Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Angela Carter - The Bloody Chamber

This is a collection of fairy tales that most people would be familiar with, but don't be fooled into thinking this is your usual Disney fare. These traditional stories have been retold with Carter's own dark and unique take on them, and she infuses them with eroticism and violence -- you definitely won't find bluebirds bursting into merry song here. I can see why The Bloody Chamber is studied extensively in literature courses as these stories are full of symbolism and cultural references. This was a very evocative and rewarding read, and I'm sure each subsequent reading will reveal more to the reader (I really feel I ought to be studying this!). My favourites from this collection were: The Bloody Chamber; The Snow Child; and The Werewolf.

Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi - The Wrath of Mulgarath (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 5)

Ahhh... the last one in the series. Personally, I feel that these books are way too short to be standalone stories (unlike the Chronicles of Narnia) and perhaps would have worked better as a single volume. Then again, I am not exactly part of the target audience so such bite-size morsels may have been the most effective way to reach the intended readers. Luckily, I did not have to wait for each release and could read all five in one go. Now that I have read the books, I am quite pleased to say that I am really happy with how the movied turned out. In fact, I think I may prefer the movie to the books, although the books are entertaining in their own right. I like the use of the 'protective circle' for the house, which helped to explain why the house remained untouched for so many decades. In the book, Mulgarath ransacked and destroyed the house, finding the Guide in the process; why didn't this occur much earlier and only when the Grace family moved into the Spiderwick estate? In the movie, Simon discovers the use of tomato sauce as a weapon against the goblins and prepares bags of it using a recipe from the Guide; in the book, this is hinted at as Jared threatens the use of it on the hobgoblin but there is no mention of where Jared gained this knowledge. Presumably, it's from the Guide but readers have to make their own assumptions. Overall, I feel the movie provides more cohesive explanations whereas things just happen in the books and readers are made to accept that that's how they are meant to be. I think it would have been nice if the movie had kept the book's ending, although the film version where Arthur and Lucy were reunited was also a nice touch. May be a little tricky to explain where a grown woman disappeared to though! Overall, it has been fun to read the Spiderwick Chronicles and I'm glad the movie led me to these books, which I'm sure have brought much joy to young readers.

Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi - The Ironwood Tree (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 4)

In The Ironwood Tree, Mallory is kidnapped by dwarves, who are under the command of the ogre, Mulgarath, and Jared and Simon go off to rescue her. Book 4 takes on a slightly darker tone than the previous books, with some true tension in the Grace family -- when Jared overhears his mother making an exasperated call to their father as she is at wit's end as to how to deal with Jared and his anger; when Jared explodes at Simon as they try to get to bottom at the quarry, unsure of how to control his temper. There have been hints of the underlying tension in the previous books as the Grace family (minus the father) makes a fresh start at the Spiderwick estate, but it is only in this book that shows how the divorce and separation of the family have affected them, especially Jared. There is also a massacre of the dwarves by Mulgarath's army of goblins, which would have been quite a confronting sight for the little kiddies if it were included in the movie! This was another quick and fairly enjoyable read, although some parts felt like filler sections and were not central to the story. For example, what need was there for Mulgarath to shape-shift and appear at the school? You would think that he would just send one of his minions, rather than the head honcho making an appearance himself. It just didn't quite make sense. Regardless, this was a decent effort and set up the scene for the showdown with Mulgarath in the last book of the series.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi - Lucinda's Secret (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 3)

I picked up the last three books in the Spiderwick Chronicles from the library last night and polished them off the very night, fast reads that they were. From Book 3 onwards, the movie veered off in a completely different direction, recreating only bits and pieces but in different contexts. A couple of things in the book did annoy me, as it felt like the authors did not think things through and just chucked in certain plot elements as required without really explaining them. For example, right at the start Jared put on his shirt inside out without any specific reason, apart from him looking at a page in the Guide on protective devices. Why did he test that one out? Was it something he thought would help him against Thimbletack's pranks? And lo and behold, as they go exploring and try to look for Arthur Spiderwick, Jared is the only one immune to the faerie trick because of the way he had put on his shirt. Just too convenient for my tastes, even for a children's book. Nevertheless, it was still an interesting read for me as it featured new characters such as the elves and the phooka, which didn't make their way into the movie.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi - The Seeing Stone (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 2)

The Seeing Stone is the second book in the Spiderwick Chronicles. Book 2 was slightly more interesting for me as it varied from the movie and the changes made it more entertaining for me as a reader. That said, I would have loved to see parts of this book in the film. For example, there was a troll scene here with the goblins that would have been quite visually exciting, although it may be a little too scary for the kiddies! This was yet another enjoyable read (albeit a little short for my liking), and I look forward to the rest of the books to see how differently the story progresses from its movie version. Till Book 3!

Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi - The Field Guide (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1)

I hadn't heard about these books until I watched The Spiderwick Chronicles recently. I really enjoyed the movie and thought it would be a great idea to seek out the books that the movie was based on. The Field Guide is the first book in a series of five making up the Spiderwick Chronicles. This was a very quick read and I think all five books could easily be published into a single volume. A single book on its own felt too short, although I supposed it is a children's book afer all. Based on what I've read so far, most of the elements from the books were kept in the movie without too many changes. Any adaptations for the movied worked really well and helped to enhance the story rather than taking away from it. It will be interesting to see how the story progresses as I get to the other books!

Diane Setterfield - The Thirteenth Tale

I don't know what qualifies as a 'gothic' novel, but if it's always going to be as great as this one, count me in as a fan of the genre! Setterfield's prose had me hooked from the very beginning and always kept me wanting more. The fact that this is her debut novel is even more impressive. Setterfield has crafted a complex mystery and because of her remarkable story-telling skills, I did not bother to try to 'pick' the ending, but rather, to let the tale take its course. This would have been a perfect book to devour in one sitting; unfortunately, work and life prevented me from doing so and I found the disruptions annoying as I needed to recall what was happening when I picked up from where I left off. I plan to purchase a copy for myself as I think this is one of those books that will benefit from re-readings, where the reader can discover clues that were previously missed. The Thirteenth Tale truly was a brilliant read and I look forward to Diane Setterfield's next novel!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Harlan Coben - Deal Breaker

Myron Bolitar is officially my favourite character from all the mystery novels out there. Harlan Coben has created such a fascinating character: he's charming and dashing; has a great sense of humour with those witty one-liners; but also very vulnerable and injured in a very attractive way and just makes you want to hug him and say that everything will be okay. There is also a great supporting cast: his best mate, Win, whom I must say is a little scary and creepy (but still oh so cool); Esperanza, a fiercely protective friend; and Jessica, who is the love of his life. Everything just works so well in this book -- the combination of humour (great banter between characters!), mystery and suspense -- they just come together perfectly and make this such an entertaining read. There are also some classic moments that made me laugh so hard. For example, Win getting a mobster to drop the hit on Myron by offering him the opportunity to play at prestigious golf courses -- priceless! I was first introduced to Myron and his gang in Drop Shot and now that I've read the first in the series, this is one that I will continue to follow. I would love to know more about Jessica and Myron; Coben never explains why the two broke up and he makes it clear that they both still are very much in love with each other. Overall, a fantastic book; I say, give me more!

Lynne Truss - Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

I lurrrrveee Ms. Truss! So, I won't profess to be an expert on punctuation as Lynne Truss would be, and I'm sure I've messed up the use of a semicolon in my time. What I am at least completely sure of are the basics: you will NEVER find me screwing up 'it's' vs. 'its'; 'your' vs. 'you're'; or getting plurals wrong. For that matter of fact, the same goes with they're/their/there -- but that's a different story altogether. Oh, how I rejoiced when I read this book. Finally, someone else who feels the same way that I do, that this is something extremely easy to grasp, and always irks the hell out of me when I spot such errors, especially when I see these mistakes in the papers. You would think journalists would be able to get this right?! This had me cackling away: "If you still persist in writing, "Good food at it's best", you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave." My reaction isn't that extreme but I do admit to throwing my hands up in the air sometimes and wonder how people can stuff up something so simple. While it can get a bit dreary at times (I don't really care much about the history) but overall, it's a witty little book that I enjoyed immensely. Who would have thought a book about punctuation could be so full of humour? If you're a stickler for punctuation like me, you will definitely have a laugh reading this book; if you need some help, then this will set you in the right direction. As Lynne Truss would say, sticklers unite! :)