Reading Challenge #52: A Book Based on Mythology

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Title: Ragnarok

Author: A.S. Byatt

How it fulfills the challenge: This book is an adaptation of the Norse end of the world myth (Ragnarok)

Genre: Fiction (maybe could be considered fantasy? Literary Fantasy…)

Quick Description: A detailed and almost poetic interpretation of a Norse myth with amazing imagery and a complex look at good and evil, power and weakness, as seen through the eyes of a child obsessed with the story.

Opening line: The thin child thought less (or so it now seems) of where she herself came from, and more about that old question, why is there something rather than nothing?

It began slowly. There were flurries of sharp snow over the fields where the oats and barley were ready to be harvested. There was ice on the desponds at night, when the harvest moon, huge and red, was still in the sky. There was ice on water jugs and an increasing thin, bitter wind that did not let up, so that they became used to keeping their heads hooded and down.

Highlights: Beautifully descriptive and evocative retelling of an ancient myth. My favorite section is on Yggdrasil, the great tree that contains so much life and death.

Low Points: I’m not super familiar with this myth, and Byatt does little to familiarize it. Instead she delights in the strangeness and otherness. It’s a more faithful retelling than other adaptations (or so I’ve read), and it feels older and darker, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not exactly what I was expecting and it was very different from Byatt’s Possession.

Goodreads rating: 4 stars.

Reading Challenge #28: A Novel Set During Wartime

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Title: Victory of Eagles

Author: Naomi Novik

How it fulfills the challenge: This book takes place during the Napoleonic wars, though the battles that are depicted never actually happened.

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Description: In the 5th book of the Temeraire series, the dragon’s captain, Laurence, has been branded a traitor and Temeraire has been sent to the breeding grounds, no longer in active duty. But as the war comes closer, the reluctant Aerial Corps will have no choice but to call them both back to the front.

Opening Line: The breeding grounds were called Pen Y Fan, after the hard, jagged slash of mountain at their heart, like an ax-blade, rimed with ice along its edge and rising barren over the moorlands: a cold, wet Welsh autumn already, coming on towards winter, and the other dragons were sleep and remote, uninterested in anything but their meals.

We will be our own army, and we will work out tactics for ourselves, not stuff men have invented without bothering to ask us…

Highlights: The Temeraire series is a great choice for anyone who thinks that history is all well and good, but it would be better with dragons in it. Novik does a really good job of capturing the period through both her setting and through her characters. This book in particular was interesting because for the first time we see the story through Temeraire’s perspective as well.

Low Points: Book #5 wasn’t my favorite out of the series so far (I think the 1st and 2nd ones get that honor). The tone was a little more melancholy, bordering on the despondent in some places, and this book in particular was more concerned with battles and troop movements and strategy, which aren’t my favorite things. Still, I’m eager to read the next one.

Goodreads rating: 4 stars. The fifth book is consistent with the rest of the series and was fun to read.

From Page to Screen: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Untitled design.jpgI’m totally fascinated by (some might say obsessed with) adaptation. If you believe, as I do, that nothing is truly original, then pretty much every cultural product is some form of adaptation or interpretation. I think of it as an extremely creative process: how to make unfamiliar the familiar (fairy tale adaptation); how to bring someone else’s original world to life in a new way (film adaptation); how to put your unique spin and gifts to an old story so that the old story is barely recognizable (aka pretty much every piece of art).

How people do this, and what is added by adaptation are questions that I’m forever thinking about. So I thought this feature could be kind of fun–a look at how films and literature interact, and about what the film brings to the story. These aren’t traditional reviews about how “well” the movie portrays the book, instead I’ll be looking at what I think are the meaningful deviations and how those changes impact our view of the stories together and separately. At least, that’s the goal.

First, some of the vital statistics on the book and film: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (click the link for the film Wikipedia page, which has a plot summary)

*Spoiler warning–it’s not intentional but is a somewhat essential part of the analysis process, though I do not talk about the ending.*

Book:

  • Written by: Ransom Riggs
  • Published: Quirk Books, June 2011
  • Intended audience: YA
  • Reception: NY Times Best Seller for 70 weeks, made it to #1 slot

Film:

  • Directed by: Tim Burton
  • Released: 20th Century Fox, September 2016
  • Principal actors: Eva Green (Miss Peregrine), Asa Butterfield (Jake), Samuel L. Jackson (Barron)
  • Reception: nominated for a special effects award from the Visual Effects Society Awards, mixed reviews and reception: Rotten Tomatoes: 64%; Meta critic 57/100= mixed/average reviews

Note: I watched the film before I read the book.

The film and the book have several interesting differences, but first I wanted to comment on the importance that visual media plays in the book. The story was largely inspired by old photographs–photography being the author’s primary interest–and for the most part the characters as well as some minor plot points come from these photographs.

These old pictures, which are in themselves strange and interesting, mean that the book had already been informed largely by visual media. This makes the decision to adapt into film a natural one (beyond the fact that most stories translate well to film and that Hollywood has a long and well-established history of borrowing liberally from literature). It’s even more natural that Tim Burton would be the chosen director, given his predilection for the gothic, slightly dark, but ultimately visually appealing aesthetic that he’s famous for.

Interesting Deviations:

The book’s protagonist, Jakob, is much more of a teenager in the text. He is filled with angst, is often sarcastic–he swears–he is much less earnest than his film counterpart. The film makes less of Jakob’s personality than of his character, by which I mean his actions and abilities and his fascination with the other children. This decision ultimately made his transition into their world easier in the film–he still has that sense of wonder and is more childlike (calling to mind characters like Dorothy or Alice), rather than offering more of a contrast to the children in the home. Still, I love the book version, which feels much more authentic to his age.

The old man from the bog. If you haven’t read the book, you probably have no idea what this is, but the old man is a very old and well preserved human sacrifice in the county museum. The museum curator suggests that the man would have been a willing sacrifice, since it meant he would go straight to heaven. The mummy provides an interesting contrast in the book between the children who are preserved in their own time and the preservation that is achieved through death in the bog. This is missing from the film, but the point the film tries to make about the peculiar children is very different from the one the book makes.

In continuation of the above difference, the children in the book often feel quite stuck or trapped in their safe haven, the alternative for most of them (leaving the loop) would mean death. They feel cut off from the world, and often lash out at the villagers. This is only present in a small sense in the film, which is more concerned with making the world of the peculiar children fantastical and immersive, the darkness lurking more in the background.

Differences in characters. 

  • One of my favorite deviations from the book to the film is the character of Miss Peregrine. In the book, she is a capable matron who cares deeply for her charges, but in the film she has a spark all her own. She’s mysterious and mischievous and looks like the falcon she is. She also seems, possibly because of her reduced age, more of a peer with the children rather than an instantly recognizable authority figure.
  • The other fairly big character change is in Emma and Olive’s characters. In both the film and book, Emma entrances and is entranced by Jakob, but in the book her powers and Olive’s are switched. Emma in the book is a fire wielder, while in the film she levitates. This choice has interesting implications. Emma as the fire wielder exerts more control over her surroundings. She is less passive, less at the mercy of the world around her, and so it’s natural that she’s unsatisfied with her safe haven, as her powers are typically associated with destruction and renewal. In the film, there is some work done to give her more agency (she doesn’t simply levitate, she can control the air…), and I think that the switch is done for visual purposes and possibly because her levitation/floating is a more unique than people who can manipulate heat as we’ve seen in other fantasies/comics. It also imparts a softer, less fiery or temperamental quality to Emma.

The eyeball thing. This is largely an aesthetic choice, but it’s too interesting not to comment on. In the book, the wights and hollowgasts kill peculiar children, but they do not feast on people’s eyes in order to get their humanoid form back. This is a rather macabre movie interpretation. Again, I think this decision is largely done for visuals and to give the hollowgasts and wights a firmer and more understandable goal.

The last major change I’ll talk about is the idea of having to repeat certain events in the loops. In the film, there is a sort of daily “chore” schedule that must be completed to keep everyone safe. This gives everyone a sense of responsibility (increasing the children’s agency), but it also makes the world feel different–less safe and more well rounded. In contrast, the book’s loops don’t operate this way. This gives a little more logic to the loops, in my opinion, but it creates the sense that the loops are not really a part of the world, and the safety is a little suffocating and cloying at first.

In summary, there are a lot of things about the book that make it feel more “real,” and slightly more believable. The author is able to make the magical feel mundane. On the other hand, the film is all about creating a new world. It’s supposed to feel fantastical. I enjoyed both the film and the book for different reasons, and I think the film does a good job of condensing the book’s events even though it ends up taking them in a weird direction (probably something that’s talked about in later books, which I have not yet read).

 

What do you think of movie adaptations in general or this one in particular? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

Reading Challenge #18: A Book You’ve Read Before that Never Fails to Make You Smile

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Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

How it fulfills the challenge: The Night Circus is one of those books that uses its imaginative and fantastical powers to charm and delight. The circus Morgenstern creates is one that I would love to experience. It’s a book that made me happy the first time I read it, and it didn’t let me down the second time.

Genre: fantasy/historical fiction

Quick Description: The circus is merely a venue for two opponents to exhibit their skills. But more than just the two of them are involved in the complicated game, and their own attraction for each other could lead to disaster.

Opening Line: The Circus arrives without warning.

The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.

Highlights: My absolute favorite part of this book both on my first and second reading is the nature of the magic both contestants perform and the illusions they create for the circus. The circus has to be one of the most enchanting settings I’ve ever seen. If it were real, I would definitely be someone you would see wandering around with a red scarf.

Low points: The ending of this book is definitely where it falls flat. The end comes quickly and is vaguely unsatisfying. Not only that, you’re removed from what little action there is and so the suspense and intrigue just isn’t there. Plot is definitely not the point of this book.

My Goodreads Rating: 5 stars (I kept my rating of this book the same because myenjoyment of it overshadowed my issues with it. It still feels magical)

 

(photo from Goodreads)

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 7 Great Books My Mom Recommended

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is all about book recommendations. I’ve read lots of great books that people suggest to me, so I wasn’t sure how to narrow down this topic until I thought about the one person with whom I exchange more book recommendations with than anyone else. My mom definitely encouraged my love of reading from a very young age. She loved to read and she loved to read to me. We read the first half of the Harry Potter books together (and pronounced ‘Hermione’ incorrectly the entire time), and ever since I was a teenager we’ve been trading books back and forth.

I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out things my mom would enjoy reading and vice versa. But here are 7 recent/memorable books that my mom recommended to me that I really enjoyed:

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury–My mom has always had a soft spot for this science fiction writer, so when it came up on a summer reading list in high school she suggested I pick it. I don’t think any other book has informed my ideas about censorship as much as this one.
  • Trinity by Leon Uris–I actually haven’t read all the Uris books my mom has told me  I should read, but this one was worth all the effort. His books are not easy reads–they’re long and dense–but they yield great rewards in scope and sheer epic-ness. This one is about Irish revolution. There were several unclaimed copies of it at our library book sale and I couldn’t believe it–I think because it was written in the 1970s people just don’t know anything about it.
  • Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon–So far I’ve only read the first book in this series, but it’s hard not to get swept up into the setting and the characters, so I’ll definitely be heading back for more.
  • Karma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon–My mom has always loved reading about East and South Asia and their cultures, and this is a memoir she recommended recently to me. We both enjoyed it, even though we felt that Feldon should have gotten over her culture shock a little more quickly and just enjoyed her experience the best she could. Both my mom and I have always wanted to travel, and while we’ve gotten to do more than some people neither of us has left the North American continent yet, so it’s hard to see other people get amazing opportunities and then fail to appreciate them. Still, the book is engaging and offers a different perspective.
  • Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones–This book took my mom by surprise, as it wasn’t anything like she’d thought it would be. We both enjoyed this adventure across western China in the name of archaeology. The main character was interesting and complex and the story was really interesting and unique.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden–This book is a far less recent one, but it was so captivating that I purchased it recently so that I could read it again.
  • The Incarnations of Immortality Series by Piers Anthony–I can’t remember if I’ve talked about these books before, but they are amazing works of science fiction that play with western ideas of religion and turn cosmology and theology on their heads. Briefly, the series starts with a man who kills Death and thus has to take up his mantle–and indeed all immortal positions (like war and fate) are filled by mortals whose stories all diverge and intertwine.

 

Did your mom/parent ever recommend a book to you that you ended up loving? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite 2016 Reads Set Outside of the US

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Just realized this post did not go through last week! My apologies.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

This is an awesome topic because, speaking as an American, so much of the content we consume is U.S.A. centric, and features mainly white, male characters. So this is a breath of fresh air.

To keep this list current, I’m only including books I’ve read this year, that I *enjoyed,* that had no part of them set within the US, and that weren’t totally alternate fantasy universes (which was more difficult than it sounds). Without further ado, here’s my list:

  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik–This almost violates the principles I just set forth above, but while it’s clearly a fantasy world (*cough* dragons *cough*), there’s enough basis in reality that I felt I could include it. It’s set in England, during the Napoleonic Wars.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr–This book is absolutely fantastic! It lives up to all the hype and really deserves to be a bestseller. Set during World War II in France and Germany.
  • Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres–This immersive book brings you deep into another culture and time, with a village full of interesting and very human characters. Set in a small village of Anatolia during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, as well as Greece.
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante–Not only a book set in another place, but translated from another language, and by a female author–can’t get much better than that! They’re set in mid-century Naples and the surrounding area.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier–The classic romantic thriller is set in England and France in the early twentieth century.

This list was way harder than it should have been, considering I’ve read 61 books so far this year. But there were a few more that I read and didn’t love (and so didn’t want to talk about , but instead forget as soon as humanly possible) that did fit, and there were a few fantasy books that it didn’t seem fair to include.

Have you read anything this year set in another country that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: In Which it Is Described How My Enjoyment of Certain Books Has Changed Over Time…Or Not

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from the book lovers over at The Broke and the Bookish.

So I sort of struggled with today’s topic, which was 10 books that you’ve changed your opinion about over time. I have to be honest, my opinion of books doesn’t usually change all that much. In fact, there are only three series/books I can think of that I’ve fallen out of like with over the years and that I will never willingly read again (my good opinion once lost, is lost forever). The reason for this is pretty simple–for pleasure I pretty much only read the books I like and I’m fairly good at evaluating them and moving on. Even though my reading of texts change (I don’t read Harry Potter the same way that I did as a kid), my pleasure at reading doesn’t diminish just because the book isn’t similar to other things I’m reading. I tend to strike a balance between judging a book on its own merits and seeing it within a larger body of works and in its time period–I’m big on context. Because of this, I think I have fairly reasonable expectations on books and so they don’t disappointment me very often. However, every rule has its exceptions, and these are mine:

  • The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer–I read the whole series twice, and it wasn’t until the second reading that I really wasn’t so sure about the books. I was so interested in the story the first time, and I read them so quickly I didn’t really evaluate the writing. And then on the second read-through, that’s all I could see–and it wasn’t all that pretty.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James–Again, another book that I read really quickly and was fascinated by, but I didn’t even have to read it again to start questioning it. As I learned a little bit more about the lifestyle depicted in the book via various feminist websites, I realized that the book really fails at the major issue of consent, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And it’s not really realistic either. It’s really your average romance novel with a more risqué premise.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls–The first time I read this book, I thought it was fine. But from third to eighth grade (I changed schools a bunch) I was either required to read this book or watch the film. So now I can’t stand it.

And here are seven books/series that I’ve continued to love, even if I don’t get exactly the same things out of them as I did when I first read them:

  • The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling–After all this time? Always. I’ve read these books more times than I can count. And they’re still the best.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank–I read this book for the first time in 6th grade, and I identified with the protagonist in a very different way then than I do now, but the book is still amazing and there’s so much to it and the story of this family.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen–This one speaks for itself.
  • The Wizard of Oz series by L Frank Baum–Still the charming and magical world I loved as a kid.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde–This is one of my favorite works by any author in any period. It just makes me laugh.
  • The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot–I recently reread this series and I still think it holds up.
  • Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer–I bought this book again the other day, (I donated it when I went to college, along with a lot of other books. The only thing I ever regret getting rid of is books…) and I started reading it immediately. It only took me a few hours to read, and it instantly put me in a good mood. Can’t ask for more than that.

 

Have you read (or reread) any of these books? What was your opinion of them? Is there any book that you’ve changed your opinion about over time? Or is there a book that you always stay constant to? Let me know in the comments.