafted lie, a beautifully told tale of a life never lived. Now the world’s most famous author is ready to tell her story, and has chosen Margaret to write it down for her.
Margaret, who has never read a single book by Vida Winter, borrows a copy of The Thirteen tales of Change and Desperation and is quickly drawn into her spell. But after reading the twelfth tale, she’s filled with astonishment, as she realises that there is no thirteen tale.
This is just the first of the many mysteries that Vida Winter is going to unravel, little by little, by telling her story of her life at Angelfield.

My story is not only mine; is the story of Angelfield. Angelfield the village. Angelfield the house. And the Angelfield the family itself. George and Mathilde, their children, Charlie and Isabelle; Isabelle’s children, Emmeline and Adeline. Their house, their fortunes, their fears. And their ghost. One should always pay attention to ghosts, shouldn’t one, Miss Lea?

It’s also the story of their madness, I might add. A madness that runs through the Angelfield family like a curse and it will be the ultimate cause of their destruction.
I won’t say anymore, lest I’d spoil the mystery.
I must admit that I didn’t see the final revelation coming, and it was a complete surprise. I caught a glimpse of the truth only seconds before it was revealed. And yet, when you thought you knew the truth, there was still something else to discover, till almost the last page. The ending made me want to reread it straight away, or at least to go and find the bits that would show me some clues, some bits of the puzzle that didn’t seem to fit quite perfectly. But everything in the end makes sense, everything ties up nicely, as in the good old-fashioned endings. Except for one mystery that is left there hanging, and for which the readers must choose their own answer.
This is a story that sucked me in completely, even though when the narrator was turning away from Angelfield and the twins, to talk about her own life, I was impatient, wanting to know more about what happened to the girls and the people surrounding them. But in the end, even those parts are necessary to the unraveling of the story. Just wait and see, is my advice.

I must say that before receiving my free copy I never really thought I’d read this book. Even though I’ve read a lot of positive review and I knew it was a book for book lovers, I was never attracted to it. I think it was the cover. I am hopelessly and inevitably influenced by the covers, and nothing you can say will change it! But apparently the old cover didn’t work for the UK market either, so the paperback was released with a completely different image. A photograph that doesn’t tell you “this is a book about books”, but says “it’s a story about children, maybe twins, set in the past…”. Now my attention was captured.
It is indeed a book about books, but not only. It’s a Gothic mystery, an incredible page-turner and simply a well-crafted story. Read it.

other blog reviews:
Mog's book blog
Hanne's bookshelf and journal
East of the sun and west of the moon
Chris at Stuff as dreams are made on
Meanderings along the narrow way
Melody's reading corner
a striped armchair
Bell literary reflections
Lost in a good story
Maw book's blog
Musing of a bookish kitty
Marg at ReadingAdventures
A high and hidden place
Age 30+
Books I done read
Things mean a lot

Thursday 10 April 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles - Holly Black and Tony Diterlizzi

These five little books are a quick and fun read and definitely kept my interest till the end. Although I would say that they are targeted for a young audience and adults might find them too simple or unoriginal. I personally enjoyed the illustrations the most. I knew Tony Diterlizzi’s work even before he became famous with the Spiderwick Chronicles. I remember admiring his fairies and fantasy works while I was still playing D&D. I’m happy he got what he deserved in the end. Have a look at some of his “non Spiderwick” works on his Myspace,in the slide show(), it’s worth is. My favourite is the black fairy/angel holding a bird on her hand. I must have it printed out somewhere.

So knowing how important illustrations are in the Spiderwick books, I was eager to read them, especially before the film came out.

The story is simple enough: Three siblings, the twins Jared and Simon, and the teenager Mallory, are forced to move out to the countryside with their mother after their parents break up. They go and live in this very old, very dusty and very creepy house kindly given to them by their great-aunt Lucinda, and from then on their adventures begin. Since their parents' break up, the children have gone through a hard time, especially Jared, who gives vent to his frustration through violence and anger. So it’s only natural that, when strange things happen in the house, Jared’s mother holds him responsible for everything. But he isn’t, and it’s up to him to prove it. What’s rustling inside the walls? And why is it angry? and what does that riddle left for him in the secret room mean? At first Jared is alone in his research but soon enough his animal-loving brother and his fencing expert sister understand that he’s not making things up: fairies are real! And they’re up to get them. The want the Field guide, the book that their great-great uncle wrote to recognise and understand fairies. Mallory wants to destroy it, but Jared things it’s the only key they have to survive.

I enjoyed the first three books the most. Jared’s first encounter with the house brownie Thimbletack and his initial struggle to come to terms with the fairy realm is exciting and promising. I really liked the part when Jared saves his brother from the goblins, and is forced by Simon to save the injured Griffin as well, which will be hidden in the garage and become their magical pet. The encounter with the elves was fascinating and beautifully illustrated. But as the plot thickens and the danger gets bigger, I failed to understand exactly why the book was so important to Mulgarath, the shape-changing Troll. It’s something left vary vague and never really justified. It feels more like an excuse than a real reason. I felt a bit let down by the story in the end, even though I enjoyed it. I also thought the ending was a bit too easy, but I can’t explain why without spoiling it for those who haven’t read it yet.

The film was a completely different matter. The only way I can explain what they did is this: the screenwriters took some elements of the books, kept the beginning and the ending, then mixed and shook the elements in the middle and then rearranged them, adding some scene, taking away some others, and basically writing a new plot!
Not just that. I believe they changed the feel of the books, as well. The film is much scarier, the kids are angrier, and less supportive of each other especially at the beginning. There’s a lot of shouting going on, and although you can’t hear the shouts reading a book, I don’t remember them screaming so much. It’s generally darker, and faster, even though I thought the books were quick-paced enough. I was sad to see that the elves, the dwarfs, the dragons (and a lot more) were left out. I didn’t like the fact that they invented a new way of fighting goblins (tomato sauce?) because the books sticks very much to the traditional fairy lore and I appreciated it for that. I loved that they had a pet griffin, while here it appears only for a short while, a kind of Falcor without the power of speech. I know I sound very critical but I enjoyed the movie to some extent. Unfortunately I was probably too busy comparing the books and the film that I didn’t judge it per se. I have to say, I love Diterlizzi’s illustrations too much to appreciate the CGI brownies, hobgoblins and sprites. They used different design and it didn’t feel like relating to the same characters. It was a good movie, but it wasn’t The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Stardust - Neil Gaiman

Stardust is the first novel by Neil Gaiman that I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. The first thing that I thought at the end was “Oh I wish I could write something like that and have that kind of imagination”. Because his style is what I would like to have in my writing. A mix of old fairytales and modern fantasy told with irony. Beautifully yet simply written.
The basic idea is charming: that in the realm of Faerie, when a star falls, it falls in the form of a woman, who shines in the night and never sleeps. And if a romantic hero in love foolishly promises to bring a fallen star back to his beloved, he can actually find the star and decide to bring her back to his world. But our young hero, who’s name is Tristran Thorn, is not the only one that wants to capture the star. There’s a witch who wants to stay young forever, and there’s a bunch of ruthless brothers who’d do anything to become the next king. The three story-lines melt together perfectly and at the end everything ties up nicely, like in every proper fairytale.

I’ve seen the movie first and really enjoyed it. But that meant that I kept comparing the two. They are very different and for once I appreciated them both, but it’s true that the movie lets the romance between Tristran and the fallen star Yvaine stand out much more. In the book it sorts of happen at the end, almost suddenly, even if you can see it coming. The film made it into a Hollywood love story, with sparkles and passion. I can’t say what I would have thought if I hadn’t seen the film first, but I missed that part in the book. Other than that, I didn’t feel like the movie spoiled the book for me. I was expecting the grand final scene with the witch trying to kill Yvaine, and I was surprised to find out it’s not there. It was different, but still brilliant.
Gaiman’s style alone makes the reading of the book worth it. And I was happy to find some bits that where taken out of the movie, like the “Tori Amos” scene or the encounter with the little hairy man in the forest. It felt so right in the book because it immediately tells you that Tristran is in another world now. He’s in Faerie.

With Stardust Neil Gaiman had definitely won me over and I’m sure I'm going to be a huge fan as soon as I’ve finished reading all his books. I have no doubt about it.

other blog reviews
Stephanie's confessions of a book-a-holic
Becky's Book reviews
Trish's reading nook
Josette's Book reviews

The City Walk Personality Test

Nice and quick! It's mostly true, except I'm not greedy! I just wish I had more money...*sigh*

What Your City Walk Means

You are adventurous and easygoing. You love life, as long as you don't have to do anything hard.

You are generally confident and friendly with strangers. You are well mannered and sociable.

Money is very important to you. You like to have lots of nice things... and you don't care if you're being greedy.

You are curious about ideas. If you had the means, you'd like to explore the whole world.

Monday 7 April 2008

Picture Book Monday: Leonardo the terrible Monster by Mo Willems

My pick for this week is Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems, the author of Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus. It is just out in paperback, and it’s a must have for any 3-5 child! I wish I could have read it when I was that age because I’m sure it would have helped me a lot to overcome my nightmares and fears of scary creatures…

Leonardo is a terrible monster. Not because he’s scary, totally the opposite! He can’t scare anybody to save his life! He doesn’t have 1642 like Tony, he’s not big like Eleanor, nor plain weird like Hector. But Leonardo is determined to put an end to his misery. He’ll find the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world and will scare the TUNA SALAD out of him! He thinks he has found the perfect candidate, but has it?

This jewel of a picture book has everything. Eye-catching graphic (brilliant use of “far west” kind of font and presentation, characters that stand out from the pages left blank, great illustrations), a funny and sympathetic character ( a monster who’s not scary??) a laugh-out-loud middle scene, and a lovely heart-warming ending. I could read this over and over again and I’m not even a kid (well, on the outside at least). The large format is also a plus because it allows the pastel-coloured illustrations to stand out even more and it lets the “moaning” scene – you need to read it to know what I’m referring to – to express all its comic potential. I love it.

Side note: I just found out that Leonardo the Terrible Monster is an American Library Association notable book.

And finally…..look what I found on youtube: a little girl “reading” Leonardo! She reminds me so much of me as a kid. I was always wearing my fancy dress at home, and I too learned by heart my favourite picture books! Enjoy, but beware, spoilers ahead :)

Sunday 6 April 2008

And the winners are...

I've just picked the three winners of my first giveaway! I loved doing it, I wrote the names on little pieces of paper and then put them in three different bowls. Sometimes I use this method to choose which book I'll read next. I like to leave it to the chance. I wrote the names of the people who blogged about the giveaway twice for each book. And now I have the winners who are........

For Harriet the Spy


For The Tygrine Cat

Ivan Girl

For The last elf


Each winner will receive the world book day books as well, if they like :)

Also I've decided to have one last draw for those who specifically mentioned Odd and the Frost Giant and the lucky winner is....


Congratulations! and I hope you'll let me know how you liked the books!

This was great fun, I can't wait for the next BAFAB :D

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Buy a Friend a Book Week aka Spread the Love!


I've decided to join in the fun this week and buy you a book, or better 3 books:-)
I love buying books for people especially when those books are my favourites, and what better occasion than BAFAB week? All you have to do is leave a comment and tell me which of the 3 books you'd like, or if you'd like all 3 of them say so. But since I'd like to make 3 people happy you can only win one each! I will throw your names in a bowl, I don't have a hat sorry, and draw the 3 lucky ones.
So, if you win one of the books, and you're lucky enough to be drawn another time, I'll draw another name to give more people a chance to win
To give people time the deadline to enter is at the end of the week, April 6th.

Oh and obviously, if you spread the word I'll enter you twice!

One last thing: since these are books I don't want to part with I will buy you a new copy, that's the whole point, right?

The books I'm giving away to spread the love are:

Harriet the Spy: An all time favourite, recently re-discovered. Read why I love it here.

The tygrine Cat: This book is lovely and so is its author. I think more people need to know her! Read why here.

The Last Elf: One of last year's favourite. I've spread the love for this book a lot: my mum, my best friend, her mum, her granny...It's worth it! Read why here.

ps: I have some extra WORLD BOOK DAY BOOKS to add as well. If you have kids or just would like to have them say so and I'll add them. To see this year's books look here. You can choose as many as you like.


This week the giveaways are spreading like mushrooms...It's hard to keep up. So here's a list of those that I know of:
Bell Literary Reflections
Stainless Steel Droppings
In spring it is the dawn
Musings of a bookish kitty
park avenue princess
a striped armchair
a garden carried in the pocket
carp(e) libris
ready when you are, C.B.
the deblog
the story siren

Good Luck!