Tuesday, 31 January 2012

January in Review

I google imaged 'January' and this was by far the best image.
Month one of 2012 down! I hope everyone had a good start to the year. It's been a bit slow for me in terms of reading and blogging (although it looks like more, thanks to holiday build-up!), because between finalising wedding plans, trying to get fit, and getting actual work done, I haven't had a helluva lot of time. Which makes me kinda sad. On the plus side: I'm getting married in four months (eep!), and there's not too much planning left to do. I also signed up for a writing course, which starts in a few weeks, and I can't wait! Here's what I have been up to on the blog:

I read/reviewed...
I watched...
I swooned over...
I brought reading icons back...
I also ditched Mag Monday (I still might feature magazines every now and then, just not every week), and I'm currently contemplating whether I should pick or pass on Pash, Pick or Pass. I might just feature it once or twice a month rather than every week. I want more time for actual reading! And, y'know, life and stuff. Anyhoo, that was my January - how was yours?

Review: The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

This book was painful. Like, I-feel-like-my-heart-is-bleeding kinda painful. A good kinda painful, then. Naturally. 

The Pipers Son is the sequel/companion to Melina Marchettas Saving Francesca, and it picks up the characters lives five years down the track. This time, Tom Mackee is our main character, along with his aunt Georgie, as the book alternates between their viewpoints via third person narration. They, along with the rest of their family and friends, are trying to recover from some devastating losses in the past (both recent and distant). 

With protagonists that are 22 and 42, The Pipers Son feels a bit more grown up than Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi, and the third person narrative also sets it apart. The writing is even more beautiful, if thats at all possible. I liked being able to get into more than one characters head, as well as seeing them from the outside. It gave the story a much wider scope than it perhaps would have had otherwise.

Now, I thought Saving Francesca was sad, but I have to say, its got nothing on The Pipers Son. Tom and Georgie are both so lost in their grief and its such an emotional ride, made all the more potent by the extremely realistic characters, conversations, emotions and actions. As with Marchettas other books that Ive read, I found myself nodding along to a characters inner monologue more than once. I really felt their pain. And it was tough.

Thankfully, there are plenty of light moments to balance out the sadness. As Tom slowly reconnects with the old gang from St Sebastians, the friendly teasing comes back into play and you cant help but smile. The interactions between the Mackee family are also tinged with humour, and theres a lot of joy mixed in with their hurt. The best moments, though, come from Tara (who is in Timor) and Toms email exchanges. Though they're half a world apart (literally and emotionally), their spark is still there, waiting to be set alight. I just love all of these characters; theyre strong, unique, and well fleshed-out. I feel like I know them well if only I had friends like these in real life!

Rating: 4/5

Spoilery Talking Points
  • I was sad at the lack of Jimmy in this book. He was one of my favourite characters in Saving Francesca. I need to know that he's OK.
  • On the other hand, the suggestion that Frankie's parents are doing great is heartening. 
  • I also kinda missed Siobhan! She seemed to be doing well though. I was kinda glad they were all still friends. Well, except for the whole Tom kerfuffle - but he made good in the end.
  • On an entirely superficial note, I really want to know what Will's tatt looks like.

Eye Candy
The same as Saving Francesca, plus...

Benedict Samuel as Tom

Claudia Karvan as Georgie

Emily Browning as Tara

Guy Pearce as Sam
Fine Print
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Published: March 2010, Viking
Get It: Fishpond

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Book Was Better: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

I was obsessed with the Sailor Moon anime when I was a kid, and totally want to rewatch it after reading the manga. I currently have the whole series downloading, er, on order, and while I eagerly await its arrival, I thought I'd check out the live-action series, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon.

Now, I like cheesy, cutesy stuff as much as the next adult-in-denial, but even I couldn't get past episode one. Seriously, I started watching episode two and thought WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE. The acting is on the over side, the special effects on the under side and the whole thing is just craptastic... minus the tastic. Like, Luna is a stuffed toy/really bad CGI animation. And the transformations involve really, really bad wigs. And Tuxedo Mask is kinda creepy. Maybe it gets better, but... eh, I just can't do it. P.S. If you want to, the whole thing is on YouTube.

Reading Icons: Charlie Chaplin

"A day without laughter is a day wasted." - Charlie Chaplin

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Revisit: Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

So. Here's the thing. Melina Marchetta is one of my all-time favourite authors. She is my idol. But I've only ever read two of her books. I KNOW. But I have an excuse! Kind of. You see, for the majority of my teen years, Looking for Alibrandi was the only Marchetta available. I adored it. Obsessed over it. Reread it at least once a year (and often more frequently). I identified so strongly with Josie, and felt like this book just got me in so many ways. It was a cherished friend (and is still one of my favourite books, BTW). I longed for Marchetta to write more, so I could devour fresh words of wisdom and realism. Then Saving Francesca came out. I was 17 and... kinda disappointed.

I liked it, don't get me wrong. I liked it a lot. But I just didn't have the same connection to Frankie that I had with Josie. My subsequent wariness, and the fact that I grew out of Young Adult books for a little while (or thought I had, at least!), meant that I didn't rush to pick up the books Marchetta released in the following years. Then, thanks to a friend thrusting The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants on me, I rediscovered how awesome YA could be. I started blogging, and read countless reviews and comments on the amazingness of Marchetta's other works - some even said they were better than Alibrandi. Big. Call.

Needless to say, The Piper's Son, On The Jellicoe Road and Finnikin of the Rock quickly joined my ever-growing TBR pile. My plan was to reread Saving Francesca before tackling The Piper's Son, then on to Jellicoe Road before finally diving into Finnikin. The hitch in this plan was that every time I picked up Francesca, I couldn't bring myself to read it. Not because of my first experience with it (because I had actually really liked it), but because I knew it touched upon issues that had recently become a very sensitive subject for me. I was afraid of how it would make me feel.

Then last week, I did something that I am both incredibly excited and extremely nervous about: I signed up for a writing course taught by Marchetta. I am more excited than nervous, actually. I'm downright ecstatic. But the reason I mention it here is because it gave me the kick up the butt I needed to finally get over my fear of Francesca - or, at least, that fear was eclipsed by a frenzied desire to absorb every word Marchetta had ever written ASAP.

I'm so, so glad I reread it. Because Francesca, of course, is absolutely amazing. The very reason I was afraid to pick it up (recent personal experiences) meant that I was able to appreciate it - and yes, connect with it - in a new and powerful way that I couldn't as a teenager. It's not an easy read (though it's beautifully written); Francesca's sadness, and her mum's depression, permeate the book. But it deals with the issue in such a tender, realistic and ultimately hopeful way that, by the time I turned the last page, I actually felt a lot better than I had before I picked it up. Like Alibrandi before her, Francesca touched upon so many aspects that were completely relevant to my life, and made me feel good about them. As though I wasn't alone. My feelings for Francesca might just be on par with my love of Alibrandi. Which is really saying something.

The Piper's Son, here I come.

Rating: 5/5

Eye Candy
I pictured...

Caitlin Stasey as Francesca
James Sorensen as Will
Xenia Goodwin as Justine
Alicia Banit as Siobhan
Khan Chittenden as Jimmy
Fine Print
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2003, Viking
Get It: Better World Books

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

My Book Boyfriend: Oliver


My Book Boyfriend is hosted by Missie at The Unread Reader. For my first book boyfriend of 2012 I'm selecting Oliver from The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, coz while I didn't go as gaga over the book as most people seemed to, Oliver was:

-Cute (tall, dark hair, nice eyes - and, er, a crooked smile).
-Sweet and funny.
-Spontaneous and romantic.

Totally book boyfriend material! I pictured him as Nicholas Hoult.

Swoon-Worthy Quotes

“But it’s there in his face, a fleeting reluctance that matches her own. They stand there together for a long time, for too long, for what seems like forever, each unwilling to part ways, letting the people behind them stream past like a river around rocks."

“He’s like a song she can’t get out of her head. Hard as she tries, the melody of their meeting runs through her mind on an endless loop, each time as surprisingly sweet as the last, like a lullaby, like a hymn, and she doesn’t think she could ever get tired of hearing it."

"'You found me first,' he says, and when he leans to kiss her, it's slow and sweet and she knows that this will be the one she always remembers. Because while the other two kisses felt like endings, this one is unquestionably a beginning.”

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Pash, Pick or Pass: The Fuentes Brothers

Pash, Pick or Pass is back! I haven't had much time for blogging so far this year, but I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things from here on out. What better way to celebrate the return of Pash, Pick or Pass than with the Fuentes brothers?!

A refresher: Pash, Pick or Pass is a game where we pick from a random book trio and say who we'd pash (and dash), who we'd pick for a relationship and who we'd pass on all together.

The Contenders
From Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry trilogy (as played in my imagination)...

Alex "I'm in a gang to protect my family" Fuentes

Carlos "I'm in a gang coz I'm hard core" Fuentes

Luis "I'm in a gang due to illogical plotting" Fuentes

My Choices

Pash: Carlos. He's a bit too douchey for my tastes, but he's hot, so I wouldn't mind a bit of alone time with him. 

Pick: Alex, all the way. He's just so adorable and sweet and awesome and smart and... yeah, I adore him.

Pass: Luis. He's kinda cute but I first met him when he was 11, so I'd definitely have to pass or things would get real awkward.

Who would you pash/pick/pass out of these bad boys? 

Monday, 23 January 2012

Reading Icons: Michelle Williams

I have a soft spot for Michelle Williams. I wasn't 100 per cent behind her playing Marilyn Monroe to begin with, but after watching the trailer for My Week with Marilyn she grew on me, and this photo kinda cemented my love. Beautiful, and very Marilyn.

Here are a few more photos of Ms Williams reading, just for fun.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Review: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi

I've been wanting to try manga for awhile so it's probably appropriate that my first foray into the genre was with Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, considering that Sailor Moon was my first experience with anime. While it's probably on the younger side for me these days, it was a non-intimidating way to break into manga, and still a lot of fun to read - especially coz it got bonus points for nostalgia.

If you're not familiar with Sailor Moon (where were you in the 90s?!), it's about a young girl named Usagi (Serena in the US version of the anime) who discovers she's a guardian of the moon and the leader of a group of butt-kicking sailor scouts whose mission is to find and protect the "Legendary Silver Crystal" and the moon princess. Exactly what their background is and why this is their mission isn't explored in this volume, and the girls don't really question it themselves. But that's understandable, considering how much does happen within the pages; in quick succession, Usagi discovers Luna the talking cat and finds out she's Sailor Moon, locates Ami (Sailor Mercury), Rei (Sailor Mars) and Makato (Sailor Jupiter) and defeats a few of the nasty Kings of Heaven while she's at it. And let's not forget her many hate-fuelled encounters with Mamoru (a.k.a. Darien from the US anime) and her even more numerous love-driven interactions with his alter-ego, Tuxedo Mask.

I have to say, I was surprised at just how quickly everything happened - while the manga was initially identical to the anime, the plot developed much more rapidly on the page than in the show, which I wasn't expecting. I didn't really miss the padding, though, coz, being familiar with the story, I was kinda impatient to get to the action. There's plenty in this volume, but the main focus is on setting up the characters and introducing important plot points. I'm keen to pick up the rest of the series to see how everything pans out (although I kinda sorta already know, but hey, it's a new way of experiencing the story - plus, NOSTALGIA!).

Speaking of nostalgia - or perhaps lack thereof in this instance - I'd forgotten just how much of a whiny little so-and-so Serena Usagi is. It can get pretty annoying at times, although it does make her transformation into Sailor Moon all the more potent. My favourite character was definitely Rei; she's a straight-up biatch and it's awesome (though you'd think with all that meditating she'd be a bit calmer). I also enjoyed the fact that Tuxedo Mask is still a bit of a mystery and Usagi is unsure about whether he's a friend or foe; it kinda reminded me of the early days dynamic between Buffy and Angel (again, awesome).

Of course, one of the big drawcards with Sailor Moon is that it's oh-so-pretty (it's right there in the title!). The girls fight evil, but they do so while looking fierce in every sense of the word. Their jewellery and cute accessories all turn into weapons, which is way cooler than anything Spiderman has to offer. The illos are exactly what you expect - super cute and fun, if a little overcrowded. I did find it a tad disconcerting to read right-to-left initially, but it doesn't take long to get used to, and the translation notes at the end were really insightful. By the time I finished reading, I felt, like, so cultured and shit. Yeah, from reading Sailor Moon. That's how awesome I am.*

*May or may not be sarcasm.

Rating: 3/5

I had this in my head THE WHOLE FREAKING TIME.

Fine Print
Genre: Shoujo Manga
Published: 2011 (this edition) by Kodansha Comics
Get It: Fishpond

Monday, 16 January 2012

Reading Icons: Julie Andrews

Can we just take a moment and talk about how amazeballs Julie Andrews is? Not only is she Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp and Eliza Doolittle and a bunch of other awesome characters, she's one classy Dame and a great campaigner for literacy. She's even written a heap of children's books with her daughter. So there are lots of photos of her with books, but I like these best...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Review: The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

If I see a book is written in verse, I usually pass it over. I've only read one verse novel in the past - The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter, when I was at uni - and I really didn't enjoy it. I thought it was because it was written in verse, but now I realise I probably shouldn't have blamed my dislike on the style - after all, one bad prose book doesn't put me off them all! Coz after reading one page of Sarah Crossan's The Weight of Water, which is written entirely in verse, I couldn't put it down and devoured it all in one sitting.

Kasienka is a young Polish girl dragged to England by her mother to chase down the father that deserted them. Plonked down in a foreign land, in a dismal apartment, in the wrong grade at school, with a hopeless task ahead of her and a troubled mother with only one focus (and it's sadly not Kasienka), her feelings of isolation, frustration sadness and anger are palpable. The verse strips the story back to pure, raw emotions, so you really feel everything Kasienka feels. It's quite heartbreaking and powerful.

Thankfully, it's not a completely unhappy ride. Mixed in with bullying and abandonment, Kasienka also experiences first love, meeting a boy who sees her, respects her and bolsters her up, giving her the courage to be herself and be strong. She also makes friends with a neighbour, another immigrant, and their relationship is quite touching.

The slight downside of the verse style is you don't get the detailed plot and dialogue you do with prose. However, while I did kinda want more in places, ultimately this would have detracted from the power of Kasienka's emotions, and the beauty and poignancy the verse gives to the story far outweighs anything you might lose. If you're anything like me, and have shied away from verse novels in the past, I'd definitely recommend giving this one a go - I now want to read more!

Rating: 4/5

Eye Candy
I pictured Hailee Steinfeld as Kasienka, and William Moseley as William.

Fine Print
Genre: Young Adult
Published: January 2012, Bloomsbury
Get It: Book Depository US

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Review: Legend By Marie Lu

Set in a dystopian future, in a Los Angeles that is at war, plague-ridden and divided, Legend is told from two perspectives: that of Day, a Robin Hood-like fugitive trying to protect those he loves, and June, a Government golden girl bent on avenging her lost brother. They're both strong characters, but while Day is easy to like, June took a while to warm to. It was so obvious the Republic was evil, and yet she was on their side for much of the book, making it hard to sympathise with her. Of course, she's a privileged teen who has been brought up to believe in her Government, so it's natural for her to have that viewpoint, but then again, she's supposed to be a freaking prodigy, so it was extremely frustrating that she took so long to figure things out - and even then, she couldn't do it on her own. It was a bit unbelievable and made it hard to really get behind her.

Day, on the other hand, was the underdog from the start - and who can resist the underdog?! Not June, that's for sure. Their romance was inevitable, but perhaps because I didn't particularly like June, I didn't really feel any chemistry between them. I could see why they were a good fit for each other, but I just wasn't aching for them to get together. It was also difficult to believe that both Day and June were 15. Even taking into account all they've been through, they didn't really feel like 15-year-olds at all. I know it's YA, but I don't get why they need to be SO young - you could make the characters 18 and it wouldn't make any difference. If anything, it would make it feel slightly more authentic.

The story itself was good and fast-paced, and I was glad to see that it was quite different from The Hunger Games (the only other YA dystopian I've read), but unfortunately it was pretty predictable. On the plus side, Lu's world-building was strong, and although I would have liked a bit more detail about the history of the Republic, it did feel like a realistic (if terrifying) possibility. Lu's writing was smooth and it's a credit to her that, after just reading a book written in the present tense and not enjoying the style, I didn't even notice until I was near the end of Legend that it, too, was written in the present tense. It was so effective and fluid I didn't consciously register it or feel put off at all.

One little niggle I have to express - and it's not with Legend in particular, but with what seems to be most YA books these days - is that the story isn't contained within one book. It's not that I don't like series, because I do, but I still feel that within a series, each book should tell a complete story even if there's a larger story arc. Legend did do this to some degree, but there were a few threads left hanging that irked me a bit. If it wasn't a consistent thing across many series, it probably wouldn't have bothered me at all. As it is, it just made me roll my eyes. All in all, Legend was a good book that didn't quite blow me away.

Rating: 3.5/5

Eye Candy
Day is described as Caucasian/Mongolian, with white-blonde, long hair, piercing blue eyes and a beautiful face. He was tough to "cast", but I imagined him as Jamie Campbell Bower:

June is athletic, with dark hair and black-gold eyes (side note: have you ever met anyone with black eyes? I don't think I have. They seem to crop up a bit in fiction). I pictured Nina Dobrev (June totally wears a pretty white gown in the book, so I thought this pic was appropriate):

Fine Print
Genre: Dystopian/Young Adult
Published: December 2011, Razorbill
Get It: Book Depository

Saturday, 7 January 2012

January TV Addict Reading Challenge

Leave your 2012 TV Addict Reading Challenge links for January here! If you haven't signed up yet, you can do so here.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Review: The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

I was looking forward to this book for a several reasons:

1. I judge books by their covers. That is one cute cover.
2. I love all-in-one-day stories. They're generally improbable but totally adorable.
3. I'm a sucker for boys with accents.
4. I'd heard a lot of good things about it around the blogosphere.
5. I needed a light, quick, fun read after dragging myself through The Girl Who Played With Fire.

So, how did it match my expectations? Let's break it down:

1. The cover actually completely fits the contents. It's fun and frothy, just like the cover, and the plane/sky obviously play important parts of the story - Hadley not only misses her initial flight to England and subsequently meets and connects with Oliver on a second flight, but she also suffers from claustrophobia, and the sky is key to how she controls it. There's also a little something in there about those specific clouds, so all in all it works really well.

2. While I was expecting a little improbability in the 24-hour-insta-love scenario, it was all a bit too unrealistic and cheesy for my liking. I thought the bulk of the book would be spent on the plane, with lots of cute convos and, y'know, actual reasons for falling in love, but in fact the majority of the action happens once they land in London. It dealt with much more angst than I was expecting, and far less time was spent on developing the Hadley/Oliver relationship than I had hoped for. Plus, I felt like Hadley's actions and reactions in particular weren't always on the mark, especially towards the end of the story. She seemed to change her mind a little too quickly about certain things/people, and it didn't feel authentic to me.

3. Oliver was pretty cute, but does every single guy in YA have to have a damned crooked smile?! Seriously, the only crooked smile I've seen IRL is this one:

That doesn't exactly float my boat, if you know what I'm sayin'. Crooked smile aside, I really liked Oliver, and especially enjoyed his sense of humour. But I didn't feel like I got to spend enough time with him to fall totally in love. Unlike Hadley, apparently.

4. I liked this book, but I definitely didn't love it as a lot of people seem to. Awkward.

5. It DID do the trick and gave my brain the nice break that it needed. The characters were generally likable, and the writing was fine. One thing that threw me was the present tense - I'm not really a fan of it, though I can see that it was used to give everything a sense of immediacy and underline the importance of time. But I found it a little jarring with the frequent flashbacks. Overall, The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight was a fun book that I read in a couple of hours. Certainly not a bad way to spend a lazy summer afternoon.

Rating: 3/5

Spoilery Talking Points
  • I've already touched upon how inauthentic the book felt at times, but the worst moment for me was when Hadley was in the airport, worrying about whether she had a pen in her bag to write down Oliver's email address or phone number. Um, no. That is NOT the way teenagers work. They have their mobiles with them all the time, and if they meet someone they'll either put their number straight into their phone or add them on FB straight away. I know I'm generalising, but seriously, that's how "the kids" work these days. Of  course, if Hadley had have done that then we wouldn't have had the whole romantic chasing each other through London thing, and half the story wouldn't have happened, but c'mon. It just irritated me.
  • I didn't buy Hadley liking the woman who had broken up her parents' marriage so quickly, or forgiving her father, really. It made for a happy ending, natch, but it was just too cheesy and convenient for me.
  • If Hadley was REALLY the most important thing to her father, as he said, then wouldn't he have stayed with her in America, and not hurt her by moving to England to be with his new woman friend?! I know the point of the whole book was that you're still family no matter what (or where you are), but if someone is the most important person to you, don't you put their happiness above others - especially your own? Just sayin'.
Eye Candy
Hadley is blonde with big, blue eyes, so of course I pictured her as Ashley Benson (side note: new eps of Pretty Little Liars are finally appearing, squee!).

As for the dark-haired, English Oliver, I nearly pictured Tom Sturridge, but he'll always be Etienne to me, so I went with Nicholas Hoult.

Fine Print
Genre: Young Adult (Contemporary)
Published: January 2012 by Headline
Get It: Book Depository

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire By Stieg Larsson

What a relief to finally finish this book.

I feel like I've been reading it FOREVER. Well, at least a month, anyway. Which is unusual for me. It's partly because I've been so busy, partly because of the size, but I think mostly, for awhile there, I just didn't feel compelled to pick it up at all. Don't get me wrong - the story of Lisbeth Salander accused of murdering three people, and Mikael Blomkvist's search for the truth, is an interesting one, and the writing is good overall. The first part dives straight into action, and although it still takes awhile to get to the main plot, I really enjoyed reading it. The ending is also great - once I got to the last third of the book, it was hard to put down as everything came into place. It was just the middle I had a lot of trouble with.

I think the main problem is Lisbeth Salander. She's such an amazing character and undoubtedly the star of the series. She's kick-butt, complex, uncompromising, unique and brilliant. She absolutely leaps off the page when she appears. So when she doesn't appear - like, in the whole middle section of The Girl Who Played With Fire - the pages feel flat and dull. She's still part of the story, as the team investigating the murders comes together and begins to hunt her down, but she's not actually present, and her absense is definitely felt. Now, I like me a murder investigation, but unfortunately the bulk of this one was just so boring. I felt like every time I picked up the book, a new character was being introduced, and their whole life story was revealed in intricate details, and I JUST. DIDN'T. CARE. I get it, it's Larsson's style, but there were so many characters that I had difficulty tracking who was who (especially as it was often days between readings) and I just wasn't invested in most of them at all.

When Lisbeth finally appeared again, I think I literally breathed a sigh of relief, and read the rest of the book in a matter of days. Once again, to Larsson's credit, there were some major twists that I did not see coming at all. I love it when a book catches me by surprise. So I closed the book feeling satisfied. But even though there were quite a few threads left hanging for The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, I have to say I don't think I'm going to pick that up immediately. I'll get to it soon, because I really want to know how it all ends, of course, but at the moment I feel a bit fatigued by the series. Time for some mindless, easy fluff, I think.

Rating: 3/5

Spoilery Talking Points
  • ZOMG I was NOT expecting Zala to be who he was. I thought maybe Lisbeth had been kidnapped and abused as a kid, but finding out what "All the Evil" really was, was completely shocking. In a good way.
  • I knew she didn't do it. Still, she's pretty mental. In a good way.
Fine Print
Genre: Crime
Published: 2009
Get It: Abe Books