The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares

Published: 11th September 2001 (print)/14th May 2010  (audio) Goodreads badge
 Delacorte Press/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 294 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins. 

Possible spoilers, I have a few thoughts to get off my chest.

I finally get around to reading this book and discover I’m not a big fan. It took a long time to get used to the audiobook version; the narrator wasn’t the best, but I kept going. I tried very hard to focus on the story and try to judge whether my displeasure was based on the narration or the story, and I do think I didn’t like the story as much as I thought I would. I even thought I should switch to the book to see if it made a different but it wouldn’t’ve.

The general story was good. The idea was sound and it is laid out well plot wise, the quotes and breaking up the POVs with letters between the girls was good (poor audio narration didn’t help with breaking up each girl’s story but that’s a different issue). I don’t know, there’re just so many questions I had through this book. Ok, so we can’t wash the magic pants, but they get sweated in, pond water gets on them, and a bunch of stuff. I can imagine after three months they’re gonna need a wash, no matter how super close and wonderful these four are as friends, gross, smelly jeans is not pleasant. Not to mention creepy moments where the 15 (but almost 16 we keep being reminded) girl is trying to seduce and bed a 19 year old. Which, I dunno, maybe if you are 15 you think is cool cause he’s older, but as a non 15 year old it’s creepy.

The language was very…creative. There’s a strong use of metaphors and descriptions, so many analogies and flowery language that seemed unnatural. When something could be stated simply it had to have a weird analogy out of the blue that seemed convoluted and unnecessary. I’m not against using these in books, it works and that’s what they’re there for, but Brashares goes over the top in my opinion, they spring up out of nowhere and there’s far too many of them.

In terms of characters, I think the only character and storyline I actually liked was Tibby. She seemed to be the only one who grew up, who changed for the better. The other three had variations of change but it was so minor it didn’t count. I didn’t like Bridgette and wasn’t a fan of her storyline, and the other two had their moments where they were ok but mostly annoyed me. But, they are only 15 in the book which I had to remind myself, but still.

I may have to rewatch the movie because I can’t even remember if it’s anything like the book. Perhaps I’ll enjoy that more.

You can purchase The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Fishpond | Wordery

Booktopia | Amazon Aust

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach


Published: 15th April 2005 (print)/ 1st April 2013  (audio) Goodreads badge
 Vintage/Clipper audiobooks
Pages: 288 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Nina Wadia
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

When Ravi Kapoor, an overworked London doctor, reaches the breaking point with his difficult father-in-law, he asks his wife: “Can’t we just send him away somewhere? Somewhere far, far away.” His prayer is seemingly answered when Ravi’s entrepreneurial cousin sets up a retirement home in India, hoping to re-create in Bangalore an elegant lost corner of England. Several retirees are enticed by the promise of indulgent living at a bargain price, but upon arriving, they are dismayed to find that restoration of the once sophisiticated hotel has stalled, and that such amenities as water and electricity are . . . infrequent. But what their new life lacks in luxury, they come to find, it’s plentiful in adventure, stunning beauty, and unexpected love.

I think the best summation of this book is ‘eh’. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. I’m not even 100% I liked it. I felt like it had the potential to be so much better. I think I liked 1 maybe 2 characters, the rest I felt I could have if they hadn’t’ve been so…themselves. The writing is at times cringeworthy, the characters are certainly racist and sexist, whether or not this is just their character “charm” as it is sometimes portrayed, but it’s gross to listen to. And India is turned into some mystical place that is romanticised by these white British while subsequently criticised by them on the next page. 

The book’s title has been changed to coincide with the movie, it was originally These Foolish Things, but I think most physical books are retitled now too.  Very rarely is this the case, but I have to say, the movie is so much better. Just watch that. This isn’t even really like it at all, it’s not overly enjoyable, there’s more parts that are offensive in some way or another, and there isn’t a grand plot to keep you interested. I listened to the audiobook and to her credit, the narrator was quite good, she used distinctive voices and emphasis as she told the story, and she brought to life each character’s individuality. It was just a shame that that what she brought to life wasn’t very enjoyable.


You can purchase The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Au

Booktopia | Wordery | Barnes & Noble


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Published: 5th May 2011Goodreads badge
 Walker Books
Pages: 216
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Connor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Connor.
It wants the truth. 

I had an interesting experience reading this, I was told there’d be a dog in it, and aside from thinking about when this non-existent dog was going to show up, it was a sad and beautiful story. This is not a full Ness original, it was written based on ideas conceptualised by Siobhan Dowd. Having read nothing else by either author I had no idea what to expect but I was not disappointed.

There is so much to love about this book; I love Connor’s fierce bravery and protectiveness of his mum, I love the mystery and the suspense of waiting for the monster and the uncertainty about what it means. I even loved Connor’s frustration. Ness depicts perfectly Connor’s conscious and unconscious desire to be seen, to be punished, to be treated normally. You can sense it bubbling under the surface and Ness builds up suspense slowly with excellent pacing that makes you eagerly turn the page. Ness doesn’t state outright what is wrong with her but there are enough clues to figure it out. The bond between them is evident and Connor’s determination to keep things as they were is heartbreaking but admirable.

The edition I read was filled with wonderfully dark black and white sketches by Jim Kay (the same man who is currently illustrating Harry Potter). These illustrations reinforced the eerie, mysterious nature of the book and Connor’s interactions with the monster. They captured the nightmare feel and the mystical and Kay manages to keep it very simple but still show so much.

As a character, the monster is an intriguing one. He doesn’t seem evil, but he does seem formidable and unforgiving. I really enjoyed his interactions with Connor, and Kay brings him to life on the page wonderfully as well.

This may be a tough book for some people due to the depiction and description of experiencing cancer and the impact it has on the family, but it is also a very important story about it as well. I fully recommend this book to people, it’s a very strong story told very simply and very imaginatively.

You can purchase A Monster Calls via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | BookWorld

Amazon | Amazon Aust

QBD | Fishpond


The Movies of Roald Dahl

With the announcement this morning that Tim Minchin’s stage play of Roald Dahl’s Matilda is coming to Australia in August 2015 I thought I would have a look at the other adaptations of Dahl’s books that have been made. In total only nine adaptations have been made of Dahl’s work, including two for both Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Roald Dahl wrote many books in his life but there are definitely a select few that seem to have become more popular than others, especially in terms of making movies or musicals about them.

b94qXd1FcIwgzv0NYMUe2bjrzJRThe first film adaption would have to be the exceptional Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, adapted in 1971 from Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Fun fact,
there was supposed to be a sequel which followed the events in the 1972 sequel The Great Glass Elevator, but Dahl was so disappointed and angry by what producers had done to his book he refused – a bit like what happened with Mary Poppins and Walt Disney funnily enough. Those pesky film makers twisting stories for their own entertainment purposes.

Personally I adore the 1971 film, even if it is different than the book, there was a sense of excitement and wonder but also fear. Gene Wilder played Willy Wonka as a man who never told you the whole story, avoided answering questions and you were never sure you could trust him. Wilder chose this route intentionally, and while Dahl gives us a Wonka who is a strange a bizarre man, Wilder makes him that extra level of eccentric. 

The next adaptation made was in 1989 with the beautiful BFG. Turned into an animated film, The BFG captures some of the wonder that Dahl can add to his writing. This film is also a much closer and truer adaptation of the book, whether it is the animated nature, or the fact that it is such a beautiful story on its own you don’t really need to change anything and make it more fanciful than it already is. The songs Dahl wrote into the book remain and the simple joy from Sophie and her relationship with the BFG is quite wonderful.

This film also had a much better reaction by Dahl compared to Willy Wonka. According to director Brian Cosgrove, when Dahl finished his first screening of the film he stood up and clapped. I think as a book and a film The BFG doesn’t get as much adoration as it should, it seems to be overshadowed by the live action and more popular films which is a shame.

 Another film that is forgotten was the telemovie also made in 1989 of Danny, Champion of the World, based on Dahl’s 1975 book of the same name. This is one film I haven’t seen, I actually didn’t know they had made an adaptation of this so that may be my mission to track down a copy. It also features the wonderful Jeremy Irons and his real life son Samuel Irons as Danny so that’s cool.

This was another film that Dahl approved of. In the documentary ‘Danny and the Dirty Dog: The Making of Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World’, he lauded the cast and production with great enthusiasm. The adaptation is fairly close to the book it seems, with certain elements being truncated or removed for time purposes but bein
g a telemovie it is essentially a direct adaptation with the scenes and most dialogue straight from the book. That is a bonus of telemovies that films don’t have, they tend to be almost pure adaptations of their books.

One of my favourite Dahl books and one I think got an absolute wonderful adaptation is the 1990 live action version of The Witches. Oh I loved this film as a kid. As wonderful as Quentin Blake’s illustrations were, there is something that little bit more unsettling and eerie about seeing them portrayed by a real person. With Anjelica Huston acting as the Grand High Witch, Dahl’s description of witches comes across wonderfully, and the narrative and sense of danger stays true, including the dark humour Dahl loved.

The Witches unfortunately falls victim to the tradition of making the ending different than what was in the book. Generally this is to make sad endings happy and change whatever bad event happens into a good one. That annoys me still, but aside from this it is still a rather good, the story follows the book and everything we loved and were grossed out by in the book is transferred to the screen.

In 1996 Disney made the brilliant film James and the Giant Peach that involved both live action and stop-motion. Fun fact, the boy who played James quit acting after being bitten by the spider in one scene; I think this is an adorable overreaction. This was also another film Dahl didn’t want adapted. He declined numerous offers in his lifetime but after his death his widow gave the go ahead for the production.

There are some noticeable differences between the film and the 1961 book, these don’t really do anything to change the enjoyment though I may be biased. I had a slight obsession with this film as a child, I remember one day watching it, rewinding the video and watching it again, rewinding the video and watching it again. All day. And it was only quite a few watches in that I let it run through the credits (while I danced to the song) and I found the additional scene. That was an unexpected surprised, especially considering how many times I had seen it before. But that isn’t the point, I think it is a great retelling of the book and the changes made fit in with the surreal and absurd premise that Dahl created.

large_zvgm8Yckvd12iZFaXRXbblcRcO8Also in 1996, Matilda was turned into a very popular film with Mara Wilson. I think this is the Dahl film people think of, especially Gen Y’s or those who were not exposed to Willy Wonka and away from the Disney influence. What was brilliant about Matilda is that the narration helped the story along and I think it would be a different movie without it.

This narration also keeps it in check with the book, the dialogue is similar if not the same in places and the ending stays intact in the same way it doesn’t. In the space of a line it changes a few things but that can be forgiven. One thing about Dahl adaptations is that his characters are brought to life very well and this is no exception. All the characters are excellently represented in the film, each playing their roles well. Trunchbull scares you, Matilda delights, and small heroes like Brutus are given their time to shine.

And then we get to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake. I do not like this movie. I saw it once under duress and I am trying to block it from my memories as best I can. To say this is a closer adaptation to the original book may be correct – and Dahl’s widow and daughter got total artistic control and final privilege on the choices of actors, directors and writers – but there are other things in there that are not which just make you feel very annoyed, like giving Wonka family history. Though four out of the five songs in the film use lyrics written by Dahl himself so that’s really good.

Fun morbid fact, Gregory Peck was offered the role of Grandpa Joe but died before he gave a definite answer, and Peter Ustinov was also offered the role but died before giving his answer. Gene Wilder said he didn’t want to see the film saying “The thing that put me off…I like Johnny Depp, I like him, as an actor I like him very much…but when I saw little pieces in the promotion of what he was doing, I said I don’t want to see the film, because I don’t want to be disappointed in him.” And I have to say, I love all Depp’s work, but this is the only one I don’t like of his. Wilder is onto something.

The latest film adaptation is the Fantastic Mr Fox. Another one I haven’t seen, I was initially put off by the creepy looking stop-motion animation aspect but I loved the book so it is on the list to see. Apparently it is loosely based on the book and there is also some criticism about the film taking away from the darker and more Dahl aspects of the book, making it Americanised and more like the director Wes Anderson with just a little Dahl.

This has become highly acclaimed however. There are also a plethora of celebrities voicing the characters including George Clooney and Meryl Steep, and the attention to detail is commended by many.

1338221294_Image1_matildaAnd finally we have the delightful Tim Minchin’s musical about Matilda. I saw this in London last year and loved it, the songs are phenomenal and the production is exceptional. 2015 cannot come fast enough for me and I think Minchin has handled this beloved story with great respect and done it superb justice.

Technically it is written by Dennis Kelly, but with music and lyrics by Minchin it is hard not to see it as a little bit his. It was first performed in 2010, then with its West End debut in 2011 so it has been a long time coming here. I remember a couple of years ago Minchin saying he always wanted to do this and he asked Dahl’s widow permission for the rights. This could be me misremembering and if I find the reference I will add it here. I am fairly sure he did say he had wanted to do this for awhile though.

With the success of Matilda, as well as the past films, it is clear Dahl’s storytelling and ability to bring joy, laughter and a small amount of grotesque to people’s lives is yet to falter. I look forward to future adaptations of his other books with the hope if they go ahead they are given the same level of respect as those that have come before.

No dates have been announced for the Australian production as of yet. For information about the musical you can check out Minchin’s website, the official  Matilda: The Musical site, or have a Google and see what delights pop up.

The Sword in the Stone (#1) by T. H. White


Today is T.H White‘s birthday, the man who wrote the series The Once and Future King, about the legend of Arthur, Merlyn, and the knights of Camelot. Terence Hanbury White was born in Bombay in 1906, and was 32 when he published The Sword in the Stone, which was initially meant as a prequel to Sir Thomas Malory‘s famous 1485 Le Morte d’Arthur. Two sequels were published, The Witch in the Wood (later rewritten as The Queen of Air and Darkness) in 1939, and The Ill-Made Knight in 1940. But when the complete collection was compiled there were five stories in total and the order was altered a bit. The version of The Sword in the Stone included in the complete text The Once and Future King differs from the earlier version. It is darker, and White’s indirect experience of World War II had a profound effect on these tales of King Arthur, which include commentaries on war and human nature. This is certainly evident in the later books as well.

I knew nothing about T.H White and reading up on him he certainly was interesting, there are speculations he was a homosexual sadomasochist; into small girls; not a homosexual, all these things. Good ol’ Wikipedia has the theories and the references if you wish to explore his life a bit more, I’ll admit I am only here for the wonderful stories. He revised Sword in the Stone a few times, which resulted in a few stories being added and removed and all sorts of things. I read a couple versions and trying to figure out what went where and who was left out does your head in, so I won’t try and explain how that went down and what stayed in or not.

Published: December 2nd, 1996 (As part of The Once and Future King complete edition)
Goodreads badgePublisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 223
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

In old Merry England weather behaves. In the Castle of Forest Sauvage, Wart (rhymes with Art for Arthur) follows Sir Ector’s ‘proper son’ Kay, two years older. Wizard Merlyn, fewmets from talking owl familiar Archimedes, turns boy into perch, hawk, owl, stone, and badger for their lessons and stories – until King Uther dies without heirs.

The Sword in the Stone is the first book as part of what became ‘The Once and Future King’ series, and my first criticism is that I can see why there are sequels, you can’t get it in one book, and because White starts from the very beginning it would hardly do it justice. I read the version that ended up in the collection, so I don’t think I got to experience the lighter version as it were, but it was still great. This first story is about a young orphan named Arthur living in medieval Great Britain. Arthur is nicknamed Wart, and works as a page for his guardian Sir Ector. With his companion and foster brother Kay, he leads an ok existence, but the true adventure begins when he stumbles across Merlyn, a time travelling wizard, and Arthur soon becomes the student, alongside Kay, to Merlyn’s tutelage. Merlyn guides Arthur and teaches him about the world through magic, and trains him in the ways of the world.

So much of this book is setting up Arthur and his life as a child and his adventures, the known aspects of the story are not a main focus, instead we see Arthur and his relationship to Sir Ector, Kay, and the Merlyn. Kay does have a few roles to play in this early tale, and while Merlyn focuses on Arthur, Kay is not left out of the loop much, either that or Merlyn concocts some distraction to find some time to play with magic.

With Merlyn’s help, Arthur is turned into animals of all kinds to gain a sense of their life, and he has many adventures with other humans such as Robin Hood (Wood in the book) and Maid Marian, King Pellinore in his quest for the Beast, and many more. These adventures seem trivial and fun at first, but with Merlyn’s knowledge of the future, he is essentially training Arthur to be the King, teaching him about the world, nature, and man’s duty in the world.

It was a pretty good book, especially some of the explanations and science behind why things are what they are. I think having Merlyn be a magical character who knew more than most was a great advantage because you had modern knowledge in the medieval setting. And White’s knowledge of the medieval era was excellent, his attention to detail about the sports, dress, and other aspects added to this sense of reality, however there are clear indications that no real effort was made for some aspects of historical accuracy, as well as the fact that Merlyn was a wizard, a wizard that experienced time backwards rather than forwards.

After accidentally starting an abridge version, when I switched to a full copy I realised a few good stories had been removed which I thought was a shame because in the version included in the complete collection they all kind of return in the end and come full circle so I am not sure how the edited text would have covered that.

The animal stories White explores when Arthur is transformed by Merlyn, are very sweet, and give you a great look at the inner workings of the animals and their lives. The way White explores the life and manner of the animals, and Arthur’s uneasy and new presence in there, it is pretty spectacular, it balances out the anachronisms. There is some realistic and detail science and observation evident, and manages to teach you things.

The Sword in the Stone is such a famous story and I did not know there was more than one, and waiting as I read to find the familiar scenes I knew was interesting because it is a very drawn out story. I guess in a way the extra novels means that it is not condensed into one, and there is no hanging unexplained conclusion about what happened, but it is interesting that the key moment is such a small part of the first novel in terms of pages. The effect of course would be seen in the sequels.

There was a Disney version in 1963, because there always is, and it is rather good. This only covers the first book and sticks to the general plot, and a lot of the fleshed out substance is removed, but a lot of the scenes are similar to what is found in White’s. Perhaps there are just some elements of this story that will be kept true, even if other aspects are reimagined.

So Happy Birthday T. H. White, and I thank him for writing this series. I know everyone upon everyone has done an Arthur story and made a version, or told a story about it, but I loved White’s telling. You get drawn into the life of this kid, who started out small and became so big. By the time I had finished all the books I was so enthralled and amazed it was simply divine. I do recommend that you read Sword in the Stone and the sequels because it is well written and as I say, manages to teach you about things you never really thought about before, not just about animals, but about humanity, war, education and even a little bit of history.

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