Classic Review: Smile!

On Friday I posted about authors I feel like I’ve met–but there is one other author that’s true about too, in a very different way.  Geraldine McCaughrean wrote one of my all-time favorites, The White Darkness, as well as the rare excellent sequel to a class novel, Peter Pan in Scarlet.  She also wrote Smile! a book I reviewed long ago…but I didn’t share the story of how I ended up reading it.

I wrote a letter to McCaughrean telling her about how much I loved The White Darkness, and she wrote a wonderful letter back.  It turns out that’s one of her favorites of her books and she loves when people write her about it.  I mentioned my review of the book and she checked it out, finding also my rather rhapsodic comments on Richard Morant as the voice of Titus.  So along with a letter, McCaughrean sent me a cassette tape of the audiobook of Smile! which was also read by Morant.

McCaughrean has ever since been on my list of coolest authors ever!  I still haven’t met her, but I’d love to, and I almost feel like I have, in a way.

Smile! turned out to be delightful too…as I reviewed some time ago.

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How often do you really think about a photograph?  You’ll look at photos in a whole new way if you read Smile! by Geraldine McCaughrean–or, as I did, listen to the audiobook.

Smile! is about Flash, a photographer whose small plane crashes in a remote area.  He manages to save only one camera–a simple Polaroid, with ten shots.  Flash is taken in by a primitive village, which has rarely had contact with the outside world.  As he speaks to the villagers, he realizes that none of them have ever seen a photograph.  Accepted by the villagers as “the magician who fell from the sky,” Flash must decide what to spend his ten photographs on–what sights will he preserve for the villagers? Continue reading “Classic Review: Smile!”

Favorites Friday: Authors I’d Like to Meet

Book Expo America is going on this weekend, and lots of lucky, lucky bloggers (or ones who planned carefully and put effort in to make it happen…) are attending.  I’m not attending (maybe one of these years!) but reading everyone else’s updates has me thinking about which authors I’d most like to meet.

Oddly enough, they aren’t necessarily my top favorite authors.  Some, like Robin McKinley, would horribly intimidate me, and others, like Susan Kay, would just send me into spinning babbles about how much I love their book(s).  But here are a few I would love to meet, and imagine that I could live to tell the tale without too much embarrassment!

Geraldine McCaughrean tops the list, because I once wrote her a letter and got the most amazing, personal letter back.  She obviously read and valued my letter, and wrote a genunine response in reply–if any part of it was a form, I couldn’t tell.  So I almost feel as though we’ve already met.

Tamora Pierce probably would send me into babbles about how her books changed my life, but they were so very life-changing that I think it would be worth any resulting embarrassment.  Besides, I have a really good story to tell her.  I met one of my best friends because we were both reading Pierce’s books in a high school class, and that gave us the courage to start talking to each other.  I feel like gushing babbles are a bit more okay when you actually have something unique to say…

Neil Gaiman is never likely to top any favorite authors lists for me–I like his books quite a bit, but…we all have our favorites.  However, everything I hear, and as far as I can tell from his Twitter, is that he’s just the coolest of authors to meet.  Very nice, very friendly, graciously poses for pictures…  He is at BEA this year.  Ah well.

Gail Carson Levine writes a lovely blog with writing advice, and on the whole just seems so friendly and pleasant that I don’t think she’d scare me a bit in person (unlike some blogging authors!)   I consider her Ella Enchanted to be a literary ancestor to some of my own writing, and if I can get an accurate judge from her blog, I think she’d like hearing that.

Nicholas Meyer is the most random one here–but he directed Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, AND wrote The Canary Trainer, a Phantom of the Opera/Sherlock Holmes crossover.  What other author is going to hit on so many of my interests?  His Phantom retelling is the only one I’ve found that makes the Phantom less sympathetic than Leroux and, given the opportunity, I’d quite like to ask about the thought process behind that…

At the moment I don’t have any plans of meeting any of these authors, but I do keep my eye out for signings.  If it ever happens, you’ll hear about it!  In the meantime, what living authors would you like to meet?  We’ll get to the dead ones another week!

Blog Hop: Casting Your Favorite Books

Remember last fall I participated in the Book Blogger Hop a few times?  I had fun with it, but then I got distracted or something, and haven’t looked at it in quite a while.  I finally checked back in, and found some very interesting discussion topics in upcoming weeks!

book blogger hop

This week’s question is: If you could turn one of your favorite books into a film, who would you cast?

I am so immensely intrigued by this question!  And after spending quite a few minutes staring at my bookshelves and thinking…I found out I’m immensely bad at answering it.  I have a theory, though.  See, my favorite books are often my favorites because the characters are so vivid and alive–to the point that I can’t imagine any actor filling that role.

I’d love to see a movie version of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet…but how could anyone possibly live up to the role of Alanna?  I don’t think it can be done.

But I did hit on one book I could cast–Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean.  It’s a Peter Pan sequel, and practically the only sequel-to-a-classic-by-a-different-author that I actually like.  In fact, it’s excellent and I highly recommend it!  There are only three major roles–Wendy, who I think could be played very well by Chloe Grace Moretz, recently in Hugo.  She could handle a nice mix of child and seriousness.  Then there’s Ravello, the sinister but charming villain, for whom I would cast Johnny Depp (probably surprising no one!)  I struggled on who could play Peter, but finally hit on someone–Daniel Huttlestone, who played Gavroche in Les Miserables.  He could definitely play another cheeky, cocky boy.

So what book would you like to see as a film?  And who would you cast?

Blog Hop: Autumn Books

I’m participating in the Book Blogger Hop again this week, which invites book bloggers to answer a bookish question and visit each other’s blogs.  Hosted at Soon Remembered Tales this week, here’s today’s question:

With Autumn upon us and Halloween drawing near, what books remind you of fall? What ones do you enjoy reading that are about autumn?

My first thought was that Autumn doesn’t seem to get that much play in fiction.  Summer and winter, with their more dramatic temperatures, seem to be more usual choices–and then of course, spring is the traditional setting for love stories.  (Also for L. M. Montgomery books, which while not all in the spring, all have that feel.)

But perhaps I don’t think of Autumn as a frequent setting because I don’t read the right books.  Perhaps Autumn comes up all the time in ghost stories and horror novels.  I wouldn’t know.

Anyway, I thought a bit more, and I did hit on two favorite books where Autumn plays a role.  First, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente features a heroine named September.  While not entirely set in Autumn, there is a scene where September turns into a tree–and begins to dry and crumble as Autumn comes in.  It’s truly frightening, and one of the most striking moments of the book.

Second, I thought of Peter Pan in Scarlet, Geraldine McCaughrean’s sequel to J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.  I imagine there are all seasons in Neverland (probably delightfully crammed together), but in a metaphorical sense, Neverland exists in a perpetual summer time.  This book explores what happens when the magic begins to crumble, and Autumn comes to the island.

I was in Kensington Gardens this September, where Peter Pan lived before going to Neverland.  True to the magic of the Gardens, Autumn seemed to arrive over night.  My hotel was nearby so I was visiting daily–and one day it was warm summer, the next it turned cold and drifts of leaves covered the ground.  It’s not hard to imagine that the fairies decided it was time for a season change, and went to work!

Autumn in Kensington Gardens

Favorites Friday: Author Blogs

Somehow it never occurred to me to look for author blogs until I started writing a blog myself.  One of the best parts of all this has been reading other people’s blogs, and it’s been so fun to find that several of my favorite authors have blogs.  Today, here are some favorite ones from favorite authors, with links if you want to check them out.

Patricia C. Wrede has a very valuable writing-focused blog.  She posts Sundays and Wednesdays, and discusses both the craft of writing and the complexities of publishing.  Most often I feel like I see either the art OR the business, so this is a great place to get information on both.  She offers solid advice across a range of writing topics, gives funny examples at times, and makes references to her own books, which is always fun too.

Gail Carson Levine also writes about writing, mostly the craft.  I think her target age group is middle school, but her advice is good regardless of your age.  The middle school aspect mostly comes out in that her writing prompts revolve around school or parents or topics like that.  Levine posts every Wednesday, and while her topic is sometimes more basic than Wrede’s, she still drills into great areas and often gives me a new idea or a new angle on something (say, Point of View) that I felt like I already knew a lot about.  She also makes frequent references to her own books and writing process; I’m fascinated by how writers write, so I love knowing that background to her books.

Robin McKinley posts every day; her blog requires a certain amount of wading.  She tends to write stream-of-consciousness about whatever is going on in her life, and some of it seems like it would have, er, niche appeal.  I usually read her posts a week at a time, and I skim until I find a section that looks good.  On the so-so (for me, at least) days, she talks about her knitting, her singing lessons, and the intricacies of bell-ringing.  On better days, she talks about her garden, her hellhounds, and her fights with recalcitrant technology.  On the best days, she talks about her writing.  And then there was the Great Bat Catastrophe (my name for it) last spring, when she had bats nesting in her attic and finding ways through into her house…terrible for her, I’m sure, but so funny to read about.

The thing with McKinley’s blog is–when she’s dull, she’s very dull (unless you’re interested in bell-ringing, perhaps).  But when she’s good, she’s VERY good.  The thing about reading blogs by favorite authors is that they’re good writers.  McKinley can be very funny and very engaging, and once you’ve been reading for a while you get used to the groove of her life and it’s fun to stroll through.  Then when I read her book Sunshine, I felt like I could see her personality coming through in the book, which added a whole new layer to it.  And it’s great to be up on the key events in her writing–I knew about it when she switched the book she was working on, and I got to order a personally signed (and doodled) copy of Beauty when she had an auction!

Other favorite authors with blogs include Gordon Korman and Geraldine McCaughrean, but they post very rarely, and Tamora Pierce, who posts sporadically, usually about news items.  I also hear good things about Neil Gaiman’s blog, though I haven’t followed him regularly.

Who are your favorite authors who blog?  Or favorite blogs that are by authors?  Almost the same thing…but maybe not always.

100 Years Ago at the South Pole

Scott and Party at the Pole, Jan 17, 1912

On January 17, 1912, Captain Scott and his team of explorers reached the South Pole, 100 years ago today.  They weren’t the first ones there–Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team beat them there by a month.  Scott also found that getting there was the easier part.  All five of the men who reached the Pole died trying to get back again.

So why am I telling you this depressing story?  I suppose because I don’t actually find it depressing.  Tragic, yes; depressing, no.  They did fail–but that’s usually not how the story is told.  They died martyrs to the adventure and heroes of history, proving the length of man’s endurance and determination, pushing out the frontier and chasing the impossible dream.

Also, Titus Oates, one of Scott’s men, has a major role in one of my favorite books, The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean.  I freely admit that most of my impression of Scott and his journey came from her book.

So in honor of the anniversary, here’s to impossible dreams (hopefully with better planning!) and I’m re-posting my review of The White Darkness.  It was only the third book review I ever posted here, so most of you probably weren’t here to read it the first time anyway.  🙂

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“I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now—which is ridiculous, since he’s been dead for ninety years.  But look at it this way.  In ninety years, I’ll be dead, too, and the age difference won’t matter.”

This is one of my all-time favorite opening lines of a book (right up there with “All children, except one, grow up”).  I read this in a bookstore and knew immediately that I had to read The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. Continue reading “100 Years Ago at the South Pole”

Capturing Ten Moments in Time

How often do you really think about a photograph?  You’ll look at photos in a whole new way if you read Smile! by Geraldine McCaughrean–or, as I did, listen to the audiobook.

Smile! is about Flash, a photographer whose small plane crashes in a remote area.  He manages to save only one camera–a simple Polaroid, with ten shots.  Flash is taken in by a primitive village, which has rarely had contact with the outside world.  As he speaks to the villagers, he realizes that none of them have ever seen a photograph.  Accepted by the villagers as “the magician who fell from the sky,” Flash must decide what to spend his ten photographs on–what sights will he preserve for the villagers?

Flash comes to love the villagers, and it’s not hard to relate to that feeling.  There are Sutira and her brother Olu, two children who adopt Flash.  And there’s “the old, old man,” the village elder who helps Flash decide what pictures to take–and what shouldn’t be photographed.

Seeing the photographs through the villagers’ eyes is fascinating.  All of us, with our digital cameras and our Google image searches, are so used to the idea of photographs.  But through the eyes of the villagers and through McCaughrean’s gorgeous prose, a photo becomes something magical–a moment in time, frozen and preserved.  Through photos, “the dead can still smile in the land of the living.”  A little boy is ten years old forever.  When the village goes through hungry times, they can look on the feast in their past.  In sad times, the image of their joyful dance.

The book is about photos, and about Flash, as he learns from the villagers–about beauty, about memory, and about what’s really valuable.  It’s a simple, fairly short, and lovely book.

McCaughrean’s writing is beautiful, and I’m sure it was enhanced in the audiobook (available on iTunes) by the reader.  I was thrilled to discover this was read by Richard Morant.  He was the voice of Titus Oates in the audiobook for another of McCaughrean’s novels, The White Darkness.  I won’t wax on again–I’ve done it before–but suffice to say he has a beautiful voice.

This book is listed as a children’s book, and in its simplicity, perhaps it is one.  But it’s another wonderful example of a children’s book with depth, with meaning, and which can be read on so many levels.

Author’s Site: http://www.geraldinemccaughrean.co.uk/index.htm

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I couldn’t find others!  Any you’d like to share?