Friday, September 5

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of David Fickling Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

When The Fury orders Bruno's father to move to Out-With, Bruno must leave behind the life he's known and his best friends. Bruno couldn't be lonlier until he meets a mysterious boy named Shmuel on the other side of a fence, where everyone wears striped pyjamas.

Confusion shrouds Bruno's life and his mind. Caught between a world of horror and the naïveté of his outlook on life, Bruno struggles to comprehend the world he lives in, and both the connections and the divide between him and the boy in the striped pyjamas.

This was a very quick novel for me to get through. I listened to it on audio and completed it in almost a single stretch. It is quite a haunting tale, told through the eyes of a child of a high-ranking Nazi officer.

The story is driven by Bruno, who is certainly a very naïve protagonist. He views the world as something of a game, where his highest priorities are acquiring friends. The soldiers whom he salutes and the words of allegiance he utters are all but a part of his life, unquestioned.

Even in his conversations with Shmuel, the reality that he faces is so horrific, Bruno cannot even fathom it. He is so desperate for companionship, and frightened of reality, that he seeks similarities and rejects the differences between them. He is self-involved to the point where he is grossly jealous of all the boys on the other side of the fence, wanting to have someone to play with.

One might say that Bruno seems almost too ignorant for reality, and that may be a valid criticism, but it is also very much a heightened look at the willful ignorance that was all too real. In fact, Bruno is not as oblivious as he might at first appear. He is instinctive about situations and can read people's mood and body language. He senses the truth, but he doesn't pry – and he doesn't truly listen – and therefore he doesn't understand.

Michael Maloney's narration of the audio book was haunting. He highlighted the subdued narrative of the novel, which emphasised all of the things that go unsaid. The chapters ended with eerie music, which got under my skin and helped transition the story.

The mindset of a child is releatable, but Bruno is also alienated to the horrors of the war, which many readers – while being familiar with the facts – can never fully comprehend. Instead, Boyne approaches the situation with subtlety and subtext. 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is very much an inbetween-the-lines type of novel. It has the potential to be far more detailed and fleshed out, but rather alludes to the anguish, kindness, and fates of Bruno's family and all of the people in his life.

'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is a very moving tale that I would recommend, particularly in audio format. It is, as I said, not a detailed account, but rather more of an introductory story, for young and older reader alike. However, that does not subtract from the poignant way in which it is written.

Wednesday, September 3

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Walden Pond Press and is used solely as an aide to the review.

When Princess Briar is proclaimed dead, there is a bounty on the head of the League of Princes for her murder. Scattered throughout their lands, the League must reunite to take down the real culprits.

Across the thirteen kingdoms, villains are pulling the strings to turn the citizens and their rulers against the Princes Charming. Now the heroes are on the run as outlaws, and it's going to take an elaborate plan to thwart the powers of magic and muscle that oppose them.

From cheeky sass to hilarious wish granting sequences, I was captivated by the third installment in 'The Hero's Guide' trilogy. Healy has an excellent blend of wit and action, which keeps the narrative going at a prompt pace and compelled me to keep reading.

Healy is exceptionally clever when it comes to writing action sequences, comical sequences, and – of course – comical action sequences, which in the hands of a less skilled writer would be fumblesome. One particular sequence, involving the entire cast, was more of a riot than I could ever wish for...pun intended.

I both read and listened to 'The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw' as I have been a huge fan of Bronson Pinchot's narration of the first two installments. I will admit that sometimes he gets carried away, and some of the minor characters' speech (usually the bandits and bounty hunters) can be a little garbled due to their heavy accents. Ella's accent was a little off in the beginning, but apart from that Pinchot once again proved himself to be an amazing voice talent, giving extra punch and pizzazz to Healy's brilliant writing. I also loved the audio effects that were used, especially the wail of despair.

My favourite character dynamic remains between Ella and Liam. Their stubbornness and pride continued to create obstacles in the development of the relationship, yet didn't subvert to angst or over dramatics. The romantic elements, as with all the books, were weaved in naturally and did not gnaw at the narrative, instead enhancing it.

One thing that I particularly liked about the novel (and the series) was that it was not obvious to guess the outcome of any of the situations. Even when I predicted a character's appearance or a motive, the development of the story always went in a different way than I expected. There were several instanced, both in the book and the trilogy that I guessed at foreshadowing, which may have been purposeful red herrings or simply me over-thinking the details of the situation.

Healy is also adept at both embracing and defying the fairy tale archetypes. He turns gender roles on their heads and plays with quintessential archetypes, but his characters also acknowledge more clichéd elements with stark humour. It is very refreshing.

I also really liked the fact that new characters are embraced, rather than cast off because they are not established. It really touches on the feeling of acceptance that many readers – myself included – can appreciate. It also shows just how strong Healy's writing is, that even with the main lure of established dynamics, that he can still introduce new characters with the kick to drive the story along with the best of them.

'The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw' is once again illustrated by the incredibly talented Todd Harris. His ability to capture scenes from the novel, enhancing the moment by etching the expressions on the character's faces with such precision, is perfection. There are some illustrations that seemed to be drawn exactly as I imagined them, and others that allowed me to view things in a whole new way. Magnificent.

I'm more than a little in denial over this series being completed, as I love the character dynamics above all, but I look forward to reading more of Healy's writing in future. I highly recommend this trilogy, full of humour, adventure and friendship, starting with 'The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom.'

Monday, September 1

Quillbert's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

My good friend Becca nominated me to take on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Well, she nominated me or Quillbert, so naturally it was fair play to make him the scapepig. Consider yourselves all challenged! For more information and to donate go to ALSA.ORG.

Sunday, August 31

Writers with Good Sense

Visualisation is a significant part of writing. Authors want to immerse readers in the surroundings of their story. They emphasise the hues and vibrancy of colours, the shapes of objects, and the human form. They use similes and metaphors to bring movements to life, and personalise their characters with physical descriptors and unique expressions.

There is nothing inherently wrong with romanticising the things we see. The problem lies with too much focus on the visual, and not enough on the other senses. In the stories I read – and even in my own writing – the primary focus is on what the characters can see, with audio coming in second, usually tagged on to dialogue. Taste, touch and smell are too often an afterthought, with coincidental appearances.

I'm not going to suggest that writers drown their work in descriptors of any sense, but we need to be mindful of these things. It is fine to write whatever comes to you in a first draft, but in rewrites it is important to curl your toes into the earth, roll your tongue against the sour burst of citrus, and inhale the nose tickling scent of a dusty library.

I know that my descriptors squeal and grind from ill use, and I don't want t be over slick with their application. Still, I hope to practice and improve until a reader can step into my story, eyes closed, and not be displaced in their surroundings.

What are some of your favourite works/quotes that utilise good sense?

Wednesday, July 9

Movie Tie-In Book Covers

I judge books by their covers. It's not a logical thing to do, but I'm in company with many. While it is no question that a book's contents are the most important factor, there is nothing wrong with wanting them to look nice too.

One of the most popular trends is for books to be repackaged with new covers, either leading up to or after their film adaptation has been released. This is an intelligent way to capitalise on media promotion. It is no secret that marketing for visual media is a lot more prominent than it is for books, which still relies heavily on word of mouth. So when a book is geared to be played out on the big screen, it makes sense for publishers to reel it back to the original source by printing the book with a movie tie-in cover.

Some people hate books with film covers. I wouldn't count myself one of them, because sometimes they can be visually appealing. However, I can see where readers are coming from with their distaste. Plenty of readers don't like to have characters blatantly portrayed on the covers of books. They like to be able to imagine the characters for themselves. This is the reason you see so many books with long haired women turned away, or shirtless men with their heads cut off.

Then there is the fact that film adaptations do not stick to the physical portrayal of the character. You can purchase 'The Princess Bride' by William Goldman with the film cover, yet Buttercup won't be blonde within the pages. While it's understandable that a film may not have the character's physically match the author's depiction, the juxtaposition of having an actor on the cover who doesn't represent the character's description in the text is a little nonsensical.

When it comes to my preference for books with film covers, it really comes down to how attached I am to the story, the price of the book in question, and aesthetics. Yet, what I recently discovered is that I do have a peeve when it comes to movie tie-in books. Not because of their covers...but because of inserts. There is nothing so jarring to the immersion of reading a novel than having it cleft down the middle with scenes and captions from the film adaptation. It's one thing to slap an actor on the cover of a book, but to invade the imaginative freedom of the reader during the story seems invasive to me, regardless of whether I like the adaptation in question.

What are your thoughts on books with movie tie-in covers and inserts?