Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Potter Redux: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, or why you shouldn't mess with Hermione Granger

This post is part of my Harry Potter Re-read 2013. (Book One) (Book Two) (Book Three)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

J. K. Rowling

Bloomsbury, 2000

Previous reads
This was the first hardback HP book that my brother and I had, because it was the first one we bought when  it was first released. By this point we were both big HP fans, but because they were his books I had to wait for him to finish Goblet of Fire before I could read it. I always liked this one a lot, although I never much liked the initial Quidditch World Cup section, and was always eager to get past that part and back to Hogwarts. For some reason, I have never been wild about the Mad-Eye Moody storyline, either (although I do like him as a character).

Re-reading GoF, I was reminded both of the things that make it one of my favourite HP books, and all those other niggly things that really irritate me about it at the same time. The Quidditch World Cup part was actually shorter than I remembered, and I didn't mind it so much this time. I am still not a fan of the SPEW subplot - I don't think Hermione comes off particularly well, and it wasn't much fun to read about. I think when I first read it, I was just annoyed at Hermione, but these days I am more annoyed that she comes across as a bit shrill and aggravating because she believes in a particular cause. Then again, she has plenty of excellent moments - including putting Ron in his place when he invites her to the dance as an afterthought, and finally getting her own back on Rita Skeeter.

I think the tension between Harry and Ron is done really well in this book - when Ron turns his back on Harry and goes to sit with Dean and Seamus instead, it managed to sum up all those school-age feelings of falling out with your friends and feeling totally despondent about it. It felt very realistic, and I like that some of those underlying feelings of jealousy and inadequacy were addressed, building on Ron's horror at his hideous second-hand dress robes. That's not to say I didn't want to bash Ron and Harry's heads together at times for being so idiotic and not just talking to each other (although given that they are 14 year old boys here, it's perhaps more believable that that didn't happen).

The Triwizard Tournament task chapters are actually a lot shorter than I remembered, too - but seriously, Harry. Put the egg in the bath already.

Pick a quote:

"Longbottom, kindly do not reveal that you can't even perform a simple Switching Spell in front of anyone from Durmstrang!" Professor McGonagall barked at the end of one particularly difficult lesson, during which Neville had accidentally transplanted his own ears onto a cactus.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Review: Scarlet, Marissa Meyer (#CatchUpClub)

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2)

Marissa Meyer

Puffin, 2013

This is not the fairytale you remember.

But it’s one you won’t forget.

Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. The police have closed her case. The only person Scarlet can turn to is Wolf, a street fighter she does not trust, but they are drawn to each other.

Meanwhile, in New Beijing, Cinder will become the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive – when she breaks out of prison to stay one step ahead of vicious Queen Levana.

As Scarlet and Wolf expose one mystery, they encounter Cinder and a new one unravels. Together they must challenge the evil queen, who will stop at nothing to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner . . .

Scarlet is a fast, action-packed take on Little Red Riding Hood, and the follow-up to Cinder (which I reviewed here). The book takes place directly after the events of Cinder, focusing on teenager Scarlet Benoit, who lives and works on a small farm in France with her grandmother. Scarlet is desperate to figure out why her grandmother has gone missing, and what secrets she's been hiding from her granddaughter. Parallel to Scarlet's story, we also get to see what Cinder is up to, on the run with fellow fugitive Thorne.

The world-building was solid, and I like how Meyer manages to get across the pertinent facts about the state of the world without resorting to info-dumping. Cinder and Scarlet cross paths in a way I never would have imagined, and I thought the stories were brought together well. I preferred Scarlet's side of the story - the chapters are roughly divided between the two characters until they meet - mostly because I was intrigued by her grandmother's past, and Scarlet was a stubborn but likable protagonist. I also wasn't bowled over by Thorne's character - mostly he just annoyed me a little bit - and seeing as he was a big part of the Cinder chapters, that put me off slightly. I did like Wolf a lot, particularly in the beginning, although there is a bizarre conversation between Wolf and Scarlet near the end that I probably didn't react to like I was supposed to.

Scarlet is pretty non-stop, and there is enough adventure to ward off second-book-syndrome, even though the over-arching plot does follow on from Cinder. I liked how parts of the original fairytale were worked in (particularly the scene in the theatre, which was genuinely unsettling!). The brief glimpses of Kai in this book also suggest a bigger, scarier prospect just around the corner. This series has been a lukewarm one for me - good in places, with the potential to be gripping, but something falls a little short for me, and I find that I'm not quite fully engaged with the characters and the writing. However, the set up for book three might pull me back in - if only because I'm hoping there's another solution to Kai's dilemma...

Overall rating: 6/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Scarlet was part of July's #CatchUpClub.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Review: Last Rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Last Rituals

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Hodder & Stoughton, 2007 (2005)

At a university in Reykjavík, the body of a young German student is discovered, his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. Police waste no time in making an arrest, but the victim's family isn't convinced that the right man is in custody. They ask Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn't long before Thóra and her associate, Matthew Reich, uncover the deceased student's obsession with Iceland's grisly history of torture, execution, and witch hunts. But there are very contemporary horrors hidden in the long, cold shadow of dark traditions. And for two suddenly endangered investigators, nothing is quite what it seems . . . and no one can be trusted.

Last Rituals starts out with a particularly grisly discovery - the body of German student Harald, minus the eyes, lolling out of a storage cupboard in a professor's office. Back in Germany, Harald's family aren't convinced that their son's friend and drug dealer is to blame for the murder, and ask Thóra to investigate.

Thóra works as an attorney at a tiny firm in Reykjavik, and Harald's case takes her way outside of her comfort zone. She and Matthew, a German man working for Harald's family, attempt to crack open the case, delving deeper into the history of witchcraft and witch hunts that so fascinated Harald and formed the basis of his obsessive research.

There are a few decent red herrings along the way, and the history of witchcraft was interesting, although I quite often wanted to find out more than just the names and dates of various bishops and monks. Thóra was quite a complex main character - alongside the investigation, she has to deal with her ex-husband and her two children (one of whom is involved in a little interesting side plot of their own), and there were quite a few flashes of domestic life which gave the character more layers. I felt a little bit detached from her at points - I'm not sure you ever properly get inside her head - but that wasn't a huge problem as the plot kept me hooked for the majority of the book.

There were a couple of flat points when things didn't seem to be moving along, and sometimes it seemed like a new character would be brought in with a new discovery, only for it to falter (the cleaning women, for example). The ending was a surprise to me, but rather than a clever unravelling of evidence it seemed quite straightforward - this definitely didn't feel like a novel where the reader is left clues, but rather one that you watch unfold in front of you.

For the most part, a solid crime thriller, and I will probably go back to Sigurðardottír at some point.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library

This book counts towards my 2013 Translation Challenge.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Showcase Sunday #29

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

A few things to share from the last few weeks!

These are my latest library loans: 
Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I just finished Ephron's book, and it was one of those books that you just want to grab hold of and never let go. I said on Goodreads that it made me want to run out and read everything Ephron has ever written, and I stand by that statement - funny, honest and smart (and highly recommended).

Sisterland is also excellent. Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favourite authors, and I expected something fantastic (particularly after the joy that was American Wife) - I'm happy to report that I have not been disappointed in the slightest so far.

I am excited to read Dark Places - I loved Gone Girl, and liked Sharp Objects (which was good, but felt very much like a debut novel), and this is the novel Flynn wrote in between. It seems to centre on a brother and sister, which (as the sister of a brother) I always like reading about.

One book I did get from the library recently (but only photographed the inside of, as above) was Life After Death: 18 Years on Death Row, by Damien Echols. I read this a couple of weekends ago, mostly sitting in the (glorious) sunshine in my garden. Echols is one of the West Memphis Three, who were freed in 2011. That whole case is mind-boggling in its absolute failure of justice for anyone involved, and I would highly recommend the film Paradise Lost (and its sequels), as well as the most recent film West of Memphis, all of which focus on the case. (The book is really good too, but I think the films give a context that the book moves beyond.)

Finally, Girl Reading by Katie Ward - another library loan, and a good (but not great) book that I finished last week. It focuses on the stories of seven different women reading.

Recent posts: roundup

I also started up the #CatchUpClub with a group of lovely bloggers that I met through the recent #bookishparty on Twitter - find out more here!

Friday, 19 July 2013

AWW2013: Halfway Recap!

In January, I signed up for 2 reading challenges this year (alongside my regular Goodreads challenge). The first of these was Ellie's 2013 Translation Challenge, which I recapped recently here. The second was the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

I set myself a target of reading 4 books by female Australian authors over the course of the year. Looking back at the halfway stage, I realise I have reached my target! These are the books I have read so far:

YA with an interesting Aussie Rules setting.

Coming of age YA with an intriguing subplot that delves into an interesting piece of Australian history. One of my top ten books of the year so far.

YA set at a Christian summer camp. I had high expectations but was a little bit underwhelmed by this.

Another of my top ten books of the year so far. Great YA with fab male characters.

More coming of age YA - good, but didn't blow me away.

Based on a true story, focusing on the German political resistance in the early 1930s.

I've really enjoyed this challenge so far - the Aussie YA has been strong, and I was excited to read Funder's latest novel. I'm hopeful that I will be able to add to this list by the end of the year, and I'd definitely recommend Gale and Keil's books in particular to any YA fans out there!

Challenge status: Complete.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Review: Be Awesome, Hadley Freeman

Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies

Hadley Freeman

Fourth Estate, 2013

This is one of those rare books I was both racing to finish (because it's so good) and trying to savour (ditto). I also totally interrupted the most serious five minutes of an episode of The Returned (also awesome, by the bye) that my housemate was watching by cackling like a loon at Hadley's particularly excellent parody of all the dating advice you'll ever receive as a woman, ever. OH LOOK, YOU'RE TURNING INTO A CRONE. MARRY NOW, MARRY NOW, MARRY NOW.

Be Awesome is a mixture of chapters on various different topics - some serious (eating disorders and the way the media 'reports' them), some thought-provoking (women's bodies and the way there's pretty much always something 'wrong' with them - particularly if they're not pregnant!!), and some, for me, particularly ripe with feelings of vindication, not least the chapter on what to do when you're friends start having kids and (adopt patronising tone now) "growing up". There are lots of nuggets of awesomeness in here, but I am a big fan of this one: don't ever define yourself by your age, and don't ever listen to your friends if they utter those dastardly words: "we're getting too old for this". (And why would you spend your money on camping in some mud for a weekend, not being able to shower, along with a load of other people who haven't had a shower, when you could have a mortgage?*)

So if you couldn't tell, part of the reason I loved this book so much was that it made me want to read it out to people and go "YES! THIS!" a lot, even though when people write "THIS" on Twitter it aggravates me unnecessarily. There are lists of awesome films (all of which pass the Bechdel Test) and awesome books, chapters that examine the beauty industry and stupid dating advice and media expectations of women, numerous references to The Princess Bride and almost as many recommendations of Curtis Sittenfeld's books as I myself force upon people in an average month. The whole thing was kind of like having a chat with your favourite, most brilliant friend, and I can't recommend it enough.

*The answer: because THIS feels infinite.

Overall rating: 9/10

Book source: Received as a gift from my mum.

Friday, 12 July 2013

#CatchUpClub - Cinder / Scarlet

Hey guys! You may have seen me tweeting about this, but if not - welcome to the first edition of the #CatchUpClub!

During last week's #bookishparty on Twitter, I got chatting to four lovely bloggers - Dianne, Yasmine, Jessica and Emily. Between us, we realised that there are an awful lot of YA books that everyone else has been raving about that we just haven't got around to reading, and we felt a little bit out of the loop! So #CatchUpClub was born as a way of banding together to read some of those books. First on our list is Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series.

You can find out more on Emily's blog, where you can also sign up to our linky and let us know you're joining in! I will be reading Scarlet, the second book in the Lunar Chronicles series, as I read Cinder a while ago.

If you have suggestions for any further books you think we should read as part of #CatchUpClub, leave us a comment or tweet at us using the hashtag! (We're so 21st century.)

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

2013 Translation Challenge: Halfway Recap!

The 2013 Translation Challenge is hosted by Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.

I signed up for Ellie's Translation Challenge at the beginning of the year, and set myself a target of reading 6 translated books over the next 12 months.

At roughly the halfway stage, this is how it currently stands:

I have read four translated books so far this year.

The Dinner - Herman Koch (Dutch - translated by Sam Garrett)
The Hidden Child - Camilla Läckberg (Swedish - translated by Tiina Nunnally)
The Voice of the Violin - Andrea Camilleri (Italian - translated by Stephen Sartarelli)
Doppler - Erlend Loe (Norwegian - translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw)

I absolutely loved Doppler, and The Dinner was also excellent - both highly recommended. I didn't really enjoy The Voice of the Violin - a bit too ambling for my taste - but The Hidden Child was a good crime novel and I'd definitely read more of Läckberg's books in the future (this was my second of hers).

It has made me appreciate the work that goes into a good translation, and the effort that has been taken to keep the nuances and cultural flavours of these books while making them accessible in another language. I haven't especially sought any of these out simply because they are translated - the Camilleri book was the only one I picked up at the library because I was specifically looking to see what translated fiction they had. I have read books by Läberg and Loe before, and Loe is one of my favourite authors. But I think so far the challenge has made me think more about why I like translated fiction, and why I gravitate towards European books in particular. I like the idea of being transported to another country (some of which I have visited, others not) and seeing things from a slightly different perspective, as well as being able to spot commonalities. 

On that note, there is a definite European flavour to the translations I've read, although I'm pleased with the spread of languages so far. I think this is due in part to the fact that European translations are the ones most widely available, but it would be nice to include some things from other continents this year too - any suggestions or recommendations gratefully received!

Next up on my list: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir - Last Rituals (Icelandic), Keigo Higashino - The Devotion of Suspect X (Japanese) and Jakob Ejersbo - Exile (Danish). These three books will fulfil (and exceed) my challenge goal, but I plan to seek out some more translated fiction over the rest of the year and hopefully make it up to the 12 books that Ellie originally suggested!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Film Adaptations

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is Best/Worst Film Adaptations.

There are a few film adaptations that stick out as ones I really enjoyed, and I decided to focus on the good rather than the bad!

1. Into The Wild - one of my favourite films (and one of my favourite books). I don't watch it very often, because it has the power to make me collapse into a puddle of tears for A LONG TIME. Eddie Vedder's soundtrack plays a big part in this.

2. High Fidelity - I love this book, and although they moved the film from London to Chicago, in every other sense I think the film stays true to the book, and when I watched it again recently I was reminded how good it was. (And bonus Springsteen.)

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - I watched this recently and was prepared to be underwhelmed, but I actually really enjoyed it, and I thought it captured a certain 'feeling' that came straight from the book.

4. Milk - I watched the film before reading the book, and the film blew me away. The book is excellent, too.

5. Don't Look Now - Perhaps the creepiest, most unsettling film I will willingly sit down and watch. The build up of terror is done incredibly well - another favourite.

6. Matilda / The Witches - two Roald Dahl books-to-films that I think worked really well. Danny DeVito really brought Matilda to life, and The Witches I found suitably terrifying when I was young.

7. Bridget Jones' Diary - I think this is a solid adaptation. The book and the film are quite different in some respects, but again I think the essence of Bridget is there, and the cast do a great job.

8. The Virgin Suicides - Another favourite book, and another instance of a film really capturing a feeling within that book and running with it. I think Sofia Coppola did a fantastic job.

9. Harriet the Spy - I remember seeing this film at the cinema, and being obsessed with both the film and the book for ages afterwards. Harriet is one of my favourite characters ever.

And the one I don't like so much:

10. About a Boy - ARGH. I enjoyed the book, but the film doesn't do it for me at all. The whole backstory about Kurt Cobain is removed - it might have dated the film, sure, but it was (for me) an integral part of the book.

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

Friday, 5 July 2013

Potter Redux: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, or why that blob in your teacup could be the beginning of the end

This post is part of my Harry Potter Re-read 2013.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

J. K. Rowling

Bloomsbury, 2000

Previous reads:
I think I was quite late to the Prisoner of Azkaban Appreciation Party. A lot of my friends always claimed this as their favourite, and I was always confused - but over time, I have come to appreciate it a lot more. (And it does baffle me that at first I preferred Chamber of Secrets!) Again, I would estimate I have probably read this book four or five times before now.

There is a definite turn towards the darker side of the Harry Potter universe in this book, with the Dementors invading the Hogwarts Express at the beginning, and Harry running away from the Dursleys' home. (I love the scene when Harry finally snaps at Aunt Marge, though, and in particular her characterisation, which seemed very Dahl-esque.) I don't think anyone will ever usurp McGonagall as my favourite member of teaching staff at Hogwarts, but Lupin is certainly up there.

It was nice to see more of Hermione in this book, and I liked her shady timetable dealings and the fact that she figured out Lupin's secret. I enjoyed reading the scenes with the Time Turner again, although I think watching the film more recently has warped my memory of them somewhat, even though they are mostly faithful.

I always forget how little time Harry and Sirius actually get together, and reading this book knowing what comes later is always a little bit bittersweet.

Harry's increasing exasperation at his death being predicted at every turn by Professor Trelawney made me laugh, as did McGonagall's dismissal of his looming death, which is why I have picked the following as my chosen quote (although Ron attempting to use the telephone was a close third).

Pick a quote:

“Ah, of course,” said Professor McGonagall, suddenly frowning. “There is no need to say any more, Miss Granger. Tell me, which of you will be dying this year?” 

Everyone stared at her. 

“Me,” said Harry, finally.