Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen and the Buffy Legacy

October 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a brilliant, groundbreaking show. The majority of the women in the show are unashamedly fierce, but there are also many who aren’t – just like REAL women! And the same goes for the men; some of them are stubborn and painfully arrogant, some of them are smart, shy and quiet (hiiii Oz), and some of them have hidden depths that only TRUE FANS appreciate. (Okay, I may still be a bit hung up on Spike. But who isn’t?!) There were vampires, werewolves, demons, ventriloquist dummies, goddesses, Keys, witches and proms. Don’t you miss it?

Harmony - will you ever learn? (she didn't)

Harmony – will you ever learn? (she didn’t)

Long before Willow turned dark, before Buffy died (the first time), and before Anya started threatening to hit things with frying pans, the Hellmouth opened beneath Sunnydale High School. A sixteen-year-old blonde chick showed up and started hacking away at the demons that began to manifest in and around the high school. The rest, as they say, is…well; it’s seasons two through seven.

Many attempts have been made to resurrect BTVS. Comics, novels, fanfic, Angel – you name it, the creators and the show’s fans have attempted it. Although I enjoyed them (and, uh, may have participated in the fanfic), I don’t really think any of these forays has truly captured the spirit of those glorious early days.

Readers of The Novelettes, I hold in my hands the legacy to BTVS. It is Michelle Knudsen’s Evil Librarian.

From Buzzfeed - #Sunnydale problems

From Buzzfeed – #Sunnydale problems

Cyn and Annie, best friends since who-knows-when, share everything. Under the rules of best-friendship, Annie has been subjected to Cyn’s mooning over Ryan Hadley for years. Really, it’s lucky that Annie hasn’t ever really had a crush of the same magnitude, because Cyn does enough swooning for the both of them.

As technical director of the school’s production of Sweeney Todd, Cyn isn’t really all that interested in the goings-on of the school library. And neither is Annie, really – until Mr. Gabriel arrives. The new school librarian is young, disturbingly handsome and just a little bit too charismatic for Cyn’s liking, but Annie has fallen head over heels for him. Mr. Gabriel seems to be taken with Annie too, which would be repulsive enough all by itself – but when Cyn walks in on the librarian covered in the blood of another teacher, she knows for certain: Annie’s life is in danger.

“An evil librarian is taking over the school. He appears to be making my best friend his special evil library monitor.”

All over the school, students are exhibiting disturbing signs of some kind of brainwashing. Only Cyn, and the object of her affections, Ryan, seem to notice that the zombie-like entrancements are connected with Mr. Gabriel. All of a sudden, Cyn and Ryan find themselves in the middle of a demon war – with their high school as the battlegrounds.

“Because, you know, evil demon librarians, not so much known for the honesty policy.”

Seriously, though, Cyn’s got other things on her mind than stopping the denizens from hell ripping her school to shreds. She’s only got three weeks until Sweeney Todd’s opening night, and there’s so much to do! Normally, she’d need a lot of time to analyse the progress between she and Ryan, but she’s had to put all that energy into saving Annie from becoming a demon bride.

But she loves Annie. So much so that she’d go to Hell and back to save her. Which is lucky, since that’s exactly what she’s going to have to do.

My favourite cover art of the year.

My favourite cover art of the year.

Since reading Fangirl, I’ve been more interested than normal in well-developed romances, particularly those that are a sidebar to the main plot. Ryan and Cyn’s story is just the right balance of awkwardness, humour and sweet determination to get it right. Just like Cath in Fangirl, Cyn’s relationship with Ryan develops and grows along with Cyn. That is the sign of a romantic subplot done right!

Although Evil Librarian is being touted as Knudsen’s YA debut, I really believe that adults are going to get just as much out of this novel – if not more – than teenage readers. At twenty-four, high school might be over for me, but BTVS dialogue is still present in my everyday life (whether my friends know it or not). I think that as an adult, you might have the capacity to find this book funny in a way that teenagers won’t yet be able to.

“He looks at me again and the flames vanish and the knife is gone and his voice goes light and breezy and all coffee-shop conversational, as if he wasn’t just one second ago impaling me with fiery eyes and discussing the dark fate of my best friend and the souls of all my classmates.”

Evil Librarian feels original and familiar all at once. It’s funny, dramatic, kind of gross and very sweet. Without ever copying anything from Joss Whedon, Knudsen manages to capture everything that I loved about Buffy and bring it to an original setting in a new universe. It’s selflessness and scathing sarcasm in the face of the actual bloodthirsty monsters. It’s flippant quips when your world it is coming crashing down around your ears. It’s the ferocity of adolescence, channeled into all-encompassing friendship; the kind of friendship you’d die for.

Want a copy of Evil Librarian? If you’re in Brisbane, grab one from Pulp Fiction, now at Adelaide Street.

PS – I have a Gentleman T-shirt. I don’t actually wear it in public because it’s kind of scary. But here you go:

Hush, hush.

Hush, hush.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: How to be an Introvert

October 2, 2014 § 1 Comment

Fangirl cover art by Noelle Stevenson

Fangirl cover art by Noelle Stevenson

Cath has always preferred the fictional world over reality. She particularly loves the Simon Snow series, about a boy and his vampire roommate at school for the magically gifted. In fact, maybe “love” is not a strong enough word for how Cath feels about Simon and his vampiric frenemy, Baz. After all, she is the author of Carry On, Simon, the most widely read Simon Snow fanfic on the Internet. When she was younger, Cath used to write Carry On, Simon with her twin sister, Wren. Even though she’s always been the more outgoing one, Wren was always supportive of Cath’s reclusive ways. But as they prepare for their first year of college, Cath’s worst nightmare comes true – Wren doesn’t want to share a dorm room. Completely unprepared to broach a campus life without Wren by her side, Cath feels her anxiety rear its ugly head. She’s tempted to just stay at home in the bedroom she and Wren have always shared, but her father insists that she give the college life a try. Vivacious Wren takes to college like a duck to water. She’s on top of her classes, she gets on well with her roommate, and her social life is booming. Between attending parties and recovering from them, Wren doesn’t have any time for Cath. Reagan, Cath’s roommate, is…not someone Cath would normally choose to spend time with. She’s bossy, loud, has no qualms about speaking her mind and she thinks Cath needs a life. Cath doesn’t necessarily disagree, but she’d rather not be told so often (and so loudly). Reagan’s friend Levi is always hanging around, interrupting Cath’s much-needed writing time with persistent attempts to get to know her. Spending time with Reagan and Levi is uncomfortable, but not unpleasant, and she starts to settle in. She’s coping with her classes, still on top of Carry On, Simon, and is even managing without Wren. Cath is okay. And then, she’s not. The slow unraveling of her life does not take Cath by surprise; rather, her stress creeps up on her cumulatively (slowly, and then all at once?). She fails one of her papers, and she’s stumped as to how to approach the next one. Her slowly developing relationship with Levi grinds to a screeching halt when she walks in on him kissing another girl. Her estranged mother returns to her life, and wants to get to know the daughters she abandoned. Their mentally ill father relapses, and Wren is AWOL when Cath needs her.

If given the choice between going to a party and sitting at home with a book and a cup of tea, I, like Cath, will invariably choose the latter. When faced with a confronting situation, my brain, like Cath’s, will invariably choose to assume that the worst-case scenario is happening. It would not be unreasonable for me to call myself a fangirl…I do own a replica of Hermione’s wand, after all. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Simon Snow series pays homage to Harry Potter, and I know my readers won’t be surprised to hear that I relate to the Harry Potter novels in the same way that Cath does to Simon Snow (minus the fanfic). Ninety percent of the time, I feel more comfortable in the fictional world than I do in the real world. Fangirl is Cath’s story. And it’s also mine. fangirl1   When I read the blurb on the back of the novel, I predicted that this book would end with Cath moving on from Carry On, Simon, emerging from her life as the eponymous Fangirl and participating in the real world along with her sister. But Cath’s fandom is a part of her identity, and the author did not belittle this. Instead of becoming a more “socially acceptable” person, Cath simply becomes a stronger version of herself. I loved that the author represented Cath’s relationships with her sister and her mother in a realistic light. Wren is not a perfect person. The novel’s resolution did not see her realizing the error of her ways and becoming the supportive, attentive sister Cath needs. Instead, Cath came to terms with Wren’s role in her life, and appreciated her for what she could offer her. How wonderful, and how empowering, to read about a character afflicted with stressful situations and relationships that she does not necessarily fix, but learns to manage. I loved that. It was also refreshing to find that, although the plot does incorporate a budding relationship, romance was not the focus of the novel. Instead, it is a part of the larger story that is Cath’s life, and the way that she comes to be with Levi is all wrapped up in her development as a person. I loved Fangirl in a way that made me feel both protective and proud of it. I actually delayed finishing it, I loved it so much.But I also wanted to buy a hundred copies of it and give one to everyone I know, so that they might have the opportunity to feel as comforted as I did when I finished this book. No matter how I may feel about John Green these days, I have to say, he summarized this feeling perfectly in The Fault in Our Stars:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

This book is for anyone who is “very active in the fandom”. It’s for anyone who has ever experienced the endless, stifling pressure that is anxiety. It is for the black sheep, the outcasts and especially, for the introverts. It’s for the readers and the writers, and the Harry Potter lovers. It’s for you.

The Upside of Being an Introvert by Noelle Stevenson

The Upside of Being an Introvert by Noelle Stevenson

Brisbane readers can pick up a copy of Fangirl at Pulp Fiction Booksellers, now located on Adelaide Street. Visit their website here for more details, or for info on how to place a mail order.

The 5 Things I Want You To Know about Daughter of Smoke and Bone

May 10, 2014 § 3 Comments

This is the best cover available for the book.

This is the best cover available for the book.

I started this book once before, and only made it about fifty pages in. For some reason, it just didn’t strike me as anything special. The protagonist was odd, and I couldn’t relate to her.  I found the setting alienating, and couldn’t get a clear picture of the “otherworldly” element. In all honesty, I just didn’t get it, and I didn’t believe the hype (haa). Next!

When I attempted Daughter of Smoke and Bone for a second time, I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness I’d tried again. If I hadn’t, I would never have had the opportunity to immerse myself in one of the most interesting fantasy worlds I’ve ever come across.

Karou is an art student at a specialist college in Prague. She has a reputation for oddness: her blue hair seems to grow out of her head that way, and her drawings of mythological characters seem to have a life of their own. Strange things seem to happen around Karou, but when her friends ask her about it, she simply deflects their questions with a wry smile and a vague response.

Unlike her best friend Zuzanna, Karou has no family in Prague. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have family anywhere on Earth. Nobody seems to know how she ended up in a tiny artist’s college in Prague, or even why she can speak fluent Czech. Karou, it seems, is a mystery.

You can't read this book and not want to go to this city.

You can’t read this book and not want to go to this city.

Unbeknownst to her classmates, Karou has access to numerous portals to another realm. When she steps through one of these scattered doorways, Karou comes face to face with chimaera – hybrid beasts that wouldn’t be out of place in Pan’s Labyrinth. A gorgon-esque woman with the body of a snake and the torso of a human and a huge beast with the head of a ram and the legs of a lion greet her when she crosses the threshold from the human realm into Elsewhere – these are Issa and Brimstone, Karou’s surrogate parents.
Although her chimaera family is even more caring than the average human parents, they have never truly revealed to Karou how she came to be in their care. Brimstone, a merchant who specializes in the trade of teeth, sends Karou all over the globe in search of his unusual produce. Despite this, however, she has no idea what he actually uses the teeth for. With no context for her life, and an endless stream of questions about her very existence, Karou lives with a perpetual feeing of emptiness.

I’m not going to tell you any more about the plot of the novel. Not really knowing much about the book meant that it had every capacity to shock and surprise me – which it did, in spades. Instead, I’m going to tell you the top five things I want you to know about Daughter of Smoke and Bone:

1. It is not – repeat, NOT – another YA paranormal romance. While there is a romantic element, it quickly becomes apparent that the focal relationship is only a catalyst for a much more interesting concept: war. And once the war arrives, the romance (quite rightfully) dissipates.

2. While we’re talking about things that this book is not, let me just say that it is not another urban fantasy. In fact, by the time you get to the second book, you’ve almost entirely left the human world, so there’s nothing urban about it. I think it would therefore be fair to class Days of Blood and Starlight as hard fantasy. And, you’ll be pleased to hear, there’s not a vampire in sight.

Lovely fan art - artist unknown (please comment if you know who made this so I can credit them)

Lovely fan art – artist unknown (please comment if you know who made this so I can credit them)

3. In a quietly unassuming way, all of the female characters in the novel are heroic. Karou herself is a beacon of strength, particularly in the face of borderline depression, but even the peripheral women are awesome. Zuzanna, Karou’s best friend, is brilliantly drawn and aggressively fierce, and it’s worth reading this book for her character alone.

Side note: Zuzanna and her boyfriend Mike bring a much-needed light-heartedness to the story, as well as a certain romantic element which is not dependent on a “will they or won’t they” dynamic. Mik and Zuzanna have their own mini-novella, Night of Cake and Puppets, which is adorable and funny, just like they are.

4. I don’t really believe that this is a YA novel. The plot is more complex than most other YA books I’ve read, and the themes and concepts it addresses feel more like adult fiction. While I unashamedly adore YA fiction, I do feel as though Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a more fulfilling read because of its maturity.

Ugh. Just, ugh. This is such a poor representation of the book.

Ugh. Just, ugh. This is such a poor representation of the book.

5.  Please, please don’t judge this brilliant book on this very poor cover art. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is so much more than this silly cover. It’s not about masquerades and balls (although there are some in there) and boys and pretty magic. It’s about war, identity, cultural heritage and friendship. It is a dark, moody novel, and it deserves so much more than this vapid design that gives it no edge over all the cut-copy paranormal YA on the shelves currently.

 

So there you have it. I hope I’ve convinced you to read it, because you really should.

 

Two post-scripts:
1. Apologies for the lack of reviews of late – I’ve recently begun studying a Master of Information and Library Management, and I’m still getting the hang of balancing work, study, blogging and reading!

2. Pulp Fiction is MOVING. If you’re in Brisbane, go check out their 20% off sale to grab a bargain before they move to their new premises (which are very close by – details will be posted soon on their Facebook).

In case you missed it, there's a sale on.

In case you missed it, there’s a sale on.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – A Review

January 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you’re into Young Adult Fiction, chances are that one author made it happen. To paraphrase another editor, what writers like J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins started, John Green finished with his small but exquisite collection of novels about adolescent life that tell it like it is. But how and why has Green succeeded in winning the hearts of so many, when many more before him have tried and, if not failed, then not succeeded on the same scale? How did a young author from the American Midwest write novels that got the entire world (including a good number of adults) to fall in love with fiction for youths all over again?

 

Surely you've seen this cover around?

Surely you’ve seen this cover around?

Put simply, Green knows his teens. With his background as a youth chaplain and drawing from his own days at boarding school, he’s created a world of beautifully rendered youths who go about life, love and sometimes, death. His characters harbour deep crushes on the opposite sex, played out through snappy comebacks, thoughtful insights and intellectual referencing (think Walt Whitman, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even wholly original Mathematical theorems). More often than not, they encounter a crisis, which forces them to re-examine the beliefs they’ve held all along, whether about themselves or about the people around them. And it’s in re-evaluating their lives that Green draws the reader in: we, too, with the characters, are brought around to a new perspective that stays in our minds and lingers in the heart long after the story is over.

Amazingly, Green has built a strong following of his works based on these few similar plot elements, so what exactly works so well for him? To me, it’s the understanding he displays, not just of what it means to be a teenager, but also what it means to be human. After all, the questions of love, life and death don’t only plague us during teenhood, but continue to haunt us even as we grow older. Green’s teens, despite their age, bring to the story reflections that somehow make sense even to adults. There are life lessons that we should already know but don’t – love the person, not the idea of them, for instance – or new interpretations to things that we take for granted – the cliché, for example, that remembering the dead through writing will somehow immortalize them in memory. Together with his band of wisecracking, painfully insightful, prematurely mature youths, Green manages to reach out and touch us deep within a place that we may have long forgotten about or assumed could no longer be moved.

John Green (left) with the young stars of the film.

John Green (left) with the young stars of the film.

Green’s latest novel and most successful work to date, The Fault in Our Stars, deviates slightly from the pattern described above. His protagonist is not a boy but a girl, Hazel Grace Lancaster, and from the onset her fate is never anything but determined – “her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis”, as the novel puts it. She starts the story not attracted to anyone, and in fact determined not to be, because in her mind terminally ill people like her are “grenades” who will eventually blow up and hurt the people around her for life. Against all odds, however, Hazel meets Augustus “Gus” Waters, a stunningly good-looking cancer survivor who falls in love with her and whom she grows to love in return.

As we have come to expect of Green’s protagonists, Hazel is wonderfully fleshed out, if not in body, then at least in character. She is smart and well-read, and finds in Gus an intellectual opponent worthy of verbal sparring. Their conversations are an enjoyable cocktail of philosophical musings, nods to authors both famous and fictional and inside jokes (“Okay? Okay.”). Perhaps such humorous wisdom is due to their accelerated adulthood; both teens are forced to grow up far too soon with the cancer clock looming over them, constantly and conspicuously ticking away their life. Yet ironically, in numbering their days, Green has created characters that are more vivid and full of life than one would expect cancer patients to be (incidentally, a stereotype that Green hoped to correct in writing this book).

The first official poster for the highly anticipated film adaptation.

The first official poster for the highly anticipated film adaptation.

The pair’s budding relationship, as the upcoming movie poster puts it, is “one sick love story”. Gus is inexplicably (to Hazel, at least) attracted to Hazel from the first, and refuses to distance himself from her despite her warnings: “All efforts to save me from you will fail”. The two gradually bond over their mutual love of Hazel’s favourite novel, the fictitious An Imperial Affliction, and Gus, in a gorgeously Cinderella moment, plays fairy godfather when he spends his cancer wish from the Genies (a play on the real-life Make-a-Wish Foundation) on trip for himself and Hazel to Amsterdam to meet the novel’s famously reclusive writer, Peter Van Houten. From there, the pair’s romance is sealed and sees them through the second half of the story as an unexpected discovery turns Hazel and Gus’s lives upside down forever.

This story is unmistakably a tragedy, and Green himself acknowledges as much through the title’s nod to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and explains further via the character of Van Houten, who notes in a letter to Gus that “there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars”. Both Hazel and Gus are marked with a sense of fatality through their battles with cancer and respond in different ways: Hazel desires to live an ordinary life without hurting anyone, whereas Gus fears oblivion and not leaving a significant legacy behind. Yet, there is also love among the ruins, through Gus’s unflinching devotion to Hazel, and the latter’s eventual reciprocity (“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”); Hazel’s words, which also close out the book, carry a promise of eternal commitment to Gus.

As with Green’s other novels, The Fault in Our Stars contains the perfect blend of likable characters, witty humour, poignant scenes, topped off by Green’s splendid writing. In addition, it offers a reassurance somewhat to the fear of mortality, through the reversal of a age-old mantra: that while we are in the midst of death, we are too in life.

This review was written by Nicola Cheong, a guest writer for The Novelettes. Thank you Nicola!

Ten Things I loved about Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT

December 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

1. Skulduggery is a magical skeleton detective.
Just stop and think about that for a second. So many children’s authors would expect their young readers to simply suspend their disbelief and accept that, in the world of this novel, magical skeleton detectives are just part of how things roll. Not so Derek Landy. Instead, Skulduggery’s past and his current status as animate skeleton are explained so matter-of-factly that the reader is able to place complete trust in the potential of this world to exist. Skulduggery is witty, droll, powerful, loyal and just a little bit shifty. Few titular characters are as likable as the skeleton detective.

Skulduggery is illustrated by Tom Percival

Skulduggery is illustrated by Tom Percival

 

2. The meta-fictional sense of humour
Skulduggery Pleasant is a book that is constantly aware of its genre, and of the reader’s scepticism. Rather than trying to overcome this with detailed descriptions and overwhelming world-building, Landy instead turns this into a basis for humour.  Skulduggery Pleasant literally made me laugh out loud so often that I repeatedly garnered odd looks from my fellow passengers on public transport.

“China is the same age as I am, and even I have to admit that she wears it better!” He laughed, then stopped and peered at her. “Because I’m a skeleton” he explained.” 

“A living skeleton isn’t enough for you, is it? What does it take to impress young people these days?”

“Doesn’t sunlight kill them? Doesn’t it turn them to dust, or make them burst into flames or something?”
“Nope. Vampires tan, just like you and me. Well, just like you. I tend to bleach.”

3. The character’s names are excellent.
The magic system in the world of Skulduggery Pleasant is based upon names. Individuals are given three names – their given name, the name they choose, and their true name. Some of the names that characters choose for themselves are simply wonderful:  Skulduggery Pleasant, for one, but also: Mevolent, the evil sorcerer; Meritorious, one of the wise Elders; Ghastly, the scarred but kindly tailor; and China Sorrows, dangerously beautiful librarian.

I really love Tom Percival's illustrations!

Meet Valkyrie Cain, also known as Stephanie Edgley. I love Tom Percival’s illustrations!

4. Stephanie’s inquisitive and enjoyably bossy personality
I’m so tired of reading reviews that praise “strong female characters.” It’s a concept I can no longer be bothered engaging with, because I think I believe it is more detrimental than it is helpful to depictions of female characters. What fiction, especially children’s fiction, needs more of are characters like Stephanie. Through a combination of inheritance and conscious choice, Stephanie finds herself fully immersed in the magical world of Skulduggery and his companions. Certain that she is now on the path to realising her life’s goals, she pesters, annoys and frustrates Skulduggery into taking her on as an apprentice. Stephanie is whip-smart, insolent and determined. In other words, she’s an actual twelve-year-old girl, and not an idealised “role model” coming to us from the top of an unrealistically high pedestal.

Well said.

Well said.

 

5. The book does not speak down to its readers
This is not a book dumbed down for its young readers. Now, it should be noted that the narration, content and language used are all age-appropriate, but in no way is it lowered in either quality or context for the younger reader. This means that Skulduggery Pleasant is just as enjoyable for the adult readers as it is for the kids!

6. The cleverly revealed layers of the plot
In addition to the highly entertaining dialogue, the plot of the first novel is fast-paced, action-packed and character-driven. All the things that you need to make a compulsive read. The author pays homage to the noir tradition, but also splices in all manner of pop-culture references (not the least of which is Lovecraftian!).

Mr Landy and Mr Pleasant - creator and creation.

Mr Landy and Mr Pleasant – creator and creation.

7. The relationship between Skulduggery and Stephanie (later Valkyrie)
Skulduggery is Stephanie’s teacher, mentor and protector. In turn, she is his loyal protégée. At times, they act like bickering siblings, and they’re certainly not afraid of being open with one another, but it’s quite clear that they are fiercely protective friends. It is refreshing and endearing to read about a genuinely caring relationship which is not based on romance. Skulduggery and Stephanie are simply in this together because they want to be, and that’s lovely.

“…what I was going to say is there’s something about you that is really annoying, and you never do what you’re told, and sometimes I question your intelligence—but even so, I’m going to train you, because I like having someone follow me around like a little puppy. It makes me feel good about myself.”
She rolled her eyes. “You are such a moron.”
“Don’t be jealous of my genius.”
“Can you get over yourself for just a moment?”
“If only that were possible.”
“For a guy with no internal organs, you’ve got quite the ego.”
“And for a girl who can’t stand up without falling over, you’re quite the critic.”
“My leg will be fine.”
“And my ego will flourish. What a pair we are.”

8. The fact that Skulduggery Pleasant is not yet a movie franchise
This is surprising, because it’s a series bound for the silver screen. I’m delighted to have found these books before they get to movie-stage, because it could be done so very badly. Derek Landy’s novels are eccentric, quintessentially Irish and highly imaginative, and I worry that they would not translate effectively through the lens of a Hollywood camera. Read them before a film comes out, so you can make up your own mind.

Does this logo not scream "opening credits" to you?

Does this logo not scream “opening credits” to you?

9. The darkness that counterbalances the humour
Many children’s novels lean toward the saccharine in order to avoid frightening young readers. Few authors manage to walk the line between humour and darkness, but Landy carries it off without a hitch. There are scenes of surprising darkness in Skulduggery Pleasant, but the characters balance this out with unexpected quips and flippant commentary. Indeed, when Skulduggery is faced with somewhat graphic torture, he lightens the mood considerably by  simply laughing at his captor.

10. The fact that this is a whole series I get to discover
These are the kind of books I look forward to reading during my breaks, on the bus and before bed – an escape into a world with vivid characters, a multi-faceted magic system and an endless font of humour.

And they're the good guys.

If the first book is anything to go by – I love this series.

Patrick Ness Messes With My Head

September 8, 2013 § 3 Comments

Please note: this post may contain some unavoidable, implicit spoilers for Patrick Ness’ new release, More Than This. If you are particularly spoiler-sensitive, do not read ahead. You have been warned.  

On the topic of The Matrix: I was nine when The Matrix came out, and I was too preoccupied with ponies and Goosebumps novels to have the slightest interest in seeing it. Somehow, I didn’t get around to watching it until I was twenty one, twelve years after its release. Although the suspended-motion action scenes were much less impressive in 2011 than they must have been in 1999, I, a twenty one year old living in the age of information, was deeply disturbed by the concept that we might legitimately be living within the Matrix. While most of the movie-going public had struggled with this in the year 2000, I had to wrestle with the philosophical implications of an artificial online existence long, long after the bandwagon had departed. I still think about this from time to time, and the concept makes my head spin. It’s awesome, in the literal sense of the word.

What if...this is it?

What if…this is it?

More Than This was my introduction to Patrick Ness. Although I’ve been meaning to read the Chaos Walking trilogy for ages, I sort of just never got around to it. I picked up a copy of More Than This simply because it was beautifully presented and the blurb was intriguing. I started reading that night, and thirty six hours later, I was finished.

Seth died.And then he woke up.

He’s alone, in the English suburbs where he grew up, and he has no idea why. Is this hell? Is he having a comatose hallucination? Or something else entirely? Struggling with his very real feelings of starvation and dehydration, Seth begins to explore his new state of existence. While he’s searching for edible food and trying to avoid a malignant presence that seems to dog him, he’s plagued by excruciating flashbacks of the life he abandoned when he walked into the sea. He recalls his relationship, kept secret from everyone around him, and its painful conclusion. He is forced to think about the horrible incident that brain-damaged his little brother.  He contemplates the cold manner in which is parents treat him, as though he were secondary to all else.  As he walks the empty world, this becomes his afterlife.
  After what feels like an eternity of solitude, Seth is astounded to find that he’s not alone in this bleak, empty world. A small, sarcastic Polish boy named Tomasz and a fierce black girl, Regine, emerge from the background of his personal hell, and they form a unit. Slowly, so as not to shock him, Tommy and Regine reveal to Seth the way in which they came to be in the world they now inhabit. Together, the three begin to unravel the series of events that led to this vacant landscape of their post-death.

Patrick Ness' More Than This Cover

Patrick Ness’ More Than This Cover

Told in the bleak afterlife where Seth materialises after his death, and in a series of flashbacks which gradually reveal the tender joys and shocking betrayals of his suburban life, More Than This requires a fair bit of effort to get through. It explores some disturbing concepts, and I was surprised to find that it took a lot out of me to process it once I’d finished. There is a clear fascination with death, and in particular, the way a person died and what this means for them in the afterlife. Ness addresses the concepts of guilt, accountability and forgiveness in the adolescent world, and manages to do so without sounding either preachy or unrealistic. For me, the most disturbing aspect of More Than This was the suggestion that people, as individuals, contributed to an eventual “tipping point” which constituted a world-wide apocalypse.

Encapsulating elements of The Matrix and The Lovely Bones, More Than This is truly heart-wrenching. It simultaneously explores life after death and a bleak, post-apocalyptic future from the perspective of a vulnerable and mistreated young man.

Once I finished this book, I was emotionally exhausted. The book explores some disturbing concepts, including death, and it took a lot out of me to process the narrative through the prism of such in-depth philosophy.  One could say that it is a kind of reverse-Matrix, which, as you can imagine, just about did my head in. I loved it.

More Than This is an example of the true potential of both the young adult and post-apocalyptic genres. Patrick Ness has made use of his teenage protagonist and the trials and tribulations of navigating a post-apocalyptic wasteland to explore the fabric of reality in a brutally modern fashion. Present-tense narration and shifting time periods make it a jumpy read, but Ness uses this to his advantage. The end result is a turbulent, addictive read which had me reeling, both emotionally and mentally.

More Than This is one of those books that puts all other reading material to shame for just a little while. Once you finish it, it’s hard to remember why you ever read a book that wasn’t as good as this one, and why you ever would again. It doesn’t matter what kind of books you like, or if you even like books at all. Just read it. You’ll be glad you did.

As an added bonus, here’s Peter Gabriel singing More Than This, the song that inspired the novel’s title.

Top 5 Book to Film Adaptations

August 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

I don’t know about you guys, but when I find out that one of my favourite books is being adapted to film, I immediately start micro-stressing. Will they cast the characters the way I see them in my head? Will they change important plot points? Will this book, that I have privately enjoyed for so long, now be the domain of a vapid fan-base, like Twilight was?

Film is a completely different medium to the novel, and it communicates with viewers in a wholly different way. Because of this, there is no way that a film can exactly replicate the experience of reading a beloved novel. We all know this. Sometimes, though, an astute filmmaker will somehow manage to capture the essence of the original book. That special, intangible element, unique to each and every novel, has survived the gruelling transition from page to screen, and the film becomes a special one because of it. These are five adaptations that we think did their base novels justice.

Ever felt like this?

Ever felt like this?

The Lovely Bones (Kalystia)

There is something very special about this novel. In reading The Lovely Bones, the reader is transported from the hellish nightmare of Susie Salmon’s rape and murder, to heaven, where Susie watches over her grieving family. I have cherished The Lovely Bones since I first read it in high school. I know the novel inside out (some sections word for word, even), so I was sceptical about a film adaptation.

But it was perfect.

Saorise Ronan embodied Susie’s frozen innocence and indescribable grief at being abducted from life. The colour palette of the film was stunning. The plot was faithful to the novel, even to the smallest details. The atmosphere of the novel was translated perfectly into the film, which was at once surreal and gritty. It was a wonderful adaptation.

Saorise Ronan as Susie Salmon - like the fish.

Saorise Ronan as Susie Salmon – like the fish.

The Mortal Instruments (Kalystia)

I admit I’m not the biggest fan of The Mortal Instruments series. I enjoyed them, but lost interest by the fourth one. The continuation of the series screams “money-making” to me… That said, I saw the film last Friday, and I think that the realm of Downworlders and Shadowhunters has been brought to life on the big screen. The Institute is lavish and exquisitely rendered, and the opening scene in Pandemonium was exactly as I’d pictured it. I thought Lilly Collins was well-cast as Clary, and Lena Headey was great as Jocelyn. Yeah, okay, Magnus Bane was a little wooden in his delivery, and Jace was very different to the way I’d pictured him in the novel, but Isabelle’s whip made up for it all. I recommend seeing this if you like urban fantasy.

City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones

The Prestige (Kalystia)

I can’t really explain why The Prestige was such a brilliant adaptation without giving away a major spoiler. What I can say, though, is that Christopher Nolan took the (somewhat boring) base text and reworked part of its narrative structure. The end result is a magnificent thriller which builds to a tense finale, and one of the best twist-endings you’ll ever see. The Prestige is a testament to Nolan’s storytelling prowess. The fact that he could tell the same story as the novel and achieve such a phenomenally different end result just goes to show that he is deserving of all the praise that is heaped upon him! Incidentally, The Prestige is one of the very few movies which is undeniably better than its printed counterpart.

Robert Angier

Hugh Jackman in a top hat? It’s bound to be one of my favourites.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (The Swedish original – itsnotnatalie)

What can I say other than I loved, loved, LOVED this movie?! I immensely enjoyed the book (and its sequels) and this fantastic adaptation expertly transfers all the grittiness, frustration and energy of Larsson’s work from page to screen. Usually, I am firmly in the book is better camp, but I think here the movie has a slight edge – Noomi Rapace IS Lisbeth and is utter perfection in the role.

Noomey Rapace

Noomey Rapace as the iconic Lisbeth Salander

I Capture The Castle (itsnotnatalie)

I think with such a book there was always the possibility the adaptation would veer too far into the twee. Thankfully, it does not. The fantastic cast manage to convey the humour, sweetness and quaintness of the book set in the 30s without skimping on the realness and touch of darkness. Bill Nighy and Romola Garai are simply superb. A movie (and a book) I come back to time and again.

I'm ashamed I used a rage comic.

…I think this is a pretty accurate description of my lfie.

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