Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

04006290In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

It took me far too long to pick up this book. I’ve adored the film for a long time and, shamefully, didn’t know it was based on a book until a couple of years ago.

The book is glorious. It’s a very different beast to the film (which is also glorious) and so I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of the twists and turns along the way. Both mediums have the same whimsical flavour and if you love the film, you really should give the book a go!

Howl is much more of a drama queen in the novel, which makes for some hilarious scenes, and Sophie is as wonderful as ever – so resigned is she to being an old woman that you forget she’s young underneath!

There’s not a single character that I don’t like, which is surprising for me.

It’s such a magical story, much more magical than the film (I didn’t think it possible but the novel packs in more spell-casting than Ghibli).

I love that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the novel is ridiculous and it carries it in the best way possible. I adore whimsy in all its forms so this is the perfect story for me. I will definitely be reading it again, and looking up the sequels!

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Review: All That She Can See by Carrie Hope Fletcher

9780751563207Cherry has a hidden talent. She can see things other people can’t and she decided a long time ago to use this skill to help others. As far as the rest of the town is concerned she’s simply the kind-hearted young woman who runs the local bakery, but in private she uses her gift to add something special to her cakes so that after just one mouthful the townspeople start to feel better about their lives. They don’t know why they’re drawn to Cherry’s bakery – they just know that they’re safe there and that’s how Cherry likes it. She can help them in secret and no one will ever need to know the truth behind her gift.

And then Chase arrives in town and threatens to undo all the good Cherry has done. Because it turns out she’s not the only one who can see what she sees . . .

This is only going to be a quick one as I soon have to jump in the car and whizz my way down to Oxfordshire, but since I finished another book I thought I would write a quick review before I go.

I am an advocate of all things Carrie Hope Fletcher (I am seeing her in concert on Easter Sunday!), so naturally, I had to buy All That She Can See.

It’s described as ‘Chocolat with a tablespoon of Bake-Off’ and when I started reading this book, I would have agreed with that assessment but having finished it, that’s very much not the case. It’s very different than what I was expecting. Her first book had magical realism, it flittered in and out of the story (confusing many people when it did), but this one relies on it. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it but it grew on me.

Cherry is a girl who can see the bad emotions that have latched onto people, she sees them as many different monsters and, naturally, she tries to help. I liked reading about the different descriptions of the monsters and how they varied from person to person. The downside to a story revolving around emotions is that it does get a bit preachy in parts. What I liked more were all of the human characters. Sally and Margie and Bruce and George, they were all so endearing.

did have to quell my inner editor a lot but I did enjoy the novel. Pick it up if you want an easy read containing a lot of baked goods and a very original magical realism premise.

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical-magic-9781471169199_lgAs children, sisters Gillian and Sally were forever outsiders in their small New England town, teased, taunted and shunned for the air of magic that seems to sparkle in the air around them. All Gillian and Sally ever wanted was to get away.

And eventually they do – one marries, the other runs as far from home as she can manage.

Years later, however, tragedy will bring the sisters back together. And they’ll find that no matter what else may happen, they’ll always have each other.

 

I finished a book! Can you believe it? I can’t. I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you. Hopefully, this spells the end of my reading slump. I’m going to try starting another book this evening and we shall see what happens.

Practical Magic is a book I’ve been wanting to read for yonks. Ever since I first saw and fell in love with the film, I’ve wanted to read the book. I am glad I saw the film first – I may not have read the book if the film stuck more closely to it (and I really liked the book so it would have been a shame to miss out on it).

I’m not one of those people who despair if a book-movie deviates from the source material. I view the two as separate entities that I can enjoy individually (the exception here is Inkheart, while I do enjoy the film and will happily watch it, I am very sad that they didn’t allow for the whole trilogy to be turned into films because the later books were incredible), and most of the time I understand why a change had to be made.

Practical Magic the film and Practical Magic the book are very, very different to one another. They share characters and the main conflict but otherwise, they’re different stories. I think it was a great choice for the directors and writers and film people (whoever makes that decision) as the film does add drama that was lacking in the book. The book is a slow burner, it really enjoys exploring the characters more than it does plot, the prose is delicious and it wanders off in directions you would not expect having read the previous paragraph.

I really adored the characters, they were all irrational and flawed and irritating and three dimensional. I love a character that I don’t automatically like. One of the major differences in the film is the age of Sally’s children, in the book they’re both teenagers and the book focusses as much on their relationship with each other as it does the relationship between Sally and Gillian. This is a book about relationships, story and magic are secondary. It’s very much a character-led book.

It weaves magic without making it too showy, there’s no wand waving (except from one of the characters who happens to be a stage magician, I liked that touch) but instead just little things, little bits of intuition and the odd bird heart.

Even though it’s not story-heavy, it left me wanting more; luckily for me, there is a prequel! (A prequel with an equally gorgeous cover design.) It’s not out in paperback until September so I will have to wait a little while but with the rate time is passing at the moment, by the time I wake up tomorrow it will probably be September already. I’ll definitely be giving the prequel a go, and will probably find myself reading Practical Magic again. Good stuff.

(‘the air of magic that seems to sparkle in the air around them’ – blurb-writer, what were you doing? That’s terrible. Ahem.)

#FolkloreThursday Film Spotlight: Tale of Tales

Hello, lovely readers. I have a confession to make before I launch into this blog entry. I had no idea the film I’m about to talk about was based on a book. I am terrible. I now want to read said book though, so there’s that at least.

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From the bitter quest of the Queen of Longtrellis, to two mysterious sisters who provoke the passion of a king, to the King of Highhills obsessed with a giant Flea, these tales are inspired by the fairytales by Giambattista Basile.

The above is taken from IMDB. Obviously. Otherwise, I would have known it was actually based on something. I went into this film blind, I’d seen maybe part of a trailer beforehand and was intrigued enough to watch it. I am glad I did.

It’s an incredibly strange film, weaving what at first seem to be three completely separate stories together. The first, a queen who will do anything to have a child; the second, two sisters who win the love of a womanising King by use of trickery and magic; the third, a king who finds and nurtures a flea, loving it more than his own child resulting in his daughter being married off to an ogre.

Naturally, I love it. I adore stories, and if a film has more than one it’s going to be a guaranteed hit with me. Combine that with the fairy tale nature and setting and you’ve got an instant love. This film is dark. It’s also whimsical but the dark kind where you’re not sure if what you’re watching could possibly have a happy ending or whether everyone is going to die horribly.

The film is stunning. From the costumes to the sets, to the music and through the colouring, it is gorgeous. It’s exactly the kind of rich beauty you want from a fairy tale film.

From what I gather of the book, these are only three of an incredible number of tales that could have been used, and now a small hopeful part of me is crossing her fingers and wishing on every star that they turn this into a series of films, each with three tales beautifully produced until the whole book has been done. It is only a vague hope. It will probably never happen. A girl can dream.

It harkens back to the 80s fantasy movies that I adore, only darker and with better visual effects. Definitely, check it out if you’re a fan of fantasy and fairy tales. I love it. Love it.

Happy Thursday!

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

31194576Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Before we start: A big, big thank you must go to Walker Books for sending me a review copy. You make my bookish dreams come true, my friends.

Release is a day in the life of Adam Thorn, interspersed with a day in the life of a ghost, spirit and faun (stick with me). Where Adam’s sections are poignant and at times heartbreaking, the fantastical sections are a mysterious meandering journey for answers, for, as the title suggests, release. The two storylines meet with their need for release and while Adam’s story didn’t need the magical realism to work, or to be enjoyable, it was an intriguing addition (even if it has left some reviewers torn).

It’s a book of details, we see the kind of detail that can only be built into a novel that takes place over one day. There is no skipping over important details, every feeling is felt, every confrontation confronted and every revelation revealed in front of our waiting eyes. I like this. I like books which deal in detail. During my Creative Writing degree, we studied a module called A Day in the Life and this book would fit right into the reading list, I wish it were around when I was doing that course. It’s so engaging and a lot can be learned about writing from it, as well as it being a great reading experience.

Due to the degree of detail, we get to know the characters rather well, and what lovely characters they are. Adam is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast in the form of Angela and Linus. They are excellent. They are everything I wanted them to be and more.

Release deals with a lot of big things in a short amount of time but I think my favourite thing about it is its portrayal of relationships, romantic, familial and platonic. Every kind of relationship is hard and messy and Release doesn’t shy away from that. Ness is great at making you feel things. I felt my heart clench in moments between Adam and Linus, and I felt it break in a scene with Adam and his father, it swelled every time Adam was with Angela.

It is a sensitive representation of what it is like to be gay in a religious family that doesn’t agree with homosexuality but it packs one hell of a punch when it needs to, and emphasises that family isn’t just what you are born with, it’s what you choose. It’s a deeply personal novel, while it’s not about Ness and the characters are not people who are in his real life, you can tell he drew from his own experience and I think that’s what makes it so powerful.

The magical realism wasn’t as poignant, and that seems to be the problem for readers who didn’t like those parts, but it was interesting and it did a lot to break up the utterly terrible day Adam was having. I love a bit of fantasy, so I enjoyed it. I liked puzzling together what Katherine (a murdered girl, the ghost who has risen from the lake) was looking for, and how that linked her with the Queen (a spirit also inhabiting her ‘body’). Though it deals with murder and blame and addiction and all the mess therein, it stopped the novel from being depressing – if we had just had Adam’s day going from bad to worse to absolutely horrible, I think it would have been hard to get through. The fantasy adds something to puzzle over, something to distract, and it made each scene with Adam easier to digest. The fantasy is a palate cleanser between the meaty courses of the novel.

It does offer some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are moments of dazzling brightness, alongside the dark. It’s not a novel where everything is tied up at the end, there are things that we don’t get to see (which happen after) that I am still curious about and I like it when books leave me curious. Sure, I will never get the answers I want but I will be thinking about it for days, and that’s what you want from a book. You want it to stick with you, and Release does.

Review: Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

26804769A startling and evocative novel, harkening to both One Day and Gravity, a man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left.

After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Before I say anything: look at that cover, take it in. It is gorgeous. The hardback is beautifully produced, with some of the stars spot varnished it really looks like a shining space scene. I bloomin’ love well-designed books.

I will admit, this was a cover buy – well, it was a birthday present but it was a cover wishlist add. It looks beautiful and it has stars on it.

But it’s so much more than a pretty book. I really didn’t know what to expect but the whole thing was poignant and heartbreaking. I cannot recommend it enough, it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.

At its heart,  Hold Back the Stars is a love story. It follows Carys and Max. It is the last moments of their lives, and how they each got to be there. It is their journey and their tragedy and it is breathtaking. The characters are so well-written, I really felt for them which is so important for a book which is so deeply character-led.  The supporting cast was also wonderful and I really don’t have any complaints.

The world-building was excellent, it was unlike anything I’ve seen before. In fact, the whole book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Due to the nature of the story, it was very much about the little details and the details soared in this book, every question I had about the world was answered on the page, it’s like the book was reading my mind.

I just loved it. I am so happy when a book I know little about turns into a book I love and this definitely happened with this one. It is as beautiful inside as it is out and I want everyone to read it.

Go, Go, Power Rangers!

MV5BNDg2NzI3Njk2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDczODY2MTI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_I have been waiting for this film. Waiting and waiting and waiting. (Where have we read this before? Apparently, when I am passionate about films, these are my go-to phrases.) When it was announced, I am pretty sure I made some kind of unearthly squealing noise, and I decided right there and then that not only was I going to see it but I was going to love it.

The release date, coincidentally, was over the weekend of my birthday, so I feel like the great and terrible movie gods decided to give me a present. Power Rangers was my childhood, and the original film (with Ivan Ooze, that gloopy so-and-so) is something I watch regularly both out of nostalgia and genuine enjoyment. Nothing beats delayed whooshes and yells of ee-yah!

My tiny child heart was and is filled with glee at the thought of a new Power Rangers movie to sink my teeth into. I was determined to love it no matter whether it was terrible or not. I have a penchant for loving movies my friends think are terrible so I was confident that I would like it.

Luckily for me, it wasn’t terrible at all. It’s gotten some bad press but I think the people that gave it bad press are the people who wanted it to fail. One of the main problems people seem to have with it is the lack of morphing time but, dear reader, I put it to you that surely there wouldn’t be much morphing time in an origin movie. It’s not about the Rangers as Rangers, it’s about the Rangers becoming Rangers. Sure, they find the crystals but the film would end very quickly if that was all it took for them to fulfill their Ranger potential.  So, with that out of the way…

Power Rangers is such a diverse film. Of the five Power Rangers, only one of them is white, and the Blue Ranger (Billy Cranston) is not only black, but he’s on the spectrum and it’s not turned into an issue. Billy is Billy and the other characters love him and never try to belittle him.

Trini, the Yellow Ranger, is canon not-straight. She doesn’t give herself a label and the film doesn’t turn it into a coming out story, it is just who she is, it is normal. Power Rangers normalises the normal in a way that other films don’t. I can’t believe that in 2017 that’s still a phrase I have to use but it is, and Power Rangers is a step in the right direction. It is so refreshing to see.

As you may know, I haunt Tumblr often, and it’s so lovely to see the posts from people who can relate to these diverse, three-dimensional characters in a way that they may not have been able to before. As a white woman, I’ve never really had to dig and scrape for someone to relate to in pop culture, I recognise my privilege and while I’ve not really experienced a lack of representation myself, I do wish for a greater mirror in the world of literature and film for those that do. I’m heartened when I see the reflection growing, even if just a little.

The film is less centred on the Rangers aspect and more on the Rangers’ relationships with each other, how they go from being strangers, to being friends, to being Rangers. I love everything about it. What we do see of them in their suits and their zords is fabulous. There are little echoes from the show and while it is the same in spirit, the film is a different but related beast.

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It goes darker than the series, perhaps a sign of the time it has been created in. Rita is not the kitschy villain you might remember. She is a dark creature. She is one of my favourite things about the film. She is a villain, a real one.

All in all. I loved it. I knew I was going to love it but I didn’t know I was going to love it, you know? I want to see it again, right now.

Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

29245653Hag-Seed is a re-visiting of Shakespeare’s play of magic and illusion, The Tempest, and will be the fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.

This has been on my TBR list since it was announced and, shamefully, it’s the first Atwood I’ve read. Whoops.

I will definitely be fixing that.

Hag-Seed follows Felix, an ageing theatre director, usurped and left to rot in a tiny shack haunted by the memory of his daughter. It is from this shack that he plots his revenge and finds unlikely allies in the course he teaches at Fletcher correctional.

The Tempest is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, so I was definitely intrigued to see how this would play out. I love that Atwood didn’t just acknowledge the source material but actually used the play at the heart of her novel. I’ve not read any of the other books in the Hogarth series but I have read that the others don’t include the play in such a way. Go Atwood, go!

It unpacks the play, analyses it and spits it out as something magical. I love this book. It made me look at The Tempest in a new way and I now want to go back and study it, school style. Because I am a giant nerd. And proud.

The novel is a slow-burner, it’s very internal. Felix spends a lot of time in his head, plotting, imagining, and often hallucinating. It’s very much an exploration of his character.

I love character driven books, so this really worked for me.

It’s a fresh interpretation of Shakespeare while still sticking to the spirit of the play, and I really, really enjoyed it.

In which I adore Beauty and the Beast

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I have been waiting for this film. Waiting and waiting and waiting, giddy with excitement, and thrusting my grabby little hands at every trailer, clip, b-roll and featurette that surfaced. I adore Beauty and the Beast in all of its forms and am forever seeking wonderful adaptations to dig my teeth into (if you know of any, please list them in the comments).

Beauty and the Beast was probably my most-watched animated film as a child, not just because it’s based on one of my most loved fairy tales, or because it’s about a girl with brown hair who loves books, but because it has one of the most beautiful scores I have ever heard. The music under the narration of the prologue is a piece that has been playing on repeat in my dreams for most of my life. Alan Menken is a genius.

You can imagine my excitement when I heard the absolutely beautiful rendition of a portion of it in one of the trailers. I squealed so loudly that my boyfriend heard it even with his headphones on. Every time I hear that familiar refrain, I feel it in my stomach and my skin tingles. It’s, perhaps, my favourite piece of music ever written, so to hear it in that deliciously orchestrated manner was incredible but not nearly as incredible as seeing it in the film. I will admit that I did miss the stained glass prologue but the scenes that replace it more than make up for it. They set the tone and the standard for a visually stunning film. That whole sequence was glorious from the make-up to the costumes, to the dancing.

The casting of LeFou and Gaston was spot on. They were perfect, and the character growth in LeFou was possibly my favourite part of the whole film. The live-action definitely went darker with Gaston than its animated predecessor but still stuck the the slightly campy, wonderfully ridiculous stylings of the song ‘Gaston’. I bloomin’ love it.

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While it’s not my favourite Beauty and the Beast adaptation in existence – that accolade goes to Christophe Gans’ 2014 film La Belle et la Bête – it definitely makes me happy. It’s everything I wanted from the live-action, I especially liked that they wrote entirely new songs instead of including the extra tracks from the stage musical (though I love those too). I was slightly nervous about Emma Watson’s singing ability, and though her voice has been edited, it’s not too distracting and I was pleasantly surprised.

I would go and see it again in a heart beat.

One of the things that I love most about the whole thing is the posters. They are so incredibly beautiful and I want all of them. Just look at them.

Are these not some of the most beautiful film posters you have ever seen?

Overall, I think the film is lovely, and it was lovely to watch it in a cinema packed full of children – most of whom were dressed as princesses and made my heart leak everywhere.

Review: On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

33785086Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It’s the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she’s become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love…

This is a bit different from my usual read, and I wasn’t sure I was going to read it (even though I am an unashamed Carrie Hope Fletcher fangirl) because I didn’t think it would be my sort of thing. Then, I discovered that it has little slices of magic in it so decided to give it a go.

I’m glad I did. I’m a sucker for interesting book production, so when Carrie announced that there would be a special, limited, Waterstone-only edition with purple sprayed pages, I had to buy it. It’s such a pretty little book. The whole package is lovely, from cover to typesetting.

The novel follows Evie Snow, who has recently died, on her journey to gain entry to her own personal heaven. When she died at 82, she was weighed down by her secrets so now in the waiting room of the afterlife, restored to her 27-year-old self, her door won’t open. Through a dual timeline, we are given both Evie’s past and her present. We come to understand why Evie was too heavy, why she made the choices she did and the consequences they had for other people, particularly the lost love of her life Vincent Winters.

I managed to read it incredibly quickly, it’s a very speedy read and a very easy read. The writing style is simple, sometimes leaning a little on clichés but it’s a cutesy read, so that approach works for it. The only thing that let it down in places was a trend of telling, rather than showing.

In these instances, we would be told something and then Carrie’s writing would show us that thing later in the paragraph, rendering the ‘telling’ moot. The most obvious example I can think of is when she reveals that Vincent is bisexual, she states it explicitly and hammers the point in, which felt a bit unnecessary when the next couple of paragraphs showed us his former relationships, one of which was with a man. Later in the novel, despite being with Evie, he shows attraction towards another male character – his sexuality was perfectly (and sensitively) explored in these instances. I understand wanting to make sure the reader knows that this is not a straight man, but you have to have faith in your writing skills and your reader, you don’t need flashing lights and a billboard when you’re already showing us. It is, however, really great that the effort has been made to be inclusive.

That was really my only complaint – I loved the story and found the characters endearing (the names took a while to get used to but once I had settled into them, they added a wonderful sense of whimsy to the novel). I adored Carrie’s approach to magical realism, which has been a point of contention among reviewers (especially those who weren’t expecting it). It is definitely unlike anything I have ever read. It is set apart from other novels in the genre and that can only be a good thing, I think.

On the Other Side is both very much my sort of thing (despite my earlier impressions) in its sense of whimsy, and very much not at the same time. I find that incredibly appealing.

If you’re looking for a sweet, quick read, with a little bit of magic and a lot of feeling, On the Other Side is the book for you. I will definitely be giving it a reread in the future.

Now, I just need to get my hands on Winter’s Snow.