Saturday, 30 March 2013

monthly roundup: march 2013

As expected my workload has been really intense over the last few weeks so I've barely had any time to do any reading but as of today I'm on Easter break! I'll be writing my MRes dissertation between now and August so I have a plenty of reading to do for that over the break but I'm hoping to use the huge pile of YA books I've accumulated over the last few months as an antidote to that!

I know I haven't posted anything about my 50 musicals challenge in a while. It might be a little longer (the laptop I'm taking home doesn't have photoshop and half the fun of musicals are the visuals) but I'll try to get on it ASAP. I did watch Calamity Jane for the first time last weekend and LOVED it! Doris Day is so lovely! Over the break I'll be rewatching the High School Musical trilogy - I've been saving them to watch with my sister! EXCITED!


books read
012 Anna Richards - Little Gods (8/10)
013 Morgan Matson - Second Chance Summer (5/10)



posts/memes



new movies watched
Lore (9/10)
Robot and Frank (6/10)
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (7/10)
Rebecca (7/10)
Side Effects (6/10)
Calamity Jane (8/10)
Wreck-it Ralph (7/10)
The A*Team (6/10)


music

Listen

The Hood Internet - Suit and Commercial (Justin Timberlake vs Daft Punk)
Fenech Soler - Maiyu
PLOY - X I X
Mutya Keisha Siobhan - Lay Down In Swimming Pools
Dan Croll - From Nowhere
MS MR - Dark Doo Wop
Rihanna - Stay (Branchez Bootleg)
Lance Herbstrong - Finally Moving (Pretty Lights x Jimi Hendrix x Lance Herbstrong Remix)


Friday, 29 March 2013

book review: second chance summer by morgan matson

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Genre: Contemporary YA
Rating: 5/10
Goodreads
Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains. Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.


I expected a lot from this because I loved Amy and Roger's Epic Detour and I'm sad to say I was disappointed. There's nothing wrong with Second Chance Summer but there's nothing great about it either. I didn't hate it, it was just fine. It did make me cry in a coffee shop but that was kind of a given with the subject matter! The protagonist was easy enough to like, the love interest was cute, the family dynamics were interesting enough but there was nothing remarkable, it all felt very familiar. It'll be filed away in my mind with everything Sarah Dessen's ever written!

Use it to pad out your summer reading but don't expect anything spectacular.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

top ten tuesday: books i rec the most


top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


I'm having a crazy week, I got no sleep night and I wrote this on the train from London earlier so I apologise for the lack of pictures and any incoherency!

top ten books i recommend the most

001 Angela Carter - The Bloody Chamber and Other Short Stories
This is a collection of feminist retellings of traditional fairy stories. Very gothic, the stories are dark and luscious, oozing with sexuality and fantastically empowered women and girls. When I was studying for my English A Level this was the text my teacher used to introduce us to the Gothic genre and it's been a favourite ever since.
Recommended to: Anyone interested in fairytales, those who want to be reminded that feminist fiction can be fun!
002 Elizabeth Wein - Code Name Verity
I've been raving about this since I first read it last year. It's a hearbreaking story of confident, competant ladies who love each other. It's been a year and I still catch myself thinking about (read: getting emotional over) these women and their relationship.
Recommended to: People who enjoy war fiction and beautifully constructed female protagonists
003 Philip Pullman - His Dark Materials trilogy
All the books on this list own a piece of my soul but perhaps none more so than these. Having read Northern Lights (The Golden Compass to you folks over the pond!) a couple of times when I was younger, I finally got around to reading the entire trilogy in the summer before last. Pullman is a master of plot - particularly in the first two parts he has you grasping for any and all explanations even when you know full well that everything you're being told is a half-truth. The cast of characters is vast and rich and I cared deeply for them all - I'm always sad that discussions of these books talk so little about Mary Malone, her interactions with the Mulefa remain my favourite parts of the books. In terms of theme, it doesn't treat religion kindly but the messages of the need for consciousness and engagement and the necessity of stories were ones I really responded to.
Recommended to: Everyone. Seriously. Read it as epic fantasy or as a treatise on religion. Take from it what you want but please read it!
004 Jonathan Safran Foer - Everything Is Illuminated
I picked this up on the basis of a quote I'd seen - it's not the sort of thing I'd pick up otherwise - and within pages I was captivated by Foer's playful use of language. I think Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a more accessible story but I prefer this. More than anything the book's descriptions of love and loneliness and the experience of being moved me more than I can say.
Recommended to: People with a yearning to be devastated!
005 Patrick Ness - Choas Walkingtrilogy
This series made me cry on a train packed full of commuters! I've never come across a series (for children or otherwise) that so brutally and vividly deals with the experience and reality of war. Set in a world that is part frontier, part space age, themes include colonisation, terroism, gender war, loss of innocence and lost parenthood. Really fantastic stuff.
Recommended to: Those who like their pre-teen dystopia to give them a lot to think about.
006 Bram Stoker - Dracula
Another book I read for my gothic literature course. Told in epistolary format it's surprisingly easy to read (I have major issues with pre-C20 writing styles). Full of sex and violent it's HBO in the C19.
Recommended to: Those who like their classics campy and ridiculous!
007 Veronica Roth - Divergenttrilogy
I maintain that this is the best of dystopian YA. It was sold to me as 'the Harry Potter sorting hat meets The Hunger Games' and that's the hook I always use to persuade people to read it! The development of the themes/characters/world-building in Insurgent was everything I'd hoped for.
Recommended to: Anyone who's enjoyed any of the other dystopian YA of the last few years.
008 Connie Willis - Blackout/All Clear
My review spells out most of my feelings but again, TIME TRAVELLING HISTORIANS!!!!!
Recommended to: Anyone interested in the British Home Front during WW2
009 Ann Brashares - The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pantsseries
This is one of the most underrated YA series out there. It predates the YA boom of the last 5 years or so but don't let it's age fool you - it's excellent! The premise is a little silly but my God, THOSE GIRLS! I love them so - Bridget Vreeland remains one of my favourite fictional characters! The series deals with lots of different aspects of adolescence in the modern world (divorce, parental death, mental health etc.) as well as the usual romance. It also deals with sex really well which is always a plus!
Recommended to: Anyone who enjoys contemporary YA!
010 Carol Rifka Brunt - Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Favourite read of 2013 so far - I've been rec'ing it to everyone I know because it is wonderful and deserves more attention!
Recommended to: Anyone and everyone!

Monday, 18 March 2013

book review: little gods by anna richards

Little Gods by Anna Richards
Genre: Historical
Rating: 8/10
Goodreads
An adventure, a black comedy, a fairy tale of sorts and a romance, "Little Gods" tells the story of larger-than-life Jean Clocker, whose birth challenges the very balance of nature and whose body resists all attempts to contain it. A girl - and later, woman - of unusual size and strength, fitting in is never an option for Jean, but it takes the chaos of war - and, later, America - to persuade her to fully appreciate her extraordinary stature.


There are plenty of reviews on Goodreads that catalogue this book's faults, I however want to talk about the things I really enjoyed about this novel. First and foremost, Jean is the most wonderful protagonist. Jean defies space and as such is constantly out of sorts and the book tells her story as she is constantly 'reincarnated' through misfortune - she endures a terrible childhood with a mother who uses her as a servant and then she is 'reborn' thanks to a bomb blast. It's a book about identity and coming to know yourself, not in the clich├ęd way of certain YA novels but in the slow, meandering process of self-realisation. Perhaps Jean's defining trait is her desire - she always wants more, she wants her life to mean more, to have more purpose. Watching her navigate the world, steered by this obsessive desire and the haunting presence of her mother really moved me. It's not a complicated character arc but it's done really well - whilst I didn't always agree with Jean's choices I always understood exactly why she was following a particular path.

Beyond Jean 'Little Gods' features an excellent cast of secondary characters. It's a book full of contradictory ladies which I really appreciated. Jean's mother is spiteful and cruel but we get enough of her backstory to ensure that she's not a caricature. Gloria, Jean's best friend, also has a wonderful disillusionment arc. Not only are the individual characters excellent but Richards does a really good job constructing the relationships too - the depictions of motherhood/friendship are not always flattering but are honest.

'Little Gods' is written beautifully and there is some really wonderful prose. Perhaps my favourite non-spoilery passage was this:
This was her shame; she loved the chaos of war. It wasn’t a theatre, it was a circus, and it had finally come for her. It could be something other than brutal and nonsensical, and these rare moments had to be savoured, enjoyed like English sunshine. Jean had seen the storm of limbs, the juggling of arms, heads, teeth - the moment when even the plainest human realises their extraordinary beauty before it is scoured off them by fire and raked by shrapnel. She now secretly suspected there had never been anything so perfect as her back before the bomb; as broad as a double bass and as sensuously curved, it had been unblemished. One of her scars even looked like a sound hole, carved beside the strings of her spine; an adornment rather than a wound. She added this to her pile of secrets, fearing that she was the only one who could see it this way; that she alone could love plainness with the fierceness of one who almost died before living.
I also strongly associated with the line: '"I always carry at least one book,' he informed her. 'One never knows when one might need not to talk to people.'" On balance I enjoyed first half of the book more than second - that owes a lot to the fact that it contained the war narrative (as we all know by now children-of-war are my kryptonite! Also, I found it more difficult to engage with the stuff set in America - I'm not quite sure why but there's something about the tone/colour of mid-C20 America that I really struggle with. That being said the excellent characterisation/prose was present throughout so I was happy to persevere!

In short it's a beautifully written ode to complicated women struggling with ideas of identity. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

top ten tuesday: tbr in spring 2013

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


I've been stalking this meme for months but have never been organised enough to participate! This week's topic seemed like a good place to start though...

top ten books tbr in spring 2013


01. A World Between Us - Lydia Syson (I'm really excited about this - the person who recc'd it rated it alongside 'Code Name Verity' and 'The Montmaray Journals' both of which I loved!)
02. Hollow Pike - James Dawson (I follow James on Twitter and feel bad that I still haven't read his book! Needs to fix this ASAP!)
03. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
04. In Darkness - Nick Lake (Patrick Ness has recc'd this so I'm sold!)
05. Out of the Easy - Ruta Septys



06. The Madman's Daughter - Megan Shepherd
07. Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner
08. Second Chance Summer - Morgan Matson (I really loved 'Amy & Roger's Epic Detour' and if it stays this cold it'll be nice to at least pretend it's summer!)
09. Among Others - Jo Walton
10. Cinder - Marissa Meyer


Usually I try to maintain some sense of balance between the number of YA/Children's and 'adult' books that I read but you'll notice that most of these are YA - partly it's because these are the titles that I'm most excited about but it's also because I'll be spending the spring reading these pretty heavy books written by miserable white dudes in the 1920s/30s as part of my dissertation research! I can't say I'm looking forward to it - 'classics' and I don't tend to get along!

Monday, 11 March 2013

film reviews: to the wonder and lore


I've already fallen a little off track in terms of updating. In my defence I've been having a slow reading month as my uni work starts to pile up but that's a poor excuse really! Not having any books to review I thought I'd shamelessly recycle some graphics I made for Tumblr and showcase the two prettiest movies that I've seen this year...

To The Wonder (2012)
Director: Terence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams
Genre: Drama/Romance
Rating: 8/10
IMDB

After visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Marina meets a priest and fellow exile, who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane.



Tumblr


It's a Terrence Malick movie so To the Wonder was guaranteed to be gorgeous. On leaving the cinema, one of the women who had been sat behind me complained, "I was just waiting for something to happen and then I was just waiting for it to be over.” My eyes could not have rolled harder if I'd tried! I'm becoming such a movie snob! I think a lot of people felt the same way but you know, it’s a Terrence Malick movie! Aesthetics and atmosphere always trump action! Anyway, I enjoyed it - it didn’t hit me in the same way that The Tree of Life did but the cinematography and music were beautiful and there were a couple of really wonderful sequences. I really adore how Malick uses natural light to both 'ground' abstract sequences and add an ethereal quality to scenes which would otherwise be banal. If extreme naval gazing isn't for you I'd give it a miss but if you love cinema as much for the aesthetic experience as the plot then it's definitely worth a watch.



Lore (2012)
Director: Cate Shortland
Starring: Saskia Rosendahl, Kai-Peter Malina, Nele Trebs
Genre: Drama/War/Foreign Language
Rating: 9/10
IMDB

As the Allies sweep across Germany, Lore leads her siblings on a journey that exposes them to the truth of their parents' beliefs. An encounter with a mysterious refugee forces Lore to rely on a person she has always been taught to hate.


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I have so many thoughts and feelings about this film but struggle to articulate them - the subject matter is so serious and the film itself so carefully done that my usual flailing doesn't seem appropriate. Simply put, this is the story of the physical and personal journey of a teenager and her siblings, the children of high ranking Nazis, across Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War. As a history student and a fan of 'children of war' narratives I was predisposed to like Lore but it far exceeded my expectations. There are obvious comparisons to be made to traditional European folk stories (children struggling through the wilderness to reach Grandma's house) and the story itself is very weighty (themes include atrocities of war including the Holocaust, parental betrayal, abandonment, destitution etc.) but the film never drifts into hysteria or sentimentality. Throughout it all Lore's humanity is at stake and Saskia Rosendahl's performance is incredible. The film is beyond beautiful. The use of colour is excellent - it's a film about the end of war which eschews the patriotic reds and blues and instead revels in greens, purples and browns. The visual representations of the elements are particularly stunning as the German countryside becomes both a refuge and a terrifying wilderness to the young siblings and their companion. Lore is a really masterful piece of filmmaking that I very strongly recommend!

Friday, 1 March 2013

monthly roundup: feb 2013

I hope you've all had a fine February! I can't say that mine has been particularly eventful but that has left plenty of time for reading and movie watching! I'm still ahead of schedule on all of my 2013 projects though I only watched 1 musical this month! I have several uni deadlines at the end of March that could mean that my reading will tail off in the next couple of weeks but I may well end up using books to procrastinate!

In terms of recs, I definitely recommend 'Tell the Wolves I'm Home' - it was by far my favourite of everything I read this month and I can almost guarantee that it'll be on my best of the year list. If you like gorgeously filmed, theme based movies I recommend 'To The Wonder', otherwise my movie rec of the month is 'Beautiful Creatures' which I enjoyed wayyyyy more than I was expecting. As both movies suggest, I'm easily swayed by excellent faces!


books read

Ally Carter - Perfect Scoundrels (7/10)
Gayle Foreman - Just One Day (8/10)
Maggie Stiefvater - The Raven Boys (8/10)
Carol Rifka Brunt - Tell the Wolves I'm Home (9/10)
Bill Bryson - A Walk in the Woods (6/10)



new movies watched

Last Night (7/10)
Lincoln (8/10)
High Society (6/10)
Warm Bodies (7/10) 
Beautiful Creatures (7/10)
To The Wonder (8/10)


music

Listen

Lana del Rey - Summertime Sadness (Monsieur Adi Remix)
BASTILLE - Pompeii (Monsieur Adi Remix)
Chloe Howl - Rumour
MS MR - Fantasy
Atlas - Thinking Bout You (Frank Ocean cover)
James Blake - Retrograde
Frank Ocean - Pyrite (Fool’s Gold)
Foxes - Warrior (acoustic)
Miley Cyrus - Jolene