The Land Of Stories

Do you ever wonder what you could have achieved by age 22 if you hadn't spent so much time dinking cider and black and vodka, or dancing all night and sleeping all day, or lying awake putting the world to rights with your best friend with Frasier on in the background, or waitressing for a living and going out with just a £5 and a smile, or learning to headstand in your boyfriends front room when you should have been doing homework? No, me either. Or at least, I try not to because sometimes, regrets, I have them. I mean, my life is good and I have memories that will last a lifetime and I'm pretty proud of who I am and what I've achieved but sometimes just sometimes something happens that makes you think wow, I really did not make the most of myself.

This is one of those times.

Christopher Colfer, how are you real?!

Seriously, this kid: He was so severely bullied at school that he was homeschooled for two years and now? Just look at him. He's a superstar on Glee; he's had his first book published [and that is why we are here right now, to talk about that book]; he's written and starred in a film due for release later this year; he's won a Golden Globe and been nominated for 2 Emmy awards, as well as being named GQ's man of the year and one of Time Magazines most influential people, and he's just turned 22. I don't know whether to hate him or love him. Right now loving him is winning out.

So, the book.

I didn't buy 'The Land Of Stories' because it was written by a guy off Glee. I am not that girl. I won't deny that I am a fan of Chris Colfer: I make no secret of the fact that him and Darren Criss are pretty much the only reasons I even watch that show, but I didn't buy this book just because Colfer wrote it.

And I'm being serious right now, I didn't.

I bought it because Amazon told me that I should - it does that sometimes, Amazon [sorry Jen!] emails me and says 'hey Jo, we know you've no money and a full bookshelf but look at this' and I'd been drawn in by the pretty cover before I even noticed that it was written by Chris Colfer [ooh, Land of Stories? What's that? That's a gorgeous cover. Chris Colfer? Chris Colfer?!] and I downloaded it to my Kindle because I liked the concept: the book is about two children who fall down the proverbial rabbit hole via a charmed book of stories and end up in a land full of their favourite storybook characters, it pays homage to all of those stories children have been in love with for generations.

I wondered what it'd be like actually: just because Chris Colfer can sing and dance and act and is growing into a fairly attractive young man (see above if you're still seeing him as Kurt Hummel, because the boy grew up people.) doesn't necessarily mean he can write and what if he only got a book deal because he is America's darling? Call me cynical, but these things happen.

Here's the thing: this kid can write.

"Happily ever after’ is something that you make. It’s not given to you."
-Chris Colfer

TLOS is one of those books you wish was around when you were 8 or 9; one of those books that you'd lose a weekend reading and would wish all your friends liked reading as much as you did so they could read it too, one of those books that you dove into and got lost in and wanted to live in forever. Hell, I kind of want to live in it myself and I'm about 20years older than it's target audience.

This book awakens in me some of the same feelings I have when reading Harry Potter, as in when I'm reading Potter there's always a part of me that wishes I'd been younger when those books were first released because I'd love to have experienced them through the eyes of a child, and that's how I feel about this.
I know I would have fangirled so hard over this book when I was 8, so hard because Colfer has pitched it just right: it's smart and funny and magical and the two characters are just awesome and so relatable too, if you're 8 [and pretty adorable if you're not] and some of the phrasing is gorgeous and the world he has created is the kind of world any 8 or 9 year old would want to be a part of.

It's not perfect: there are parts that could maybe do with being tightened up a touch and parts that dragged a little and some of the language is a little basic and there's a lot of 'he said, she said' but hello,  how sophisticated does it need to be: this is a kids book and I'm 29 not 9, and I think the same thing when I re-read Enid Blyton or other childhood favourites. From a pure storytelling point of view it works.  It's a smart and intelligent book, with clever interpretations on the background traditional stories - the Charming Dynasty idea is awesome, as is the Queen Red-Riding Hood/fugitive Goldilocks feud and the Evil Queen's backstory is well worth reading for. It carries a message without being patronising and it has the amusing little bits in there that are obviously aimed at the parent reading aloud [or the 29 year old with no book-buying self-control.] and I didn't guess the ending. All in all, I think Colfer can count this as another success; I can certainly think of a handful of children I'd like to read this book.

Seriously, Chris Colfer is so much more than Kurt Hummel, and Glee and I would not be surprised to see him take over the world. You read it here first.*

*unless you didn't, obviously.

The books of far

I'm a little late really, considering we're well past the 'halfway through 2012' mark but as the saying goes, better late then never. That's not always strictly true, actually, because sometimes, if you can't be arsed to be on time then it's maybe better you don't bother but this is just a blog and the only person my tardiness will be bothering is me, mainly because nobody was expecting this post but me. I digress.

It always interests me, making a note of my top 5 books of the year in June, and then again at the end of December and seeing if they remain the same, and that's the point of this post: making a note of my 5 favourites of the year so far so I can make the comparison later. So here you have it and, drum roll please, the bestest books I have read so far in 2012 are.....:

1: Without a doubt the best book I've read this year is Richard Siken's Crush which I talk about here and which I love beyond words, almost. It totally got under my skin, and I've flicked back through it several times since I read it in May.

2. The Borrower By Rebecca Makkai which I don't think I ever blogged about because I've been lax this year, but which, if you're at a loss for something to read, is definitely worth picking up.

3. Annabel Pitcher's My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece - you can read my thoughts on it here but I am warning you, it will hit you right in the feels.

4. The Siege by Helen Dunmore, which I won't talk about too much as I do plan to blog about it properly at some point, but which is incredibly incredibly moving and heartbreaking and inspiring. And which you should read. It will make you cry though, so don't say I didn't warn you.

5. The Stranger Next Door, by the wonderful Amelie Nothomb. I adored this. I love Amelie Nothomb anyway, I think she's incredible but this was far and away my favourite of hers. Amazing.

Apart from Crush which is absolutely at the top of this list, the others go in no particular order, because they were all super and I'm shit at making decisions. It's a character flaw, sorry.

Today is somebody's birthday.

Let me tell you a little about this somebody.

She's hilariously funny. She's smart and she's witty and so so perceptive. She calls me out when I'm being a dick, and she holds me when I cry and she holds me when I laugh and she rolls her eyes when I spam her inbox with You Yube videos of a certain attractive singing celebrity. She went all the way to Africa and took a photo of herself stood Under Milk Wood because I love Dylan Thomas. She makes the tallest cakes and the flattest scones and she always makes my ribena in the right sized glass. She knows me better than anybody else in the world and she gets me like nobody else does.

We share jokes and secrets and memories almost to the point of being an accidental clique of two: people tell us all the time how hard it is to be around us because we speak our own language, of half sentences and nonsensical chatter.

She likes giraffes and manatees and champagne cocktails and bacon fries even though she's a vegetarian and Wuthering Heights and Joey Lawrence and Harry Potter and she has more dvds than you can even imagine and she understands all about Billy from Ally McBeal and how nothing will ever be that sad. She dances with me to The Arctic Monkeys at weddings and she makes me write in paragraphs and she makes me stickers when I have to go to the dentist.

She isn't perfect though: she hates ginger and peanut butter and meat and sometimes she laughs at me til she cant breathe and she wants to re-read Breaking Dawn and she thinks Remus really truly loved Tonks and she once tried to drop a pen lid in my mouth when I was asleep and her feet are unreasonably small.

She's Helen and she is the Meryl Streep to my Julie Walters (and yes, that's a mamma Mia reference) and I am grateful for her every single day.

Happy birthday to you, Helen. You will always be my stupid person.