The Book of Life

the book of life

This review, written by me, was first published in Newcastle University’s newspaper, The Courier, and has been slightly altered for the purpose of this blog post.

The Book of Life is an animation film, directed by Guillermo del Toro, that was released into cinemas last year (and is now available on DVD): the story centres around the small town of San Angel on the Day of the Dead.

La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlmen), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, decide to have a wager. The prize: Xibalbe will get to rule the Land of the Remembered. The bet: which of the two boys from San Angel will marry their friend María (Zoe Saldana): Manolo (Diego Luna) or Joaquín (Channing Tatum)?

The film is absolutely beautifully animated; instead of the traditional style of animation, the characters are caricatures – some have enormous noses, tiny legs, massive bellies, and the like!. Each character has an exaggerated feature, and has been made to look like wooden puppets – all except La Muerte and Xibalba that is. The Land of the Remembered was especially stunning as the characters had been given such unique looks and the entire land was full of vibrant colours and figures.

The Book of Life has got a great musical element to it as well, the songs are a mix of covers (including Radiohead and Mumford & Sons) and original songs. In my opinion, the original songs are the best, they are more directly related to the film and as a result convey the emotion of the scene much better. I was greatly impressed by the voice actors, however, I’m not entirely sure about Channing Tatum as Joaquín; most of the characters from San Angel sound like they have Mexican influence, but Channing just sounds like a typical American. The only other criticism I have is that some of the jokes were very straightforward, though it’s forgiven because most of them were still chuckle-worthy and the film’s main target audience is, at the end of the day, children (but non-children, you should still watch this as it’s great!).

I definitely recommend this films it’s an absolute treat for the eyes and the story is especially heart-warming, offering an instant feel-good feeling that lasts long after you leave the cinema.

Love,

Christa

What Became of My (Wishful) Summer Reading List

At the start of the summer I uploaded this post, in which I told you all about the books I hoped to read between July and September. The summer has now come to an end (both weather-wise and freedom from uni-wise) and I’m back to tell you which of those books I actually managed to read, as well as the ones I read that weren’t even on the list.

First up: the books from the list that I’ve actually read;

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  3. Vicious by V. E. Schwab
  4. The Year I Met You by Cecelia Ahern
  5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  6. Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger
  7. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

So, that’s about half of the list I managed to read. Not too bad, but still, I really would have liked to read the others as well.

Now for the books that weren’t on the list:

  1. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
  2. The Next Together by Lauren James
  3. The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen (Penguin 80th Anniversary Edition)
  4. Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
  5. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  6. The Wicked + The Divine, vol 2: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen
  7. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  8. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter
  9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale*
  11. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome*

Overall, I’d say it’s been pretty good going – though I must add some of those books were tiny and both Harry Potter books were audiobooks. But still! I consumed a very decent amount of texts and some of the texts above are for my children’s literature module this semester (the ones by Lewis, Ransome, Pullman and Blyton).

I have written/filmed reviews of the following books in case you’re interested: The Picture of Dorian Gray, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Lying Out Loud, Only Ever Yours, The Next Together, Everything, Everything, and will soon have some sort of collective review going up on some of the children’s books I’m reading for uni!

Let me know what you’ve read this summer in the comments!

Love,

Christa

*Technically I haven’t finished the starred books just yet, but I’m sure I will have by the end of this week!

Top 5: Books I Wish I’d Read While Growing Up

Having been born and raised in The Netherlands, I discovered I had missed out on a great deal of good children’s literature when I moved to the UK in 2013 and learned what my British peers had read when growing up (or what children’s books were around). Therefore, I have decided to make up a list of books that I wish I’d read while growing up – some of these I now have read, most of these I still haven’t gotten round to, but hope to get my hands on soon!

chronicles of narnia

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

Four adventurous siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change… and a great sacrifice.

As a child, I’d never read The Chronicles of Narnia. At some point I did see the BBC adaptation, and later the film adaptations by Walden Media, but it wasn’t until I was about fifteen years old that I read the books. I enjoyed them, but didn’t think a whole lot of them. As I write this, I have just finished reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for a second time as we’ll be discussing it in my Children’s Literature module at university. I definitely enjoyed and appreciated it more this time round, but I can’t help but feel I would have loved the series, had I read them as a child.

The blurb above is of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – officially this is the second book in the seven-part series, but it was the first that was actually written and published.

  1. the wizard of ozThe Wizard of Oz (and its sequels) by L. Frank Baum

Dorothy thinks she is lost forever when a terrifying tornado crashes through Kansas and whisks her and her dog, Toto, far away to the magical land of Oz. To get home Dorothy must follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City and find the wonderfully mysterious Wizard of Oz. Together with her companions the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion whom she meets on the way, Dorothy embarks on a strange and enchanting adventure.

I am a huge fan of the musical Wicked – a musical that is based on the novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire. A novel which, in turn, has been based on The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I’ve read the novel Wicked, and have seen the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, but am yet to delve into the pages of the novel that started all of it. And although I think I might be able to that soon, I think it would’ve been even better had I read it when growing up!

  1. anne of green gablesAnne of Green Gables (and its sequels) by L. M. Montgomery

The Cuthberts are in for a shock. They are expecting an orphan boy to help with the work at Green Gables – but a skinny red-haired girl turns up instead. Highly spirited Anne Shirley charms her way into the Cuthberts’ affection with her vivid imagination and constant chatter, and soon it’s impossible to imagine life without her.

To be honest, I don’t know an awful lot about this book and its sequels, but I know it’s a British children’s classic. For my birthday this year I received a box set of all four books, so I’m sure I’ll read it soon (though ‘soon’ might not be soon at all, what with me having to read a lot of books for uni as well).

  1. alice in wonderlandAlice in Wonderland (and its sequel) by Lewis Carroll

On an ordinary summer’s afternoon, Alice tumbles down a hole and an extraordinary adventure begins. In a strange world with even stranger characters, she meets a rabbit with a pocket watch, joins a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and plays croquet with the Queen! Lost in this fantasy land, Alice finds herself growing more and more curious by the minute…

I don’t know why, but I just have never read Alice. I’ve seen the Disney animation once or twice, the live action Disney adaptation a fair few times, but I’ve never read the book. I promise it’ll change within a year, though! I’ve got my hands on a gorgeous edition this year – one that is, I believe, almost exactly like the original manuscript – and I look forward to reading it.

  1. sabrielSabriel (and its sequels) by Garth Nix

Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Abhorson, is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life and comes face-to-face with her own hidden destiny…

Like with Anne of Green Gables, I don’t know an awful lot about this series, but it sounds intriguing. I know recently Garth Nix published two new books in this series (Clariel and To Hold The Bridge) with Hot Key Books – something from which I only can deduce these novels are still very well-loved and definitely worth a read.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these or if you think there are some books that are missing on this list!

Love,

Christa

Diverse Fiction

Being a child of the Internet and following loads of bookish people on Twitter, the call for more diverse books (diverse in every which way possible) has certainly not gone unnoticed by me.

There is even an entire organisation dedicated to the finding and creating of diverse fiction for children and Young Adults: We Need Diverse Books. On their website they state the following as their mission:

We Need Diverse Books™ is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.

How we define diversity:

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Since noticing this movement (if that’s what you want to call it) I have been more aware of the texts I’m reading and whether they offer anything diversity-wise.

I must admit that I can be a bit apprehensive, or scared even, to talk about issues such as the need for diversity in fiction, out of fear of saying the wrong thing or not having thought what I’m saying through enough. However, I still want to recognise that I understand the need for diverse fiction and I want to aid in raising awareness for that need and books that fulfil that.

Therefore, I have decided to use the tag ‘diverse fiction’ on my blog. Any posts on this blog that discuss or review books that offer (major) characters that are different from the cis-gender heterosexual white people that for some reason seem to be the standard, will be tagged with ‘diverse fiction’. That way if you, the reader of this blog, are interested in seeking out diverse fiction, it will be easier for you. I will discuss the diverse aspects more in-depth if they are of importance to the course of the story (say, if discrimination is a big part of the storyline). If you would like me to add to book reviews what sort of elements of diversity the book in question entails, please tell me in the comments and I could do that.

Please let me know what you think of my decision down below, and if you have any tips for discussing matters as these in a thoughtful manner I’d appreciate whatever you have to offer.

Love,

Christa
#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Anticipated Releases

In a way, this blog post is linked to this week’s video on my YouTube channel – namely My Bookish Wish List. But whereas the video will mainly be about the books I wish to own and read that are already published, this post will be about the books I wish to own and read that are yet to be released.

queen of shadows

  1. Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas (01/09/2015)

Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. Now she returns to the empire – to confront the shadows of her past …The fourth breathtaking instalment in the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series. Bloodthirsty for revenge on the two men responsible for destroying her life, and desperate to find out if the prince and his captain are safe, Celaena returns to Rifthold, the seat of so much evil.

I’ve read Throne of Glass for the first time this January, and quickly followed it up with the sequels (and prequels!) after finishing it. I adore this series and can’t wait to see where it will go. Sidenote: I also love Maas’s writing – it is so well done and I will forever be envious of the words she manages to choose!

  1. the next togetherThe Next Together by Lauren James (03/09/2015)

A powerful and epic debut novel about fate and the timelessness of first love. Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again. Each time their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated. How many times can you lose the person you love? For Matthew and Katherine it is again and again, over and over, century after century. But why do they keep coming back? How many times must they die to save the world? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace? Maybe the next together will be different.

I think I first stumbled upon Lauren James and her upcoming debut after following author Alice Oseman on twitter. The two are friends and Alice might’ve mentioned The Next Together. I followed Lauren quickly after and found out more about her novel. It sounds very sweet and exciting and I can’t wait to read it! (I won’t lie: part of my excitement comes from Lauren being a young author at only 22, which, you know, is always inspiring to me!) I’ve already got the book pre-ordered, so I’ll be reading it as soon as it lands on our doormat.

  1. flawedFlawed by Cecelia Ahern (March or April 2016)

Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.

Let us be silent in our excitement for a moment…

I am so, so, so excited for this book! I’ve been reading Cecelia Ahern’s novels for years and have always loved them, but now she’s releasing a YA novel! From what I gather it’s the first in a dystopian duology (the second being named ‘Perfect’) and it will be released early 2016. I can’t wait to see how she handles a different audience and genre!

  1. hp one illustratedThe illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling & Jim Kay (06/10/2015)

Prepare to be spellbound by Jim Kay’s dazzling depiction of the wizarding world and much loved characters in this full-colour illustrated hardback edition of the nation’s favourite children’s book – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Brimming with rich detail and humour that perfectly complements J.K. Rowling’s timeless classic, Jim Kay’s glorious illustrations will captivate fans and new readers alike.

This book. Oh man, this book. It looks stunning. I always thought Harry Potter could’ve done with some illustrations (especially ‘cause its intended audience is children) and now it’s happening! The few illustrations that have been released look amazing and I think Jim Kay has interpreted the characters wonderfully. It might take a while for me to get my hands on this book once it’s released, because it retails at a whopping £30, but I’ll get it eventually!

  1. more happy than notMore Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (unknown)

The Leteo Institute s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. Aaron could never forget how he’s grown up poor, how his friends aren’t there for him, or how his father committed suicide in their one-bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough. Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching set-up on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Another case of me following the author on Twitter and learning about their upcoming debut. As of right now, More Happy Than Not has already been published in the USA and has received many glowing reviews. I could order it on Amazon and get the American hardback of this book, but I’m leaning towards waiting for it to be sold to the UK. Apparently the novel is somewhat heart-warming, but in equal parts heart-breaking, and I can’t wait to read it.

That is it for today – I’m sure in the future I’ll bring back this feature and discuss some more of my anticipated releases, but for now these are the highest on my list!

Love,

Christa

My (Wishful) Summer Reading List

Now, over on my Youtube channel I make monthly TBR videos, which I will continue to do during the summer, but I thought that I would write up my (overly ambitious and very far-fetched) reading list for July until the end of September (which is when uni starts again). Meaning that it’s very likely that I will not be reading all of these books. Still, I’d like to try! 

1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

4. Vicious by V. E. Schwab

5. The Year I Met You by Cecelia Ahern

6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

7. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

9. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger 

10. Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

11. Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

12. The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

13. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

14. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

15. Say Her Name by James Dawson

I am currently working my way through The Picture of Dorian Gray, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. The books by Doerr, Schwab and Ahern I intend to bring with me when I go on holiday in August. I already finished Lying Out Loud (of which I got a copy through Netgalley – review will be coming soon!) and really enjoyed it. Most of the others are books that I’ve owned for a while but still haven’t managed to read, so I hope I’ll finally manage to squeeze them in!

What are your reading plans this summer?

Love,

Christa

Top 5: Favourite Childhood Reads

Even when I was younger, I was an avid reader. I would read well into the night by the light on  my nightstand – much to the annoyance of my parents, but really they’re partly to blame! After all, they had a habit of reading me and my sisters stories before bed, and thus installed in me a love of good stories.

However, I wasn’t just an avid reader. I was a big fan of re-reading (so much so, that one point my dad decided to just buy me a new book and push it under my nose until I’d read “something new”).

1. Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman

Lucien is sick. Very sick. He has a form of cancer and is bed-bound most of the time. As sometimes he finds it hard to speak, his father brings him a notebook he randomly found to write in. That day, he also tells Lucien about Venice. Going to sleep that night, with the notebook still in his hand and thinking of Venice, Lucien wakes up to find himself in a place that looks an awful lot like the City of Masks.

In total, there are six books in this series. I must admit, the first three are my favourites (I think it set out to be a trilogy, but more books got added). However, I do get to see my favourite characters in the later books, so I don’t mind them. Though I think this series might take some getting used to, it is completely worth the effort! Masks, intrigue, magic and betrayal: these books are truly magical. It was due to the City of Masks that I wanted to visit Venice myself (and did so in 2012 – it was beautiful!) and for a long while I longed for a talisman of my own so I could be transported to Bellezza.

2. The Doomspell Trilogy by Cliff McNishdoomspell

Siblings Rachel and Eric unexpectedly find themselves transported to another world by the Witch. As they try to escape her claws, they experience many adventures and learn they possess gifts they never even imagined possible. 

I must admit, out of the bunch these books are the ones I re-read the longest time ago. Though I might not remember many of the details, I do remember loving this trilogy. It gave me a new twist on magic, a setting that pulled me in, two great protagonists and a wicked villain. Funnily enough, I think this trilogy was the book my dad insisted I should read as “something new”. I would love to re-read these sometime soon!

Unfortunately, I think these books might now be out of print (however, if you click the link in the title, you might be able to get your hands on a new one. If not, try Amazon’s second-hand buys or Abebooks).

the letter for the king3. The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

This is a wonderful story about Tiuri, a 16-year old squire in the kingdom of King Dagonaut. It is the night before his knighting and, as is tradition, he and his fellow to-be-knighted friends are holding a vigil in the chapel. They are not allowed to speak to anyone. They are not allowed to sleep. And they are not allowed to leave or even open the door.

But then, Tiuri is startled by an urgent knocking and decides to see who it is. Following this, he is sent on a quest of which the outcome could determine the fate of an entire kingdom.

I absolutely adored this book when I was younger! It has knights, fights, long journeys, treachery and friendship. It is a wonderfully crafted story, told in seven parts (each comprise up to nine chapters), and despite its size is a great read for middle graders, I’d say. For those younger, it’s a great bedtime story.

It was originally written in Dutch (and first published in 1962!), which is the language I have read it multiple times it, but as of last year it is also available in English! YES! I actually read it in English recently, and I can confirm it’s just as great a story: translator Laura Watkinson did a great job. Even more exciting, its sequel, The Secrets of the Wild Wood, is set for publication by Pushkin Press this September! You can preorder it here.

Sidenote: the illustrations, including the map, in this book were actually drawn by the author herself. How cool is that?

4. The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan

The saga starts with Cirque du Freak: Darren Shan (named after the author?) and his friend Steve stumble upon the opportunity to buy tickets for a freak show. Being the young boys they are, they can’t resist this chance. The freak show is really quite freaky, but amazing. Afterwards, Darren accidentally overhears his friend asking something strange of one of the acts. Later, Darren does something strange of his own, setting of a series of irreversible events.

Comprising of 12 books in total, this is quite a commitment to make. However, the books are quite short and easy reads, yet completely enthralling, so I’m sure if you put your mind to it, each installment will leave you wanting for more. I think my favourites of the bunch might be Vampire MountainTrials of Death and The Vampire Prince (books 4-6), but they’re all amazing. Also, the ending to this series is so incredibly emotional and perfect. Sigh. These books are really due a re-read.

HP one 15. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Raised by his unloving aunt and uncle after his parents died in a car crash when he was just one, Harry is surprised when around his 11th birthday he receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With the help of giant Rubeus Hagrid, Harry is whisked away on the Hogwarts Express to spend his school year learning magic. Little does he know, danger is lurking around the corner and waiting for him.

It is completely impossible to not include this series in any sort of “all-time favourites” post. I grew up with these books – my dad read them to me and my older sister first, but as I grew older I read them myself (too impatient to wait for bedtime!) and loved them even more. I’m not sure it was at all necessary to include a description of the plot, but I figured I might as well. These books are incredibly near and dear to my heart and, if for some absurd reason, you still haven’t read them – get on it! You won’t regret it. Promise.

That’s all for today – thank you for reading!

Love,

Christa

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

I actually obtained my copy of Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, when I went to an event that was organised by Newcastle’s Seven Stories at Tyneside Cinema. Someone invited me to come and, despite not having read a Picoult book before, I said yes – because I like books and I like the people who write them. Included in the ticket price was a hardback copy of Off the Page, sequel to Between the Lines (or companion novel – I am yet to read it, but I’ve heard people say you can read them on their own). Given that I now owned Off the Page, I decided to get myself Between the Lines as well, and get them both signed. And today I will be reviewing the latter!

Between the Lines starts off with Delilah: fifteen years old, somewhat of an outsider at school and thoroughly addicted to re-reading a fairy tale after which the novel is named (which may or may not be partially due to the handsome prince it features). Then one day, the prince talks to her. And he wants out. Together, though separated by ink-filled pages, they try to come up with ways to transport him into Delilah’s world and away from his repetitive life within the fairy tale. But it isn’t as easy as they might have hoped…

In a way, the novel is told from three different perspectives (one isn’t really a perspective, but I don’t know what else to call it), namely Oliver’s, Delilah’s and the fairy tale as it is written in Delilah’s book. To emphasise these three different view points, the font was changed accordingly to the chapter and character narrating it, which I thought was quite a nice touch. Furthermore, each fairy tale chapter is accompanied by a a very nice illustration of a scene in the tale (and in the Off the Page hardback these illustrations are in full colour!).

Overall though, I personally wasn’t that interested in the fairy tale itself as I felt it interrupted the main story. Although it was nice to read Oliver’s story as the fairy tale author intended, I felt that perhaps it would’ve been better if the fairy tale had been pasted, as a whole, at the start of the novel, or at the end as a sort of appendix. Speaking of the fairy tale, I’m not entirely sure why it is called ‘Between the Lines’.

Although Oliver and Delilah talk a lot, they do seem to fall in love rather quickly – must note: it’s not completely insta-love though. As they talked and Delilah told Oliver about her ‘world’, I noticed there seemed to be an inconsistency with what modern-day things Oliver knew and didn’t know about.

As a whole, I thought the novel was enjoyable enough, but not much more than that. Although it is said to be Young Adult, I would say it is probably more suitable for the lower age range in that spectrum – maybe 13 – 15 year olds – because as a 20 year old, I think the story definitely felt ‘too young’ for me. That said, had I been younger, I feel I probably would have enjoyed this novel a lot. But now, to me it feels like a less intricate and compelling version of Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.

I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.

Thanks for stopping by – I’ll be back same time next week!

Love,

Christa