Thursday, 14 May 2015

Not a Fairy Godmother, but a Wizard

Another month, another selection of books read towards my goal of three per month!
It might appear that I've been sailing through these books fairly easily, often managing to meet my monthly goal within a couple of weeks. However, this is because I pile pressure on myself to Stop Procrastinating and Start Reading.
....Even though reading is sometimes procrastination in itself!

This month I bring you three Cinderella stories.
Okay, so calling Darwin a Cinderella character might be pushing it a bit!

As per the norm, I've rated these books out of five according to my enjoyment of them.

Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones (5/5)
Until only a couple of months ago, I didn't know this book existed. The only Howl's Moving Castle I knew about was the Studio Ghibli film. Which I haven't seen, but - as I discovered when looking up it up - was based on Diana Wynne Jones' book of the same title.
I liked the plot synopsis and commented to my a friend about wanting to watch the film and read the book. Then she gave me a copy of the book for my birthday! (Thanks Lianne!)

Anyway, I'm going off on a tangent here.
Howl's Moving Castle is a young adult novel about Sophie, a girl who has already come to terms with the fact that, as the eldest daughter, she'll live a dull life running the family hat shop. Jump forward a few scenes and Sophie has been cursed by the Witch of the Waste. Now with the visage of an elderly lady, Sophie leaves and begins a journey, which leads her to the moving castle of the fearsome wizard Howl, who is rumoured to eat girl's hearts...

This is where I'll stop - at the bare beginning of the story - because I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

Howl's Moving Castle is an imaginative novel with some brilliant scenes and page-turning storyline. I read it cover to cover in one sitting!
Some parts are predictable, but in this book it was not a fault. The predictable parts only made the story more satisfying when things were revealed to the characters--giving the reader that smug sense of 'I knew it!'.
However, this tale also contained a few surprises, so cannot be taken for granted as being a predictable young adult novel.

I really enjoyed this book and was still thinking about it for days afterwards! Since reading, I've bought the DVD, though apparently the film and the novel have a number of differences... I'll find out when I get around to watching it!

The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch - Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen (3/5)
Having read the first two Science of Discworld books, I knew what to expect from this one: a story of the wizards of Unseen University messing around with 'Roundworld', wrapped up in a whole bunch of scientific fact.
For the uninitiated, Discworld is the creation of Terry Pratchett, and there are some forty-odd quirky and amusing novels about its inhabitants (and then there are all the extra books, of which this is one).

Discworld, if you hadn't guessed from the name, is shaped like a disc. A disc that sits on the backs of four elephants, who ride on the back of a giant turtle swimming through space.

So with Discworld logic, it makes sense that 'Roundworld' - our world - is something accidentally created by the wizards, who occasionally stop by - with the help of their time-manipulating computer - and muck around in attempt to fix things.

The different Science of Discworld books take on different themes; this one looked at evolution, and gave poor Charles Darwin a fright.

I won't write anything too specific about the storyline--basically the wizards realise something is wrong and that Darwin never wrote The Origin of Species. So they go to Roundworld, at the right time period, in order to make changes that will lead to Darwin writing said ground-breaking book. Of course, no simple plan turns out to be as simple, especially not when there are wizards involved, and especially not with outside forces at work...

As for the non-fiction, science side of this book, I found it difficult to pay attention. Whilst scattered with little jokes and the occasional metaphor, I found the non-fiction parts a distraction from the fiction parts. It was all I could do not to skip through the non-fiction and only read the wizard story!
So although the inclusion of scientific fact added an interesting layer to the book, I didn't get much out of it.

If you're science-minded and like books that combine fiction and non-fiction, this one is for you. If you're easily distracted but like the idea of wizards running amok, go for the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic. If you prefer your wizards on screen, Sky 1 made a TV Movie of The Colour of Magic (and movies of several other Discworld novels) which was released on DVD.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day - Winifred Watson (5/5)
This is one of those unassuming-looking books that turned out to be rather special.
I found it in a charity shop, where the spine caught my eye from the bookshelf. It isn't at all the kind of book I would have picked up, but I liked the title and after reading the blurb thought it sounded rather quaint and amusing.

Set in London in the 1930s, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day depicts just under 24 hours in the life of the title character, a poor and rather dowdy governess who lives a and dull life--until, in search of work, she is sent to the home of Miss LaFosse, an energetic and glamourous night club singer with a complicated love life. Miss LaFosse cajoles Miss Pettigrew into helping her with a number of matters for which Miss Pettigrew feels she is ill-equipped and out of place, but soon finds she is not only capable, but enjoying herself.

This is not only something of a 'Cinderella' story but also the tale of second chances. The narrative is uncomplicated and light-hearted, the behaviours and dialogue within making it very easy to imagine life and social attitudes in 30s London.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this book, and how much I came to like the characters! It would be lovely if there had been a sequel, but being as the book was published in 1938, the author is no longer with us.
There is, however, a film...

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