The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Yes its a kids book. I read kids books. I also read those called ‘young adult’ and ones that work best read aloud to small people.

That does not stop this possibly being the best thing Neil Gaiman has ever written. And I am a HUGE American Gods fan.

The Graveyard book is scary without making you terrified of sleeping. Truthful despite being about a boy who grows up in a graveyard. Heartbreaking as only Gaiman seems to know how to be, by bashing your heart but leaving it beating.

It follows the story of Nobody Owens, known to his family and friends as ‘Bod’. After his family are murdered he is taken in by the ghosts at the local graveyard/nature reserve and the mysterious Silas becomes his guardian. He grows up in the relative safety among the graves, though beyond the gates lies the living world and its dangers, including Bod’s would-be murderer.

The writing for this novel is just exquisite. You can imagine every single character, every grave, every ghost, without ever thinking ‘you know, this is a bit vague’. It is well paced and frightening right from the start. Gaiman is among only a few authors who are prepared to scare the daylights out of children. Dahl did it magnificently as, so I’m told, did Diana Wynne Jones. Now Gaiman, with Coraline and The Graveyard Book, can be proud of scaring adults along with kids with both his adult and children’s novels.

My heart raced as the book came toward the end, the tension built up so much I was incredibly annoyed when I was disturbed by housemates coming into the kitchen. I was deeply upset when a favourite character was clearly not to return, and constantly intrigued by who or what Silas really was.

Part of the real genius of telling children’s stories is not to give them all the answers. Children like to guess and to be encouraged to make up their own minds about characters. You’ll always get five completely different opinions about Charlie from the chocolate factory when you ask five children, and the same I suspect would be the same with Bod. Kids would also be crazy about Silas, and the evil Jack.

I completely, one hundred percent recommend reading this book. Fan of Gaiman or not. In fact, I have previously said Coraline is a great starting point for newbies, I was wrong, it is The Graveyard Book which will tell you if you are going to be a fan or not.

 

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Sense & Sensibility – Joanna Trollope

Yup, someone has rewritten an Austen classic into a ‘modern’ novel. That ‘someone’ being Joanna Trollope, an author I have no previous experience with but have never been inclined to read. No dragons.

S&S has been re-written previously, with the addition of sea monsters. I have not read this version but I am inclined to think I would have enjoyed it far more than this one.

I have to come clean before I actually review this version and admit, the terrible terrible truth, I have not actually read the original Sense & Sensibility.

NOT that I didn’t try. I really did. In fact it was so long ago I may have succeeded but, as far as I know, I have only read Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. I have started and failed to read S&S, Emma and Northanger Abbey. Persuasion is the only one I actually enjoyed reading.

This is my own hang up with Austen – to me she waffles more than any other writer. Which is why Persuasion, such a little, sweet novel, is my favourite because she hardly wastes time on unnecessary description or life histories. It didn’t harm the story by having the TV adaptation star Rupert Penry-Jones either.

What I can say, in favour to Trollope, is that the waffle is not as evident to me as with Austen’s original text. Regardless I really feel this modern adaptation would have been better off set 20 years ago than ‘today’, because ‘today’ will always be out of date tomorrow.

The ‘totes amaze’ language and the references to iPods and the Greek financial struggles are pithy but already stale. And, above all else, apart from these references there wasn’t a new thing to be added to the story. They are still a group of four women who are unceremoniously kicked out of their stately home by their sister-in-law after the death of the father.

The mother is painted as more eccentric and dappy than I have ever seen her; Marianne is now an asthmatic to explain how delicate she is and why a forty-something would want to swoop in and save her; Elinor a practical woman who now has half a degree in architecture; and Margaret is a sulky teenager who has lost her sense of adventure and replaced it with twitter and Facebook.

Hardly an ambitious re-imagining of characters.

The real problem is that, in its present-day setting, the characters are harder to relate to or feel sorry for. Part of the magic and enduring romanticism of Austen’s characters are that they live in a world that 99% of the population have only read about, so you don’t need to relate to the characters – you just have to like them.

Unfortunately, in our times of austerity, reading about over-privileged young men and women squandering money does not make you like any of them in particular. Apart from Elinor of course, she will always be an enduringly good character you want to succeed.

I love this story, but feel like Trollope didn’t really try with it. I prefer imagination and someone to shock me with a re-write rather than just update it. I’m sure it took time and a lot of effort, but I much prefer the corsets and bonnets of early 19th century society to the blackberry’s and social media of today.

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Meeting a literary hero – Neil Gaiman

Yeah this isn’t a review of a book. This is me, your friendlyfilmfan who reads, encouraging you to go to book signings, see your favourite authors talk, and to try and get a hug if you can.

Yesterday I spent the day with Neil Gaiman. We laughed at the seaside as he unveiled the new bus lane sign near Canoe Lake in Southsea. We then spent an evening talking books and hugging.

That may be a fantasy version of what happened last night.

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But that picture speaks for itself.

Neil Gaiman was in Portsmouth to speak at the Guildhall about a variety of things, but mostly in promotion of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his latest novel for grown ups.

I knew Gaiman was an inspiring guy because why else would so many people want to read his books or be following him on various social media sites? But in the flesh he is eloquent, funny, intelligent, and a secure enough person to interrupt the slightly naff mediator and make sure things are run in the order he wants. He is also a wonderful storyteller, which is why in October I already have my ticket to watch him read ‘Fortunately the Milk’ in London.

Actually face to face meeting he is a machine of book signing, but I managed to make him pause with a gift I got my mother (who is an artist) to sketch a picture of Gaiman’s beloved Cabal. When I asked Mum to do this she put her internet skills to the test and googled him, finding Neil’s blog and the final post he wrote about his much missed pet. This all led her to (finally) read a Gaiman book, Neverwhere, and she has decided he is a fantastic author too.

I felt like the gift moved him, I hope he keeps it. It actually hit my Mum this morning when I was retelling the smile and the hug and kiss I got for the gift that someone famous has her artwork. Pretty cool, eh?

Just wrapping up this love-fest I want to explain why Neil Gaiman is one of my heroes. I’m a librarian and Neil constantly sticks up for my profession and the encouragement of reading in any way possible. He has this ability to write violence so that my squeamish self can take it, but also adds beauty to horrific situations whilst not obscuring the horror. If that makes any sense.

He writes for all ages, but it doesn’t mean because the book is for children an adult can’t find it scary (Coraline is a prime example of this).

It was a genuine pleasure to meet him, if that is the only time I’m glad I got him a gift that resulted in a hug and kiss. I’m pretty much not going to stop smiling at the memory.

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The Death Cure – James Dashner

Please don’t read if you’ve not had the chance to catch this series of novels, as this is the last in the trilogy (not counting the prequel novel) there will be spoilers, though none for this novel.

 

The Death Cure marks the end of Thomas, Minho, Newt and Teresa’s adventure of misfortune that began in the maze two novels ago. They each come up against their own battles in this novel, separated and brought back together at certain moments, though the focus remains on Thomas.

There is a distinct problem I have had with this series of novels. I have grown to increasingly dislike the main protagonist and all his decisions. This isn’t like with the Hunger Games where Katniss became frustrating at points, at least there was a whole backdrop of people and circumstances to balance her. In this novel I disliked the group Thomas was placed with, the characters didn’t make me want them to succeed.

This is a huge issue for the enjoyment levels I was likely to have whilst reading. Really I was trying to get to the end, find out what the heck was going on, and most importantly not have the future film versions (if it gets beyond The Maze Runner, Dylan O’Brien fans will probably ensure this) ruined for me on Tumblr by those posting plot spoilers.

The story itself is very good. It is such an interesting concept and ends with a real believability – maybe one day mankind will go down the route presented in this dystopic trilogy. The writing is also good. Dashner is definitely not in the league of Rowling or Green in the ability to write a teenage voice, but he isn’t far off Suzanne Collins’ skill.

Perhaps my issues with the books stems from my age and my gender. I’m not a teenage boy who I am sure would thrill at the battles, the conflict and the comradery. I wanted more from the relationships formed by Thomas, especially Newt and Teresa. Truthfully, I wanted a Peeta character.

Peeta in the Hunger Games represented all that was good and right with the world but was treated appallingly. I think Newt was supposed to be this character in this series, but he wasn’t given enough of a voice.

Sometimes you just don’t connect with a book or characters as the author intended you to. I am one of those for The Maze Runner series. Though I am really pleased I read them, especially as the last five or six chapters of each book were thrilling, I am equally pleased I did not purchase them and instead utilized my local library. I just would never read them again, because Thomas is not enough to bring me back.

I think these books will translate onto the big screen with less bumps and a better reception from book readers than most other book adaptations. It will have engaging actors making the audience want to get behind them in their struggle, especially as Thomas will be played by Dylan O’Brien who is a major component of why the Teen Wolf TV show is so successful. The story too is less complex and laid out like a movie or television series, and I am really looking forward to watching these novels on the big screen.

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What inspires us to read?

A while ago when I used Blogger as my main reviewing site, I had sort of an epiphany about my reading habits and their link to the movies I watched. So this is the resulting waffle, slightly edited now I am actually reviewing books themselves.

 

Watch the film read the book(s) – wrong order right? Well maybe not.

I have been convinced I am a book reader first and foremost, and a film lover second. However more and more I am realising that the books I am reading are prompted by either watching an adaptation on TV or in the cinema, or learning of their impending release.

A couple of examples are the teen sensations Twilight and The Hunger Games, the first I saw on screen then read the books and the latter I read because I was so intrigued by all the fuss that was being created about the film release.

Now you may argue that teenage novels are really not the best example, because after all I was 21 and 24 respectively when I read the above, so the likelihood of finding these reading materials on my own was slim to none. And okay so the Twilight saga are not the best written books in the world but they were compelling. The Hunger Games trilogy however are incredibly well written whilst also being addictive.

A better example is probably JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was 14years old and only just coming to terms with my geekiness when The Fellowship of the Ring was released. I had had The Hobbit read to me about five years previously as part of ‘story time’ in school but never picked up the book myself. Of course I then saw the film and bought the books and have not looked back.

I was OBSESSED with Lord of the Rings; it gave me my window to be who I am, slightly geeky and obsessive. I no longer cared about revealing that side because suddenly I had the internet to talk to others, write about my opinions and have like minded people converse and back me up. But of course the main reason I joined these forums and found out all the details about the books and films was because I had had my interest piqued by the movie.

Is it because I had not been exposed to the literature by those with the power to do so, my teachers, peers or parents? Or because of the age I have grown up in where everyone has access to television and the cinema for relatively little cost (compared to fifty years ago) so it is more natural to watch rather than read? I think it’s a little of both in truth. I love television, in fact I probably love it a little too much but that’s my issue. I also love going to the movies, but I adore reading. Getting caught up in a book is one of my favourite past times: you can do this on a train, on the beach, in your room, even on the toilet if the mood takes you. Now I know you can in theory watch TV or movies in each of these places using a mobile device, but it just doesn’t seem right to be on the beach watching a film, it’s too self-involved.

Becoming a librarian and working with teenagers has put me back on track with using my own public library, borrowing books that others have recommended, finding an author and exploring their back catalogue. But still television and movies play their part.

A bizarre interest in the TV show Teen Wolf has led me to find out there are other dystopic novels out there being made into movie franchises (I am currently half-way through the Maze Runner series thanks to Dylan O’Brien and his fans on Tumblr).

True Blood is the reason I read the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, am waiting on that final book to become available at the library to see how it all turns out for her. But also now I am reading the Harper Connelly books, also by Charlaine Harris, because I have enjoyed the Stackhouse novels sense of humour and ideas of the supernatural.

Though I read ‘adult’ books (mostly fantasy) I am also not ashamed to be reading books aimed at teenagers. A few years yes I would have rather hidden in a cave than explore the 11+ section, but now? Screw it I like John Green, James Dashner and Malorie Blackman. They have good stories and interesting characters. John Green is a rare being who can write about this reality and I keep reading, normally theres gotta be a dragon or something going on for my interest to be held. However had I not been working with the teens this year I am fairly certain I would have not read any John Green until The Fault in Our Stars came out on film (2014 I believe).

So really what I am trying to say is a big thank you to the film industry. Without it I would not have read half the books on my shelf, which would have been detrimental to my own character. Books fuel imaginations, they often pick me up when I am feeling low, and they offer up people I can relate to and not feel quite so alone. It is reassuring to find my sense of humour in a Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett novel, but then it is equally reassuring to find it in Little Miss Sunshine.

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The Scorch Trials – James Dashner

I said I was keen to read the rest of the Maze Runner quadrilogy, I do not lie.

This is the second of four books (the final one a prequel, I’ll get to that in a few weeks I’m sure) and I am currently hoping my local public book lending facility can keep up with me in ordering in these books. Turns out these are pretty popular items and I keep having to pay 50p and reserve a copy from another library. Of course not many people read as quickly as I do or are as bored and unemployed as I am.

So yes, book review!

Not wishing to give away plot spoilers for those who have not read Maze Runner or Scorch Trials, I would advise strongly not to read this just in case. If you have read it then please do comment away at the bottom if you feel you have something more to add!

Plot wise: Thomas, Teresa and the other Gladers have been ‘rescued’, taken to a dorm and fed pizza and given beds to sleep in. Then all hell breaks loose all over again as they are forced into the second set of ‘trials’ to gain access and insight into a disease called The Flare. Taken to a place nicknamed The Scorch, the teens must fight their way through bloody tests and deranged adults to get to ‘Safe Haven’.

The second book is much more exciting than the first (imho) because it keeps a pace and tension that is slightly fraught all the way to a reasonably explosive end. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough because I HAD to know what was going to happen to Thomas and Minho and Newt, if they would all survive, and what the feck was gonna happen with Thomas’s increasingly complex teenage love life.

The characters, having been built up nice and slowly in the first novel, are more developed here – though I would have liked more Newt if I’m honest. (This may or may not have something to do with Thomas Brodie Sangster playing him in the movie of TMR, I just think he’s cool.) They are faced with so much more confusion, death, violence and general instability in this book, you really come to admire each and every one.

Thomas, hate to admit it, not my favourite character. I mean I get that he is totally confused, lost, and badly hurt by everything going on but I am failing in having too much sympathy. Especially with regards to Teresa. (Again potentially because she is being played by Kaya Scodelario in TMR, watch Skins to know how f-ing cool she can be.)

I have so many questions and no answers at this point to anything. I am generally useless at guessing outcomes but I wish I had a little more to go on. The introduction of Brenda kinda pissed me off, like she is another test that Thomas is failing, but that may be due to my girl power solidarity with Teresa. I don’t know. I’m all jumbly and perhaps it was a bad idea to review the book mid-trilogy.

Answers are needed soon, just gotta hope my library doesn’t take too long in getting the final book for me.

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The Ocean At The End Of The Lane – Neil Gaiman

Here as promised, the latest novel to come from the extraordinary mind that is contained in Neil Gaiman’s skull.

This was never meant to be a novel. You’ll hear or watch interviews with Neil saying it started as a short story about a family and a suicide. In writing about his childhood for his wife Amanda while she was away in Australia, this story of the South African Opal miner and the women who lived on a farm became a fully fledged novel with heart, tragedy and an astonishing way to cut into your own childhood memories.

The story is of a man who comes back to the place he lived between the ages of seven and twelve, a compulsion brought on by attendance of a funeral. His trip back home invokes a series of memories from the time the lodger committed suicide in the family car at the bottom of the lane, an act which unleashed new and dangerous forces upon the Earth. The only thing standing in the way of this danger are three women of varying ages, the youngest of whom claims the pond in her garden is the Ocean.

So much for the synopsis. This is what you’ll find in the blurb and, hopefully, no one in their reviews will say much more plot wise.

This is a beautiful tale, simply told but with complex themes and ideas permeating throughout. It is the ideal starter novel for those unsure if they would be a Neil Gaiman fan.

For me, it invoked the childhood innocence and fear that he so expertly drew on for Coraline, whilst also having very real and grown up themes and situations that are more reminiscent of Neverwhere. There are things in this novel to give you nightmares, but not necessarily the supernatural. Very real, very human aspects of this story brought me close to tears on several occasions. Remembering being seven years old and scared of your father shouting, that brought back memories of being terrified of invoking any kind of anger in adults.

The supernatural and other-worldly nature of this novel is both terrifying and fascinating in equal measure. I can see why people have been saying that, despite these elements, it’s as though this book has been written about their own childhood. It really does have such a nostalgic feel to the whole thing that you can’t help remembering your own experiences at seven, what you liked to eat, how afraid you were of other people sometimes, how intoxicating a new friendship could be.

I very highly recommend this novel to anyone and everyone. If you have read Gaiman before and not liked him…maybe this won’t work for you, but it will be worth a borrow from your local library in the future just to try again.

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