One of the upsides of the corona virus lockdown is how much time I find for reading books now. For my birthday, my lovely husband surprised me with a long-time wish - a Strandmon armchair from IKEA in yellow - which has swiftly become my designated reading space.
I surmise that many people now have got plenty of time on their hands - and what better way to spend it than to relax and read books, delving into magical worlds or learning more about something new. Reading, for me, is still the most relaxing and fantastic activity, but sadly I often don't make time for it, and I can imagine many people face similar issues, but there is no excuse anymore!
In the past months as I was struggling through another depressive episode and the turmoil of pregnancy, I found particular support and joy in reading non-fiction autobiographical work in which people like you and me tell about their lives - sometimes as part of a "guide book", sometimes just to impart their story. Reading other people's stories fascinates me immensely, as you learn you're not alone with your thoughts and troubles. Regardless how successful someone has been in their lives, they may still have had periods of hell and now share their insights and stories to relate and support.
Some of the books on this list are more fun reads than deep transformative pieces, but I feel a little fun can never go amiss - especially not in times like these. Others gave me the feeling they were only written for me in a particularly difficult time of my life - and maybe they can give you perspective, too. Others tell of everyday life and how "normal" people made something magnificent with their lives by trusting in their abilities.
So let's delve in and give you something to read until the stores finally open again and we can all indulge in mindless consumerism once more :-)
1. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
If you've read my blog post Some Fantastically Narrated Books to Read, you will already have stumbled upon Matt Haig and my passion for his books. He is a prolific author who publishes children's books, fiction and non-fiction. In his book Notes On A Nervous Planet, he ponders about which aspects of societal life contribute to the quickly deteriorating mental states of many people. Drawing on his own experience with depression and anxiety, he presents his thoughts in succinct chapters that resonate and convince. By inserting so much of his own experiences with mental illnesses, the book is irresistibly relatable without bringing your mood down. On the contrary, it has a very positive and hopeful outlook as to how we can change the world and ourselves in it to become happier. The topics he touches range from the perspective of our bodies to panic attacks and which places often trigger them. This book came to me almost as an epiphany when I was going through a particularly dark month in my depression and consoled me inasmuch that I didn't feel alone.
2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
I have already written about Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project in my blog posts A Summer Reading List and How To Keep Christmas Alive With Books, but it definitely deserves its place on this list, too. Gretchen Rubin is an acclaimed happiness researcher and has published numerous books and a successful blog where she writes about how we can become happier in everyday life. Her approach is more towards ideas like decluttering, organising, prioritising, etc. The Happiness Project is her autobiographical take on her attempt to bring more happiness into her life over the course of a year. Per month, she includes a new goal into her schedule, for example: Lighten Up or Pursue A Passion. This book can be used as an incentive to do the same or even copy her happiness strategy, but as it is written humorously and candidly, it is also a great read for a lazy afternoon during lockdown. Her chapters are inspirational and don't need to be read in order necessarily, so it's also a great book to flick through. It has a lighter tone than Matt Haig's books, in my opinion, but the truths spoken are no less resonating. Her keen eye for detail and organisation can help create a specific time template to bring more happiness into your life, too, and to exit this lockdown situation stronger than before.
3. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Consider me a crazy fan, but Matt Haig makes it onto this list with two books - and deservedly so. While the book I mentioned before deals more with the world as a general place that nurses mental illnesses with a few personal insights into his own life, Reasons To Stay Alive is a genuine and deeply intimate take on how Haig dealt with his own depression and anxiety. Once more, this is one of the top books that helped me resurface from depressive episodes, and I can imagine that many people do not cope well with the isolation in regards to their mental health, so this book may be a good guide to keep optimistic until we all can leave our apartments again.
The key aspect of this book and how it helped me was the unapologetic way Haig describes how the illness limited his life for years and how he lets you know you're not alone if you feel this way. Depression, for me, has always been about isolation. Why can I not cope with the world as well as others? Why always me? Why can't I be normal? I am certain no one feels as low as I do... By sharing his thoughts that resembled my own so much, the certainty I was alone in this lifted and I could see a different perspective - because if he could resurface from his depression, so could I. You may think the book is more depressing than anything, but his hopeful attitude and acceptance of his condition make it truly inspiring and optimistic for me and definitely a read to give hope.
4. Further Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes
It's time for some truly cheerful literature. Further Under The Duvet is Keyes's sequel to her hilarious anecdotes collected in Under The Duvet. As I have not yet read the first collection, I present you with the second collection that is choked with fantastic column-style written narratives about Marian's chaotic life, her ups and downs and her general struggles as a milky-white Irish writer. While this book is far less of a guide book than the ones previously presented, you can still take many life lessons from the cringeworthy and hilarious anecdotes she candidly shares. She gives you a glimpse into her world and her mind that will allow you escape any turmoils and troubles of the present one, and simply snicker alongside about why sunbathing is terribly boring, the problems of sliding off your pillow due to too much night cream and why, despite being Irish, she hates noise. Especially when you fancy a relatable and warm read that is not too heavily laden with complex emotions, this is a great book to read. There was more than one "laughing-out-loud-moment" for me when I read it and I enjoy returning to it occasionally as well.
5. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
This book has become one of my all-time favourites of inspiring books and also features in my Summer Reading List. In the auto-biographical book, Sankovitch writes about her undertaking to read 365 books in one year - one per day. Her idea is triggered by the untimely death of her sister and Nina's quest to find meaning in her life. The book is not only wonderfully written and shows the ups and downs over the course of a year, but is also an ode to book lovers and reading fanatics. It shows how healing reading can be and how, despite having four kids, a husband and a household to run, you can always find the time to snuggle up with a book and create some "me-time". She tells about the books she reads and how she got to putting them on her reading list, which is an special treat for book aficionados. And what could be a better way to spend quarantine than reading about reading? Interspersed with her project and book descriptions, she writes about her family supported her during this time and how she healed from the loss of her beloved sister - a truly vulnerable and beautiful glimpse into someone's life who took action to find new meaning. Speaking of inspirational.
6. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
Speaking of inspiring people who pursued their passion against all odds. You may know Chip and Joanna Gaines from their massively popular TV Show Fixer Upper, which is how I got to know them. As a couple, I found them very nice and their way of pursuing their projects inspires me incredibly. So, who are they? In their autobiography The Magnolia Story, they tell their story of how they started flipping houses in their homeland Texas and gained regional recognition with their work. While Chip is the entertaining muscles behind their house-flipping endeavours, Joanna is the calm and reasonable decorator who puts the final brush (literally) on everything. Their concept is to turn rundown houses in good neighbourhoods into true gems. However, this is not where the projects of busy couple end. Together they fulfilled their dream of living on a farm where they hold all sorts of animals, have five children, a shop, wrote a cookbook and children's book, and whatnot else.
The biography concentrates on their beginnings and how their idea morphed into a massive success story. Candidly and humbly, they give insights into their family life and business undertakings. As a family they seem very strong and connected, which is possible where the strength for their many projects comes from. For me the book was a great read that inspired me to "just do it" without overthinking too much. You don't need a degree in interior architecture to become one of Texas most acclaimed decorators, and you don't need to have grown up on a farm or gone to farming school to become a farmer. Their undaunted attitude to tackling life has been particularly inspiring for someone as scared as me. And it's humorous, too, if you fancy an entertaining read.
7. Tu Es Einfach und Glaub Daran by Thomas Brezina
The last book on today's list of inspiring non-fiction reading is written by acclaimed Austrian writer Thomas Brezina. Unfortunately, it is only available in German, but as many of my readers are bilingual or German native speakers as well, I still thought it was worthwhile including it on the list.
Thomas Brezina is one of Austria's top writers and he has published well over 500 books in his career, ranging from children's fiction to adult fiction and guide books. In his book Tu Es Einfach Und Glaub Daran, he presents methods that have helped him bring more joy into his life. In succinct chapters he tells about mantras that have helped him (This Also Shall Pass) and how he approaches writing and deals with writer's block or the frustration that his thoughts cannot simply flow from his brain onto the screen. What distinguishes this book from others is that after each chapter he has a Tu Es! section where you can immediately grab a pen and implement his aforementioned methods. This way, the book is very interactive (for which he is known) and acts wonderfully as a project to pursue during the lockdown. Especially for writers, this book is helpful, as it focuses particularly on his writing methods and how to handle with problems as well.
Do you sometimes read a book and feel it's only been written for you? A book so uniquely shaped to your situation you have to doubt your atheist attitude and can only feel a greater being sent it your way to help you cope?
Or maybe you just enjoy a really good roll with your books and seemingly everything you pick up is great literature? Recently, I have felt that way. In the past weeks I have read so many incredible great books that varied in narration, content and quirkiness that I cannot help feeling I am jinxing it by writing about it - the next drought will certainly come.
If you are amidst a reading drought at the moment, maybe reading through this list can help you get back on track. For this list I am considering books that have a unique way of telling a story and bend the rules of narration, which I always love for no one should writers tell they can or cannot do this or that - it's your book and you can do whatever you want!
So let's get into it.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Yes, I know I am late to the party but I only recently bowed to social pressure and finally read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Although I am usually not a fan of Holocaust fiction, I must say I really enjoyed reading the book. Not only because of its in-depth characters and how Zusak sheds light on how German citizens experienced the Second World War, but predominantly because of its unique narration.
The book is narrated by Death itself and he doesn't mind jumping back and forth, spoiling the plot in advance for the reader (and knowing about it), and inserting little facts and thoughts in embellished boxes. I love when authors just narrate their stories without worrying too much what is considered "normal narration". I loved how Zusak gave Death a gentle voice and made the tragic topic invariably sadder, but also more hopeful, somehow. One of my most favourite parts is the beginning was where it says,
First the colours.
Then the humans.
That's usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.
HERE IS A SMALL FACT
You are going to die.
Especially if you want to complete the bleakness of the winter months, this book is a great choice - and don't cheat and watch the movie before you read the book.
A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
Matt Haig generally has a unique way of storytelling and I can recommended all of his books that I have read - both for children and adults. This book is a bit out of season, but if you're looking for a Christmas spirit all year round it is the perfect choice.
The book circles around the little boy Nikolas who travels up to the North Pole to find his father and stumbles upon a Christmas village full of elves and adventures.
What makes the narration of this book so great is the fantastic sense of humour and interception Haig allows himself in between. Haig spikes the story with fun narrations in between like,
If you keep on climbing a mountain you will eventually reach the top. That's the thing with mountains. However big they are, there is always a top (...). Well, unless the mountain is in the Himalayas, in which case the mountain just keeps on going and even though you know you know there is a top you freeze to death and all your toes fall off before you get there. But this wasn't that big a mountain. And Nikolas's toes didn't fall off.
Another great example of his humorous narration is,
It took a second. No. Two seconds. Maybe three. Three and a half. Actually, no. Just three. But then Nikolas realised what she had just said.
And if you enjoyed that, I'll let you read the rest before I quote the entire book. This fantastic narration style is also true for the second book, The Girl Who Saved Christmas.
The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
If you want to read a full book review of this masterpiece you can do so here. This book turned out to be one of my favourite discoveries of the past year. I bought it in Uppsala on my honeymoon and it amazes with its tragic plot, time jumps and incredible narration where Dinsdale regularly changes perspective without further ado and introduces a more open view on story-telling. Dinsdale kicks off the story by giving an introductory, omniscient-narrator chapter on the Emporium and how it opens with the first frost of winter. His narration regularly jumps from bird-view to delving right in and talking directly to the reader, for example:
If, at a certain hour on a certain winter night, you too had been wandering the warren between New Bond Street and Avery Row, you might have seen it for yourself. (...) Lights like these can bewitch the most cynical of souls.
Watch out, because here one such soul comes, hurrying out of the night.
We are introduced into the world through the gaze of a random passer-by, which allows the author to give detailed descriptions without being too expositional. Almost like in a movie, the author directs the reader's perspective, for example like here:
It would be easy to get lost in a place like this, but the man we are following knows the way. Alone among the shoppers, he does not gawk at the displays - and nor must we. There will be time for lingering later. For now, do not let yourself get distracted by the bears whose eyes follow you from every shelf (...). Keep your eyes on the man in front, for he is almost at his destination. Come closer now, that we might listen.
This engaging narration style is intriguing and makes it easier to step into the story. And this is just the first chapter. Later on, we are introduced to various characters and Dinsdale jumps between the perspectives lightly while also pressing through time. Starting in 1917, the plot covers more than three decades, recounting from the turmoils of two wars and interweaving magic and science into the mix. Though some may think it's a children's book from the cover and premise, it is actually quite scary and deep, perfect for a cosy night to snuggle up and read about love, family, betrayal and magic.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
On a list of unique novel narration techniques, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events cannot be thought away. His 13-book series circles around the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans whose lives are in peril after the evil Count Olaf wants to secure the children's extensive inheritance, left by their parents.
The narration style is unique in various ways. First of all, Lemony Snicket is not only the author, but also a character in the book - only a small one who does not even have an active appearance, but it is a story within a story, so to speak. The "real" author is called Daniel Handler and he invented Lemony Snicket to create a whole book concept.
Just from the outside, the reader knows this book has a different approach to narration. The blurb of the first book, The Bad Beginning, at the outside cover reads,
By its own narration, the author tries to dissuade you from reading the book, therefore spiking the reader's curiosity. What also makes for a quirky feature are the dedications given in the beginning of each book. Snicket dedicates each book to his love Beatrice, who clearly died. Again, Snicket and Beatrice's story is mentioned but they are not in any way main characters. One of the dedications reads
For Beatrice -
When we met, my life began.
Soon afterward, yours ended.
For Beatrice -
When we were together I felt breathless.
Now you are.
This tendency to the macabre fits the entire tone of the story and the narrator, by being part of the story, also regularly addresses the reader directly. Furthermore, the sinister and dissuading note is fused with humour to create a unique narration style, for example:
The Book you are holding in your two hands right now - assuming that you are, in fact, holding this book, and that you have only two hands - is one of two books in the world that will show you the difference between the word "nervous" and "anxious". The other book, of course, is the dictionary, and if I were you I would read that book instead.
This passage also highlights another feature of the narration employed, namely the proclivity to describe difficult words or add a special connection to words. Klaus Baudelaire, one of the orphans, is a very bookish child and the author picks up his tone and regularly lets in the reader on a definition or two.
The series has been made into a movie and TV show and counts to one of my most favourite books that have inspired by writing style in many ways. Snicket plays well with words, but he can also employ the absence of them, like in Book 6, the Ersatz Elevator, where he describes the darkness the Baudelaire orphans feel falling down an elevator shaft by inking two whole pages black.
The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold
This heartbreaking story about two little girls who are best friends and seek to overcome death has become one of my all-time favourites. It is not only a unique haunting and beautiful story, but it also displays a unique narration style, fusing visuals with the text. Equipped with beautiful artwork by Emily Gravett, the book is just a visual masterpiece to behold. The illustrations are spread over the pages and interact with the text and often the content is mirrored in how the text format behaves. For example, one chapter ends with the word "vanished" and the word slowly fades out, so it vanishes. Another time, the content is about a stomach lurch the character feels and the text goes in a spiral to mimic the feeling. These little extra detail make this book even more special and whisk us into the world of Ember and Ness, best friends separated by death.
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Lastly, I want to include The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan on this list. The book was on my reading list for university and I can remember that I was annoyed when I picked it up and saw it was entirely written in a poetry format. "Why can't people just write normal?" I asked, but when I read it, I had to concede it turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read.
The book tells the story of Polish girl Kasienka who moves to England and has to adjust to the British life. At school she is teased, as she is "the wrong kind of white" and her mother cannot speak any English at all. The other girls are cruel to her and puberty also kicks in, just enough to make extra trouble.
The book is divided in short chapters that sometimes spread over a few pages, sometimes are only contained on one page - which is one thing I love about the narration style of this book. Usually, chapters are supposed to be almost equally long, but here the parts only take as long as they need to deal with their respective subheading.
As already mentioned, the book is written entirely in poetry format, but it doesn't rhyme. An example would be,
There is a bell,
A pealing chime to signal
When everyone moves.
We are ruled by its shrillness.
Like sleepwalkers we stand
When it clangs
And return to silence
At its command.
Teachers try to lead the processions;
'I will decide when the lesson ends', they insist.
But they cannot compete
With The Bell.
This excerpt is among the more poetic ones, but the text shows beautiful imagery to get the story across and it is also a quick and fluent read due to its fast pace and format. You may be deterred in the beginning like me, but it is really worth a read.
Obviously there are many more wonderful books with quirky narration styles, but for today this is all I can think of. Leave me a comment if you can think of a book that amazed you with its narration, I'd love to be inspired. You may also like my summer reading list post.
With the Christmas season kicking in it's time for our favourite vomit-inducing Netflix Hallmark Christmas movies. After major successes (but why?) with movies like A Christmas Prince, The Holiday Calendar and The Princess Switch, they've now taken to ruining fantastic books for their lazy movie adaptations. All their cheesy Christmas movies have a sub-par cast in common with a story line that reekes of cliches so much you can still smell the lingering stench at Easter.
Don't get me wrong, I am a sucker for Christmas movies and enjoy binge-watching them, but there are simply some that let you regret that Christmas is coming. If you're looking for a good selection (in my humble opinion), you can check out past blog posts about it here and here.
But now to this week's movie Let It Snow, directed by Luke Snellin and based (my ass) on the short story collection of acclaimed YA authors John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. Although the movie garnered predominantly positive reviews, it is only plausible that it did so because the reviewers were unfamiliar with the book - for it surely is one of the worst adaptations they could have made. Before I delve into the book and the movie adaptation, be warned that there will be MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, as I will give account on how different the stories are.
Let's start with the book. Let It Snow is the masterful lovechild of three authors who are experts on the YA field and have earned their respect as individuals in the book world. Together they forged a beautiful Christmas book with three distinct short stories that all weave together in some way and are all set in the little town of Gracetown where a heavy snow storm makes for three individual adventures that will change the protagonists' lives. Without steering away from a light tone, the stories encapsulate a warm Christmas feeling with complex characters you quickly start to care about and whose fates you are actually invested in.
Kick off is with Maureen Johnson's story The Jubilee Express which centres around a girl with the unusual name Jubilee. As her parents are spending Christmas in prison (after a Flobie village riot), she's put on a train to spend Christmas with her grandparents. However, after a blizzard hits the area, she's stuck in near-to-her-hometown Gracetown in a Waffle House. There she meets cute but sad-looking Stuart who takes her home to his mother Debbie. Spending time with Stuart and his family makes Jubilee slowly realise that her perfect-in-every-way boyfriend Noah isn't so perfect after all and that Stuart certainly is much cuter than first anticipated. Entry, a heart-tugging love story that keeps you in suspense until the happy end.
The second story was my favourite when I first read it. It is by John Green and titled A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle. The main protagonist is Tobin, a teenager who's snowed in at Christmas and his parents are unable to return from their conference in Boston. Not that Tobin is upset about this, he actually enjoys spending Christmas Eve alone with his two best friends, JP and The Duke (a girl whose actual name is Angie, but due to an anecdote that would take too long to explain now, she's called The Duke - but look it up in the book, if you're wondering, it's great). Their Holy Night is only disturbed when all-times-horny friend Keun calls from the Waffle House where he works, informing that a bunch of cheerleaders from the stuck train have just flurried in and that they must come to reap the Cheertastic Harvest with him. Informing them that the all-feared Reston Twins are also headed to the Waffle House, a race to the Waffle House commences on which Tobin slowly realises that no cheerleader could be as cool as his best friend Angie (The Duke) - and maybe she feels the same about him...
Finishing off the story comes The Patron Saint of Pigs by Lauren Myracle. We are confronted with a heart-broken teenage girl called Abbie who cheated on her boyfriend Jeb and now prays he'll take her back. Navigating through her sometimes selfish issues, she is still a likeable character you feel for. Even though she has to learn a thing or two about caring about others, she ends up doing just so and her boyfriend Jeb is certainly much more inclined to forgive her as well.
So much for the book. In summary, once more, a joyous holiday read with authentic characters that make you pine (and fear) for your teenage years again, perfect to snuggle up on a wintery night.
Let's now turn to the Netflix movie adaptation. What is most annoying when producers adapt a book is when it couldn't be further from the book away. If they'd changed the characters' names, you may have thought once or twice, "hey, that seems familiar", but apart from that the stories are so different from the original - good - book that it makes you wonder why they bothered to "base it on the book".
Now, if it had been at least a good new plot, this may have been forgivable, but the complex characters you loved in the book are exchanged for bland, stereotyped protagonists who partly cannot act, or were forced to say such bland lines that not even the best actor could save the scene. Still trying to keep up the three-story idea, instead of tying every story gently together, everything seems out of place and gets lost on the way in the attempt to turn this lovely Christmas book into another bland Netflix Christmas movie.
So what's happening in the Waffle House in the movie? Oh wait, did I say Waffle House? They didn't even manage to get that detail right, in the movie it's a Waffle Town and no longer in Gracetown, but Laurel, Illinois. See what I mean? If you even change the small details, why bother calling it an adaptation and ruining it for people who actually read the book? The first of the stories they butchered introduces Julie (yes, instead of flippant Jubilee we get a boring Julie) who's on the train that gets stuck.
Now, while Isabela Merced portraying Julie at least seems to be able to act, she's your usual stuck-up girl who's offended when super-major-uber-popstar Stuart (yes, he got an upgrade in the movie) assumes she wants to stalk him. Surely as famous as he is he immediately feels attracted to the one girl who's so different and not impressed by his stardom (read this line sarcastically, will you?).
Oh, and Debbie has been swapped to be Julie's mum now instead of Stuarts (because reasons) and they slapped an illness on her - for we all need a little sick lit into our lives (NOT!). Seriously, did Nicholas Sparks write the screenplay?
While they fall l in love inexplicably (their chemistry is just switched on mid-movie instead of slowly developing), Julie has to decide whether to stay with her sick mum or pursue her dream of going to Columbia University (I'm sure Nicholas Sparks DID write it!). Meanwhile Stuart is every bit of the brooding superstar who bemoans that fact that he's rich, popular and making money with what he enjoys. And this is the best-acted and most logical story line of the three, can you believe it?
Now, remember the lovely story of Tobin and The Duke where he slowly realises he's in love with her and they start acting all weird in a sweet way? Well now Tobin already knows it from the start and JP got upgraded from a nerd to a hot guy who tries to steal The Duke from Tobin. Instead of an adventurous snow scavenger hunt to the Waffle House through which the two protagonists slowly find together, we're tortured with awkward moments and lifeless acting that results in me not giving a damn whether they eventually find together or not. Oh, and by the way, the movie is as lazy as me explaining why she's called The Duke, she simply states she was always one of the boys and that was that - do better movie!
Finally to the worst story of the three. The Addie story in the book also features her two best friends Tegan and Dorrie, who are delightful and help Addie through her heartbreak. In the movie Addie is reduced to a resting-bitch-face bitch who obsesses about her boyfriend, who went from a devoted Jeb who braved snow and storm to return to Addie, to a dickhead who now cheats on Addie. Oh, and don't get me started on The Tinfoil Woman. In the book it was a weirdo man who simply ran around in tinfoil, nothing else. Now he got Joan-Cusacked and she acts as a weird "angel figure" who aids Addie in realising that phones are awful, or some shit like that. Seriously, don't cut out all the good plot points but leave this unnecessary one in to fit your shitty screenplay.
And, as if butchering up the story wasn't enough, the movie thought it was absolutely necessary to insert a gay subplot where there was none before. I get it's 2019 (and yes, haters, please come at me for what I am about to write), but does everything now have to have a gay subplot somewhere? It seems very forced, especially because it is not even a good subplot. We meet Dorrie who works at the Waffle Town and spots a girl, Kerry, she once had a thing with among the cheerleaders who come into the Waffle Town. Now, said cheerleader treats her like air, clearly not having come out yet. They make out in the bathroom then but Kerry is not ready to come out yet - only to be totally ready a few hours later at the party and getting her happily ever after with Dorrie.
In short, watching the movie was a sore disappointment if you're familiar with the sweet and genuine stories provided by the book. The bland story lines lose themselves throughout the movie and by squeezing in so many subplots, the characters are not given time to develop, or the viewer to actually get to care about them.
In summary, forget about it and read the book instead. Oh, and download the soundtrack, for it really was the only enjoyable thing about this movie.
Title: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Book 1 of the Nevermoor Series)
Author: Jessica Townsend
Are you ready to be swept away into the magical world of Nevermoor? Because I was more than ready. There are books galore on magical worlds, but many are not well-thought out or have uncarved characters - if you've been looking for another book to whisk you into a magical world you don't want to leave like the Harry Potter books did for me, you'll love this gem by Jessica Townsend.
Accompany quirky, black-clad and cursed Morrigan Crow when she, contrary to her belief, does not die on her eleventh birthday, but it whisked off to the magical Nevermoor by her new, and undeniably ginger-haired, patron Jupiter North. Wait, what, was that too fast? Alright then, let's recap, but try to keep up, for this fast-paced story will demand you to do so.
It all starts with Morrigan Crow. She's on the brink of her eleventh birthday, knowing she must die, for all children born on Eventide must die on their eleventh birthday. When the new year is rung in quite earlier than she'd expected and wished (for who would want to speed up their time till death), she thinks that's her story told. However, the boisterous Jupiter North has come to cheat death and saves her by bringing her to Nevermoor - the Free State, where the Wondrous Society recruits the brightest and most talented - those with a special "knack" - to join their forces.
So far, so good. Instead of being dead, which would have been a most undesirable state, Morrigan has a shot to join the most prestigious and acclaimed society there is; however, first she must pass all the tricky trials the society sets their recruits to find out who is worthy and who is not. And if a trial weren't enough, Morrigan has to battle with arrogant and full-of-herself Noelle, a co-competitor for a spot, as well as a weird, hair-braided girl we shall learn more about later in the series (just to let you known on whom to keep an eye).
Thankfully, she doesn't only make enemies in Nevermoor. Her sprightly and ever-supportive patron Jupiter takes her to his own hotel, the Hotel Deucalion, where she meets the magnificent Magnificat Fenestra and many nice people like opera singer Dame Chanda and the vampire dwarf and party planner supreme Frank. The cheeky dragonrider Hawthorne also befriends her on her first day (is there such a thing as friendship at first sight? If there is, consider this a prime example of it) and then there is the mysterious Mr Jones who pops in regularly and who also made a bid on becoming her patron. Should Morrigan trust him or may he keep more than he says, and what about evil Baz Charlton, Noelle's patron, who's threatened to call the immigration police on Morrigan?
Let's not spoil this wonderful story for you by exploiting the content here, but snatch your copy and be engulfed by the magic of Nevermoor, ripe with wonderful details and quirky elements and embark on the trials with Morrigan. And, remember, it's Christmas soon, so if you're still undecided on what to put on your wish list, here's something to enjoy.
This book is the perfect fusion of breathtaking adventure, complex characters you want to stay friends with forever and an escape from everyday life whenever you need it - regardless your age. I admired the witty banter and dialogue-centred writing, as well as the beautiful details that strike you as insignificant to tell the plot, but invaluable to create a story. Morrigan is a likeable, yet flawed, character, and you'll wish a dragonrider like Hawthorne to be your friend, too. And the best about the book? There's more to read once you've turned the pitiful last page.
One word description: Wondrous.
Remember how I shared my last summer reading list with you? Summer is on its peak and autumn is also waving from the distance, so I thought I'm going to share my recommendations for the summer of 2019 as well. These books are not necessarily new or received outstanding praise, but I consider them a perfect reading material for your holiday - either away or at home. Included in the list is children's literature as well as adults fiction, crime and fantasy books, so let's do this.
1) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Indulge in a trip back to your teenager times and seize this summer to read Eleanor & Park - the story of two ordinary American teenagers falling in love through their mutual love of music. Though both have to deal with their individual families, school friends, peer pressure and more, their cusping love for each other is of a unique quality that gets them through almost any ordeal.
With short chapters and changing perspectives, this book almost reads itself and is perfect material for lounging under a tree with a glass of iced tea. Check out the book review here.
2) Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray
Follow three teenage boys on a magnificent journey through England to scatter their best friend's ashes. Set in hot summer and with plenty of fun, action and seriousness, this book is a great read for people of 15 and up, so let's get to Ross together.
3) The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin
Something sinister is going on in the town of Suds where children have gone missing for many, many years now. Follow Poppy and her peculiar friend Erasmus as they solve the mysteries of the adjoining woods - a surprisingly sinister read for a children's book! Read the review here.
4) The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
Definitely not a new read, nothing says summer as spending it with the Famous Five in Kirrin and on Kirrin Island. I've recently re-read the first three books, but actually every one of them - apart form the few set over Christmas - will let you share the glory childhood memories of the adventurous children and invite you on a fantastic trip to England.
5) The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold
Not necessarily a cheerful book, but the summer sun can throw the darkest shadows out. The Afterwards is a beautifully illustrated children's chapter book dealing with death and what happens to us when we're gone. Ember and Ness are best friends, but one day Ness dies as a consequence of a terrible swinging accident - and Ember sets out to rescue her friend from the place where the souls go. A fantastic and hauntingly wonderful read.
6) Wonder by R.J. Palacio
As I wrote in my book review of Wonder, this book is a wonderful narrative as it does not only focus on deformed August and his ordeal, but also on many other characters, which proves that all children, essentially, deal with the same life ordeals - whether deformed or not. Read this magnificent and fast-paced book before seeing the movie (if you intended to do so) and spend a balmy summer night with August and his family.
7) Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
Lovers of books and reading definitely have to spend a summer day with this gem. Based on real events of the author's life, this book is both a reflective therapy session for the author, as well as a captivating story for the reader, as Nina embarks on the project to read 365 books in a year - one per day (obviously). Following the tragic and untimely death of her sister, Nina fills her sister-shaped hole in her heart with her biggest passion - reading. Especially for fans of books like Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.
8) The Robert Galbraith books
Should you have more time to kill and enjoy a thrilling crime read, I can recommend the Cormoran Strike novels by Robert Galbraith. The latest published is Lethal White, which grew even darker and more sinister than the previous ones, but all of them guarantee a captivating read for a vacation or leisure time on your terrace. Delve into the streets of London with Strike to catch the creme-de-la-creme of serial killers before letting out an audible gasp when everything you thought you'd figured out is upended again.
9) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Let's return to a fun read. If you love weird characters like Sheldon Cooper or the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, this is your read for the summer. Follow neurotic and Asperger-syndrome inflicted Don Tillman through his life as he tries to find love - and may find it in the entirely unsuitable and chaotic Rosie. Made me laugh regularly, and is a real page-turner!
10) The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross
Fantasy, fairy tale and a pinch of history all come together in this Beauty and the Beast re-telling of epic proportions. Travel to the cursed beast's castle with Isabeau, a well-educated but impoverished French girl. Witness how they slowly fall in love and experience the popular story with more complex characters and backstories. Stretching over a year, you can both wander with Isabeau and the Beast through the summer-kissed gardens, and get a little tingle for Christmas already when accompanying them through icicle-frozen woods.
Eleanor hadn't written him a letter,
Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Do you still remember what it was like to be in love when you were young? Delve into the world of the 1980's and teenagers Eleanor and Park who are about to experience true love for the first time.
With Park living with his super happy (borderline gross in love) parents in a posh house and Eleanor living with her piece-of-a-shit stepfather, siblings and mother in a rundown house, they make an unlikely couple - but aren't those the best?
Eleanor is the new girl, and Park lets her sit next to him on the bus to school, which makes him inherently less evil than Eleanor's other class mates. Through their mutual love for music (great references for teens of the eighties), they slowly start to fall for each other, and some love is direly needed as their hormonal problems are also overshadowed by family, friends, peer pressure and everything else that comes with being young and in love.
Apart from the captivating story, the form also needs some praise. Rainbow Rowell is a brilliant story-teller. With short chapters recounting the character's stories from their respective perspectives, the book is a fast read and a total page-turner. Sensitively and authentically, Rowell depicts young teenage love without giving it the too-deep "Twilight" vibe, yet taking it serious to not sound like a condescending adult.
Filled with well-known topics like abusive stepfathers, overachieving Asian families and rebellious teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, this book still brings lots of new aspects to the table with its eye for detail and complex characterisation. If you are a teenager or crave a little detour back into teenage-hood, this is a page-turner not to be missed. And even though the book's end sort of blew my mind (no spoilers here), I cannot really find a flaw in this pleasant and catching read. Especially perfect for your summer reading list - so snatch it up quickly before August is looming above September.
One word description: Authentic
Book title: Isadora Moon Has a Sleepover
Author: Harriet Muncaster
If you like stories about special little girls told within a series of stories, the Isadora Moon books are your perfect fit. With its glitzy black and pink cover and illustrations is appeals to the eye, as much as the story appeals to the taste.
Meet Isadora, half vampire, half fairy, totally unique. This time little Isadora faces a completely new challenge in her life - her first ever sleepover at her friend Zoe's. But it's not all fun and girls' talk: Zoe and Isadora are to bake a fantastic cake for a school competition. Having a half vampire, half fairy as a friend comes with its perks, for example flying through the room and having your favourite toy come to life to play along with you.
Sounds good? And the magical cake with multiple layers and sparkling glitz about it is not even in the mix yet. Is it fair though to present a cake that's seen more than just one tap of the magic wand on it? Isadora and Zoe will have to find out and decide whether they should put forward their incredible magic cake, or rather the simpler, but magic-free cake.
I enjoyed reading this children's book immensely as an easy read. The characters are likeable and fun, and which girl hasn't dreamed of being a little special and have a toy monkey that talks to them? Delve into the pink world and accompany Isadora on her next adventure.
One word description: Pink
"You Can't blend in
Book title: Wonder
The reader is never fully informed about just how deformed August's face must be, but it clearly must be quite a sight to behold if children cross the streets to get away from him, and he spent two years of his childhood hiding it behind a football helmet. With numerous surgeries ever since he was born to make him look somewhat human, August has had quite an ordeal already, but now he's facing something even scarier.
Now August is ready to go to public school, ugly face or not. With exposure to additional turmoil, mean kids and the inability to hide any longer, Auggie must find out who are his real friends and find his own way through this new life.
Now made into a major movie, the world knows about Wonder, so I was rather late to the party, I must admit. I particularly enjoyed Wonder because it doesn't fit into the "sick lit" genre in any way, but is simply about a special child dealing with ordinary problems and life.
As the story is not only from his perspective, but also from his teenage sister Via's, her boyfriend Justin's and some others. By opting to do that, Palacio not only manages to share the attention August is getting, but also points out that the problems August is facing are pretty normal ones. He is in no way special regarding the thoughts that keep him up at night, his fears and his need to be included into a group.
Similarly, when the perspective blends over to Via or her boyfriend Justin, we see that their problems, too, are very similar to August's, despite lacking a deformed face and looking "normal". The fear of abandonment, exclusion, loneliness, and the question what it all means follows each of the children and teens as they grow up, which makes this a unique ride for the reader.
Another feature I immensely enjoyed about reading Wonder, and which has influenced my writing ever since, is that it is simply a story. I have recently read so many books and texts where I felt the writers wanted to force as many "pretty" words on the page as possible. In Wonder, there is actually little detailed description, it is very dialogue-driven and therefore fast-paced, also because some of the chapters are only one or two pages long.
People who have been deterred of "sick lit" by works like The Fault in Our Stars of similar books can rest assured that such an atmosphere is not dominant in Wonder, because his illness is only the "MacGuffin" as it were. A MacGuffin is an object or occurrence that is needed to drive the plot along, without being the actual main part of the story. I feel his deformity is the MacGuffin to tell the story, but in its essence we read about a 10-year old boy whose simply struggling with growing up and coping with school - as so many children do.
This book was a heartfelt story without unnecessary emotion-dripping that opened my heart and made me miss my childhood at some points, while praying inwardly I am well over it in other places.
One word description: Heartwarming.
Imagine a wood in which children wander, but never return. Imagine a town which is used to weird things happening. Imagine you shouldn't leave your laundry out after six o'clock or terrifying things may happen...
The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin is a mysterious and well-written children's book, full with dark twists, riddles and two thoroughly enjoyable main characters. Attracting with aggressively purple pages (not on the inside), this books holds even more than it promises from the outside.
Follow Poppy into the town of Suds where her quirky grandmother lives. She already stumbles into the first mystery on the train there. Or why would anyone leave a miraculously silken-bound empty book on the train?
Together with her obnoxious and fantastic new friend Erasmus, Poppy sets out to find out why children keep vanishing in this town, and why no one seems to particularly bother.
But not all vanish simply into thin air, some also return, bald and lifeless, unable to speak properly.
And does the vanishing of children really have something to do with all the peculiar rules Poppy's grandmother imposes, like
Lock away the sugar
Don't leave any laundry out after six o'clock
or, most importantly,
NEVER DUST THE WINDOW SILLS.
Wreathing their way through adventure, Erasmus and Poppy soon learn the awful truth why kids keep popping into thin air, their eyes wide as snow and their heads deprived of dreams. It has to do with an old legend, the river, which may be far deeper than anticipated, and the Peggs who come at night...
As an advocate for giving children more to chew than most people think possible, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was, surmising from the colourful cover, surprisingly dark and took a few even darker twists towards the end. I thought Halpin's way of describing the scenery and surrounding especially enjoyable and the main characters possessed wit, emotion and reliability. Even though the illustrations were not entirely up to my taste, they still added plenty to the story and make for a truly wonderful children's book.
Especially through know-it-all Erasmus, we learn a lot and are guided well through the adventure, but he is not all knowledge and superhero. One especially great feature of the book was what happened outside the adventure. Poppy's Mum died in a tragic accident and the relationship to her father has been strained ever since,so when he comes to visit many emotions stir up. Additionally, topics like bullying, well-known children's fears and authentic school yard banter sneak their way through the main plot and give the characters complexity and texture.
It seeps through the lines that Halpin is a fan of fairy tales and folklore, as it is very reminiscent of a more complex and darker fairy tale. The woods, the witches, the mystery, it's all there, entangled into a delightfully sinister story, combed with friendship and sprinkled with fantastic words and concoctions I would love to come up with, too.
In terms of age recommendation, I would say eleven years and upwards. Smaller children may find witches making masks from their victims' skins a tad too much and children vanishing forever are also part of the plot.
"The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year."
A magnificent story of magic, engineering, a family saga and betrayal has the reader hooked from page one, on the life-transforming story of the brothers Emil and Kaspar, as well as Cathy Wray, a young runaway.
Papa Jack's Emporium is a place of magic, where dreams come true and where Emily and Kaspar grow up with their father as the most incredible toy maker in London. But the Emporium only opens for the Christmas season - as soon as the first frost settles and the first snowdrop unfolds her petals. This family saga starts in the early 20th century with 15-year old and pregnant Cathy Wray fleeing to London, so her parents cannot make her give it up for adoption. Stumbling into the Emporium, she becomes a sales girl and quickly falls for handsome and charismatic Kaspar. Emil, the other brother, is a quirky, weird boy, always shoved into the shadows by his superior brother.
But the shadows unfolding outside the Emporium as war knocks on the door also leave their imprint on the family, and when Kaspar is recruited, Cathy has to say goodbye to her sweetheart and step-in father of her child for a long time. Always trying to keep the Emporium afloat, a family crisis ensues when deeply traumatised Kaspar returns and everything falls into mayhem.
Genre-wise I would describe this book as a children's book for adults. From its playful cover and way it is written, it is suggestive of a children's book, but topics like war, mental instability and teenage pregnancy may be a little intense for young readers.
This book was a particular gem in my latest reading history, perfectly fusing magic and engineering, a little reminiscent of books like Northern Lights or Cogheart. The magically infused toys that literally come to life in this story are not perceived as too-out-of-the-ordinary, but it only adds to the magical atmosphere of the plot.
One particular wonderful aspect of the book was its perspective. Author Robert Dinsdalde foregoes all traditional "rules" of narrator and happily mixes all perspectives, sometimes providing an omniscient view, sometimes even out of the toys' views. Dinsdale does a great job of guiding the gaze of the reader, addressing us directly before pulling out again and directing it in a different way.
Instead of a usual story arch where something triggers the action before there is a resolution and happy end, this book simply follows the lives of this extraordinary family over a few decades, stricken with war, personal grief and growing up, all amidst the magic of the Emporium filled with toy soldiers, rocking horses and almost real-life stuffed dogs. Parts of their story (and I won't review which for spoiler reasons), were almost impossible to bear, as tragedy does not only strike once or twice, but in regular periods. Especially the incredible twist at the end comes as a huge surprise and is almost too shocking to take, but definitely a fantastic turn towards the end.
Fans who look back to their childhood nostalgically and love a pinch of magic will appreciate the wonderful story-telling and enchanting setup guiding through this story line - and you will never look at toy soldiers the same way again.
Here you find book reviews, and sometimes also things about films. Enjoy reading.