Re-reading childhood favourites: Jinx

This is stretching it a bit in terms of “childhood” favourites. But this is my series, so really, I can do what I want.

Jinx by Meg Cabot was released in 2007. I was in high school at the time, and around the same age as the characters are in the book. This makes this book technically a teenage favourite, but I’m counting it. I was very into Meg Cabot’s books at the time. I had them all–the whole Princess Diaries series, Avalon High, Airhead, All-American Girl, all her adult books. I read them all over and over, Jinx included. But it’s been a few years since I’ve gone back to Jinx, so why not do that now.

Jinx: Cabot, Meg: 9780060837662: Books - Amazon.ca

I remembered the basic concept of the book before starting my re-read. Jean or “Jinx” is a teenage girl who moves in with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in New York City after an incident at her old school. She’s nicknamed “Jinx” because of the massive storm and power outage that occurred at the moment of her birth, and because of the string of clumsiness and accidents that seem to follow her around. I remembered random details–like a gazebo in the back garden of the house where action took place. I also remembered really loving her love interest in this book. I remembered him being chill and likeable and someone who I understood why she liked him and why I was meant to root for them together.

This latter point remains true upon re-read. I do like the love interest! Maybe not as much as I did as a teen–which makes sense, since I’m no longer a teenager and he’s a 16 year old boy–and he’s idealized in some ways, but I still really like him and find his friendship and chemistry with Jean fun to read. I still get why they make sense as a couple, and that’s important to me.

In this book Jean, her cousin Tory, and her friends, all get involved at some point in witchcraft. Tory and Jean’s grandmother had told them both a story about how once of their ancestors was apparently a witch and said that they’d be the ones to inherit powers, thinking it a fun story. But Tory and Jean took it very seriously, unbeknownst to one another at first. I was surprised upon re-read how ambiguous the witchcraft was kept in the novel. I remembered the witchcraft being a lot more blatantly….magical. Whereas upon reading it, it feels like the author leaves it up to the audience whether to believe the witchcraft as they use it is real or not. Both explanations–real or not real–makes sense in the context of the book and even in the context of the characters.

It’s a short book, only about 260 pages, and it’s a fun and breezy read. It’s almost like reading the script for a teen movie. I feel like I would have wanted some of the side characters to be more fleshed out, or to sit in moments a bit longer, but at the same time, I can tell that isn’t what this book is trying to be. It’s a teen movie read.

I can still enjoy things, like this book, that I enjoyed as a teen. I don’t think that because I don’t enjoy it in the exact same way that I did as a teenager, it means I enjoy it less, or that it isn’t serving its purpose as a book. Jinx is cute and fun and a bit of a twist on a typical high school drama novel. Would still buy for any teenager in my life today.

Re-reading childhood favourites: A Tale of Time City

Yes, this is another Diana Wynne Jones book.

You can tell A Tale of Time City was one of my favourite books growing up just by looking my copy of it. The edges of the cover and spine are torn and frayed, there are pages with creases where I dog eared the pages as a child, and the corners are soft and worn. It’s not surprising that this was a favourite, and remains one even now, on re-read. It’s by one of my favourite authors and it involves light science fiction, time travel, and history, some of my favourite things.

9780006755203 - AbeBooks

This book was released in 1987 as a stand-alone novel by Diana Wynne-Jones. It follows a young girl, Vivian Smith, who is being evacuated from London to the countryside in 1939 due to the start of World War 2. She gets whisked away by two boys, Jonathan and Sam, who (incorrectly) believe she is a legendary figure in the history of Time City. Time City is the city where the boys are from; a city that exists outside of history itself in its own patch of time and oversees the course of history, observing but also ensuring it stays on the right path. Although she is not the legendary figure they think she is, she still stays in Time City and helps them figure out what is really going on with the disruptions in history.

Having read this book so many times growing up, I had a pretty clear memory of characters and plot points, especially once I started reading. But there were still some details and moments I had forgotten, and finding them again was really fun. There were moments that still gave me great satisfaction, even though I knew I had read them before. The characters all felt familiar, like old friends, even when they did things I had forgotten about.

I had forgotten how genuinely funny some parts of this book are. As an adult, I still found myself laughing. It’s possible that says more about my sense of humour than anything, but I think Diana Wynne Jones is very witty in her writing in a way that often can be appreciated by readers of all ages. I also found myself really appreciating the creativity of this novel. Obviously, all “history” after the time this book was written had to be invented, and I think she made a lot of really cool and creative choices. I think a lot of them were also very logical choices. Examples include: World War 4, the Revolt of Canada, the Demise of Europe, the Depopulation of Earth, and the Mind Wars. The last one has a larger focus in the book and I think it’s a really cool and interesting and kind of terrifying concept–that these wars were fought by doing damage to peoples minds, not with guns.

Time City itself is also a pretty cool concept, and one of the things I remember really drawing me to the book over and over as a kid. It’s a city outside of time itself, that borrows technology and entertainment and food from all over history, managing to both form a culture of its own while doing this, and appear to have little of its own stuff at all. The book also goes into the problems with the city and what they do, alongside the cool aspects that made it a place a child reading it would want to visit. I still want to visit.

The ending was a bit more abrupt then I remembered it being. As I was doing this re-read, I remember looking at how many pages were left and thinking “that can’t be right” before I remembered. This isn’t to say that it’s an unsatisfying ending or an unhappy ending or even that it didn’t wrap up all the plot points. It was even a satisfying last line! It’s just an interesting choice in terms of where to end it, especially for a book largely written for children.

I’m happy I did this reread. I still love this book and think it’s a really cool, fun, and interesting concept. I’m 29 years old and will still return to this book after this. That said, I think next time I do this, I’ll read a book I either read less or have re-read less often, to see the difference. I know I said that last time…and probably the time before…but I’ll get there eventually I swear.

Even if you’re an adult, if you like time travel and fantasy, pick up a copy of this at a library and give it a read. It’s a good time.

Reading “The UnHoneymooners”

While watching some book review YouTube videos searching for new books to read, I came across “The Unhoneymooners” by Christina Lauren several times. It was getting good reviews, and sounded fun, so I decided to order it from Chapters/Indigo (along with a pair of cozy reading socks).

The basic premise is that due to a series of coincidences and unfortunate events, the lead character, Olive, ends up going on a trip that was supposed to have been her twin sister’s honeymoon along with a man she doesn’t get along with–Ethan, the best man and brother of her sister’s new husband. The two jet off to Maui together despite their animosity because they both want a free Hawaiian vacation, hijinks ensue, and, obviously, they fall for each other.

Image result for the unhoneymooners

The whole book felt very much like a romantic comedy. There was bonding, there was fake dating, there was “there’s only one bed” struggles, there were comedic and non comedic misunderstandings, there was a fiery female lead, there was a hot and smart male lead, there was family, there were lessons! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had a lot of the classic cliches, but subverted and played with others in fun ways. There was more to the story and to the characters than just their love story, which I enjoyed because it fleshed out both them as individuals, their relationship, and the world they are living in. It was a fun read and I also got emotionally invested.

I have read a lot of romantic comedy-esque books, and I tend to really enjoy them. But often when I talk about loving them, I almost feel the need to get defensive. To say I know they’re often tropey, and they always have a happy ending, but I still love them and enjoy them.

But why the hell do I feel the need to do that?

Why have I internalized this idea that I should apologize for loving romantic comedies, in both film and book form? Why should I apologize for enjoying a happy ending? Why should I feel like I’m doing something wrong by not reading serious or sad or “intellectual” books all the time? What’s wrong with just reading whatever I want to read because I want to read it and I ENJOY it? What makes a romantic comedy story less worthy? What makes a happy ending less worthy?

It doesn’t escape my notice that this kind of story is often written by women and for women and starring women. And of course, both women and men get shamed for reading them. Part of it, of course, is misogyny, and a derision for fiction that is considered “feminine.” Part of it is snobbery, the idea that this kind of story is lesser, is “low art,” is not “intellectually enriching” and therefore not worthy of consumption. It sounds like such an old fashioned idea, I know, but I have seen and heard these opinions being said and perpetuated even very recently.

Honestly? FUCK THAT.

This isn’t me saying you have to love a book like “The Unhoneymooners.” We all love different books. This is me saying to anyone reading this, but also to myself, that there’s nothing shameful in loving that happy ending. There’s no need to defend reading that romantic comedy. A happy, light, fun read can be just as “enriching” as anything else if you are enjoying it and it is bringing happiness into your life. Isn’t that what’s important, in the end?

In which I have feelings about book adaptations

The other day, Netflix revealed some of the cast for their series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comic book series, The Sandman. I am a fan of that series, and was really excited to hear that not only would there be an adaptation, but that Neil Gaiman would be heavily involved. I knew the author himself would be able to do the very best to bring the comics to the big screen.

There’s been a lot of book adaptations over the years, and I have watched a lot of them. The quality of these vary. Sometimes a great movie or series isn’t always a great adaptation. Sometimes it’s both a great adaptation and a great movie/series. Sometimes it’s neither. There will always have to be changes made when going between mediums, but sometimes these changes are for the better and sometimes they are not.

ADAPTATIONS THAT MAKE ME GENUINELY MAD

Howl’s Moving Castle: Now this is going to be a controversial opinion, because this movie is generally very well loved. But here’s a confession: I’ve never actually watched the full thing. How could it be on this list then, you ask? Because even the parts I have seen, even the trailer, are so far away from the book I love that it makes me angry. The book “Howl’s Moving Castle” is written by Diana Wynne Jones, an author I have sung the praises of before, and is one of my favourite books. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s strange, it’s set in an interesting world with interesting and imperfect characters and cool and new ways of looking at magic and doing magic. And yet that’s all thrown away because the movie wants to be…whimsical. It’s not true to the humour of the book, or to the spirit of the book. The characters are softened around the edges. Not even THE MOVING CASTLE ITSELF is done right. The world in the book “Howl’s Moving Castle” feels like a real world, even with its use of magic and spells and demons. The movie doesn’t show me that world. Maybe it’s a great movie in itself, but I know I will never be able to enjoy it.

Ella Enchanted: I will forever list this as one of the worst movie adaptations of a book I have ever seen. If I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t think the movie was a masterpiece, but it’s harmless and fluffy enough. But having read and loved “Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine?? I am genuinely offended by its existence. The movie takes the rough concept of the book and some character names and basically creates its own early 2000s family friendly fantasy movie with it. That’s annoying enough, but doing that to ELLA ENCHANTED? A beautiful novel with a bleaker take on the story of Cinderella with fleshed out characters who change and grow and an interesting love story and a detailed universe?? YOU HAVE ALL THAT AND YOU GIVE ME SINGING CHRISTMAS ELVES? The insult! I await the day when Neflix or Amazon prime or the BBC or someone does a proper mini-series adaptation of this book.

Artemis Fowl: I read all of the Artemis Fowl books growing up, and there were always rumours of a movie but it did not come to fruition until 2019, released in 2020 on Disney Plus. I could not believe that after all those years…this is the movie fans of Artemis Fowl got. They really took some rough plot points and the character names and descriptions and said “good enough” and proceeded to make a generic kid hero movie. The worst part about it is that the Artemis Fowl books should be SUPER EASY to adapt. You can easily picture the action, scenes, and dialogue while reading the books. But the movie didn’t even maintain THE MAIN CONCEIT of the series–that Artemis is a 12 year criminal mastermind who captures a fairy for his own gain. THEY COULDN’T EVEN KEEP THAT. That’s the whole point?? It’s not like it wouldn’t be “appropriate” for kids, because KIDS READ THE BOOKS. It’s just laziness and a lack of respect for both the source material and the intelligence of their audience. Maybe I will have to wait another two decades for a proper adaptation.

ADAPTATIONS THAT ARE GREAT IN ALL WAYS

Good Omens: We started this post with Neil Gaiman, and we are coming back to Neil Gaiman. “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite books. It’s funny and weird and irreverent and it’s about the apocalypse. I was really excited when I heard that it wasn’t getting a movie, it was getting a whole mini series to be released on Amazon Prime. Gaiman was heavily involved, writing the series and acting as showrunner because he wanted to make sure the adaptation was done right not only for the fans, but in honour of the late Terry Pratchett. He absolutely did that. The series was amazing, managing to capture the comedy of the book, the emotion, the tone, the weirdness. Everyone was flawlessly cast and put in fantastic performances, from the child actors to Frances McDormand as the voice of God. I absolutely recommend it even if you haven’t read the book, and I recommend reading the book too.

His Dark Materials (the HBO series): I may be jumping the gun a bit since the third and final season of this series will not be released until next year, but for now I feel safe putting this here from what I have seen. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman were books I read over and over growing up, and can always return to. They’re pretty intense and serious in a lot of ways, but I was always so drawn in by the world and the characters and how it tied in magic and religion. I was so glad when it got a series, because although it’s a trilogy, there’s no way to capture the full scope of even one book in a single movie. They were able to include scenes and characters that would not fit in otherwise. I’m also glad they did it when there was enough of a budget that it LOOKS beautiful. I’m really interested to see the visuals for the next season and hope they do just as well adapting the final book as they have the first two.

Emma (2020): I’ve watched pretty much every Jane Austen adaptation out there, but I have to give a shoutout to this 2020 adaptation. The costuming was flawless, it was so well acted, and it was engaging and clever and funny, just like Jane Austen’s writing is. I think it also let its leads be less than perfect while the audience still roots for them. I even mentioned it as one of my favourite films of 2020.

I DON’T FEEL AS PASSIONATELY ATTACHED TO THESE BOOKS BUT DAMN THESE ARE GOOD MOVIES

Stardust: And Neil Gaiman makes his third appearance on this list! I don’t remember this book very well for some reason (maybe I will make a point to read it this year), but I adore this movie. I think it’s massively underrated and should be a fantasy movie classic. It’s just full of joy. Please watch it if you haven’t.

The Princess Bride: Yes, this is actually a book adaptation! I would say this is one of those movie adaptations that has overtaken the book in the public consciousness. It’s an absolute classic and I’m fairly certain I can recite every word of it. I can’t even remember the first time I saw this movie, that is how much it is a part of my brain. If for some reason you have lived under a rock and not watched it, do so.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World: I’ve only read the first few graphic novels in the series that this movie is based on, so I honestly don’t know how the hardcore fans view it as an adaptation. I know it does make several changes, although to me the movie still feels true to the spirit of the graphic novels. It’s a really fun movie with a hilarious cast. It’s also very stylized, and I know that isn’t for everyone but I am one of those people who LOVES a visually stylized movie. Give me all the aesthetic. It’s also set in Toronto, so special points for that. Again if you haven’t seen it, do it.

SOME QUICK MODERN ADAPTATION SHOUT OUTS

Clueless: Another Emma adaptation, but set in Beverley Hills in the 90s. It’s somehow still a better adaptation than Ella Enchanted. Fun and cute and funny and a fave always.

10 Things I Hate About You: This classic teen movie manages to adapt one of the most sexist Shakespeare plays, “The Taming of the Shrew” into a hilarious non sexist teen comedy where Heath Ledger sings a Frankie Valli song. We love to see it.

West Side Story: Another Shakespeare adaptation, this time turning “Romeo and Juliet” into the a battle between two gangs in 1950s New York City. It’s also a musical with iconic songs and beautifully choregraphed dance numbers.

I could keep talking about adaptations for hours, I really could. I love books and I love movies and I love television and it’s inevitable that I have opinions when the worlds come together. Including some very passionate opinions!

Re-reading childhood favourites: Witch Week

As a child, one of my all time favourite authors was Diana Wynne Jones. She wrote very British, kind of quirky, youth-oriented fantasy and magical realism. And I read every single one of them. A lot of the books are ones I have re-read throughout my life, and I think they really hold up. I didn’t even read Howl’s Moving Castle, for example, until I was an adult, and it remains one of my fave books of all time. One of her ongoing series was books set in the The Worlds of Chrestomanci, the name for the position of a very powerful enchanter with nine lives. Many of the books are set in the would Chrestomanci exists in, but others are in other worlds or countries. The book I re-read this time around, Witch Week, was set in another world, and Chrestomanci doesn’t show up until the end.

Witch Week (Chrestomanci, #3) by Diana Wynne Jones

I’ve always loved witches–my name is Sabrina, so this should not be surprising–and I remember reading Witch Week over and over when I was younger. Even so, for some reason it wasn’t one I had returned to in a while, so I thought it was the perfect one to go with. Even though it had been a while, I was surprised by HOW well I remembered character names and descriptions and events in the novel. It wasn’t the case where I could have listed off the plot before the re-read, but as I was going I would be thinking “Oh yes and then this happens later.” It didn’t ruin the reading experience for me, however. While I love reading and watching new things, I don’t have trouble getting invested even when I know exactly where the story is going and what happens.

Witch Week is set in a world very much like our own, but where magic is outlawed even though it is fairly common. Even though it’s set in around the 80s, witches and witch sympathizers who are discovered are still burned at the stake. We experience this world from the perspective of students and teachers at a British boarding school called Larwood House, specifically class 2Y. The book opens with one of the teachers finding an anonymous note that says “SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH” and it’s not long before we find out just how true that is.

While the book is all written in third person and with the same humour and style throughout, each character who gets a main focus has a specific perspective. This was something I probably noticed when I read it when I was younger, but could only appreciate and put a name to reading it now. It made it easier to understand the motivations of the characters–especially the children characters. This is also one of those books where you learn about the world as you go through the eyes of people actually living in it, instead of explained through an exposition dump, and some things you just kind of figure out as you go (for example, the word “magic” is used as a swear word in this world). I generally enjoy that in a book. Closer to the end of the book, when Chrestomanci arrives and they have to explain things to him, we as readers have a pretty clear grasp on the world, so it’s pretty comedic when the child characters are trying to explain things to him when they aren’t even sure what he needs explained.

The rules of magic and the rules of multiple universes are quite consistent in these books, both individually and as a group, and I love that. I know that sounds almost contradictory, but I feel like it’s important to have an internalized logic that makes sense, even when it’s magic. I really like the brand of magic in this world, and the major spells cast in this book are pretty interesting. There’s one that stood out on re-read that they call the “Simon Says” spell. One of the characters casts a spell on another boy he hates who is named Simon, so that everything Simon says is true. At first Simon has fun with it when he discovers it–turning things into gold coins or diamonds, for example. But he soon discovers it’s EVERY SINGLE THING he says, and it suddenly gets a lot more dangerous. It’s a spell that makes sense within the logic of the world, within the story, AND that a kid would cast it and not consider the bigger consequences.

Maybe I should re-read a book I don’t remember as well. But I have no regrets re-reading Witch Week. It’s still fun and well-written and a quick read. I will always enjoy Diana Wynne Jones’ books and recommend them even to adults.