The 2012 Costa Book of the Year

Logo for Costa Coffee

Logo for Costa Coffee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s nothing like snuggling up with a warm coffee inside the wooden walls of Costa whilst you sit at the window peering out at the people fighting with their umbrellas in the brewing storm. What makes this image even more blissful is having a book gripped in one hand. Ah, it’s the dream of all John Lewis adverts.

Tonight one novel will be voted as the 2012 Costa book of the year. The awards have been taking place since 1971 (who knew Costa had been going for that long?) and it involves a winner for each of these categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book, and the five books that win each of these individual categories then go on to compete in the final competition.

Here are the ones who are fighting for the final prize:

Biography winner: Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot

Novel winner : Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

First novel winner: The Innocents by Francesca Segal

Poetry winner: The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie

Children’s book winner: Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Who would get your vote?

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Pride and Prejudice: A History in Pop Culture

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (film)

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to believe that two centuries ago to this date Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy were first introduced to the public eye. Since then the entertainment industry has found ways to unravel the plot, characters and themes of the 1813 novel into various adaptations so Janeites can continuously fall in love with the worlds most wanted man. Here is a timeline of how Pride and Prejudice has influenced popular culture:

1995:

The most famous adaptation of the Jane Austen novel was BBC-One’s six episode drama, Pride and Prejudice. This was the miniseries which launched Colin Firth into the eyes of prying woman who would do anything necessary to find their own Mr Darcy.

1996:

Ah, the beginning of the Bridget Jones era. Helen Fielding used the general plot base of the novel for her hilarious chic-lit Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) and its follow up, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (1999). The books were then transformed into movies starring Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant and most interestingly Colin Firth, who ironically played Mr Darcy. The next novel is set to be released in 2013 with a film also on the way.

2004:

Bollywood felt it was time to give its British counterparts a run for their money by bring  a bit of dance and colour to Austen’s writing in Bride and Prejudice.

2005:

The lady who loves her period dramas, Keira Knightley, was able to play literatures most famous heroine in this successful film adaptation.

2008:

Imagine if you could travel back in in time to the fictional land of Austen? That was the idea behind ITV’s fantasy four part drama, Lost in Austen. Here we have huge Jane Austen fan, Amanda Price, who would rather spend her time reading Pride and Prejudice and romanticising about Mr Darcy than being with her husband-to-be. Luckily she finds a portal in her bathroom which transports her into the Bennet family household. However, the course of the novel doesn’t run smoothly when Mr Bingley is more attracted to Amanda than Jane.

2009:

Seth Grahame-Smith believed it wasn’t enough for Elizabeth Bennet to be tormented by early 19th century customs, so he decided to add some zombies. The obsession with vampires and werewolves and other equally gruesome entities in society today only makes it feel right for Austen’s most famous novel to be given a parody twist in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

2012:

2012 saw Pride and Prejudice be transformed for the modernised 21st century audience through YouTube. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a series of vlogs based on the novel, created from the mind of vlogbrother, Hank Green and Bernie Su.

What is your favourite adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?

Review: Good Girls by Laura Ruby

Good Girls by Laura RubyWhat is it all about?

Audrey is the stereotypical good girl. She is ranked fourth in her year, is a loyal friend and a loving daughter. However, Audrey holds one secret which makes her a bad girl. When a photo of Audrey and popular boy, Luke DeSalvio, doing naughty things is spread throughout the school she becomes a laughing stalk and even her dad is sent a copy! Audrey has to learn to deal with the cruel attention and prove that she isn’t a very bad girl.

My thoughts:

I never read the blurb of Good Girls so when I read the first few pages of the story I thought it was going to be about the friendship between Audrey and her best friend Amy. The book opened with the two going to a Halloween party and Audrey emphasises how they only have six months together before High School is over. Although, it turned out to be about what happened between Luke and Audrey at that fateful Halloween party.

The book mainly conveyed issues of sex and sexism in High School. I felt sorry for Audrey because it’s not very unusual for girls, good or bad, to be ‘sexually active’, especially in this day and age where teenagers tend to experiment. There were a few intimate scenes, but they weren’t extremely embarrassing to read.

Sexism was shown by how girls get blamed and are disproved upon for having sex whereas males get an out of jail card:

“You thought I was a slut,” she says. “Don’t deny it. I heard what people said about me.”

I blush, and I hope she doesn’t notice. “What’s a slut, anyway?” I say. “Why isn’t there a name for guys who do the same thing?”

“Player. Pimp,” she says.

“Please,” I say. “Those are compliments.”

Scandals about a teenager never affect the gossipers; it’s just a piece of drama for them. It’s only the person or people who the gossip is about that are affected. I enjoyed reading about how Audrey coped with being the top slab of gossip for the month. Audrey dyes her iconic blond hair the colour of dirt, tries to become a more tougher person and makes friends with the school ‘slappers’ to get away from it all.

I wasn’t too keen on Audrey’s best friend Amy. She seemed slightly selfish and her grieving over her ex-boyfriend Jimmy lasted too long. On the other hand I really liked Luke. I thought he seemed like a good guy and no wonder he was angry with Audrey’s endless mixed messages! She dumbed him on the day the photograph was taken and didn’t acknowledge him in the school halls. Both Audrey and Luke didn’t understand how to work their relationship and this ultimately pulled them apart.

There was one particular person who I thought had taken the photo, even though someone else had already confessed to it. I was both right and wrong: right that the confessor was a liar and wrong about who I thought the photographer was.

Around sixty pages before the end I thought that the book was going to finish because things seemed to be coming together, but I’m glad it didn’t finish. It was brilliant how Audrey and her friends added a twist to their prom which cemented a new start for all of them. Bad girls can turn good.

Verdict: 3.5/5 – A poignant tale showing the outcome of High School gossip.

Read if you liked: Play Me (Laura Ruby), Sophie & Carter (Chelsea Fine) and Epic Fail (Claire LaZebnik).

Review: Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Cover of "Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List"

Cover of Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List

What is it all about?

Naomi and Ely have been best friends their whole lives. Naomi is in love with Ely, but problem is Ely doesn’t love her back. Ely is gay. The two make a no kiss list; a list of the people they are not allowed to go for as this could damage their friendship. Who would have thought that it would be someone not on the list that would cause the uproar? When Ely ends up kissing Naomi’s boyfriend, Bruce the Second, their friendship is left in tatters. Both teenagers believed they knew everything about each other, that they were soul mates; they were wrong.

My thoughts:

A falling friendship is what nearly every human on the planet has to go through at some point in their life. Past all the junk that is filled in this novel, that is what Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List is all about: friendship and love.

After their success with Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, it is unsurprising that Cohn and Levithan would decide to co-write another book. There is something harmonious about two authors contributing to a book. I thought they would split the book up with Cohn writing chapters for Naomi and Levithan writing Ely’s chapters. Instead they both shared the characters and would take turns writing from that characters perspective. It is probably one of the only pros of this book that they were able to keep the characters consistent. It shows the characters voice is not that of the author, but the character.

From the title it is expected that Naomi and Ely will take control of the chapters, instead we see the story from many character perspectives.  I think the various narrator technique was approached so you could learn some more about each character in the novel. But it turned into quite a mess. For example, Naomi’s ‘Archangel’ Gabriel compiles a mix tape for her and a whole chapter is dedicated to him going over each song (a clear link to Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist). This could have been sweet, but what wreaked it is that you don’t care about him. It’s weird. You don’t like or dislike the guy and this chapter just seems squashed in. There was one sub story that about two-three chapters were based around and I really don’t see what the point of this was. This was the two Robin’s wee love story which in no way influenced any major plot holes. Also, Bruce the First’s sister, Kelly, had her own pointless chapter. She was only even in the book for that one chapter! Despite this I was slightly glad that the book was not only narrated by Naomi and Ely. This was because I didn’t really like Naomi and I would have enjoyed the book less if half of its pages were from her perspective. However, this swapping of perspectives made it quite difficult to figure out what character you were hearing from.

The title was also deceiving by the fact that the ‘No Kiss List’ wasn’t crucial to the story. The only thing that mattered was that Ely kissing Bruce the Second acted as a catalyst to how Naomi couldn’t bear to be in love with Ely when he doesn’t love her in the same way. However, this would have been the case with or without the No Kiss List.

I was quite shocked by the language at first, it was pretty graphic and unnecessary, but you just (have to) get used to it when reading the book.  It was very repetitive when Ely or Naomi would start reflecting on the past and giving little lists of all the times they spend together. They didn’t need to tell these memories all the time.

I don’t know if it is just me, but some of the comments mentioned in the book I didn’t understand. Maybe it was because I wasn’t paying full attention to the story or maybe it’s just references I’ve never heard of before. Some dialogue just seemed out of place, or just put in for show which wouldn’t be said in real life.

My favourite character in the novel was Bruce the Second. He could easily have been made into a baddy character, but he wasn’t and he was so nice. After him I liked Ely, he was just hilarious at some parts. Near the end he starts singing like he is in a musical and it is so funny and so gay that you really can imagine him doing it!

There’s something about endings that I really hate. It’s not that the book is going to end (I was quite relieved to finish this one), but it’s how realisations spring so quickly and that is it: book is over. Ely had his epiphany and in the next chapter Naomi also had her empathy. Sometimes I wish books wouldn’t be structured the way they always are, maybe for once we could see the aftermath of the ‘ending’, or maybe there doesn’t have to be such a knitted up ending at all.

Verdict: 2.5/5 Not a fantastic book, but easy to read.

Read if you liked: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Rachel Cohn and David Levithan), How They Met and Other Stories (David Levithan) and Be More Chill (Ned Vizzini).

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is it all about?

“I remembered this one time that I never told anyone about. The time we were walking. Just the three of us. And I was in the middle. I don’t remember where and I don’t remember when. I don’t even remember the season. I just remember walking between them and feeling for the first time that I belonged somewhere.”

During his freshman year in high school, socially awkward Charlie writes confessional letters to an anonymous stranger. When his only friend, Michael, commits suicide Charlie is left a loner until he finds companionship in two seniors, Sam and Patrick. They take him through a journey of experimenting, drugs, sex and everything else in between. Charlie searches to find his place in the world, to participate and feel infinite.

My thoughts:

I wanted to read this coming of age novel so I would be prepared for the movie adaptation. I’m extremely glad I did. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is such a wonderful story, told with such humour and honesty. Charlie’s day to day life, past memories and inner thoughts are all revealed in his letters, creating a provoking and inspirational read.

You don’t find yourself wishing for answers to what caused Charlie’s depression, rather you want to join him on the ride and enjoy what he has to say and tell. It is Charlie who drives the story. He is very special, but doesn’t realise it.

Since Charlie is confessing all to an anonymous stranger, it seems much more personal than a diary and it feels as though he is directly telling you the story. He is very sensitive meaning he cries a lot, be that may in bliss or sadness. His fragile nature seems a part of who he is, however it isn’t until the end of the story that you find out something triggered these emotions.

The book would not have had the same effect if Charle‘s original voice had been altered. To me, his way of storytelling was crucial for the books success. Some of the things Charlie comes out with are so strange that they make you stop and reread over them. These absurd comments made him comical. He would add in little details that are of no importance, but he would make them important:

“Anyway, today I decided to sit in the front with my legs over the whole seat. Kind of like I was lying down with my back to the window. I did this so I could look back at the other kids on the bus. I’m glad school buses don’t have seat belts, or else I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Also, he would go down philosophical tangents which bemused me as I related so much with them that it became scary:

“Sometimes, I look outside, and I think that a lot of other people have seen this snow before. Just like I think that a lot of other people have read those books before. And listened to those songs. I wonder how they feel tonight.”

“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.”

“So I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”

If Holden Caulfield was a teenager in the 90s I’m positive he would have been Charlie, or at least he would have accepted him as his only friend. Chbosky has admitted that J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye influenced him a lot. When I say “a lot,” I mean a hell of a lot (Charlie even ends up reading the classic!). Both stories contain the same themes of depression and alienation. There were even subtle references to the innocence of children:

“I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.”

Sometimes authors only care about their protagonists and don’t bother to flesh out the other characters in their book. However, Chbosky has moulded many fresh personalities that you hurt for and care for. For example, I felt really sorry for Charlie’s gay friend, Patrick, who was in despair over his secret lover, Brad.

This is the kind of book I didn’t think would have an epiphany at the end. I was dead wrong. The answer to Charlie’s mental state was a complete and utter devastating shock.

A wallflower is a shy socially awkward person who understands the beauty and the ugly of the world. Charlie is a wallflower and you should read this book if you are one too.

Verdict: 4.5/5 – Every teenager should at some point have to read this book.

Read if you liked: The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger), It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Ned Vizzini) and The Fault in Our Stars (John Green).