Aside
2

I remember The Princess Diaries with some degree of fondness.  I don’t know if it’s because of the film (which was boss, with baby Anne Hathaway and classy-as-fuck Julie Andrews) or the misty veil of time which makes everything seem a bit better than it actually is. I do also remember becoming increasingly unsatisfied with the stories, but was unsure whether to attribute this to an increase in age or decrease in quality.  I’m loath to think badly of the series, as, not having had reliable access to the internet in the early parts of my teenagerhood, and certainly no access to anything such as Goodreads which might have helped me to form my opinions a little more carefully, it was one of the few YA series that actually made it into my life at The Right Time.

But you can see where this is going.

The setup is pretty hard to swallow, so if you can’t even get past that, you have a serious problem.  Basically, Mia Thermopolis is actually not Mia Thermopolis. She’s Amelia Renaldi (like fuck am I typing out the rest of her name) and she’s really a princess. Hilarity ensues. Purportedly. So, accepting that, let’s move on to the book itself.

It opens so promisingly, with one of my favourite lines from one of my favourite books ever:

It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.

Too true, Sara, too true.

Anyway, the real beginning of the book is kind of nifty.  Mia’s mother begins dating her Algebra teacher and Mia is, justifiably, Freaked Out.  But because she’s a “people pleaser” type, she doesn’t say anything and her mum, realising this, makes her start writing a diary?  Which is kind of weird and I’m not actually sure why Mia starts doing it, but okay. So Mia waffles about being a freak because she’s skinny and tall which, sure. Pull the other one.  (Side note – I had no idea what a freshman was when I read this book because we don’t have them here, at least in high school.  So I was super-confused for quite a while.) Also, some neat “foreshadowing” of Mia not being the greatest with numbers:

There are four million people in Manhattan, right? That makes about two million of them guys.  So out of TWO MILLION guys, she has to go out with Mr. Gianini.

If half of Manhattan is male, some of them are going to be under the age of consent, for starters. But never mind that! Actually, secondary side note: just ONCE I would like a YA novel where the protagonist wasn’t crap at Maths.  The only time it ever happens is where they are also a super-genius at everything else.  It is possible to like and be good at Maths and Arts subjects like English without being a genius – I am living breathing proof.  I loved Maths, a lot, and I was good at it.  I worked hard at it – but I was good at it.  I get really frustrated every time I read a YA novel and the protag is all: “HURR DON’T CARE ABOUT MATH BAD AT IT WHY NUMBERS AND LETTERS GO TOGETHER?” I’m sure it’s an experience a lot of people have, but a lot of people don’t and I wish it wasn’t sort of universally accepted.

Anyway, cut to Mia-at-school, where her spectacularly unhelpful friend Lilly is being spectacularly unhelpful by not sympathising with her Algebra-teacher-related horror. Though Mia is really oddly obsessed with tongue-in-mouth kissing.  It’s at this point that a creeping feeling of Meg Cabot having had no memory of being in high school or a teenager begins to, well, creep.  I remember a lot of obsessing about <em>if</em you’d been kissed, and by who. Less about the mechanics, or not in such weird terms anyway. But Mia spends the full page talking about various tongue-kissing scenarios:

I don’t think my mom would let a guy put his tongue in her mouth on the first date.

And

I saw Josh Richter stick his tongue in Lana Weinberger’s mouth last week.

And

I can’t say I’d mind if Josh Richter kissed <em>me</em> like that.

Stop, Mia. You are being kind of… creepy.

She relates seeing Josh (who she obviously and predictably is in twu wuv with) at a shop buying Drakkar Noir (any relation to Sex Panther?) and how he noticed her and oh my god why did I ever like these. That said, Lilly is not excited that Mia spoke to her crush, which, given how self-hating Mia appears to be right from the off, is a big thing for her. No, she does the following, which I hail as the inaugural entry in the “Why Lilly Moscovitz is the worst friend in the entire world” list:

Lilly says Josh’s synapses were probably misfiring that day, due to heatstroke or something… why else, she asked, would the most popular senior in high school say hey to me, Mia Thermopolis, a lowly freshman?

Gee, I wonder why Mia has self-esteem issues? Of course, Mia ruins any sympathy I had towards her by being a big giant doof:

The truth is, when he’s away from Lana… Josh is a totally different person… I sae the deeply sensitive person inside him, struggling to get out.

Who SAYS things like that?  Has Mia never read a book, seen a film, or watched TV? I know I need to cut her some slack because she’s only fourteen, but man alive, there’s naive and the there’s almost braindead. WHY if Mia feels like such a misfit at school does she want validation from the people who make her feel like that? The mind boggles.  Anyway, before I can have an aneurysm about that, Mia goes back to talking about her mum and Mr. G:

She’s so totally happy about this date, it’s enough to make me want to throw up.

Way to be supportive! Although the line below suggests that Mia’s mum regularly forgets that her daughter doesn’t eat meat, so I guess it’s a two-way street. Boring, unfunny to-do list breaks up the days (does anyone actually regularly measure their chest for non-clothing reasons?), then, this:

Lana hissed in this really mean voice:

“FREAK.”

Good god, get me the smelling salts! How very DARE she! This, again, felt so much like an example of MC trying to be down with the kids and very much… not being down with the kids.  Like, this is such an optimistic view of the cutting things people say to each other in high school.  It’s not a cool or nice thing to say in any way, but it’s hardly worth even mentioning.  It’s totally clumsy writing, and enforces that weird popular people are bad, nerdy people are awesome stereotype that’s unforgivably cliche by this point. Blah blah, what does Josh see in her, weird mention of Princess Diana for no reason (I feel like this was a recurring thing – the British Royal Family are nowhere near as cool or interesting as Mia thinks they are!)

F in Algebra, Mia’s life sucks, Mr. G (does anyone actually write diary entries this detailed? I’ll chalk this down to “suspend disbelief” but still!)  Michael, Lilly’s brother appears, to be briefly snarky (and laugh like the Count  from Sesame Street? One! One slutty mommy! Ha! Ha! Ha!) and the concept of Gifted and Talented is introduced.  I find it frankly hilarious that Mia would even get near a class called anything like this, as so far she’s shown a talent for:

  • being an idiot
  • lying
  • being naive
  • failing algebra
  • writing weirdly long, self-involved, yet shallow diary entries
  • which is totally not the same as what I’m doing here

But G&T turns out to be a slack-off session, which I guess makes sense.

What we’re all doing is figuring out ways to lock the new Russian kid, who’s supposedly this musical genius, in the supply closet so we don’t have to listen to any more Stravinsky on his stupid violin.

This earned a laugh. Point, Cabot.

“What’ll you do for me, huh, Thermopolis? What’ll you do for me?”

What could I do for someone like that?

Snerk.  But seriously, “Thermopolis”, Michael wants to bone you.  I knew this the first time round, I know it now. You’re a tumshie. Mia continues to talk about Michael as she appears to need to be constantly writing. We learn that Michael is pretty much perfect, if a little “edgy teen” and that I have no idea what Josh Richter’s comparative merits are, because Mia knows nothing about him. Fantastic. Lilly, however, does something useful (don’t get used to it) by pointing out to Mia that:

[Michael] had been sexually harassing me but I didn’t notice.

I wouldn’t call it harassment per se, but it was definitely mildly flirtatious.

This scene is followed by a list of hottest guys, compiled by Mia and Lilly.  Hilarity ensues. Josh aside, this is still a questionable list. Fictional characters aside, Prince William is going bald and inbred looking, much like the rest of his family. Pierce Brosnan hasn’t been in anything good since Bond, and those were of questionable quality even then.  Daniel Day-Lewis could not be less attractive, just on a general level.  I dunno, I know this was written in 2000, but this does not seem like your typical girly crush list from then – like, where was Leonardo Di Caprio?  Justin Timberlake?  Idk?  I didn’t ever have a crush on these people because I lived under a rock, but I was aware of other people having them? Sigh, I dunno.  ANYWAY.

When am I going to actually use the FOIL method in real life?

Argh. Mia’s dad phones.  I bet he’s not going to be important at all!  More boob-session, which is getting severely weird. I knew a LOT of flat-chested fourteen year olds. I’d hazard a guess at even most of them weren’t terribly well-endowed.  I felt weird for having such big boobs – anyway, that’s hardly the point. Except to say that I feel Mia’s pain about strapless dresses from the side of the spectrum that hates wearing them because I have to attempt strapless bras and a WORLD of no.

Mom’s been depressed ever since her last boyfriend turned out to be a Republican.

Again, this made me laugh, even if it’s a little too “HAHA CONSERVATIVES”. 

I kind of tried to find out if there had been any kissing, particualrly of the tongue-in-mouth variety.

MIA STOP THAT IS YOUR MOTHER MY GOD.

Oh, Lilly has a TV show.  Is it just me or does that seem weirdly unlikely?  Like, I have an embarrassing lack of knowledge about America except via mainstream media depiction, and I KNOW Lilly’s family are super-rich, but this still seems pretty far-fetched if you ask me.  Particularly as Lilly is singularly unlikeable.

Skipping ahead, Mia’s dad calls again (I WONDER WHY) and Mia goes on an endearing little rant about Iceland, which I kind of love.

Much more fun than Manhattan, where people sometimes spit at you for no reason.

Sounds like Glasgow. But then:

I only shared this information with him because he is a politician.

And:

I had to do a fact sheet on… Genovia.

 

Given that we know what’s coming – what?  How does Mia know THIS LITTLE about her family.  I know I said earlier that this is just something you have to accept about the books – the really, really unlikely premise.  But come the fuck on!  How do you NOT know that your dad is a prince when you did A FACTSHEET ON HIS COUNTRY? How do you know that he’s a “politician” but that is all? Mia is pretty dense, I know, but this just strikes me as so contrived that I can’t quite grasp why Cabot thought people would buy it.

Following the theme of being totally obsessed with body parts, Lana comments on Mia’s booblessness, and High School Ensues. None of this is interesting, so let’s skip ahead to Mia getting home and her mother Needing to Talk. Turns out her dad had Cancer of the Contrivance and now can’t have any more kids. Shame, that. Mia fails to be understanding, feeling the need to say WELL, HE STILL HAS HER. Despite almost never seeing him, but whatever.  Her dad is flying to New York for some undisclosed reason and we are left in mystery. 

And because this is getting ridiculously long, I’m going to leave it there. NEXT TIME: why does Mia’s dad want to see her? Will Mia take her head out of the sand?  Is Lilly as awful as she seems (yes)? Can we have more Michael? FIND OUT!

0

I know the meaning of those 19 years, a slave of the law…

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always had a problem with posting consistency. Would that it were the problem just now. No, my problem is a different beast, namely, the law. Or, more accurately, Law School. It’s a bit of a bastard. I’ve sat my final undergraduate exam and I have never been more hollow or burnt out feeling. Assuming I live, I’ve worked out a rough posting schedule beginning tomorrow, but until then I hope those of you who are following me and reading this will hang tight!

For now, I’ll post a round-up of my reading in April 2013.

The Damned Utd – David Peace
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones – Alexander McCall Smith
Room – Emma Donoghue
Wintersmith – Terry Pratchett
This Is Not A Test – Courtney Summers
Fall For Anything – Courtney Summers
Genesis – Bernard Beckett
The Importance of Being Seven – Alexander McCall Smith
Bertie Plays The Blues – Alexander McCall Smith
The Black Book – Ian Rankin
Mortal Causes – Ian Rankin
Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins
Cracked Up To Be – Courtney Summers
Let It Bleed – Ian Rankin
Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

Given that I finished reading the last of these almost a full month ago now, I’m just going to quickly round up what I thought below. Easy standouts among these are Genesis and Wintersmith, with The Damned Utd only really of interest to those of us enamoured with the beautiful game. Anna was a strong contender for one of the most beautifully fluffy novels I’ve come across that was not too saccharine for my tastes, I think because of the relateability of the situation in the book for me (I’ve been Etienne, sans good looks unfortunately). The three Summers books were light and ennjoyable, but I often felt that sense of unreality that comes with those who choose to write about high school too long after the fact. As usual, AMS is my happy place (though I’m missing the next book and will have to catch up!) and Ian Rankin is… Ian Rankin.

Speak and Room are probably the two most controversial or issue-driven books on my list. On the former, I was surprised by the youth of Anderson’s voice, given that I’d read Wintergirls before and not been overly impressed by her ability to capture the actuality of what it is like to be that age. As someone who had my own struggles around about that age with “growing up” and the realities of puberty (or “mocha latte” as Ruby Oliver, my spirit animal, would call it), I feel like, for a fourteen year old who has had the experience that the protagonist has here, the voice is pretty accurate. Also, the scene in the cupboard is incredibly affecting. However, I feel like it could actually have done with being a bit longer and deeper. Room was much less annoying than I’d expected it to be, given the child voice – it’s pretty easy to get used to. It’s also a lot less gruesome than I expected it to be, in the sense that most of the threat and dread comes from what is implied rather than laid out – it’s effective, without subjecting one to all the gory details of the terror inherent in the situation. However, the end of the book somewhat meandered, and while it was realistic, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed at Jack’s mum’s possessive attitude towards Jack at the end of the book. But that’s just my personal feelings about that “trope”.

So, what are my plans for the blog? I know I’ve been pretty unstructured so far, and while that’s all well and good, I think you’d probably like to know what to be able to expect from this page in the coming months. After much deliberation, I created a posting schedule that I’m hoping I’ll be able to stick to and that I hope will be of interest to at least some of you!

On Mondays I’m going to continue with the book meme posts, so you can get to know a little bit about me as a reader. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be dedicated to the feature I started this blog to embark upon: The Great Discworld Re-read. I was inspired by the awesome people at Tor (http://www.tor.com/features/series/malazan-reread-of-the-fallen) to do a re-read of what is probably the formative series of my reading life. As Malazan is to my university years, so Discworld was to my high school ones, and I’m excited to see what I get out of re-reading, in particular as regards to the early books which I first read some ten years ago (those and Thief of Time). Wednesday will see me tackle the always controversial topic of The Film v. The Book, starting with a recent, deeply controversial adaptation. Finally, Fridays are going to be dedicated to some of the young-adult stuff I’ve been reading recently, from the perspective of someone who was kind of out of that loop as a teenager, starting tomorrow with the beginning of my revisit of one of the YA series I did read as a teen – The Princess Diaries.

On top of all this, all going well, I should be able to post some stuff about the things I’m reading in “my own time”, so to speak. The plan is that I should be able to queue the week’s posts in advance and hopefully thus still maintain my ability to read normally for the most part. How that pans out in practice remains to be seen! However, these roundups will keep happening, and if anyone has anything they’d particularly like to see me tackle, then I’ll try to make it happen. Current projects aside, nothing is set in stone. Here’s to the future!

Image
0

Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

You might be wondering (whoever’s reading this!) why I haven’t posted in a while. Well, the above is why. I have a chronic joint problem which mainly affects my hand and arm and during periods of overuse of those joints I get to wear this little beauty. I have about a zillion ideas for posts, but unfortunately, due to other commitments (final year law school exams, eek) they’ll just have to wait until my hand is up to it in roughly a fortnight. Don’t worry, I do want to continue with this blog! I’ll try to do more photo posts in the meantime, but those are hard when I’ve not seen the outside for a very long time (except to go to the library!)

0

a sad day

Author Iain Banks has revealed that he has late stage cancer and is unlikely to live for more than a year.

The Scottish writer posted a message on his official website saying his next novel The Quarry, due to be published later this year, would be his last.

The 59-year-old’s novels include The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road, Complicity and the Culture series.

The statement said his health problems came to light when he saw his doctor, suffering from a sore back.

He was diagnosed with jaundice, before further tests established the full extent of his illness.

In the personal statement on his website, Banks said he had asked his partner Adele to marry him and was now on a short honeymoon.

The 59-year-old, who lives in North Queensferry, Fife, has cancelled all future public engagements.

He said: “The bottom line now, I’m afraid, is that as a late-stage gall bladder cancer patient, I’m expected to live for ‘several months’ and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year.

“So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.”

He said the disease had spread to both lobes of his liver, and possibly his pancreas and lymph nodes.

He said there was little chance of surgeons being able to remove the tumours because of how far they had spread.

He has asked his publishers to bring forward the publication of his new book to “give me a better chance of being around when it hits the shelves.”

Banks also praised NHS staff who have looked after him – and said he may undergo chemotherapy to extend his life when his jaundice clears up.

He said: “We’re all just sorry the outcome hasn’t been more cheerful.”

Born in Fife, Banks studied at Stirling University before publishing his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984.

During his career he alternated between mainstream and science fiction novels, which he wrote under the name Iain M Banks.

In 2008, he was named one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945 in a list compiled by The Times.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-22015175

This is so unfair.

2

March reads!

Here’s a round-up of what I’ve been reading this month:

Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist – 1/10

I really, really hated this book and was very disappointed in it. It was self-indulgent and depressing and not terribly well-written either. It had the bones of a good 200-page or so novel in it – if they had just concentrated on the story of Oscar and Eli – but as it was it was flabby and I didn’t enjoy it one bit.

The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery – 7/10
This was good, but I really wish I’d read it when I was a kid. The allegory was a bit to glaring (and yet incoherent) for me to properly immerse myself in the story. The drawings are fantastic and the writing is very, very engaging, but I think I’m just a touch to old (and too cynical? I am a law student after all…) to be swept away by it.

The Godfather – Mario Puzo – 9/10
I enjoyed this a great deal, much more than I had expected to. A lot of people complained about the plain, unadventurous style of writing but I felt it really suited the subject matter. There is some extraneous material – the sex scenes and the whole vagina storyline (no, really) are kind of pointless – but it doesn’t really impact too much on the overall narrative. The last scene with Vito is particularly moving.

A Winter Book – Tove Jansson – 8/10
This was very good, although some of the time I felt a touch disconnected with the narrator. I think that might be because of my weird relationship with short stories though, and these are very short. However, I really got a sense of Finland from it, and Tove Jansson seems like an endlessly fascinating sort of person. The chapter with the letters from Japan made me cry.

The Solitaire Mystery – Jostein Gaarder – 10/10
I think you either love Gaarder or you hate him – I think a lot of people feel his naive sense of wonder is a bit put on and I will admit that he does tend to repeat themes in his books. But I genuinely love everything about his style, his sense of language, the sheer fascination he has with the world. The plot is stronger in this than in some of his other works, and that definitely plays to his advantage. Genuinely beautiful. (But like I said, I have loved everything else that Gaarder has done, with the exception of The Castle in the Pyrenees.)

The 39 Steps – John Buchan – 8/10
Despite being largely set in Scotland, Buchan avoids most of my stamping ground so I don’t have a connection with this on that level. That said, there is something essentially Scottish about the deep vein of silliness that runs through this slight novel.

Espresso Tales (Scotland Street #2) – Alexander McCall Smith – 7/10
Love Over Scotland (Scotland Street #3)- Alexander McCall Smith – 7/10
The World According to Bertie (Scotland Street #4) – Alexander McCall Smith – 6/10
Taking these all together for obvious reasons. This series is such great escapism and capture a particular element of Edinburgh really well, I think. Matthew, Bertie, Big Lou, and Cyrill continue to be my favourites, and I like how sedate the pacing is. Of the three, TWAB was my least favourite, but I’m not sure if that’s because it was my third Scotland Street novel in three days! I really didn’t like that two pieces of character development from the previous novel (regarding Irene and Pat) were essentially wiped out by the end of this one, and I’m pretty sure I noticed a few mistakes – the most glaring being that Bertie’s room was mysteriously pink again?

Pygmalion – George Bernard Shaw – 10/10
What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Not a wasted word in this, and the final scene between Eliza and Higgins is incredible. Eliza has to be one of my favourite literary inventions.

Wonder – R.J. Palacio – 7/10
Started off strong, but too many point-of-views drag this one down slightly. There’s also a very sad bit about three-quarters of the way through that made me rate it a little lower because of my aversion to that particular thing (I don’t want to spoil it but if you’ve read it you can probably guess). It’s a very sweet story, if a little unrealistic, but it’s a children’s book so I was hardly expecting grim and gritty. I would have liked a bit more of Auggie’s experiences, and if we were going to have different narrators, why not have the parents? It would probably be a neat lesson in understanding how adults feel towards their children for the age group this is aimed at.

Childhood’s End – Arthur . Clarke – 10/10
Last, but most certainly not least. This is just plain fantastic. Again, not a wasted word. Turns the usual cliches about what first contact with alien species would be like upside down – I genuinely can’t say more than that without spoiling the magic of this one. I didn’t really know a lot about Clarke before (I know, for shame) but I will definitely be reading some more stuff by him now!