Thursday, 31 March 2011

Bookish Buys: Mousepads and Clocks and Totes, Oh My!

So, my credit card just got a bit of a workout. On top of a bunch of books to add to my never-ending "to be read" pile, I also got distracted by the adorableness of these bookish stores...

BookFiend has a huge range of cute reading-related goodies. I'm especially loving their totes (I have a bit of an obsession with totes).

I wanted to buy everything, but I had to limit myself to one tote (because I already have a sizeable collection), so I chose the "word nerd" bag. I also got this lovely mousepad and cushion:

JujuLoveShop has this pretty Pride and Prejudice book box - unfortunately for me (but perhaps fortunately for my wallet), they don't ship to Australia:


Bugcicle has these clever book clocks - sadly, they don't ship to Australia either!

Luckily, I found this cool Little Red Riding Hood clock at Lunanshee, which is being shipped to me as we speak:

I'm also keeping my eye on these sweet book bags from Mia Bella Creations. They aren't currently sold online, but apparently the option is coming soon:

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

My Book Boyfriend: Westley

Now this is my kind of meme. My Book Boyfriend is hosted by The Unread Reader every Wednesday. It's all about fictional boys that make us swoon. I have oh-so-many to choose from, but for my very first MBB post, I've chosen my second love (my first was Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid)...

Westley from The Princess Bride, of course! Obviously, I fell in love with him in the movie first - at seven, I was a bit young to have read the book. When I finally did read it in my teens, I fell in love with him even more. He makes me swoon AND laugh at the same time.

About Westley (spoiler alert!)
  • His hair is blonde and his eyes are like "the high seas before a storm". 
  • He has a hot "strong" body.
  • He starts off working on a farm for Buttercup, then, when they declare their love for one another, he goes to sea to seek his fortune so that he can marry her. 
  • His ship is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts and Buttercup is told that he's dead - but he really persuades Roberts to let him live. He then learns everything he can and becomes the Dread Pirate Roberts himself (it's kinda like a franchise).
  • He does everything for love - literally. He even dies and comes back to life for love. And rescues the dumb-dumb Buttercup about a bajillion times.
  • He's perfect in every way. I'm not even joking. He always bests the best - Inigo at sword-fighting, Fezzik at hand-to-hand combat, Vizzini in a battle of wits... 
  • He's played by Cary Elwes in the movie - the perfect Westley. My Westley!
Swoon-worthy quotes

"Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches... I have stayed these years in my hovel because of you. I have taught myself languages because of you. I have made my body strong because I thought you might be pleased by a strong body. I have lived my life with only the prayer that some sudden dawn you might glance in my direction. I have not known a moment in years when the sight of you did not send my heart careening against my rib cage. I have not known a night when your visage did not accompany me to sleep. There has not been a morning when you did not flutter behind my waking eyelids."
"I love you. Okay? Want it louder? I love you. Spell it out, should I? I ell-oh-vee-ee why-oh-you. Want it backward? You love I... I've been saying it so long to you, you just wouldn't listen. Every time you said, 'Farm Boy, do this', you thought I was answering, 'As you wish', but that's only because you were hearing wrong. 'I love you' was what it was, but you never heard."
"There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C....Well, this one left them all behind."
"The Queen's Pride was his ship, and he loved her. (That was the way his sentences always went: It is raining today and I love you. My cold is better and I love you. Say hello to Horse and I love you. Like that.)"
"While he was watching the ships, Buttercup shoved him with all her strength remaining... down went the man in black...'You can die too for all I care,' she said, and then she turned away. Words followed her. Whispered from afar, weak and warm and familiar. ''"
"This is true love — you think this happens every day?"
"There is a shortage of perfect breasts in this world; 'twould be a pity to damage yours."

Note-worthy: New Design!

So, you might have noticed, I've had a makeover. Well, my blog has, at least. This is what it used to look like:

I really loved the bookshelf background, but as it's a template on Blogger, it's pretty common across a lot of book-related blogs. So I was after something a bit different and a bit more fun. Which is just what I found at I miss the bookshelves, but I like the cuteness of the new design. What do you think? Do you prefer the new or old? I've saved the old template, just in case! I'm indecisive to a fault.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Top Five: Online Bookstores

There's nothing like the feeling of walking into a bookstore. The smell, the look, the anticipation... it's wonderful. So it's pretty sad that so many are closing down and people are talking about their impending doom. I feel a bit guilty because I'm one of those awful people who just adores bookstores, but mostly browses in them and does the actual shopping online or at department stores. The thing is, they're just SO expensive and it's so hard to justify the prices (to my wallet) when there are amazing bargains to be found online. While I REALLY hope bookstores don't completely disappear, there are heaps of websites that are fabulous for buying books. These are the ones I've been using the most recently:

1. Booko. I only just discovered this and it's my new favourite site. It doesn't actually sell books, but it's an AWESOME tool for buying them. If you know what you want, that is. You just type in the book you're after, and Booko does all the hard work tracking it down for you. Within seconds there's a list of all the places available to buy the book online, complete with prices and shipping to compare, so you know you're getting the best deal. It's amazeballs.

2. Book Depository UK and US. These days, I buy most of my books from one of the Book Depositories. I've listed them together, but they're both worth checking out, coz they do vary in stock and prices a bit (but not too much). Collectively they generally have the greatest prices, plus a fantastic range and FREE SHIPPING worldwide. Love, love, love.

3. Better World Books. I love this site coz it makes you feel good about buying books (on top of your own happiness, of course). It features both new and used books, and proceeds from their sale go towards funding literacy programs around the world. They have decent prices and free shipping worldwide. You can also donate old books, and Better World Books covers all shipping costs AND carbon offsets. Sweet!

4. AbeBooks. This is an online marketplace that brings together the wares of booksellers all over the globe, but you can focus your search/browsing on local stores if you wish. Because of the different sellers, it can be hit and miss regarding prices and shipping rates, but I've mostly had good experiences. It's especially awesome for getting harder-to-find books like random V. C. Andrews er, the classics. Ahem.

5. Doubleday Australia. The prices on this site are mostly pretty standard, but every now and then they have outstanding deals (for instance, I found Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals for literally half the price it was everywhere else). Buying books here means that you sign up to be part of their "book club", where they send you their catalog and you can buy from that each month. This might bug some people, but it excited the book nerd in me - mainly because it reminded me of the book club catalogs we used to get every month at school. Nostalgia always equals bonus points.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Wow. That was unexpected.

I don't know how I got through life up until this point without reading or watching The Great Gatsby, or even knowing the story. Usually with the classics, even without ever personally encountering them, you generally get to know the whole plot via cultural references/magical osmosis. But somehow, that hadn't happened for me with The Great Gatsby. I knew it was set in the roaring '20s and featured lots of parties, plus a bit of love and drama. I knew it featured characters named Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and Daisy. But that was all. I decided last year that it was about time that changed - so I tried to read it. Twice. I didn't get further than the first chapter either time.

While it was beautifully written, I just couldn't get into it. The narrator, Nick, seemed like a boring type of fellow, and while he visited his cousin Daisy, her nasty husband Tom and their friend Jordan, and mentioned briefly his neighbour Jay Gatsby, I wondered what the point of it all was. The plot was plodding, the events and characters seemed insignificant and I didn't know who to care about, or if I did at all. I didn't exactly mean to give up on it - I just got distracted by books that excited me so much more. Then, when I picked it up again to keep reading it, I couldn't remember what had happened. It was so dull that it had completely drifted from my mind. So I had to start again. And I got distracted again. And had to start all over again.

This time, I was determined to finish it. It's only 188 pages, after all! And wow, am I glad I did. Because I freaking loved it. Sure, the first couple of chapters are slow - I was impatient for Gatsby to show up - but when he appears, it's well worth the wait. Things finally get going and everything starts to make sense; what seemed so insignificant before is actually revealed to be quite the opposite and when it all clicks into place, it's wonderful. I don't really want to say any more because I don't want to give away the plot for those who, like me, haven't encountered it before. Because it was fantastic to read a book without knowing ANYTHING that was going to happen. I totally didn't expect the story to go in the direction it did, and when it did, I was floored. I already want to reread it - somehow, I don't think I'll find it quite so dull next time!

Rating: 4/5
Talking points (and possible spoilers)
  • The language was just lovely. There were so many sentences that jumped off the page - my faves include, "Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead" and "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness". Then there was one of the closing paragraphs: "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretchout our arms farther... And one morning -" What a paragraph! So sad, so beautiful.
  • I loved Gatsby's devotion to Daisy and the awe that she inspired in him - especially evident when he was showing off his house. I didn't quite get the shirt scene though, when she's crying over how beautiful Gatsby's clothes are. I understand that she was probably feeling just a tad emotional, but I was confused about why the shirts specifically set her off. Was it because it showed just how far he'd come? Or was she literally crying over how beautiful they were, to show how shallow she was? That seems unlikely. Anyway, I was confused.
  • There were a few racist remarks throughout that made me a bit uncomfortable, but they mostly came from Tom, who wasn't exactly a positive character. The majority of his words and actions were quite disgusting.
  • I now want to hunt down every The Great Gatsby adaptation out there. The Robert Redford/Mia Farrow is a must - I can totally see Mia as Daisy - plus I also just discovered there's a TV version from 2000, starring Toby Stephens, Paul Rudd (!) and, er, Mira Sorvino. I have a sneaking suspicion it will be very bad, but I love Toby Stephens and Paul Rudd. Meanwhile, I'm a bit worried about Baz Luhrmann's upcoming adaptation - I love Baz, but he's filming this very American story in Australia, and in 3D. THREE. DEE. Ugh.
Eye candy
So, despite the many adaptations, I managed to come up with my own cast for this one. Well, almost. The exception was Carey Mulligan, who's playing Daisy in the upcoming film and was also Daisy in my head. What can I say - I adore her:

Baz has cast Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, and I think he'll be OK, but as soon as I started reading Nick's narration, Ryan Gosling's voice came into my head. It was a nice voice to stay with for 188 pages. And a nice face:

To go with Tobey's Nick, his mate Leonardo Dicaprio has been cast as Gatsby. But he's too bloated for my liking these days. My Gatsby looked more like Armie Hammer, who you might know as the Winklevii from The Social Network:

Jordan to me looked a lot like Leighton Meester. For no other reason than I think she's super-pretty:

As for who I think would be the perfect brutish, masculine Tom? Why, Tom Hardy, of course:

And only one person came to mind when the sexy, sassy, full-of-vitality Myrtle was described:

This NES-style The Great Gatsby game is super-fun:

Friday, 25 March 2011

Follow Friday: Five (Bookish) Facts About Me

Follow Friday is a blog hop hosted by Parajunkee's View. This week the topic is, "Give us five book-related, silly facts about you." Note the key word is silly...

1. I have a habit of reading books while cleaning/watching TV/walking/doing assorted daily activities. I know it's a bit silly for someone who's not particularly coordinated and can't walk in a straight line under normal circumstances, but I can't help myself. Hence my affinity for Disney's Belle. That's a princess I can relate to.
2. One of the first things I do when I pick up a book is smell it. I love the way new books smell. I love the way old books smell. My nose is twitching just thinking about it.
3.When I was about 10, I was a member of The Babysitter's Club Club. I got sent three books from the series per month. I stopped at #112 because, by that stage, I had outgrown them. I got rid of my (many) doubles a few years ago but I can't bear to part with the rest of the collection... which is currently collecting dust in my parents' roof.
4. I'm obsessed with adaptations. If there's a movie or TV version of a book, I have to watch it. If there's a book version of a movie/TV show, I have to read it. Even if I don't particularly enjoy it, I still like to compare the differences.
5. I have a degree in English Literature (and History), which I don't exactly use in my everyday life. This blog is an attempt to remedy that somewhat - a refocus on my literature-loving roots!

Note-worthy: The Blog Formerly Known as Stuck in a Book

Just a quick note, in case you've noticed, on why I've changed the name of my blog from Stuck in a Book to Belle's Bookshelf. I still love the name Stuck in a Book, but I came across another blog with the same name which has obviously been around for a lot longer than me, and I didn't want to cause any confusion or ill will. So Belle's Bookshelf it is! Bonus: It now matches my url. And just for fun here's the song that was the inspiration for it all (specifically around the 2.15 mark)...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Stand-alone vs Series

Booking Through Thursday is a weekly meme that centres around book-related questions.This week's question is: Series or stand-alone books?

It's a pretty tough one to answer! I find it difficult to make decisions at the best of times, but I honestly do love both series and stand-alone books. They're totally different reading experiences. So because I can't choose, I've decided to let them battle it out and see who comes out winning (in no way associated with Charlie Sheen).

Round 1: Plot potential
Obviously, stand-alone books can have amazingly intricate plots, but a series just has so much more room for expansion, development and, well, just about everything.
Series 1 
Stand-alone 0

Round 2: Character development
Once again, a stand-alone book can have fantastic character development, while series - despite their length - can sometimes have little to none. But good series allow you to really get to know characters and grow and develop with them, and stand-alone books can't really compete in this area.
Series 2 
Stand-alone 0

Round 3: Commitment
If a book looks too daunting (specifically too long), it can be hard to feel motivated to read it. Sadly, books that look like they require too much commitment are often left languishing on the shelf until I have a decent amount of spare time (which is approximately never). This applies to both mega-sized stand-alones (Shantaram, anyone?) as well as series in general. Series can sometimes trick you if you aren't aware that they ARE in fact series, and instead of reading one book as you intended, you end up reading 10. Then there's series like The Twilight Saga which you can knock out within a (very intense) few days. Still, on the whole, series require way more commitment from a reader, which isn't always a bad thing, but in this case it's a weakness.
Series 2 
Stand-alone 1

Round 4: Enjoyment factor
This all depends on the writing, really. If it's no good, a stand-alone can be just as torturous as a trilogy. However, series risk inconsistency and while you might adore one book, its sequel might make you want to scream. And that can be even more frustrating than if you'd just read one terrible stand-alone story. So, while series can provide more opportunity for enjoyment, there's also a helluva lot more potential for irritation.
Series 2 
Stand-alone 2

Final Round: Closure
If we were comparing an individual book from a series with a stand-alone tale, chances are the latter would definitely win this round. Too often, it seems, series leave a bunch of questions waiting to be answered in subsequent books. But by the time you get to the last book, everything should be effectively resolved. Meanwhile, a stand-alone book can leave you, if not with questions, then at the very least wanting more. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to a sense of satisfaction and closure, series tend to win out.
Series 3
Stand-alone 2

The winner is... series!
OK, I can live with that.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bookish Fun: Hot Guys Reading Books

I love this site. It's a Tumblr devoted entirely to images of hot guys reading books. What could be better than that? OK, so some of the guys aren't exactly what I'd call hot, but even their looks are somewhat improved thanks to the books they're holding. I think they're onto something... so I went on an intensive Google image search for further evidence. Let me tell you, it was hard work. Ahem. Look what I found!

Excuse me while I go wipe the drool off my keyboard...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Movie Was Better: I Am Number Four

Oh dear.  My feelings for the movie were pretty much the same as for the book: meh.


I went in anticipating that I Am Number Four would be more exciting as a film than a book, and it was. I liked it a lot more. But I still didn't love it. And I still didn't hate it. I still didn't really feel anything for it. It wasn't bad enough to enjoy in a snarky way, and it wasn't good enough to enjoy at face value. It was just OK. And that was kinda disappointing.

Surprisingly, it was pretty different to the book. The main gist was the same, of course, but there were a gazillion little changes that I wasn't expecting (potential spoilers ahead)....

Changes that worked
  • We see Six a lot earlier in the movie - and I wanted even more screen time from her. As much as I love Dianna Agron, her character was totally bland, while Six totally kicked butt. In fact, there was way more chemistry between Six and John than Sarah and John and I found myself wanting them to be together instead.
  • Sam's father was investigating alien activity before he disappeared, and Henri brought John to Paradise because he wanted to find out what he'd been up to (John doesn't know this, of course). Henri is a lot more forceful with getting John to agree to leave, too. It just made a lot more sense.
  • The Mogadorians (or Mogs, as they get called for most of the movie, heh) pursue John and co. immediately after running into them at the They Walk Among Us peeps' house. Again, it just made a lot more sense - I found the space between this incident and the final battle months later a bit ridiculous in the book. 
  • Speaking of They Walk Among Us, it was a website, not a magazine. Way more realistic in this day and age. Sense!
  • Mark was heaps nicer to John when he first meets him, and only bullies him after John himself is a bit of an arse to him. Granted, he has his reasons, but Mark being kinda nice to start with worked better with his niceness at the end - as opposed to the book where he does a complete 180.
  • John and Six's powers were different. While it probably wasn't totally necessary, it did allow for the awesome shot of Six protecting John from the fire (when in the book, he could do this himself), and avoided the weirdness of thunderstorm demons.
  • Bernie Kosar immediately transforms when the battle starts (it's actually a pretty funny moment). In the book, it felt like the fight had been going on forever before he finally showed up to save the day.
  • It seemed like less Mogs showed up to fight in the final battle, so it was easier to understand why the kids were able to beat them. The battle itself didn't drag out nearly as much and was a lot more action-packed (as a battle should be).
  • Sam had a jerk of a step-father he was desperate to escape from, so when he left with Six and John in the end he wasn't just ditching his poor mother like he does in the book.
  • Henri's death earlier in the film allowed for a more triumphant mood at the end. 
Changes that didn't
  • John appears pretty popular at his last school and is more standoffish when he gets to Paradise. It diminishes the reasoning behind his attachment to the town and to Sarah and Sam, and why he's so desperate to stay.
  • Sarah isn't as overtly nice in the beginning. I didn't really warm to her at all. Like I said, as beautiful as Dianna Agron is, her character was pretty bland.
  • They never really explain that there's a charm that means the aliens can't be killed except in sequential order. Which is kind of a big deal.
  • Henri was nowhere near as important a character as he is in the book. While the way he died in the movie worked, it also wasn't quite as sad as in the book and didn't seem to effect John as much.
  • Compressing the timeline improved the pace, but it also made the trip to school to develop photos (in between Sarah's rescue and the final battle) really, really dumb. Why, oh why, when you're on the run from evil aliens trying to assassinate you, would you make a pit stop to develop photos?! Seriously.
I'm sure there's plenty more that I missed, but that's what's stuck in my mind. It'll be interesting to see if they end up making the sequel that both the book and movie endings so clearly set up for, coz apparently (and understandably) it's been a major box office disappointment.

Rating: 3/5

Eye candy

As I mentioned in my review of the book, I already had Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron and Teresa Palmer in my head when I read it. Dianna matched the description of her character perfectly, and although Teresa didn't, I thought she was great anyway. John never really describes himself in the book and Alex, of course, is super pretty, but he just doesn't do it for me. Maybe it's because I remember watching him as a little kid in Tom Brown's Schooldays not so long ago, and it makes me feel super-old:

I was surprised at how young and pretty Henri was (played by Timothy Olyphant), but other than his scarily white teeth, I couldn't really complain:

Sam (Callan McAuliffe) looked a lot different than how I pictured him (obviously), but that didn't bother me (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!):

 And look at this pretty one:

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Review: Bonus Chapter of Red Riding Hood

I finally got my hands on the bonus chapter of Red Riding Hood. Even though it's not released here in Australia until March 25, I discovered it's actually already available to download on the US site. I can't believe I didn't think of it earlier!

Anyway, aside from the fact that I'm still mad about the whole gimmick, I was pretty satisfied with the ending. There were a few things that were left unexplained, but at least the major thing was. Yep, we finally get to find out who the Wolf is. It was someone I suspected - but then, I suspected just about every character so that's no big revelation. The very last page seems to be setting up for a sequel, but at least the first story is mostly resolved - even if it is in a bonus chapter online. If it had've been attached to the original book, I probably would have given it 3/5. But it wasn't. So my original opinion still stands.

Related: I've had this song in my head all weekend.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (a.k.a. James Frey and Jobie Hughes)

My feelings for this book can be summed up in one word: meh. 

Actually, that's not even a word, is it? Just a sound. Yep, that's about as much as I care about I Am Number Four. I didn't hate it. But I didn't like it either. I just felt... meh.

I read this because I was kinda excited about the movie, and I have this weird obsession with reading the book versions of movie adaptations beforehand (as you can probably tell by my last two reviews). I'd been told the movie was, "like Twilight, with aliens", which sounded pretty much perfect for me. Plus, it stars Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron, who are both very pretty and made an incredibly cute couple (despite being an alleged PR pairing with a literally fiery breakup).

But back to the book. Our narrotor is John Smith, a.k.a Number Four, one of nine young aliens sent to Earth after their home planet, Lorien, was destroyed by the evil Mogadorians. He's spent his life on the run from these creatures along with his carer, Henri, but all he wants to do is settle down. Henri finally relents and agrees to stay for awhile in a small town called Paradise (really), despite the fact that John is next on the Mogadorians' sequential hit list. So John is at last able to make a friend and, of course, a girlfriend (yay!) - but how long can he escape the detection of the Mogadorians? (Spoilery answer: not very).

It was a struggle to get through this. For a story with a fair amount of action (both of the romantic and more violent kind), I found it incredibly boring. I think part of the problem was that it was written in the present tense - a device which, when used effectively, can really emphasise the urgency of a situation. But, when not, only works to highlight how extremely dull it is - which is exactly what most of the book felt like. Even the fight scenes had my eyes glazing over. There were certain details that seemed to come out of nowhere (for instance, Sarah returning from a trip I didn't remember her leaving for), but I can't say with certainty whether that was a flaw in the continuity or if I just zoned out in too many places. And the sad part is I didn't care enough to go back and reread to make sure. Like I said: meh.

Rating: 2.5/5

Talking Points
  • How lame is the name Mogadorians for a race of evil aliens? Also, their description (or lack thereof) made it really hard for me to picture what they looked like. I was confused for awhile and thought they were some kind of beasts, then I realised that the beasts were their pets. Or something.
  • I liked the relationship between Sarah and John, and the fact that it wasn't all angsty and complicated. It was a pretty realistic portrayal of a teen romance (aside from, y'know, the whole alien part), and I appreciated that Sarah had her own thing going on and wasn't swooning every time John breathed. She even told him to shut up when he was being super cheesy (flirtily, it's true, but still it's something). While this was nice and refreshing, their normalcy and lack of hurdles for most of the story (even his alienness doesn't really affect their relationship) means that there was none of the intensity that really makes you root for a couple.
  • My favourite character was Bernie Kosar. A dog. That says a lot about the other characters. But it really irritated me that (spoiler alert) John didn't make the connection that Bernie was an alien, too, until he literally transforms in front of his eyes. I felt it was just so obvious. But then, John doesn't seem like the brightest spark - it also took him 340-odd pages to realise he'd been able to hear the thoughts of animals all along.
  • Even though I didn't particularly enjoy this book, I'll probably still read the inevitable sequels. Because it hints that a lot of back story gets explained in the next one, which I'm curious about. Then again, maybe I'll just read the Wikipedia synopsis.
Eye candy
In a completely unintentional pattern, I yet again saw the movie trailer before reading the book. So the cast was cemented in my head. Luckily, as I mentioned, they're very pretty:

There was a problem when Six's dark-haired description didn't QUITE match up to a very blonde Teresa Palmer, but I just ignored it:

Then there was Sam. I wasn't sure who plays him, but there's only one person who comes to mind when a sandy-haired nerd is mentioned:

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Top Five: Fave Books of All Time

I was obsessed with Ever After when I was 12. One of my favourite lines was when Prince Henry asks Danielle to pick a book that she likes, and she replies, "I could no sooner choose a favourite star in the heavens." At the time, I thought this was, like, way deep, and quickly adopted it as my own attitude towards books. Now I just think it's super cheesy, but I have to admit it still kinda applies. As an avid reader, I come across so many books that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE (and a few that I hate, hate, hate), but over the years I've managed to whittle down a rough top five list of books that stay with me and repeatedly draw me back in. So, here goes: 

1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Dickens is my favourite author - I just adore his beautiful prose, quirky characters and sprawling stories - and David Copperfield is the epitome of these things. I always feel sad when I've finished reading it, not because of the ending, but because it ends. Even though it's mega-sized, I still can never get enough of Davey boy and the inhabitants of his world - from Betsey Trotwood and Mr Micawber to Steerforth and even the icky Uriah Heep. OK, I just talked myself into reading it again right now.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Picking up this book is like diving into a big, comforting pool of marshmallows, hugs and sunshine (corny, but true!). I first read it when I was 16 and have revisited it at least once a year since then, but my introduction to the story happened when I was nine and the amazing BBC series aired here. I watched my gran watching it, and I remember her explaining to me what prejudice meant and then telling me all about Elizabeth and Mr Darcy and their pride and prejudices (of course). She then lent it to me on VHS, and I still have her copy of episodes four to six. I treasure it, even though I can no longer watch it (thank goodness for remastered DVDs).

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I read this for the first time last year and was immediately blown away. I initially resisted reading it because it's narrated by Death and it sounded a tad morbid for my liking, but I was SO glad I persisted because it's just brilliant. I tell everyone I know that they HAVE to read it (it's missing from the pic above because it's currently on loan); I just can't rave enough about this beautifully written, surprisingly uplifting Australian (!) masterpiece.

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This haunting tale really strikes a chord with me in the way it deals with love and loss. Frankenstein's desperate attempt to avoid losing everything he holds dear has the opposite effect, and I can't help but wish this was different every time I read it. Of course, that wouldn't make the book anywhere near as powerful and I wouldn't love it nearly as much. But I am a sucker for happily ever afters.

5. The Princess Bride by William Goldman. This book has it all - it even says so itself: "Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles." It just makes me happy. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Bookish Fun: Game for history/Dickens nerds

My mum always says I was born in the wrong era (I am kinda obsessed with the past). But she also exclaims, "EW, imagine how bad their breath would be?!" every time a couple kiss in a period drama (way to ruin the romance, Mum!). So, when put in that light and mixed together with corsets, major gender inequality and the likelihood that even if I did live in the past, I probably wouldn't be a fancy lady but rather a scullery maid or, if I was lucky, a governess making eyes at the master, I do consider myself better off living in the modern day. Mostly. 

But, if by chance I was to fall into a time machine or discover a secret entry to David Copperfield's drawing room in my closet (holla, Lost in Austen), it's comforting to know that I would be able to survive and, in fact, be "the picture of politeness" if this fun little game (via Jezebel) is anything to go by. Although, apparently, I would have been better as a man in the Victorian era. As a woman, I was let down by my proclivity for dresses that bared a bit too much arm. Whoops.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This was both an easy and extremely hard read.

It was easy because it's superbly written and compelling. I couldn't put it down and got through it in two sittings – if you don't count the number of times I had to set it aside for a few minutes, just to catch my breath. It was very, very hard at times to keep reading in anticipation of the distressing events to come.
Were told at the beginning that the setting is England, late 1990s", but you immediately know that theres something unusual in this England, with the casual mentions of donors and carers. The narration is set up as a kind of conversation between the protagonist, Kathy, and the reader, so there's an assumed knowledge of her world and her place in it. Of course, we have no clue, but it infuses the slow build to the big reveal(s) with a kind of dread as we, like the characters as children, have been "told, but not told".

The plot centres around Kathys relationship with her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy, and their complicated love for each other, made even more delicate by time - when its wrong, when it passes, and when its very, very limited. The characters seem very much aware of the shadow of time looming over them, but that doesnt stop them from making mistakes, from hurting each other, and from holding back from what they want. For all their love and creativity, these things, more than anything, are the most forceful evidence of their very real humanity.

This is not what you would describe as an enjoyable book. I dont think its giving too much away to say that its a tear-jerker – and then some. In fact, in certain places, its downright unpleasant. But that just shows how powerful it is. You really FEEL for the characters so that, on more than one occasion, I actually felt that my own heart was breaking.

Rating: 4/5

Talking Points
  • The story stays with you for long after you've closed the book (warning: it is a mistake to finish this immediately before bedtime). At first I thought it was extremely depressing and sent the message that life was pointless and death inevitable. It certainly makes you consider these things. But after thinking about it I came to realise that it's actually about the opposite: yes, death is inevitable, but that just makes what you do with your life all the more important. You have to seize what you want now and not wait until it's too late.
  • On a slightly shallower note, I hated Ruth. Kathy obviously loves her dearly, but she spends a lot more time focusing on her less than admirable traits and actions. Which is understandable, given everything that happens. Ahem...
  • A lot of reviews - especially regarding the movie - have brought up the issue of why nobody tries to escape their fate. The thought did cross my mind, but I think when you consider the fact that they've been brought up their whole lives with their destiny/purpose drilled into their minds, it is realistic that they don't really consider running away. They have no families (except each other), nowhere to go, no real preparation for the outside world - no options, really. I said it was sad, didn't I?
  • Not having much medical knowledge, I'd like to know how the third and fourth donations were possible. It wasn't a majorly important point for what the book was trying to achieve, but it did make me curious.

Eye candy
Again, having already watched the movie trailer prior to reading the book, I had Carey Mulligan as Kathy, Andrew Garfield as Tommy and Keira Knightley as Ruth stuck in my head. Which was pretty much perfect anyway, because I LOVE Carey and Andrew (to be honest, they're what attracted me to the book/movie to start with) and I don't particularly like Keira, so that worked for Ruth. The only thing that bugs me is Carey's weird mullet 'do in the trailer/stills, but she's so gorgeous I'll let it slide:

On a related note, this little clip made me so happy and (almost) pulled me out of the utter sadness I felt after finishing the book. Just. So. Adorable.