25 February 2016

Peter Pan (Classic #1)



This review contains spoilers.

The Darling children are tucked up in bed when Peter Pan bursts in to their nursery.  Peter and his mischievous fairy Tinker Bell entice Wendy and her brothers to fly away with them to a magical world called Neverland.  There you can swim with mermaids and play all day with the Lost Boys.  But you must watch out for pirates, especially Captain Hook.  And how do you find Neverland?  Second to the right and straight on till morning of course.

Rating: ★★

My first read for the 2016 Classics Challenge was Peter Pan by J.M Barrie.  I really want to combine the challenge with my goal to read more children's literature and Peter Pan was high up on my list. I'm already very familiar with the story, but I thought it was high time I read the original book, already pretty sure that I would love it.

I couldn't have been more disappointed!   I didn't love it at all.  I was expecting a light and fluffy adventure story with lots of magic and excitement; what I got was a very dark tale about some really horrible children.  I knew the Lost Boys were supposed to be a little rough around the edges but I wasn't expecting them to be quite so bloodthirsty!  The book is peppered throughout with graphic descriptions of death and violence that seemed inappropriate given the target audience.  I couldn't particularly get along with any of the characters - Wendy was annoying (though to be fair, she is in the film too), there's not a single likeable thing about Peter, and the rest of the characters just didn't really interest me.

Peter Pan was actually quite a disturbing read and generally left a bad taste in my mouth.  I didn't like the casual attitude to violence but bloodshed aside, there were lots of other things that troubled me about it - can we talk about the scene where Peter threatens to expose Tinkerbell in her underwear for refusing to guide Wendy home?  The narrator also cuts into the story a lot and I thought he was a very harsh and judgemental voice for a children's book - he makes a lot of quite nasty comments about children, and seemed particularly disgusted with women.  In fact, the whole book carries a very misogynistic message.

The writing was very disjointed and the constant interjections from the narrator made it quite a chore to read.  To me a lot of the language seemed like it might be quite difficult for younger readers and given this along with everything else, I'm not sure it's actually suitable for children.  It has all the elements of a fairytale but there's nothing nice about it.

Overall, not a very positive start to my Classics Challenge.  Hopefully I'll have better luck with the next one!  Have you read Peter Pan?  A lot of people seem to see something in it that I didn't - I'd love to know your thoughts!
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21 February 2016

The Fox and The Star


For as long as Fox could remember, his only friend had been Star, who lit the forest paths each night. But then one night Star was not there, and Fox had to face the forest all alone.

Rating: ★★★

I loved everything about The Fox and The Star.  If you know me, you will know that I'm a sucker for a pretty cover and this has to be one of the most beautifully designed books I've ever seen.  It just feels really special with its navy cloth bound cover, and inside is even better. First and foremost a picture book, each of the 64 pages is printed on lovely, thick paper and beautifully illustrated by the author.  Her art is reason enough to give this a read.  Absolutely gorgeous!

The story is lovely too, a simple but sweet fable about not giving up and having the courage to go out looking for your light.  I have seen this described as 'a John Lewis advert in book form' and I think this was intended to be a negative comment, but for me it's the perfect way to describe this book!  As a John Lewis advert is typically able to move you in approximately 30 seconds, Coralie Bickford-Smith manages to make you care about Fox and his quest to find Star with very few words and it has the same heartwarming quality to it.  

The moral might be lost on younger children but I think all ages would appreciate the story.  The illustrations also bring an interactive element to it - for example, on some pages the words are placed among the pictures in a kind of trail for the reader to follow and whilst the little fox features on most pages you sometimes have to look a little harder to find him.  I can see this being great for parent child reading and it's definitely one to be treasured - but maybe not given to children who haven't yet learned how to take care of books!
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17 February 2016

His Dark Materials


This post contains spoilers. 

Reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was one of my reading goals for this year, and I'm happy to say that I've already ticked this one off the list!  Earlier this week I finished The Amber Spyglass and all I can say is wow.  Just wow.  What an imagination he has!  This series captured my imagination in a way I haven't really experienced for a while. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading these books as Pullman has created such an intriguing and mysterious world;  I really struggled to put them down.

There are so many good things to say about this series but let's start with the characters.  His Dark Materials is home to some of my favourite fictional characters since Harry Potter.  I can't pick one single favourite but Lyra, Will, Pantalaimon and Iorek Byrnison would all be fierce contenders for the title.  I don't always get along with books with a child protagonist; I sometimes find that authors can give them quite an annoying voice in attempting to portray their youth or innocence.  This wasn't the case with Lyra and Will - I thought they were just right.  The armoured bear Iorek Byrnison was a character I really missed when he wasn't featured as much.

I loved the idea of having a daemon - the physical manifestation of your inner self, taking the form of an animal - and the relationship between Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon was one of my favourite things to read about.  It's really a sign of how well written the story is how much I cared about Pan and just generally the importance of the connection between human and daemon.  The scene where he and Lyra are very nearly separated by intercision is one I'll always remember for the heart-in-my-mouth feeling it gave me, and I felt real shock when Lyra had to detach him and leave him alone when she travelled to the world of the dead with Will.  Poor little Pan!  It was heartbreaking stuff. 

Pantalaimon // Image source
The series deals with some big themes, including religion, faith, free will and sin, and is seen to be quite controversial for this reason.  This isn't something I feel able to comment on as a person who is agnostic at best - I certainly wasn't offended, but I could see how some aspects could provoke that feeling among religious groups.  For me, it simply made for a thought-provoking read and one with great depth to it.  I have to admit that I didn't grasp some of the concepts quite as quickly as I should have - I did have to refer to Google for some clarification on what exactly Dust was, for example!  I think a lot of the themes are open to interpretation which I like.  The message I came away with was a positive one about embracing what life has to offer. To grow up and experience love as Lyra and Will loved each other (and Adam & Eve before them) is not a sin but the best of humanity.

'But then we wouldn't have been able to build it.  No one could, if they put themselves first.  We have to be all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and brave and patient, and we've got to study and think, and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds, and then we'll build... The republic of heaven.'

But why, oh why do they have to be apart to do that, huh? What was that all about, Pullman? I loved how the relationship between Lyra and Will developed so by the end my heart was hurting for them.  I haven't felt this much empathy for a couple in a novel in a long time!


Iorek and Lyra // by SinaGrace on DeviantArt
If I had one bad thing to say about His Dark Materials, it would be that I found the scenes with the mulefa and Mary Malone really dull reading.  Having finished the series, I can see how it all tied in, but I just wasn't as interested in them as I was in the rest of the plot and I found myself rushing to get through them and get back to the other characters.  I also had quite a hard time forming a picture of them in my mind and I had to turn to Google for some help.  There is a lot of fan art out there (I have included some of my favourites throughout this post) and it seems people picture them quite differently across the board.  Below is probably the closest to how I saw them. In my opinion, the story would have functioned the same without them.

Mulefa // Image source

I feel like I'm missing something really important, but I honestly think I could talk about these books all day.  I was hooked from the start and I'm partly sad that I missed out for so long, partly glad that I read them at an age when I could fully appreciate them.  To round this post off, I'm going to answer the His Dark Materials tag questions.

1. What editions of the books do you have?
I own these beautiful editions from Scholastic, originally published in 2011.  Pictures really don't do them justice, they're just so pretty to look at.


2. Which is your favourite book?
My favourite book was actually Northern Lights!  I think that's quite unusual as normally I find myself loving a series more and more as it goes along and of course I loved all of them, but there was something about Northern Lights and it was the one I read the fastest.  

3. Who is your favourite character?
I can't decide this! I love Lyra and Will, but I have the biggest soft spot for Pantalaimon.

4. What would your dæmon be?
This is something I thought about quite a lot while I was reading. I think my daemon would probably be a cat or something similar - the closest I've ever been to having a daemon is when we had our little Biscuit with us.  There are so many quizzes etc. online and I did take one, which suggested a fox to represent my 'secretive, shy nature, dislike of conflict, and ready ability to defend yourself or your friends, should the need arise.' So there you go! I like foxes, so I'd be okay with that.

5. Which world would you most like to live in?
I'd most like to live in Lyra's world, so I could have a daemon!

6. Which object - the alethiometer, the subtle knife or the amber spyglass - would you like to have?
I would definitely choose the alethiometer.  The subtle knife would be cool too, but I wouldn't have much use for the amber spyglass.

7. Have you read any of the accompanying novellas? Lyra's Oxford, Once Upon a Time in the North, or The Collectors?
Not yet, and I'm not sure if I will.  I've read about them all and I think the one I would be most interested in is Lyra's Oxford - is it worth a read?

8. What has been your experience with the series?
This was my first time reading His Dark Materials and it has definitely been a positive reading experience!  I was reading every second I could.  At the moment I'm not sure if I will re-read them just because I don't tend to do that very often in general, but I will definitely be recommending them to anyone who hasn't already read them.  


Top image: Iorek Byrnison // Image source
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14 February 2016

Recently Pinned: Things to Try




Image source: 1 / 2 / 3

In my last post I talked a little about wanting to be more creative.  I mentioned my intention to do more creative writing (and just writing in general) but there are other more hands on things I'd like to try too.  I've always admired watercolour art for its simplicity and pretty pastel colours.  I'm thinking of looking into beginner classes, and I've seen lots of cute projects like this greetings card on Pinterest.

Paul and I have never owned a set of coasters!  I'm ridiculously picky about items like that for my home but I really like the look of these white and blue ones.  The pattern is simple but pretty and I think it would be easy to replicate.

I've been looking at a lot of cupcake toppers recently for something I have in mind for our wedding.  These wire hearts would be perfect.

Have you tried any new crafts recently?
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7 February 2016

Creative Writing? & other thoughts...

I'm in the mood for a chatty post today. At the moment I'm trying to post something every Wednesday and Sunday, just for the sake of consistency. I didn't have any posts planned or scheduled for today, but I thought I would just have a chat with you all instead. 

I say all of you, because there are now 150 of you following along! I'm really pleased with that number and whether you read regularly or not, it means something to know that 150 people saw something they liked enough to press the follow button. Blogging is a funny thing really and I still feel like I'm finding my feet with it - sometimes I'm not quite sure what to share because I know people will read it, even though I write posts for them to be read. It's very strange! Out of interest, if you're a regular reader, what kind of posts do you like to see?

Something I've been thinking about recently is that I'd like to use this space more for creative writing. When I was younger, I wrote stories all the time. I was thinking about this quite a lot yesterday when the plot of one of my stories came back to me - something that hasn't been in my head since I was 9 or 10 years old! It was called 'The Midnight Lion' and it involved a statue of a lion, the same kind as those surrounding Leeds Town Hall, that came to life at night and took two children on adventures. I don't know what happened to that story but there were lots of others too. I remember in primary school there being a group of us that were taken out of class to use the computer suite once a week in the afternoon - I can't remember why but I do remember that I was the only one spent that time on the school's word processing program Textease, writing a story. That particular one involved a koala with magic powers... 

I was the kid that would rather write imaginary newspaper articles than play games. I once tried to start a family newspaper and called myself the editor; I posted a sign up sheet for prospective staff on my bedroom door telling them to put their names down if they were interested and to attend a 'meeting' later that week. I tried to assign the task of film critic to my dad but then he asked if that meant I would be paying for him to go to the cinema so that put an end to that! Another time, I wrote a story in a booklet I'd folded myself and illustrated a cover sheet for it. When I showed it to my headteacher at school, she wrote a comment on a label for me to stick on the back, just like the kind you find on real book covers. I was pretty pleased with that! I'm quite sad that I seem to have lost that creative streak, and it's something I would like to get back. I took a step towards sharing more creative writing here with my haiku about tea, but it's something I would like to do more of.


In other news...
  •  This week has been more positive compared with other recent weeks. Recently I talked about my confidence being low at the moment but I'm happy to say I'm feeling a little bit better which is down to a few things. I had a chat with my supervisor and mentioned that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by some of the cases I'm handling at the moment and as a result I felt much calmer at work this week. I've also opened up to a couple of friends about things that have been bothering me and whilst I'm not sure when I'll be ready to resume my former social butterfly status (haha!), it's made me feel better to just know that they're aware and I don't have to make excuses where they're concerned. Honesty is the best policy as they say and it's always nice to get confirmation of who your friends are.
  • Since we completed our Disney Classics collection last year, Paul and I are making our way through them in order, one per week. Yesterday we watched Bambi, I'd forgotten how much I like that one! The next few in the list are some of the rarer ones which I've actually never seen before so I'm looking forward to watching those too.
Life lessons with Thumper
  •  I did something pretty scary last week and applied for a job with a big publishing house in London. Eeek! Working in publishing would be my dream job and I can't believe I've never taken any steps towards that before. There are probably all sorts of graduate schemes I could have applied for if I'd put my mind to it but for whatever reason, this passed me by. It remains to be seen whether I would actually be brave enough to relocate to the Big Smoke if the opportunity did arise, but that's where most publishing houses are, and I know that working with books would make me so happy. So, I've also registered my CV with a few publishing recruitment companies. It may be that nothing comes of it, or I may end up with my dream job - at the very least, I'll have more of an idea of what's out there.
  • I was sorted into Gryffindor on the new Pottermore! I was quite surprised even though I think that might be where I was placed last time too - brave and courageous aren't words I would normally use to describe myself. I suspect that I actually belong in Ravenclaw and my suspicions were confirmed when I took a quiz elsewhere online with all the possible questions from the Pottermore ceremony - the result was Ravenclaw. I'm happy to think that maybe I'm a mixture of the two! I'd love to know what house you were sorted in to - or which house do you think you'd be in, if you haven't done the Sorting Ceremony?

Phew, this has been a long post. I did say I was in the mood for a chat! What are you up to on this windy Sunday?

Top image via Stokpic.
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3 February 2016

My Classics TBR


I thought I'd do a little post about all the classic literature I'm hoping to read this year as part of the 2016 Classics Challenge. This was in part inspired by last night's #bookbloggers Twitter chat (7pm every Tuesday) which was all about classic literature and reminded me of some titles I might have otherwise missed!

I officially signed up this week so my challenge will be starting a little later than most participants in February, because I've started the year with a trilogy that I can't bring myself to break away from to read anything else! There are 10 on the list which is one short of a book per month, but I might use the extra time to re-read a favourite classic. One of my other reading goals for this year is to read more children's literature, which ties in beautifully with this challenge.

A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Catcher In The Rye - J.D. Salinger
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
All Quiet on the Western Front - Eric Maria Remarque
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Railway Children - E. Nesbit
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Some of them already fit very well with certain months - for example, I'll more than likely read All Quiet on the Western Front in November around Remembrace Day and A Christmas Carol in December but otherwise, I'll pick and choose from this list as I go along.

Are you joining in with the Classics Challenge? I'd love to know what's on your list!
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