May Wrap-Up

Eight books in May! I was feeling the beginnings of a reading slump towards the end of the month (after a couple of disappointing reads), but I’m glad I managed to shake it off so quickly! 😄 And apart from those few disappointments, the majority of the month has been filled with some really excellent books! Here they all are:

Darken the Stars by Amy A. Bartol. The final (I hope) book in the Kricket series, which follows a teenage girl who’s taken to another world and told that it’s actually her homeland. The last couple of books were fun, if somewhat grating, but this last book was seriously problematic. I wrote a review of the full series near the beginning of the month, but it’s mostly just a rant about Darken the Stars. 😡The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman. A sweet story about a girl who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a firework-maker, and so sets out on a journey to prove herself. This was a really cute book; a bit shorter than I would have preferred, but I loved the characters (particularly Hamlet the talking elephant) and the secret behind the Royal Sulphur…I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman. The story of a rat who is turned into a boy, and the elderly couple who take him in. I first read this book many, many years ago, so I was rather surprised by how vividly I was able to remember it… and by it being just as wonderful a read as it was the first time around. I’ve written a proper review of this book, which you can find here.Clockwork by Philip Pullman. Two dark, haunting tales told parallel to one another, about two men who both make deals with the sinister Dr. Kalmenius, who has a peculiar talent for clockwork. An excellent story, and genuinely chilling, even for someone who’s significantly older than the target audience… Of the two simultaneous story threads, I preferred the one about the clockwork prince, but the way they both came together in the end was wonderful. ☺️The Scarecrow & His Servant by Philip Pullman. A lighthearted tale about a scarecrow who is struck by lightning and brought to life, and the young (rather more grounded) boy he decides to hire as his servant. It was a fun read, but I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d read it when I was (a lot) younger. At 27, there are still things about it that I can appreciate, but as a whole it was just a bit too silly… My review can be found here.Four Tales by Philip Pullman. This was a compilation of the four tales I’ve just mentioned, and as a collection it was very impressive (and beautiful, which a book really ought to be if possible); the stories are great, and fit together very well thematically… My favourite was probably Clockwork  something that surprised me, as I was definitely expecting it to be I Was a Rat! (if only for nostalgia’s sake) – but they’re all good fun, and excellently written.The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten. A story about a boy with OCD, who meets a girl at his support group and falls madly in love with her, triggering a rapid downward spiral in his recovery… I ended up being pretty disappointed with this book, unfortunately, but since it was my May Library Scavenger Hunt pick, I’ve written a full review of it already; you can find it here. 😑Geekerella by Ashley Poston. An adorable modern re-interpretation of Cinderella, where Cinderella (i.e. Elle) is a huge fan of the sci-fi series Starfield, as well as the daughter of the founder of ExcelsiCon, a massive Starfield convention, and Prince Charming (i.e. Darien) is a young heartthrob actor and secret nerd, who’s just been cast for the lead role in the new Starfield reboot. It’s not exactly love at first sight, but they get there in the end. I absolutely loved this book! It’s super-cute, with great characters (even the minor ones), and a few surprising twists to the traditional Cinderella-retelling mould… I will hopefully be posting a full review of this in the next couple of weeks. 😄What’s a Soulmate? by Lindsey Ouimet. A surprisingly complex look at the soulmate-identifying-marks trope, in which a teenage girl called Libby meets her soulmate at the juvenile detention centre where her father works, only to find that he’s been brought there for committing a horrific assault. I’ve been seeing this trope in various different forms (including the one Ouimet uses) all over the place lately, and I’ll confess that I’m something of a sucker for it, but I really feel that Ouimet was able to do something unexpected with it. I won’t say too much else here, because this is another book that I’d like to write a more detailed review of, but the characters were all great, and the plot and the romance were both exciting and realistically portrayed… 👍

Review: I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman (Spoiler-Free)

All Bob and Joan really want is a child, but after years of trying, they’ve all but given up hope. That is, until a small boy in a tattered page-boy’s uniform knocks on their door one night with no clear memory of anything except this: That he used to be a rat.

I remember really loving this book when I was little, but it had been so long since I read it that I’d completely forgotten what it was called or who it was by… Needless to say, I was thrilled when I finally came across it again (in Pullman’s Four Tales anthology) – but at the same time, I was really nervous about re-reading it, in case my memory of how good it was had been skewed by nostalgia. Luckily for me, it turned out that it hadn’t; I Was a Rat! was just as amazing the second time around as I remember it being the first! 😀

It’s quite a short story, so there’s not that much room for extensive character development, but it’s great to see how Roger (the rat-boy) changes as he learns more about living amongst humans – for better and for worse. Bob and Joan are both wonderful parents/mentors to him, I really admired their persistence throughout the book; and all the other characters we’re introduced to over the course of Roger’s journey (however large or small their roles might be) are full of quirks, and a delight to read about.

This story is a sequel of sorts to a very well-known fairytale (which I won’t name here even though I wouldn’t really consider it a spoiler), and Pullman has twisted the familiar tale in some very interesting ways beyond just showing it from Roger’s (very interesting and very unusual) perspective. He’s definitely a master storyteller, and I Was a Rat! is a perfect demonstration of that… The edition I’ve been reading is also littered with fun illustrations by Peter Bailey, which really enhance the reading experience.4 stars

The Classics Book Tag!

This tag was created by Vienna at It’s a Book World, and you can find the original post here. I wasn’t tagged by anyone (I just wanted to do this for fun~ 🙂 ), but I first came across it on the youtube channel perpetualpages. Now onto the tag!

1) What’s an over-hyped classic that you didn’t like?

George Orwell//1984Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. I wouldn’t say that it was over-hyped, exactly, so much as just not really to my taste. It made its point very well, and it was certainly interesting, I just didn’t enjoy it all that much.

2) What’s your favourite time period to read about?

Probably Regency England, as that was the time period Jane Austen wrote about, but to be honest I don’t really have a favourite time period. With me, it’s always more about the story than the setting.

3) What’s your favourite fairytale?

Growing up, I was particularly attached to the The Swan Princess (a cartoon adaptation of Swan Lake, which was itself adapted from a Russian folk-tale, though it seems uncertain which one or ones), as well as the Disney version of Robin Hood (I didn’t read all that much when I was little). These days, I’m probably most fond of The Goose Girl and Beauty and the Beast

4) What classic are you most embarrassed not to have read yet?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, without a doubt. I’ve been meaning to read it for such a long time, and so many people have told me that it’s their favourite classic…

5) What are the top five classics that you would like to read soon?

Jane Austen//Persuasion Thomas Hardy//Tess of the D'Urbervilles Charlotte Brontë//Jane Eyre Bram Stoker//Dracula Sarah Grand//The Heavenly Twins

6) What’s your favourite modern book (or series) that’s based on a classic?

Marissa Meyer//Cinder(Having not read very many of these, I’ll be going back to fairytales for this question!) Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles are the first thing to come to mind, since they’re fantastic. The first three books in the series are based on, respectively, CinderellaLittle Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.

Shannon Hale//The Goose GirlPhilip Pullman’s I was a Rat! is another great take on Cinderella, as is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levigne, and Shannon Hale has also written a great series called The Books of Bayern, the first of which is based on the Brothers Grimm tale, The Goose Girl.

7) What’s your favourite film or TV adaptation of a classic?

Pride & Prejudice

Ehle & Firth as Elizabeth & Mr. Darcy.

There a several that I really love, but the one I always come back to is the 1995 BBC mini-series of Pride & Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

A couple of honourable mentions: The 2004 adaptation of North & South, with Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage, and the 1979 take on the Flambards series, with Christine McKenna.

8) What’s your least favourite film or TV adaptation?

Usually if I don’t like an adaptation, then I’ll stop watching it, so there aren’t really any that I can really say I hated, but what I saw of the 1975 version of North & South  (with Patrick Stewart) was so bad it was funny, and I also wasn’t a huge fan of the 2005 movie of Pride & Prejudice (with Keira Knightly & Matthew Macfadyen) – the imagery was beautiful, but the story was far too rushed…

9) What editions do you/would you like to collect?

The Folio Society publishes beautiful editions of most classics, but they tend to be rather pricey, so...

The Folio Society publishes beautiful editions of most classics, but they tend to be rather pricey, so…

... I will often pick the Vintage Classics editions instead.

… I usually buy the (also very lovely) Vintage Classics editions instead.

10) What’s an under-hyped classic that you’d recommend to everyone?

Alison Uttley//A Traveller in TimeMost of my all-time favourites are very well-known (Pride & PrejudiceEmmaNorth & South, etc.), but one that I don’t often hear people talking about is Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time, which tells the story of a girl called Penelope who finds herself slipping back and forth between 1934 and the 16th century, where Mary, Queen of Scots is imprisoned in Chartley Castle. It’s a really wonderful book, and its a shame that not that many people seem to have read it…

August Book Haul!

As if I needed more books. But one of the great trials of book-lovers everywhere is, when walking past a bookshop, resisting the urge to go inside, and (once, inevitably, inside) battling the compulsive need to buy everything in sight. Lack of funds often helps to curb that second impulse, but, alas, not always – on this particular occasion, it was not helpful in the least.

August Haul

The (physical) books I bought this month!

So, this is what I bought (& thankfully, not all of these were impulse buys):

1) The Dark Horse by Marcus Sedgwick. This book sounds very mysterious. I actually don’t know any more about it than what’s written on the back, but I’ve heard really great things about Marcus Sedwick’s writing, so I’m looking forward to trying this out. Also, I bought it second hand, so it was super-cheap.

2) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I read Princess Academy by Shannon Hale so long ago that I can only remember the vaguest details of what it’s about, but I remember being very pleasantly surprised by it. I don’t know what this one’s about, but I’ve heard that it’s one of her best works, & I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a while, so…

3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. One of my favourite books of all time. I read this one for the first time a few months ago, while I was in Beijing, but I was under a very strict no-physical-books rule at the time (because I needed all my stuff to fit inside one suitcase for the trip home), so I borrowed a copy from a friend of mine. This book was actually the reason that I was in Waterstones today: I wanted to make sure that I got a copy with the pretty cover (which I did), ’cause I keep seeing the movie-cover edition everywhere…

4) Four by Veronica Roth. The Divergent novella bind-up. I read this pretty much as soon as I bought it, & I really enjoyed it.

5) The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. A complete impulse buy. But I really want to read this soon, because it’s beautiful (but also giant).

6) Boxers & Saints (box-set) by Gene Luen Yang. I actually ordered this one while I was still in China, & then had to wait an agonising (approximately) two months before I could read it. 😦 This is a graphic novel series about the Boxer Rebellion, & it made me feel all kinds of unexpected things. Of the two books, I think I preferred Saints (the second), but not by much – they’re both absolutely amazing.

Philip Pullman//Four Tales

Seriously, this thing is so far beyond gorgeous that I can’t even…

7) Four Tales by Philip Pullman. I’ve had my eye on this book for so long, but I’ve been putting off buying it because it’s pretty expensive. But I couldn’t resist any longer! Look how pretty it is! The aforementioned “four tales” are The Firework-Maker’s DaughterI Was a Rat!Clockwork, and The Scarecrow and His Servant. Philip Pullman was one of my favourite authors when I first started getting into reading, & I Was a Rat! was actually one of the first books that I read & really loved (it’s a Cinderella retelling/sequel-type thing, from the perspective of one of the rats that was transformed by Cinderella’s fairy godmother). The other three stories I haven’t read yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to.

8) Percy Jackson & the Greek Gods by Rick Riordan. Greek mythology as told by Percy Jackson (as far as I can tell). I studied Classics at university, so I’m assuming that I’ll be familiar with most of the actual stories in here, but I really love the way that Rick Riordan writes Percy’s voice~ 🙂

9) Japanese from Zero! Vol. 1. A beginner’s Japanese textbook. I’ve completed the first lesson, & it seems pretty good so far. The most exciting thing about it, in my opinion, is that as you learn the kana characters, they start replacing the roman characters, so you’re constantly reviewing the kana just by progressing through the lessons. (This is helpful for lazy people like me, who can’t be bothered to review normally, unless there’s a test coming up…)

& that’s all! This was a way longer first post than I expected it to be… & I didn’t even include all the kindle books I bought this month! I’ll probably do an ebook haul sometime later in the month, because I expect I’ll be buying more of them, but goodbye for now!

~Fran.