Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux
Summary: First published in French as a serial in 1909, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine DaaĆ©. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. 
The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. 
The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.  

I don't review many classics on here. Mainly because I don't read them that often. They can be more time consuming than non-classics, and the writing can be a little on the clunky side, and overall reading them can be a chore.

I say "can be" because there are exceptions. And, for me, this was one of the exceptions. It surprised me in a good way.

I mean, it definitely had its moments where it dragged because of the writing style, and there were plenty of scenes that could've been cut or edited down to improve the pace of the story without losing any of the quality...but for the most part, it was surprisingly addictive.

I read it in three sittings, but I probably would've read it cover-to-cover in one if I hadn't been tired. It was fun and funny and even though I was familiar with the story, it had me hooked.

I only really had two big issues with the book:

First of all, the representation of disfigurement/deformity. There's a trope in fiction of giving the bad guys some sort of disfigurement and there are a lot of issues with that trope (Jen Campbell explains better than I can -- about 6 minutes into the video, she discusses the topic). In saying that, the book really is a product of its time, so I can forgive its use of this literary trope because it was born of ignorance, not malice. I just wanted to acknowledge that it is an issue with the book and I'd expect better of a story written now (or of retelling's -- which I really want).

The second issue I had with the book was Raoul. He was such an immature and inconsistent character. He would be sweet and kind one minute, then he'd suddenly get really whiny and judgmental and revert to being more of a petulant toddler throwing a tantrum than a grown man. I found him quite pathetic half of the time to be honest.

Anyway, to sum up, I really did enjoy the book. I didn't have many problems with it, and when I finished it I started digging through my classics shelves because it put me in the mood to read them. 

I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5.


Saturday, 15 September 2018

Every Breath I Take by Claire Wineland

Every Breath I Take
by Claire Wineland
and Chynna Levin

Summary: What is the experience of a child with a life-threatening illness? It can be so hard for parents, family, and friends to understand, because the experience of serious illness is so hard to articulate. That’s why Claire Wineland’s memoir, Every Breath I Take, Surviving and Thriving With Cystic Fibrosis, is so important. 
Claire describes with precision, honesty, and a remarkable sense of humor just what it’s like to live with an illness that is so often fatal. Claire explains exactly what it’s like to live as normal a life as possible while taking care of a condition that requires constant treatment and frequent hospitalization. 
Yet there’s nothing grim about Claire’s journey as she describes it. Claire finds the sunny side of life and the spirituality of her experiences in ways that captivate and amaze the reader. It’s impossible to come away from the book without a renewed sense of compassion and sensitivity toward anyone suffering from a serious illness.

I first found out who Claire Wineland was about three years ago, back when I started watching a show called Red Band Society. It was a show about sick kids living in a hospital, one of which had Cystic Fibrosis. Claire had Cystic Fibrosis and she would make videos about the representation of CF on the show and the portrayal of what it's like to be a sick kid spending a lot of time living in a hospital. 

I followed her videos long after the show ended, and she branched out making videos about her life and about CF and other topics. She made videos for a while on a youtube channel called The Clairity Project but later moved to another channel after the people who helped her set up that channel basically hijacked the channel, content and funds she'd make from it (I'm mentioning that specifically so if you check out her older videos, you know to support her actual channel, not the one stolen from her).

I guess what I'm getting at is, I stumbled across Claire and her story by chance but her and her story and her words got under my skin and stuck with me for years. 

You may know who she was too, or may have just seen her name trending recently on Twitter, but Claire died about a little over a week ago. She got the call that she was getting new lungs, and while the transplant went well, she suffered a massive stroke after the surgery and didn't recover. She was 21 years old.

I just felt that a little context was important before I got to talking about the book. The surgery, getting on the transplant list, the waiting for the call -- all of that happened after this book was written.

It probably seems like a horrible cliche to say a sick kid was wise beyond their years or that they were inspiring, but that really is a fitting way of describing Claire. Or at least the version of Claire she presented online (I have no doubt there was a whole other world to her that only people close to her got to see). 

She was genuinely inspiring -- and it feels okay to say that because that was one of the things she wanted for her life. She discusses it in the book, she discussed it on her social media, and her loved ones have discussed it since her death. She's one of the rare people that actually accomplished that want, and not even because she was a sick kid, but because of who she was and how she chose to deal with being a sick kid.

The book is short, but it explains in easy terms what CF is. What it's like to grow up with CF, as well as Claire's personal experiences of being a kid growing up with CF and being in a coma on the brink of death and what it taught her. She had a really unique outlook on life -- a clarity about life and death that so many people struggle to find, and that some never do.

Now seemed like an appropriate time to talk about her book. Her words, and her videos, and her foundation -- they are the legacy she leaves behind and they matter. 

I'm not sure what else to say really. If you want to know more about Cystic Fibrosis, or about Claire, or about what it's like to grow up with an illness like that then check out her book or her videos. And if you're able, check out her foundation. She was only 15 years old when she started it, but it has grown and flourished and done so much good, and her wish was for it to continue to do good even after she was gone.


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Changeover: Book vs Movie

The Changover was released on DVD from August 27th and I was sent a copy to review -- so I figured it would be fun to do a book to movie comparison.

Let's start with the book...

The Book:

The Changeover
by Margaret Mahy 

Summary: 'A clammy hand pressed Laura down to her knees beside Jacko's bed. It was the hand of terror, nothing less.'

It was a warning. Laura felt it when she looked in the mirror that morning. There had been others: the day her father left home, the day she met Sorensen - the boy with the strange silver eyes.

But nothing had prepared Laura for the horror of today. And now her little brother, Jacko, was fighting for his life after being sucked dry of his youth by the sinister Carmody Braque.

Laura knows there is only one way to save Jacko; she must join Sorensen and use his supernatural powers to change over if there is to be any hope for her little brother.
This was quite a strange little book, and I did mostly enjoy it. I just think I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd read it when I was a kid.

I loved that really the heart of the story is a sisters love for her little brother. There aren't many YA books that revolve around family and sibling relationships like that, and I loved that this one did.

And the plot -- it was really quite original, I can't say I've read any books that I'd compare it to, it just did its own thing without really putting me in mind of anything else. 

I had a love/hate relationship with the way it was written though. Parts of it were well written, but the dialogue could be quite clunky and awkward at times (particularly Kate's, Laura's mums, scenes). Parts of it were just so normal, and it could drone on for pages and pages about regular day to day things then it would abruptly switch to scenes that were totally bizarre...which isn't a bad thing exactly, it just messed with the pacing a bit. But then I also appreciated that so much of the story was rooted in the realm of normal.

The main issue I had with the book was that it really showed its age (not even with the phone thing -- which was quite weird to read), but with the way Laura and Sorry's relationship was written. He's 18, finishing high school. Laura is 14 years old -- and he talks about wanting to have sex with her. He just randomly touches her boob without consent and that whole scene is just weird. He makes a comment about how she "must be asking for it" by walking alone at night when a girl was raped doing the same thing not too long ago.

All of that? I didn't like it, but it felt very much like the book was written when that sort of stuff would've been brushed off as okay. A relationship like that in a YA book these days would be thoroughly called out for how creepy and problematic it is. 

So...overall, interesting read but it wasn't without its flaws and it did feel quite dated in some ways. I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5 (would've been 2.5 but Jacko was adorable so his character gets a whole half star added).  

The Movie:

Like I said, it was quite an odd book, so they didn't have the easiest source material to work with for the movie but I think they actually did a really good job adapting it, and I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the setting and the cast and the atmosphere and overall vibe of the movie.

There were some things the book obviously did better, because there was more freedom in the book to explain things more thoroughly because they didn't have the time constraints that a movie has. Like the thing with the stamp -- the book had a few extra scenes that gave a bit more context and made it seem less random than it does in the movie.

I think overall I preferred the movie though. The romance in the movie felt less weird/creepy than it did in the book, because the age difference isn't as big and the weirder scenes got cut (can't remember if they actually aged up Laura or if it's just the actors that seemed closer in age). The dialogue in the movie felt more natural too, and the relationship between Laura and her mother.

The movie gets 4 out of 5 stars.



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