Differently Great

(OR: ADAPTATIONS THAT CHANGE THINGS UP
WITHOUT SUFFERING FOR IT.)

When books are adapted for the screen, I tend to shove them into one of two categories, “faithful” or “rubbish”, and I suspect that this is a common trait among book lovers. After all, if I love a book enough to want to consume it as more than one form of media, I’m not likely to be happy about significant changes to the plot or characters (or even aesthetic, though that’s more forgivable, I think, as no two people are going to imagine something exactly the same, however well it’s described)… Of course, not all writing translates well to the screen, so changes sometimes really do need to be made – but this can often sour the opinions of the books’ biggest fans.

I’ve been thinking about adaptations quite a bit lately, as the release of the new Mortal Engines film inches closer and closer; it’s one of my childhood favourites, and so far I’m feeling optimistic about the adaptation (which I will absolutely be seeing at the earliest opportunity!), even if they do end up making some changes… So I thought I’d share with you some films (and a TV series) that I thought bucked the trend, and managed to be great in their own way, despite diversions from their source material. 😊

1) How to Train Your Dragon

More inspired by Cressida Cowell’s series of novels than actually based on it, this film retains the heart and main character of its source material, but changes basically everything else. I can’t think of anything specific in the books that would make these changes strictly necessary, but since the result was so fantastic, I don’t really mind… The two are different enough that it’s easy to think of them as entirely unrelated, to be honest, but it’s absolutely worth reading/watching both.

2) The Little Prince

The 2015 adaptation (available on Netflix, if you couldn’t tell from the thumbnail!) of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s classic novel is actually remarkably faithful, but the original story only takes up about half of the film. A new storyline, where the book’s narrator is befriended by a new protagonist (a little girl who is rather more grown-up than one would expect from a child her age) plays out alongside the old one, to make a story-within-a-story that is incredibly well-executed. I couldn’t recommend this film more. 💕

3) Howl’s Moving Castle

Contrary-wise, fans of Studio Ghibli’s interpretation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel (of the same name) might be surprised to know that parts of the book are set not in the fantasy world of Ingary, but in 1980s Wales, and that Howl is actually a Welshman called Howell, as this detail was cut entirely from the film. There are other (quite significant) changes as well, from the war that Miyazaki invented, to the modified roles of many of the supporting characters, and even the different aesthetic of Howl’s castle itself (described as a wizard’s tower in the book, but a beautiful steampunk monstrosity in the film) – but both versions are absolutely wonderful.

4) The 100

The CW version of Kass Morgan’s post-apocalyptic series The 100, is perhaps a slightly dubious addition to this post, as I found the books enjoyable, but not great. So I was very much in favour of almost all the changes that the TV series’ writers and directors made… and I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if die-hard fans of the books were less impressed by the adaptation. These changes, needless to say, are too numerous to list, but I did write a whole discussion post about them a little while ago, as I found it quite interesting spotting what changes were – and weren’t – made. You can find it here, but beware of (minor) spoilers.

5) Ella Enchanted

This last one  – which is a loose adaptation of Gail Carson Levigne’s Cinderella-retelling – is one that some people may argue against, as I know that the film of Ella Enchanted isn’t the most popular… but I really enjoyed it. It’s a much more light-hearted take on Levigne’s original story, and misses out a lot of important story moments, but is still great fun. It will likely appeal to a much narrower age range than the book, however.

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Review: Frogkisser! by Garth Nix (Spoiler-Free)

When the flighty Princess Morven’s suitor-of-the-moment becomes the unfortunate victim of one of her wicked stepstepfather’s transformation spells, it is up to her younger sister Anya (who would really much rather be reading) to save him – and perhaps the kingdom as well!

Frogkisser! is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ The Frog Prince, in which a prince is magically transformed into a frog, and can only be restored to his original form by his true love. But Princess Anya is decidedly not Prince Denholm’s true love, and so the story instead centres around Anya’s quest to find the rare ingredients that she can use to make a magical lip-balm, which will negate the need for true love. Nix draws on many more tales and tropes than just the expected Frog Prince, and the unexpected ways in which each new almost-familiar character is implemented into the story is consistently entertaining. Frogkisser! also manages to set itself apart from many modern fairytale retellings (and even their source material) with its notable lack of romance! I kept expecting a love interest to show up, but there wasn’t even a hint of one, which was quite refreshing.

The characters are both varied and memorable. Our main protagonist Anya has a great character arc, and the people she meets on her quest all have unique roles to play in the story, as well as simply being great fun to read about. My favourite was the Royal Dog Ardent, whose every word and action was just so incredibly doggish that I couldn’t help but smile. 💕 (The Royal Dogs in general are a huge highlight of this book, and it’s definitely one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to young – and old – dog lovers.)

And the world, though small, is full to the brim with magic and whimsy, and enough different magic systems that this could easily have been an entry on my “interesting magic systems” list of recommendations, had I read it back then – but as it is, it may have be the first on a follow-up! 😁

I listened to Audible’s production of Frogkisser!, narrated by Marisa Calin, who gave an excellent performance, really drawing out the distinct personalities of each of the (many, many) characters with her incredibly expressive voice work.

Library Scavenger Hunt: September

This month’s challenge – to read a book connected with the antipode of the place where I live – was particularly exciting to me, as (assuming that I took “connected to” to mean “set in”) it would allow me to tick off another continent on my read-a-book-set-on-every-continent challenge for the year (and in fact, my eventual choice unexpectedly ended up ticking off two!), but it ended up being a tougher search than I was expecting. 😨 Not because there aren’t a lot of great books set in New Zealand (which is the closest landmass to my antipode), but because my library doesn’t seem to stock a lot of them… 😓 Nevertheless, I did manage to find myself a couple of options, of which I was most drawn to…

THE LIFE & LOVES OF LENA GAUNT
Tracy Farr

In her youth, Lena Gaunt was at the forefront of electronic music’s wave of popularity. Now in her eighties, she is approached by a filmmaker, who wishes to make a documentary about her, and so finds herself looking back over her life, and the people – and instruments – that shaped it.

I was primarily drawn to this book because, on the surface at least, the main character seemed a lot like my sister – a cellist, and a theremin player, whose name is Helen(a) – which amused me, but thankfully the similarities end there. The Life & Loves of Lena Gaunt is a great novel, but Lena’s life isn’t the most cheerful… 😓

The story spans eighty years, and switches back and forth between Lena’s present-day encounters with the filmmaker Mo, and her memories of her earlier years; her childhood in Singapore and Perth, and later her time travelling wherever her loves (both human and other) led her. Both of these storylines were heartfelt and compelling, and although it could at times seem a little directionless, I found myself really appreciating the meandering, introspective tone of Lena’s narration.

I also appreciated how much Lena’s love was directed towards music, and how much that love of music influenced her life. Many of the significant moments in her life were, of course, affected by the people she most cared for (most notably, her Uncle Valentine and her lover Beatrix, among others), but just as important were her two instruments, the cello and the theremin. Lena was an incredibly vivid, realistic character, and I had to remind myself a few times while I was reading that this is a fictional autobiography.

This definitely isn’t my usual literary fare, but I’m glad to have read it nonetheless, and am sure that Lena’s journey will be sticking with me for a while. I’m interested, too, in checking out more of Farr’s writing, which also doesn’t look like what I’d usually gravitate towards, but will hopefully surprise me as pleasantly as this one did.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Review: Black Light Express by Philip Reeve (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from the first book in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware. Click here for my review of Railhead.]

Zen and Nova have escaped from the Network Empire aboard the Damask Rose, and must now make a new life for themselves in an entirely new world, unknown to humans, but far from uninhabited. Meanwhile, Threnody – now Empress – releases the criminal Chandni Hansa from her frozen prison, in hopes of learning more about the plot that resulted in her father’s death.

Black Light Express has something of the middle-book-syndrome about it; it started off very strong, and the final section was fantastic, but the entire middle of the book was spent on travelling the Web of Worlds, which – as a new system, with loads of new species and cultures to encounter – ought to have been really exciting, but was actually mostly quite dull. Nothing really happened for the majority of the time that the characters spent there, and Zen and Nova seemed barely to even interact with any of the Web’s people… The Kraitt, who served as the only real antagonists during this arc, were at least decently worrying villains, but showed up kind of out of the blue near the end of the arc, and then disappeared just as quickly. I expect that they will return in the next book, but their introduction here was somewhat lacking.

What I did really like about the Web of Worlds was the alternative perspective that it provided on the history and mythology of the Network Empire, as the Web’s own stories fit together with the Empire’s to present an interesting picture of what is presumably the true history of both systems. Towards the end of the book, we already begin to see some game-changing revelations, but there is still presumably much more to come!

The slow pacing of this part of the book also allowed for excellent relationship development for Nova and Zen. The challenges of a romance between a human and a Motorik were not glossed over at all, and I really enjoyed their struggle to figure out how it should proceed, and whether it was important enough to them to work through their wildly different goals in life…

The end of the book was amazingly action-packed (and will hopefully set the tone for the series’ conclusion), but so too were the early parts of the book set in the Empire. Threnody has become one of my favourite characters, and Chandni makes an excellent addition to the cast. I yo-yoed back and forth a lot over whether I liked Chandni, but came down more often on the side of liking her than not, and her practical cynicism made an excellent foil for Threnody’s more naïve, privileged worldview. (Their tentative friendship was one of my favourite things about this book.) We also got a small part of the book from the perspective of Threnody’s ex-fiancé Kobi Chen-Tulsi, which was interesting despite its brevity, and contained a great deal of the kind of political manoeuvring that I most enjoy in fictional high societies.

It was really difficult to give this book three stars – even reminding myself constantly that three stars is not a bad rating – since I loved Railhead so much, but in truth, much of Black Light Express seemed very filler-y… It does do an excellent job of setting things up for the next book, however, and Station Zero looks like it’s going to be incredibly exciting. I get the impression that Black Light Express is a book that I’ll probably appreciate more on re-reading once I’ve finished the series, and am able to see more of what this has all been building up to.

Review: A Torch against the Night by Sabaa Tahir (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from the first book in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware. Click here for my review of An Ember in the Ashes.]

Laia and Elias have narrowly escaped from Blackcliff with their lives, but are now the most sought after fugitives in the Empire – an Empire which is vast, and which they must cross in its entirety if they are to reach Kauf prison before Laia’s brother is executed. And close behind them is the Emperor’s most elite fighting force, the Black Guard, with Helene Aquilla now at its head, Elias’ closest friend.

A Torch against the Night picks up exactly where An Ember in the Ashes left off, throwing us straight back into the frenzied action of Elias and Laia’s escape, and although there are quieter moments later on in the book, the high tension – and the incredibly high stakes – is something that is maintained throughout. And despite the bulk of both Laia and Elias’ chapters being concerned with travelling, the plot has plenty of game-changing twists and turns, both in terms of what’s currently going on, and in terms of backstory. We also have a new POV character in the form of Helene, which as well as keeping us in touch with the Empire’s side of the story, gives us a fascinating insight into her character… and as a result, I found myself rooting for her a lot more than I did in the previous book.

There is a lot more of Keenan in this book, too, and like Helene, his character benefits from the extra screen-time. I found his growing relationship with Laia somewhat awkward – especially considering the simultaneous deepening feelings between Laia and Elias, which I was much more in favour of – but had managed to shed almost all of my former distrust of him by the time the story reached its mid-point, and even grew to like him (but not for Laia! 😠). As you can probably tell, I’m not huge fan of Keenan as a romantic rival for Elias, but I do think that the plot implications of his relationship with Laia are very interesting, and didn’t find myself bothered all that often by Laia’s uncertainty over her feelings for them both.

New characters Shaeva and Harper also both have prominent roles in this book, and I find myself very much looking forward to seeing what Tahir decides to do with them in the next one. In particular, I hope that Harper’s part in the series is going to grow rather than diminish, and I’m pleased that it looks likely that that will be the case.

Tahir also does a great job of expanding on the world of An Ember in the Ashes in this book. We still haven’t learnt much about the world (or races) outside the Empire, but Laia and Elias both spend a significant amount of time among the Tribes, even visiting their cultural centre of Nur. And the magic and supernatural creatures of the world are also emerging more and more from the woodwork, making it clear that they will become even more prominent as the series goes on, while still not making magic the solution to every problem, something that I appreciated about the first book (… but am slightly nervous about going forward).

I can’t say that I liked A Torch against the Night quite as much as An Ember in the Ashes, but I am definitely looking forward to reading A Reaper at the Gates – though who knows when that’ll be, considering how long it took me to pick this book up. 😓

Summer Catch-Up

Seeing such a long list of books makes me much more satisfied with my reading than I have been for my last few wrap-ups (/catch-ups), though I know it’s a slightly artificial satisfaction (but not entirely! Booktubeathon meant that I read a lot more this summer than I would ordinarily have); three months naturally results in more books read than one, after all… 😅

Also, I find myself liking this new format. It’s kind of labour-intensive (I had to completely re-code it last night, which was a chore), but I expect that it will become less so as I get more used to it. And it looks very tidy, which I appreciate. 😊

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

29748925 Ann Leckie//Ancillary Mercy

JUNE

[REVIEW]

mary beard//women and power

JULY

[REVIEW]

robert harris//fatherland

AUGUST

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

Adam Silvera//History Is All You Left Me

[REVIEW]

Catherynne M. Valente//The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

[REVIEW]

sarah prineas//ash and bramble

[REVIEW]

jack london//White Fang

[REVIEW]

Kiersten White//Bright We Burn

[REVIEW]

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//Obsidio

[SERIES REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW (INDIVIDUALLY)

29748925Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Steve West]

The first book in a new series of the same name, which follows the orphaned Lazlo Strange, who has always been fascinated by the lost city of Weep, which was one day erased from the world, as if by magic, leaving few who even remembered that it was ever more than a myth. I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone a lot, but this may be my favourite thing that Laini Taylor has written so far. I really loved both Lazlo and Sarai (the book’s second protagonist), and the supporting characters were all incredibly memorable, despite there being quite a few of them. The conflict at the centre of the book was fascinating, too, and the world-building amazing. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Weep, and am glad that I only have a month more to wait for Muse of Nightmares, which is unsurprisingly my most anticipated autumn release – and which I will definitely also be listening to, rather than reading in print, as Steve West’s performance of Strange the Dreamer was fantastic.5 stars

35037401Dragon Age: Knight Errant by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir. [COMIC; Illustrators: Fernando Heinz Furukawa & Michael Atiyeh]

A brief (and self-contained) story set in the Dragon Age world, about Vaea, the elven squire to drunken knight Ser Aaron Hawthorne – and, unbeknownst to her master, a thief. I’ll admit that I’m inclined to enjoy every foray into this world, regardless of length (or even story or writing quality), but Knight Errant surpassed all my expectations. It’s very short, but did a great job of making me care about Vaea and Ser Aaron, the two main characters (who are original to this comic), and although the plot is simple, it’s also solid, and a lot of fun. Varric and Sebastian from the games also had fairly significant roles, and it was great to see them both again (as well as Charter, who made a brief appearance). 😊 In terms of timeline, this takes place after Inquisition, but is not directly connected to the events of that game.4 stars

8146139The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

The tale of a domestic dog called Buck, who’s stolen from his owners in California and taken all the way to the Yukon, where he lives a much less comfortable life as a sled-dog, but is drawn to the wild places that exist just beyond the borders of his new life. This was a really interesting read! I picked it up a few days before Booktubeathon, because I was hoping to read White Fang for one of the challenges, and mistakenly thought that the two were directly connected, but I actually ended up liking this one a bit more, as the pacing was much more consistent, and the story a little gratuitously violent… Buck’s life in the North is a harsh one, but London doesn’t dwell on the brutality of it quite so much as in White Fang. Still, for such a short book, it packs a huge emotional punch.4 stars

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Aysha Kala & Jack Farrar]

An excellent, Roman Empire-inspired fantasy following two leads: Laia, a teenage girl who becomes a slave in order to spy for the Scholar resistance, and Elias, a Martial soldier who wants only to be free of the Empire. I first read (and reviewed) this book a couple of years ago, and my feelings on it haven’t changed in the slightest. 💕 The audiobook was a new experience for me, but also a good one; both narrators did an excellent job, though I feel like the communication between them might not have been particularly great, as there were several words that they each pronounced differently. It wasn’t usually too jarring, and the most significant pronunciation disagreement was corrected after a few chapters, but it’s something that really should have been addressed by an editor or director (or whoever is in charge of voice work) before recording… especially when it’s the name of one of the main characters!5 stars

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//ObsidioObsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff.

The final book in The Illuminae Files, which introduces two new protagonists: Asha, Kady’s cousin who was left behind on Kerenza IV when the majority of the population fled, and her ex-boyfriend-from-before-Kerenza, Rhys, who is now a technician for the invading BeiTech forces. As the conclusion to the trilogy, the plot of this book was much less self-contained than the other two, and it wrapped up the plot really nicely, and made for an incredibly powerful ending – though at the expense of some development for Asha and Rhys, who had to share their screen time with the series’ previous four protagonists (or five if you include AIDAN). However, I do think that they were both very well-fleshed out characters regardless, and the Kerenza-based perspective that they both provided to the story was essential. The pacing of the story was fast and tense, and only became more so as the stakes got higher and higher towards the end… and although I didn’t like this book quite as much as Illuminae, it was a near thing. A truly great ending to this fantastic series!5 stars

Jane Austen//Pride and PrejudicePride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Lindsay Duncan]

The classic tale of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy, who meet at a ball and absolutely do not hit it off. 😉 This is one of my favourite books, and always a joy to re-read, but I decided to buy the audiobook to listen to with some friends on our recent pilgrimage-of-sorts to Pemberley! (Or rather, Lyme Park, which played the part of Pemberley’s exterior in the 1995 BBC adaptation, i.e. the best adaptation.) There are several different audio versions of this book, so much deliberation went into the choice of this one in particular, and I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed! Lindsay Duncan’s performance was incredible, and I especially liked her take on Mrs. Bennet. 🎶5+ stars

*Not including re-reads.

Upcoming Releases: Autumn 2018

If summer is the season of YA, then autumn is definitely the season for sci-fi and fantasy (and even horror, with Halloween coming up), something that this list unintentionally reflects… This is great news for me, however, since that’s all I ever really want to read once the weather starts to get cold; give me a hot cup of tea, some nice warm socks, and a book I can sink my teeth into, and I’ll be happy for the rest of the year! ☕️🧦📚 With that in mind, here are (some of) the books I’m going to keeping an eye out for in September, October & November:

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 30/8/2018.]

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White (25th September)

A retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as told by Victor Frankenstein’s fiancée, Elizabeth Lavenza. I’ll admit that nothing about this book makes it seem like something that I would particularly want to read (from the basic premise, to the synopsis, the the incredibly off-putting cover), but I thought the same thing about The Conquerors Saga, which turned out to be amazing, so I’m cautiously optimistic about this one, too. My fingers are crossed; don’t let me down, Kiersten White! 🤞 Excitement level: 7/10

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor (2nd October)

The sequel to Strange the Dreamer, which follows the orphaned librarian Lazlo Strange, who is unexpectedly at the forefront of a conflict between humans and godspawn, in the tormented city of Weep. Probably the book on this list that I’m most excited for, as Strange the Dreamer ended on such a cliffhanger – and I’m extremely relieved that I don’t have much longer to wait! As with it’s predecessor, I will probably be getting this book in audio-form rather than in print, partially for continuity’s sake, but mainly because Steve West’s narration of the first book was incredible. Excitement level: 10/10

The Books of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (25th October)

A new bind-up of the entire Earthsea series, including three short stories (one of which has never been published in print before), and 50 illustrations by Charles Vess (whose work includes the amazing illustrated edition of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust). I already have a bind-up of the first four books in this series, and haven’t read all that much of it, but if I end up liking Earthsea as much as I anticipate I will, then I am much more likely to replace it with this beautiful edition than to just buy the last two books on their own… Excitement level: 6/10

brandon sanderson//skywardSkyward by Brandon Sanderson (6th November)

The first in a new sci-fi trilogy, which follows a young aspiring pilot by the name of Spensa, who finds an ancient – and sentient – spaceship. In addition to having loved everything I’ve read by Sanderson (though I haven’t read nearly as much as I would like to have), sentient A.I. has become something of a favourite topic of mine since reading Ancillary Justice, so this seems right up my alley. 💕 Hopefully it won’t disappoint! Excitement level: 6/10

george r.r. martin//fire and bloodFire & Blood by George R.R. Martin (20th November)

A history of the Targaryen family from Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire series… My excitement for Fire & Blood is tempered somewhat by the fact that it is not The Winds of Winter, and by my general dislike of Danaerys (the main series’ primary Targaryen representative), but on the other hand, what’s already been written about the family intrigues me, and I’m also looking forward to the extra detail that this book will undoubtedly add to the already-very-well-developed world of Westeros. Excitement level: 7/10

& some honourable mentions:

  • 9 from the Nine Worlds by Rick Riordan (2nd October) – short stories from the Magnus Chase universe
  • Soulbinder by Sebastien de Castell (4th October) – the fourth in the Spellslinger series
  • Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas (23rd October) – the final Throne of Glass book