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A Court of Thorns and Roses: Prickly Feelings

Tuesday, 28 March 2017


A Court of Thorns and Roses (or ACTOAR, as it is fondly acronymed) is Sarah J. Maas's second offering in the way of YA fantasy. Before ACOTAR (and its sequels A Court of Mist and Fury and the upcoming A Court of Wings and Ruin), Maas was solely focused on her hugely popular Throne of Glass series, which currently sits incomplete at five full length novels and one collection of prequel novellas. I only managed to make it through the first book in that series, the titular Throne of Glass, and it was not a particularly enjoyable experience (see why here). Although the series likely gets better as it goes on, and the fact that it is so beloved by so many is certainly a testament to that, I have decided not to continue with it, and to give ACOTAR a try instead. Unfortunately, ACOTAR did not sweep me off my feet as it seems to have done for so many others, and as I wished (even willed) it to do for me. 

What I Learned at Publishing Ireland's 'The Life Cycle of The Book'

Tuesday, 28 February 2017


This month I attended Publishing Ireland's 'The Life Cycle of The Book' seminar series, held every Tuesday for the past four weeks. Beginning with 'The Writing Process', 'Getting Published', 'What Publishers Do', and concluding just this evening with 'Reaching Readers', the series touched on every aspect of the book's journey to its readers. As someone who would love one day to work in the publishing industry, I was attending simply to soak up as much information about the industry as I possibly could. And, inevitably, I learned a lot. 

Roads 'Living With' Series Showcase

Monday, 30 January 2017


Recently, I was lucky enough to win a giveaway from the amazing Roads Publishing. They sent me four gorgeous books from their 'Living With' series, all of which can be found here. Each book contains 32 art prints from the artist in question, and each print is slightly perforated at the spine so that you can tear out, gift, or frame your favourite pieces. It's a fantastic idea in my opinion, because typically a single print directly from the artist can cost as much as (if not more than) these books, which offer an astounding number of artwork for the price offered. The books I was sent are of the artists Eugenia Loli, My Dead Pony, Yuko Shimizu, and Hattie Stewart.

2016 Resolutions in Review / Resolving for 2017

Friday, 30 December 2016


Taking a break from the depths of essay hell to reflect on the resolutions I made this time last year (spoiler alert: I did not do all of the things) and also to announce my goals for the new year. As an aside, Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a great book that I don't hate despite having to write 5-6,000 words on it. That's how you know it's a keeper. 

Charlotte Brontë Reviews: Jane Eyre, Villette

Friday, 25 November 2016

Jane Eyre

I first read Jane Eyre at sixteen or so - having decided to read something serious for once (note: this was my post-Twilight superfan stage, so I think I needed a bit of an ego-boost in the form of giving my bookshelf some canonical literary merit). I remember being surprised at how accessible it was. Jane Eyre was probably the first true “classic” published before 1900 that I had ever read at that time (maybe excepting Austen) and I think I expected it to be a lot more dense than it was. Strangely enough, the second time around, I had the exact same reaction.


Charlotte Brontë really has the pacing nailed down in this novel. I know things like pacing aren’t what people usually talk about when discussing classics like Jane Eyre, but it’s something that is important to the majority of readers, including myself. For many, classics are synonymous with slow moving prose and dead weight description. While I haven’t read enough classics to be able to entirely disregard that claim, Jane Eyre is certainly an exception to that assumption. 

The movement throughout the various stages of this novel, of Jane’s life, is perfect. There’s really never a moment where you feel that she story should have moved on, or that it has rushed ahead of you. Charlotte Brontë is on time, all the time. 


One thing that certainly gets discussed a lot when it comes to Jane Eyre is its treatment of Bertha Mason, that infamous woman in the attic. Having read Gilbert & Gubar’s eponymous critical text, as well as Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, I am definitely somewhat prepared for those kinds of discussions. However, I also find it hard to move past them. I sympathise so much with Bertha (or, Antoinette) because of Rhys’s ‘prequel’ that I almost can’t see her (and the novel) as anything but a victim of male violence, and, more broadly, of British Imperialism itself. Not that we should be moving past these things, but it can definitely blur your reading sometimes. That said, I don’t have too much of an interest in removing my Feminism/Post-Colonial goggles anytime soon. 


This year I replaced my hideous (sorry, Penguin) neon-green pocket edition of Jane Eyre with one of the lovely (you’re welcome, Penguin) English Library editions. Those little green ones are great because they’re so cheap, but if you can afford it, it’s definitely worth buying something that your shelf will be proud of - especially when it comes to classics. They’re all out of copyright, anyway. There’s nothing to stop you from reading a PDF. So if you’re going to buy a physical copy, I would recommend something pretty! 

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Villette 

Everyone knows who Jane Eyre is, but comparatively few know Lucy Snowe. She’s not even important enough to have an eponymous ‘autobiography’. Lucy Snowe is contained within Villette. And if you’re expecting Jane Eyre out of Villette, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. 


However, somewhat paradoxically, Lucy has a lot in common with Jane. Young, female, orphan dependents who become teachers and encounter strange things in attics - however, everyone likes Jane, and few like Lucy. Or, I suppose, you are meant to like Jane, and you are not encouraged to like Lucy. 

The amazing Amanda from Amanda Center on youtube did a length review of Villette which I found really helpful (and which you can find here). I say helpful because I needed help to understand this novel. I absolutely still do - my seminar on the text might have just added to my questions rather than answering them. This novel is a bit of an enigma. Too enigmatic for me to write on in an essay, I think. Although I would like to read some criticism, just to see where you can go with Villette



Having read and enjoyed two Charlotte Brontës, I have noticed one strange similarity between them: weird endings. Not only the ending as a whole, but also the literal ending - the closing lines; the final sentences. Jane Eyre ends with a prayer from the pious guy she rejected (who also happens to be her cousin), and Villette ends with Lucy telling us how her enemies went on to live long, happy lives. 

Jane, of course, begins the final chapter of her story by telling the reader that she married him. It’s a typical happy ever after - all the knots have been untangled, the bumps in the road have been smoothed over, and Jane is going to lead a happy life with her one true love. The story of Jane Eyre is that of her overcoming adversity, and once that adversity is gone, her story must end. 

Lucy’s last sentence is an abrupt “Farewell.” She suggests that the man she loves dies in a shipwreck, but tells us to imagine whatever makes us happy. Lucy, over the course of the text, proves herself to be a pretty unreliable narrator (“by the way, I knew he was my cousin all along”), and the ending definitely confirms her unreliability. What really struck me was how Lucy effectively ends her life in that final sentence. Her story just falls short of being tied up nicely, like Jane’s. Instead of continuing, instead of persevering, she seems to just entirely give up on her story, and herself. 


The Incomplete Assorted Jane Austen Collection

Friday, 21 October 2016


There are so many Austen collections to choose from. And, while most people out there seem to pick one edition and run with it, I decided that I simply could not decide. Over the past few years, I have been picking up various individual Austens. I haven't got them all yet, and I've still only read two, and so the result is the following: The Incomplete Assorted Jane Austen Collection. 

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Pride and Prejudice

Having just re-read (or re-listened to - audiobook review can be found here) Pride and Prejudice a few weeks ago, my love for it is fresh in my mind. Although, due to frequent viewings of Joe Wright's adaptation, my love for Pride and Prejudice is really never that far from me.



This is one of the Penguin English Library editions - which I now have a number of. Unfortunately, I think this is the only one I own with the original matte texture. It says a lot about me that I'm genuinely upset that they switched to a more basic cover material. 

I actually love these editions so much that I sometimes wish I went for an un-assorted and complete Austen Penguin English Library collection. However, I do have two beautiful Charlotte Brontë's, and I'm currently re-reading a very torn-up and highlighted copy of Wuthering Heights that is just begging to be replaced - so maybe I should start building a Brontë Penguin English Library collection?

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Emma

I studied Emma very briefly in secondary school. I really enjoyed it - it's such a fun story, and Emma herself is a fantastic protagonist. She's almost an antihero - or, at least, she begins that way. 

This is from the Penguin Threads collection, which is quite small, and as such, Emma is their only Austen, so I'm very glad I went with this edition. The Penguin Threads books are gorgeous. The hand-stitched effect really makes them stand out (in this case, literally - the design is embossed!).



Although it's been a few years since I read Emma, I have watched Clueless many times since then, so that definitely validates my love for its story. I also remember really enjoying the slightly more true-to-text BBC miniseries adaptation, as well as the youtube webshow Emma Approved - which is adorable (I distinctly recall a lot of swooning while watching that one). 

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Sense and Sensibility

I found this copy of Sense and Sensibility on sale for only a few euro in my favourite bookshop in Dublin, Hodges Figgis. I love this cover so much - it's from the Splinter Classic Lines series, all designed by Sarah Singh, a fashion illustrator. The fashion element of her artwork really comes through in these covers. Also, I can never resist a blotchy watercolour.



I really want to read Sense and Sensibility soon because I'm itching to watch the highly acclaimed Ang Lee adaptation. Watching the film first would be akin to blasphemy, as all us book lovers know, so I really should get started on reading. 

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Northanger Abbey

This was on my reading list for a class on Romanticism way back in first year, and naughty me never ended up reading it. In fairness, I wanted to, but my tutorial group wasn't covering it, so it just simply didn't happen. 

The Vintage Classics Austen series are all beautifully designed by Leanne Shapton. Unfortunately, this is the most boring cover of the series, some of the other covers are very colourful and bright - but they all share this lovely, slightly messy paint-like style. However, this book isn't totally monochromatic - the endpapers correspond to some of the other, more colourful, book covers.


Roxy's favourite.
I'm really looking forward to reading Northanger Abbey one day. All I know about it is that it's set in Bath and that it parodies the gothic novels of the time - and that's enough for me to know that I'll probably really enjoy it. 

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Persuasion

The latest addition to my collection. I'm always on the lookout for beautiful Austens, and while there are certainly no shortage of editions, it can be difficult to find pretty covers for the more "obscure" Austens, like Persuasion - especially when one of my requirements is that it must not belong to the same edition family as any other.



This lovely edition of Persuasion actually has very unique origins. Unlike the previous books, this edition was not produced by a publishing house as such, but seems to have come from an independent digital illustrator, M. C. Frank, as part of a series called 'Book Candy Classics'. It also comes with inner illustrations by Charles Edmund Brock, a nineteenth century illustrator of some of the later Austen editions.

Illustrated Children's Books ft. a Kitten

Sunday, 16 October 2016


My fourth and final year of university has just begun (three weeks in now), and as such, I have been busy reading a lot of classic children's literature, which is part of the reason for this blogpost. The main part being that ever since the publication of the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone last year, I've been slowly falling in love with illustrated children's books. Sadly, I don't have an unlimited book fund, so my collection is still very small, but I thought I would show you what I have so far.  

Also, I'm squeezing in a bit of a life update here - a little one was welcomed into our family last week! She's a rescue and her name is Indigo, or "Indie", as we all call her. This is her inaugural blog post, but I'm sure it won't be the last time I try to force her to participate in a book photoshoot. 


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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J. K. Rowling
Illustrated by Jim Kay

Like every Potter fan out there, last Christmas I received the first of the official illustrated editions - The Philosopher's Stone, as imagined by Jim Kay. I'm still in awe of just how stunning his artwork is in this book. Even all these months later, I find myself getting lost in it so easily just by flipping through the pages.

I fully intend on completing the collection. Chamber of Secrets has actually just been released this week, so I will definitely be picking that up sometime soon. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do for the later books, even just in terms of size. I have no idea how they're going to fit everything in. I really hope they don't release abridged editions - I think us diehard Potter fans would much rather have huge and impractical tomes than smaller, watered-down versions. 


There's something about Jim Kay's illustrations that make them somehow both specific and universal at the same time. He is a perfect fit for the Potter series. Some of my favourite images are the larger character portraits: Ron, McGonagall, Malfoy, and, of course, Harry himself. The soft, desaturated, almost greyscale, portrait of Harry (below) is probably my favourite image from the entire book. 

You have your mother's eyes, Harry.

It hasn't been long since my last Potter re-read, and I'm sure it won't be long until my next. I can't wait until the day when I can read them all in this illustrated format (that is, of course, if all goes according to plan). Like many young Potter fans out there, I also can't wait to pass these on to my children one day - if I have any. I know that's thinking ahead in the extreme, but there's something so special about these illustrated editions. I really, truly cherish this book in a way that is probably not healthy. In fact, on second thought, I probably cherish it too much to let any actual children near it. 

On an unrelated note, the wonderful Witch Please podcast recently released an episode in which they discussed the particulars of book design (find it here). It was a really interesting look at the various covers and editions of the Potter books, and they talk about the illustrated edition quite a bit, too. 


As you can see, Indie's favourite part was when Harry meets Ron onboard the Hogwarts Express:


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Peter Pan - J. M. Barrie
Illustrated by Minalima

I re-read Peter Pan this summer as sort of background reading for my courses on Children's Literature - because, sadly, Peter doesn't feature in either of them. I knew immediately that the one I wanted was the inimitable MinaLima edition. MinaLima is a company founded by artists who worked on the Harry Potter film sets designing the graphic props (think Ministry of Magic paraphernalia), and I think the style they formed during their time there can really be seen in the illustrations of this book.  



MinaLima's style is radically different to, say, Jim Kay's Potter illustrations. There are no character portraits, for example. The focus here is more on the smaller details. This book features a lot of pop-out elements of things like maps and Tinkerbell's wings. The pages themselves are littered with little props - objects briefly mentioned in the text are given space and weight by the illustrators.  

MinaLima, unfortunately, only have one other book published so far: Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, which looks just as gorgeous as this one is. I would love to see them publish more children's books. I'm not sure which book I'd like to see them take on next. Although I love the Quentin Blake illustrations as much as anyone, I would love to see a new take on Roald Dahl. I think MinaLima would have a lot of fun with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example.





I really enjoyed reading Peter Pan this summer. It's such an iconic story. It holds up, even over a hundred years since it was first published. Although I did just recently finish reading Treasure Island, which I also thoroughly enjoyed, so it's entirely possible that I just have a bias towards pirates. 

What surprised me most about it was just how prominent Wendy is. I suppose that's why some forms, like the play, were called Peter and Wendy. There's probably a lot of fascinating critical reading out there on this book's strange relationship with women and with mothers that I would love to read someday. 

I really, really like the 2003 film adaptation, which I believe is available on Netflix, by the way. 


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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Illustrated by Yayoi Kusama

Alice is a strange book. The story is so iconic, and its strangeness is appealing, but I just don't get it. There are a lot of people out there who love Lewis Carroll, and who adore Alice - but I'm simply not one of them. I've been midway through the book for months now and I just can't find the motivation to keep going. However, I love this particular edition - even if it is just for looking at. It is gorgeous. 


There are so, so many editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland out there. It took me a long time to decide on one. Initially, I wanted something traditional with the original illustrations by John Tenniel, but I couldn't find one that really felt worth it. This Kusama edition initially felt too modern, too out-there, but the more I looked at it, the more Alice it felt. I'm still so glad I went with it. 

Yayoi Kusama is an artist of so many different kinds of media and environments. I think most people know her through her various installations in modern art museums. What I instantly recognised were her mirrored light fixtures - and then, of course, there are the dots. Dots are a recurring theme throughout Kusama's work and throughout this book.



I will eventually have to finish reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, because it's a course text next semester. I'm not particularly looking forward to it, although I am looking forward to the class discussion on the text. It does often seem like a book that people tend to over-analyse - or, maybe I just don't understand it at all. Alice die-hards, don't hate me.

Regardless, I will always love this edition. What I love most about it is the way the size of the text changes throughout. Kusama is very playful with the font sizes. Sometimes one small sentence will be stretched across two pages to match Alice's growing stature. Other times, it shrinks, or even swirls down the page. If nothing else, this book is truly one of a kind. 



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A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Illustrated by Jim Kay


Another Jim Kay illustrated book, but in a drastically different tone and environment here. Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls (based on a story by Siobhan Dowd) is, technically, a children's book, but a dark one - as evidenced by Kay's artwork. His style for this book is monochromatic, scratchy, and sometimes the drawings almost look like negative images. I particularly love how he draws the titular monster. 



This book deals with some difficult things: illness, pain, death, and other fun topics to discuss with your child. It is a very moving story, but it isn't a tissues on the beach kind of read. I read it over the course of one afternoon, on the couch - and I think that was perfect.



The film adaptation is due to come out very soon. I am extremely excited to see it, especially because it is directed by J. A. Bayona, who previously directed the lovely and creepy El orfanato among many others. It won't be an easy one to adapt, but I think they found a wonderful director (not to mention the stellar cast) to trust the story with. 

There are editions of A Monster Calls out there with no illustrations whatsoever, which, to me, sounds crazy. I think that this book is truly a collaborative work between writer and illustrator. To present the text without even the core illustrations is a mistake, in my opinion. Especially considering the fact that there are extremely accessible illustrated editions out there. The one I own is quite small and is a paperback - it's not as if the only option is a Potter-esque tome. 

So, if you're picking this one up, be sure to go with the illustrated edition. It's worth it. 


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