Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Graveyard Book graphic novels: written by Neil Gaiman; adapted by P. Craig Russell

My Rating:1 Star2 Star3 Star4 Star5 Star

An irresistibly-brilliant graphic novel adaptation of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, adapted by award-winning illustrator P. Craig Russell. This is the first of two volumes. 

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it's in the land of the living that the real danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives, and he has already killed Bod's family. From GoodReads

I have been in love with The Graveyard Book ever since I first saw the cover in the book store. It is such a special book and very dear to my heart. It's been on my re-read list for YEARS and yet I've never quite gotten around to it so I'm glad that they've made these graphic novel adaptations which
have got me to finally revisit the series. 

As a man climbs a set of stairs, determined the kill the family that have been prophesied to bring down his secret organisation. But a toddler escapes his kmife and wonders through the town up to the retired cemetery at the end of town. As the assassin makes his way closer to where the toddler is, the ghosts of the cemetery agree to save the child and offer him the Protection of the Graveyard. The child, dubbed Nobody Owens, becomes a child of the graveyard and is raised by the resident ghosts and the mysterious Silas: guardian of the graveyard. 

As Bod grows up, he goes on many adventures through the graveyard, being chased by ghouls, meeting the mysterious Sleer entity, exploring the unconsecrated ground for witches, suicides and criminals, and all the different terrains of a cemetery. His education comes from the ghosts who have resided there for centuries and have many historical accounts to pass on to eager young ears. 

Each ghost that Bod meets and learns from marks a new chapter in the novel, and in his life. But more than that, each character is brimming with metaphorical life and personality. It was such a pleasure to meet each and every one of these ghosts and to go on those adventures with Bod. The illustrations - a different illustrator for each chapter in the adaptations - create the changes in Bod and the graveyard as he ages. 

The heartbreaking truth, one that I violently deny, is that Bod is growing up and the sad truth is that of course, no one else in a graveyard will. The illustrators do an especially good job on Silas - his face displays all the pain for an event that Bod is not yet old enough to understand. While Bod has been growing up, the threat behind his attempted murder is still out there and things draw to a dramatic conclusion when the man returns to finish his job. It is an exciting ending with all things great about a chase scene where one defeats their enemies. 

The Graveyard Book is one of the few books that, if I could, I would force everyone to read and excommunicate anyone who didn't love it. I would love for as many people as possible to not only read the original text, but re-explore and re-discover the story in an entirely new way in the graphic novels.  

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Quote of the Week (88) The Day My Heart Broke

Sometimes he could no longer see the dead. It had begun a month or two previously, in April or May. At first it had only happened occasionally, but now it seemed to be happening more and more. 
Neil Gaiman
P Craig Russel
The Graveyard Book graphic novels

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein; narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell

My Rating:1 Star2 Star3 Star4 Star

Oct. 11, 1943 A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a shot at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun. When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. They'll get the truth out of her. But it won't be what they expect. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure, and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy? Harrowing and beautifully written, Code Name Verity is the story of an unforgettable friendship forged in the face of the ultimate evil. From GoodReads

I’d only heard good things about Code Name Verity but I was completely blown away by just how quickly and how deeply this book sucked me in. I was consumed with thoughts about this book throughout the day and the highlight was always the drive to and from work. Beyond being merely completely enthralled by the characters and the narration, I was transported into a different era and inspired by the real life men and women whose experiences helped inspire this novel.

Verity, a German and French speaking Scot who spies for the English, has been captured by the Gestapo. Tortured and interrogated by the enemy, Verity has promised a written confession which morphs into a moving tale of how she and her best friend Maddie met, became involved in the war effort and how Verity ultimately ended up in the hands of the Nazis.

Verity, her code name, is one of the greatest characters I have ever met. She is strong willed, determined and defiant in the face of great peril, courageous, funny, considerate, self-sacrificing in the best possible way, but above all she is human. It is her humanity that makes her the amazing character she is; so easy to love and identify with. Verity knows what happens to spies caught by the Nazis, and not just because they tell her exactly what they plan to do with her when they have extracted what they need.

Labelled a traitor and collaborator by her fellow inmates, Verity promises classified information in exchange for two weeks of peace from interrogation and torture. I really admired Elizabeth Wein for putting me in Veritys shoes. It could be easy for someone to condemn Verity for giving away secrets to the enemy, as her inmates do, yet when we are forced to witness Verity and her experiences, we must imagine what we would do in her situation. Forced to barter back the most essential items of clothing – her underwear, her warm jumper, her dress – in exchange for wireless code I can’t imagine that anyone could condemn her. Knowing that her execution is imminent, Verity allows men to touch her in exchange for paper and ink so that she can tell her story before she is executed.

Yet despite the cigarette burns, the beatings, the starvation, carbolic acid, the freezing and unsanitary holding cell, the sleep deprivation and the witnessed torture and beheadings of others, Verity keeps her twisted humour, remains defiant and as rebellious as she can get away with. She fights the guards, emotionally and psychologically disarms the interrogator and creates small difficulties for them. Yet it is her moments of weakness that blew me away. The moments where she breaks down in tears, acknowledges her fate and admits to her fear and feelings of desperation and hopelessness.

“I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can't believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant.
But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.”

All of this is conveyed through Veritys written confession which is more of a chronology of her friendship with Maddie and so beautifully undermines her own part in this tale. It is this story that shows what a true master of craftsmanship Elizabeth Wein is. We study World War Two in strategic battles and the evil of the Nazis and lives lost. My own study of the war feels woefully inadequate – I didn’t know how the war ended until months after I “studied” it at school and I had no idea of the extent to which the Japanese were involved and the atrocities committed against the Chinese until later still. The atrocities committed against the Jews I researched myself after I left school, but the experiences of individuals was largely ignored. Elizabeth Wein has painted a picture almost completely unknown to me: the role of those on the home front and the women who not only filled the roles vacated by soldiers on the front lines but fulfilled unique roles in fighting the enemy. I was amazed by how much detail there was to learn and I thank Wein for everything she taught me and everything she showed me I wanted to explore further.

Maddie and Verity have the kind of best-friendship that everyone should wish to have for themselves. Their bonds are tested by danger, hardship and distance and made all the stronger for it. Despite being in the midst of a war, they still experience the everyday joys and adventures of any friendship and I was so happy for the both of them to have found each other. Verity as a human being never shines brighter than when she downplays her own role in the story to highlight the qualities of her best friend. I felt incredibly lucky to have even a small window into the lives of two such extraordinary people.

The novel, while not especially graphic in its violence, brought a great deal of emotional pain and there were certainly parts of it that left me feeling absolutely devastated. Hearing Verity chant over and over “I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth” will haunt me for some time and Part One of this story certainly doesn’t hold any punches.

Perhaps because Part One was so powerful, I found it hard for Part Two to inspire as much feeling in me. In some ways, I feel that Part One would have held more power had the novel ended there, but at the same time I am grateful to Part Two. In Part Two, we switch from Verity to Maddie and the story takes on an entirely new direction. While I loved seeing just how clever and cunning Verity really is and to see Maddie expand her role in the war effort, Maddie was never as vibrant and alive as she is when described by Verity.

By the end of the novel I felt so completely the loss of these wonderful characters, knowing that I would not see them again and be further enriched by their story. They felt so tangible to me it was difficult to remember they weren’t real and I thank Elizabeth Wein for the great gift she has given us.

“And this, even more wonderful and mysterious, is also true: when I read it, when I read what Julie's written, she is instantly alive again, whole and undamaged. With her words in my mind while I'm reading, she is as real as I am. Gloriously daft, drop-dead charming, full of bookish nonsense and foul language, brave and generous. She's right here. Afraid and exhausted, alone, but fighting. Flying in silver moonlight in a plane that can't be landed, stuck in the climb—alive, alive, ALIVE.”

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Quote of the Week (87) Best Friends

“It's like being in love, discovering your best friend.”
Elizabeth Wein
Code Name Verity

Friday, 17 October 2014

In My Library Bag (October the Second)

Okay, so here's the thing. I have a problem. I see STUFF and I want it. So  I am currently overloaded with things that are equal parts super and terrible and I will love them all. ALL. So once a month is not always enough to celebrate all the things I have stolen from the borrowing public because I want it first and I want it all. And I'm not even an only child....



So yes, I have succumbed to the peer pressure of both The Fault in Our Stars AND Cross Stitch but I came to my senses and sent the latter back already. 

I'm tentatively excited for It Felt Like a Kiss by Sarra Manning because I absolutely loved and wanted to make lots of sex and babies with You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by two of her others were terrible, but I WANT to be excited which counts for something. 

I am very excited for The Christmas Party by Carole Matthews because it's getting close to the glorious time of year when I dream of a snowy Christmas and escape into the lives of the lucky bastards that DO get such experiences. 

I wish you all the safety and happiness that should accompany the second half of October. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell; narrated by Clare Wille

My Rating:1 Star2 Star3 Starhalf Star

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature. From GoodReads.

I’m really glad I decided to take another chance on North and South. I had read the novel for school and didn’t care for it at all and the study of 19th century economics was really not a thrill. It was the mini-series with Richard Armitage that changed my mind about the story overall, though I was convinced that even thoughts of Richard Armitage couldn’t change the novel. But when Belle’s Bookshelf listened to the audio and really enjoyed it I decided to give it another go.

The first time I had to read this, it took me an entire school term and in the end I had to rush through so much of the book to finish in time for the exam that I didn’t realize I’d finished the novel until I turned the page and found the footnotes. The audio brought the book alive in a way that I really appreciated and the narrator brought feeling and passion into the story that reading it myself could not.

I felt more keenly for Margaret, a young woman who is raised by relatives instead of her parents so that she can become a lady of status and culture. Upon the marriage of her companion/cousin Margaret then returns home to the parents that she has seen only sparingly to discover that all is not well between them and that her father, without consultation, has decided to move the family to the Industrial North, far away from anything that they have known before.

The growth of Margaret throughout the story is spectacular. She is largely a victim of her education in that to her, people in Trade are beneath her – as is the natural order of the world – and Milton is a dirty, smoky place full of hustle and bustle. Yet throughout the many clashes and entanglements with mill owner Mr Thornton and the working family of Mr Higgins, Margaret comes to appreciate the purpose and determination of all who reside in Milton and it sparks the purpose and determination of Margaret herself.

The biggest part of this novel, bigger than the romance it inspires, is the Industrial Revolution and the changes it brings to society. No longer is England divided into the wealthy and those that work for them, the land owners and the ones that work it, the men who go to sea to make their fortunes and come back for a wife and an estate. Instead, growing rapidly, is a class of self-made men that run the mills and the machinery and the labourers that strive for a better life. Growing are the Unions and their quests for equal pay, safe working conditions and fairness. It is the exploration of the world of masters and workers that is Gaskells great strength in the novel.

It is the Industrial world that gives Margaret a greater purpose in life than waiting for a husband, a contrast shown through Margaret and her wealthy cousin Edith in London. It is this that makes Margaret such a great heroine, though much less well known and remembered than an Austen heroine. My original study for the novel was of the place of the individual within society and Gaskell takes many characters from different socio-economic backgrounds and recreates so vividly the England in which she lived and challenges our understanding of them.

Margaret is a character of great determination and will, a strong belief in right and wrong and she is tested many, many times. It is these tests that make her into an even greater character: a character that can change and grow, can see fault and correct it, can see injustice and fight against it and most importantly can identify and reconcile two conflicting parties. While I cannot say that Margaret and I would be friends, she is definitely worthy of admiration and respect.

North and South is told in 3rd person and while I prefer it usually anyway, it greatly enhances this novel. It gives the reader the opportunity to understand Mr Thornton entirely separately from Margaret’s view of him, and to love him for his own character rather than just because Margaret does. Mr Thornton must also experience a great deal of change to be worthy and while he starts out a very honourable man and master, he becomes an even greater one. His troubles are real: familial shame, the responsibility of the mill and the livelihood of everyone who depends on it, the threat of bankruptcy and bridging the gap in understanding between the masters and the workers. He is the kind of boss you would work hard for out of respect and loyalty and a boss that listens and shows respect to his workers. This also makes him a great marriage prospect for the same reasons.

This novel is certainly not your typical romance. While there is a Happily Ever After, it is not the gushing, swoony, swept off your feet romance. Yet in some ways it is greater than that. It is a romance based on mutual understanding and respect and of a drive and determination for the future and all its possibilities in a way that most romances are not. It has a richly developed cast of characters and settings which form such pivotal roles in the novel they become characters in their own right. Clare Wille narrates with passion and enthusiasm and brings a unique voice and personality to each character.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Quote of the Week (86) I have no words...

“He is my first olive: let me make a face while I swallow it.” 
Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South
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