Monday, 29 December 2014

My Year of Reading (2014)

Hello, people of the Internet!* ;) I hope everyone reading this had a Merry Christmas! In this post I'm going to sum up my year of reading. To be honest I didn't read very many books in 2013. I didn't keep a record of the number of books that I read in that year but I'd be very surprised if I read more than... 20? *winces* My private new year's resolution of 2014 was to read at least 35 books and in the end I surpassed that amount. At this moment in time I've read 51 books :) A list of those books is below. You'll notice that I've put 52 books on the list though and that's because I'm only a few chapters away from finishing Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four. I'll be finishing that book tonight so I've still included it on my list of books that I read in 2014. I've also read the first few chapters of Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck but I don't think I'll be finishing that one before New Year's Eve so I've left that one out of this year's list.

I'm pretty happy with the amount of books that I read this year. Even if I were to take out all of the books that I read but didn't finish I would still have surpassed my aim. I managed to review almost everything that I read too although I have fallen behind a bit during the last few weeks. I might make a mini-reviews post to cover those books.

I have several reading aims for 2015. I'm aiming to read at least 60 books and I want at least five or six of those books to be non-fiction titles. I only managed to read one non-fiction book this year. When I was a child the amount of fiction and non-fiction books that I read was pretty much the same. I used to read a lot of child encyclopaedias and history books. But now I hardly ever read non-fiction and I want that to change. I know that I'll always prefer to read fiction books over non-fiction but I want to broaden my horizons. I also want to finish some book series next year. In 2014 I started a few book series but I didn't get round to finishing any of them and I'm a little bit disappointed with myself about that. I'm also disappointed with myself for not reading War and Peace this year. Up until last year War and Peace had never been a book that I particularly wanted to read but that all changed when I read Anna Karenina. That book was my favourite read of 2013 and it made me want to read Tolstoy's other masterpiece only I never got round to in 2014. Hopefully 2015 will be the year! Finally, I also want to do some read-along blog events in 2015. I've already put my name down for a read-along of Jane Austen's Persuasion and I'm really looking forward to doing it. I re-read Persuasion over Christmas and - drum roll - it's my new favourite Jane Austen novel! It's finally overtaken Pride and Prejudice! Although Pride and Prejudice is still a very, very close second!

The books that I read in 2014 were:
  1. Death Cloud by Andrew Lane (2010)
  2. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (1623)
  3. Venetia by Georgette Heyer (1958) *abridged audiobook read by Richard Armitage*
  4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2004)
  5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966)
  6. Frederica by Georgette Heyer (1965)
  7. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (1848)
  8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)
  9. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (1996)
  10. Allegiant by Veronica Roth (2013)
  11. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
  12. Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer (1944)
  13. Longbourn by Jo Baker (2013)
  14. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (1998)
  15. Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (1997)
  16. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)
  17. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid (2014) 
  18. The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer (1934)
  19. DNF The Iliad by Homer (c. 750BC)
  20. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (2013)
  21. N Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier by Charles Spencer (2007)
  22. Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier (2009)
  23. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (1982)
  24. Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891)
  25. These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (1926)
  26. Venetia by Georgette Heyer (1958) *unabridged paperback*
  27. The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen (1935)
  28. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (1912)
  29. Evelina by Frances Burney (1797)
  30. Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer (1932)
  31. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
  32. DNF The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick (2014) *unabridged audiobook read by Ashley Clements*
  33. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820) *unabridged e-book*
  34. Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1623)
  35. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820) *unabridged audiobook read by Tom Mison*
  36. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (2000)
  37. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (2012)
  38. R Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
  39. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (2006)
  40. A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin (2005)
  41. R Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)
  42. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (1938)
  43. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)
  44. William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher (2013)
  45. R Venetia by Georgette Heyer (1958) *abridged audiobook read by Richard Armitage*
  46. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
  47. R Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  48. DNF Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990)
  49. R Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1818)
  50. R Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)
  51. William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher (2014)
  52. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)

R: Re-read
N: Non-fiction
DNF: Did not finish

Now I'm going to talk about my Favourite Books of the Year. These are all going to be new reads and in their alphabetical order. I tried to sort them into the order in which I liked them best but it was too difficult! I didn't include re-reads of old favourites but if I had then Jane Austen's Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey would certainly all be in this list as would Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and Shakespeare's Macbeth. There are two plays in this list and I would have also included Arthur Miller's The Crucible in this list as well if I'd actually read that one. I got to see the Old Vic production of the play - which starred Richard Armitage - and I absolutely loved it. 

1. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (1623)
I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this one! I liked it only slightly less than Macbeth and far more than Romeo and Juliet and King Lear! Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's more obscure plays and the only reason why I read it was to familiarise with the story before seeing the live screening of the Donmar Warehouse production (which starred Tom Hiddleston, Mark Gatiss and Hadley Fraser). Coriolanus is seriously underrated! The characters aren't all that likeable and the ending is a little bit weak but I still found the story extremely gripping and powerful. It raises some really interesting points about society and politics. Even lesser-known Shakespeare is great!

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)
John Green's writing is eloquent, emotional and beautiful. Although it features epic sadness the book is also laugh out loud funny and a lot of fun in places. Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters are both incredibly likeable characters. Other reviewers have pointed out they aren't the most realistic teenagers in the world - it's true that they're both much more articulate and witty than your average teenager - but that didn't bother me in the slightest. I loved their Joss Whedon-y dialogue and I loved their characters. I loved how funny, intelligent, sarcastic and passionate they both were. This book is fantastic!

3. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (1996)

Towards the end of 2013 I started to watch the HBO high-fantasy show Game of Thrones and this year I started to read the books that the show is based on  - George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I've read almost all of the completed novels in the series now. I just need to read the fifth book A Dance with Dragons. Almost all of the ASoIaF fans think that the third book A Storm of Swords is the best in the series but my personal favourite is still the first book A Game of Thrones. That book is terrific. It's set in a complex and interesting world, there's some beautiful writing, and the story is full of suspense and drama. The characters are rich and interesting and I found all of their different storylines compelling. Crucially the reason why AGoT is still my favourite in the series is because it contains a wealth of backstory and worldbuilding but still manages to be a tightly-written and fast-paced read. A Storm of Swords, as great as it is, suffers from some slow-pacing at times and I found large sections of the fourth book A Feast for Crows boring. I wouldn't recommend ASoIaF as highly as the other books on this list. The books are often dark and violent and they contain sex scenes. *cue dramatic voice* Reader discretion is advised. I do love AGoT though and I think many mature fantasy readers will feel the same way. 

4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)
I loved this short story but it was completely different to what I was expecting. Right up until the very end this story isn't very suspenseful or spooky at all. Instead it's really a very charming and lovely depiction of Autumn and the Hudson Valley. Irving's writing is enchanting and beautiful and now I can finally understand why the story is a classic of American literature. It's surprisingly funny in places too. If you'd like to read the story for free - and who doesn't like free books?! - have a free unabridged audiobook of this story. It's read by Tom Mison who plays Ichabod Crane in the current TV show (which I love). Tom Mison has a great voice and I loved his reading of the story.

5. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (1938)

I managed to read this book and see its 2008 film adaptation in the same day. That isn't as impressive as it probably sounds! The book is very short! To be honest I actually enjoyed the film more than the book. The film has a truly superb cast - Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Mark Strong and Ciaran Hinds are all in it - and the film actually improved upon the book in several ways. But I still really loved the book! It's a genuinely sweet, heartwarming and funny story. It's highly uplifting and is still very much worth a read. The book was republished by Persephone Classics and it's inspired me to check out more of their titles. I would particularly recommend both the book and its film adaptation to Jane Austen fans. The story doesn't remind me of any one of Jane Austen's novels in particular. It just has this Austen-esque tone about it, you know? 

6. Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier by Charles Spencer (2007)

I only read one non-fiction book this year but it was a cracker! This book is a biography of Prince Rupert of the Rhine who fought in the English Civil War and was the cousin of Charles II. I loved Prince Rupert before I even read the book. He's been a long-time historical crush of mine purely because of the famous Gerrit van Honthorst painting. But now I've read this book I realise just how ridiculously cool he was! Prince Rupert wasn't just famously good-looking and a dashing Cavalier, oh no. He was also a brave and badass soldier and was highly intelligent. The man spoke about five languages and he was a talented artist and scientist. And he was a pirate prince! Ladies, a pirate prince! Charles Spencer is probably most famous for being the brother of Princess Diana but he's an excellent writer and I really enjoyed his account of Rupert's life. It's packed with brilliant stories. Prince Rupert had a life that was full of adventure, his life is crying out for a movie biopic *sigh*

7. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (1912)

I've been a fan of this play's musical adaptation My Fair Lady for a few years and I finally got round to reading the play this year. What a delight! Eliza Doolittle is a fantastic heroine. The story of the play is extremely entertaining and funny but it has a great deal of hidden depth. The play has a lot to say about feminism, the social classes of Edwardian society, and the power of language. But the main reason why I loved this play so much was because of its ending. I can't put into words how much better it is than the ending of My Fair Lady! Overall I'm still a fan of that musical - I do love its songs and Audrey Hepburn's Eliza - but now I hate its ending. The ending of that musical completely undermines the powerful feminist message of George Bernard Shaw's play! Grr!

8. Venetia by Georgette Heyer (1958)
I read my first Georgette Heyer novel (Cotillion) in 2013. Over the years I'd seen Heyer's books being recommended time and time again in various Jane Austen forums and last year I finally got round to reading one of them. I've read a number of Heyer's books now - and I love her! Some of her books have been duds for me but the books that I've enjoyed I've really enjoyed! Frederica and These Old Shades could have quite easily gone on this list too but really my favourite Heyer novel that I've read so far is Venetia. I loved this book so much that I actually read it three times over the course of the year! I started off by listening to the abridged audiobook recording of the book - read by Richard Armitage! :) - back in January. Okay, I know that's not technically "reading" but whatever. Then when I went on a trip to Ireland during the summer I took the unabridged paperback of Venetia with me and read that. Then I listened to the Richard Armitage recording of the book again in November. I would strongly recommend Georgette Heyer's books to Jane Austen fans. The level of detail in them is truly exquisite. The dialogue and the historical detail in them is so spot-on that if I didn't know any better I'd think Heyer was a contemporary of Austen's. Heyer's books might lack the social commentary and profundity of Jane Austen's books but her books really do compare very favourably to Austen's in terms of their comedy and romance. Venetia is my favourite Heyer novel because the story is hugely engaging and it's filled with entertaining characters. The book made me laugh out loud but it's also very romantic and moving. It made me genuinely emotional at times. The fact that Richard Armitage reads the book was also a massive added bonus! I love his voice!

9. William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher (2013)

Oh man, this book is hilaaarious! It's an officially licensed retelling of Star Wars: a New Hope and is written in the style of William Shakespeare. Obviously you're going to have to be a fan of both Star Wars and Shakespeare in order to appreciate it but as I'm a reader who is a fan of both this book was pure comedy gold! Reading this book was a massive giggle-fest for me. I especially loved all of the Shakespeare quotes that were incorporated into the story and all of R2-D2's asides. Yes, R2-D2 has asides! And they're awesome! Ian Doescher has also written retellings of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. I didn't find The Empire Striketh Back as hilariously funny as its predecessor but there were still some wonderful comic moments in it and I'm looking forward to finishing off the series with The Jedi Doth Return

10. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)

I was hesitant about reading this novel because it's a children's book. I don't tend to read very many children's books because a lot of the time I find them too simplistic or too sanctimonious. I was crushed when I tried to re-read some of my old Jacqueline Wilson books as an adult! But I needn't have worried about A Wrinkle in Time. This book is a beautifully-written sci-fi/fantasy novel. The characters are engaging, the story is full of adventure and suspense, and it has a huge amount of depth. It's not often that you come across children's books that incorporate physics, philosophy and biblical symbolism! I didn't get round to reading the rest of Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet series this year but I'm hoping to do that in 2015. I'm also excited about the upcoming film adaptation! It's been announced that Jennifer Lee, who co-wrote and directed Disney's Frozen, is going to be doing a live-action adaptation of this book!

And now feel free to comment! How many books did you read? What are your literary aims for 2015?  Do you share my feelings on any of the books that I loved this year? What were your favourites of 2014? Are there any books that you would recommend for me to read in 2015?

* P.S. If you understood that reference at the start I like your taste in web series!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Some Blogging Announcements

This will be a post to announce some of my upcoming blogging plans:

From 5th January 2015 I'll be participating in a read-along of Jane Austen's Persuasion which is being hosted by Heidi on her blog Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine (what a great title!) I've never done a read-along before and I'm getting quite excited about it :) I think I might end up re-reading the book by myself over the Christmas holidays but I'm looking forward to reading the book at a slower pace along with everyone else and I'm interested in seeing everyone's different responses to the chapters. I'm even thinking of buying a new edition of the book for the occasion! Now I do love my edition of Persuasion which is the Penguin Red Classics version...

I know the picture quality isn't great but take my word for it, it's a very lovely cover. But recently Vintage Classics have produced some new editions of Jane Austen's books and I really like their cover for Persuasion as well...

Usually I wouldn't allow myself to own more than one copy of a book but I really like this cover and I managed to find Lynne Truss's introduction to it on the Random House website. I loved it! I can't stand the 2007 ITV adaptation of the book so I found Truss's criticisms of that adaptation absolutely hilarious :D That settles it, I'm going to have to buy this book! In 2015 I'm also going to write my own personal list post of Jane Austen's novels, from my favourite of her works to my least favourite or possibly the other way around. I'm very fond of making lists and I'm currently re-reading my Jane Austen novels. I've already read Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice this year. I'm reading Northanger Abbey at the moment and I hope to read Persuasion twice after that. Then I'll be re-reading Emma, Mansfield Park and Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon.

On 6th January 2015 it will be the birthday of Sherlock Holmes - how did they work that out though? - and I'll be answering a Sherlock Holmes tag on Hamlette's reading blog The Edge of the Precipice. I'm really looking forward to this as well. If you're a regular reader then this will be the first of many Sherlock Holmes-themed posts in 2015 because I'm going to be reading all of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories over that year and I want to finish off a review of The Great Mouse Detective at some point. Hopefully I'll be able to put the trailer for the Sherlock 2015 Christmas Special on my blog as well!

Some other things that I hope to finish off in early 2015 are:
  • a review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (if I haven't finished it in 2014)
  • a review of The Fall (2006)
  • "Maintenance" stuff (basically making the blog look a little bit prettier)
There are a few other things that I'd like to write about but I'm going to keep quiet about them for now, just in case I don't end up writing about them. It saves me some embarrassment you see :D

Sunday, 21 December 2014

'Good Omens' by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990)

Synopsis: Armageddon is now approaching as predicted by a 17th century witch called Agnes Nutter. The mortal enemies-turned-reluctant friends Aziraphale and Crowley are getting seriously concerned about the upcoming end of the world. Aziraphale is an angel and a fussy and uptight rare bookseller. Crowley is a fast-living angel "who did not so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards". After living on Earth for 6000 years the pair have "gone native". They've decided that they quite like the world that they're living in and think that life will be pretty boring after the last battle. To stop the Armageddon, the pair then team up and go off on a quest to find the Antichrist who, thanks to a mix-up, has been brought up in a small English village called Tadfield.

Oh dear, I love Neil Gaiman and I've loved many of his solo novels (Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, etc) but not all of his books have worked for me and Good Omens is one of those books. I feel especially disappointed because over the years I've read so many reviews where people have said that it's one of the funniest books that they've ever read and how it made them cry with laughter. It's made me question my sense of humour because I found Good Omens downright tedious. It's not that the book doesn't contain any hilarity at all because I did find the early chapters of the book really funny. However, the book also features quite a lot of different characters and subplots. The interactions between Aziraphale and Crowley are by far the best thing about the book but these characters will go away for chapters at a time and instead we have to read about Adam Young, Anathema Device, Newton Pulsifer and various other characters - and I found all of the chapters that concerned these characters extremely boring. To be honest I wasn't able to finish this book and gave up on it when I was about 2/3 of the way through. At any other time of the year I would have probably soldiered on and read the whole thing but since it's Christmas time I want to be reading something that I know I'll enjoy so I'm going to be re-reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey instead :)

Before I finish I just want to make it clear that even though I'm a Christian the reason why I didn't like this book had nothing to do with its subject matter. Firstly, because the book is a work of fiction and a comedy. It's obviously not something that the reader is supposed to be taking seriously. Secondly, because although Gaiman and Pratchett do playfully poke fun at Christianity at times I never ever got the sense that they were attacking Christianity and Christians. I think there's a huge difference between the two. I could never enjoy something if I thought it was an attack on my beliefs but I'll cheerfully accept some playful tongue in cheek humour. Of course every Christian has different standards on what they think is acceptable or appropriate but personally I didn't find this book remotely offensive. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Crucible (2014 Old Vic Theatre)

The Crucible takes place in Salem, Massachusetts in the year 1692. A young woman called Abigail Williams is discovered dancing in the woods late at night with several other young women and her Barbadian slave Tituba. Betty Parris, the daughter of the town reverend and Abigail's cousin, then has an apparent faint and doesn't stir again for several hours. Witchcraft is suspected and a man called Reverend Hale - an expert on defeating supernatural evil - is summoned from a nearby town in order to question the girls and solve the mystery. Abigail and the other girls then claim that they were bewitched and that they saw the Devil with several other women in the town. Soon the whole of Salem is thrown into hysteria as people in the community turn on each other. But what the audience soon comes to discover is that Abigail is infatuated with a married man called John Proctor with whom she once had an affair. Abigail is trying to get John's wife Elizabeth killed so that she and John will be able to marry. However, John is feeling immense guilt and self-loathing over his sin and now wants nothing more to do with Abigail. When Elizabeth is then accused of witchcraft, John desperately tries to save his wife from being hanged.

Up until last week I'd never seen a production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible or even read the play. The Crucible isn't my first experience with Miller's work: I was forced to read and study Death of a Salesman for my A Levels and I found it a dead bore. I had no interest whatsoever in the characters and themes of that play. But when I heard that the Old Vic were doing a production of The Crucible I became curious, although I'll readily admit that I was only interested in it because it was starring Richard Armitage! :) I didn't get the chance to see the play live though and I groaned with envy when I read all of its rave reviews and prayed that it would be streamed in cinemas or put on DVD. In the end my prayer was answered! Digital Theatre filmed the play and it was shown in cinemas in the UK and Ireland this December. I believe that Digital Theatre will then be putting the play on their website this February. I saw The Crucible last Sunday and, well, I had a veery different experience with it than I did with Death of Salesman! The trailer for the production is below:

The Crucible was spectacular. The story of the play is extremely haunting. It was beautifully lit and it was full of tension and atmosphere. YaĆ«l Farber's direction and the acting from the entire cast was magnificent. I can't imagine how the actors found the stamina to play those demanding roles night after night. I was somewhat apprehensive when I found out that this particular production was 3.5 hours long. That's longer than most Shakespeare plays. I think my attention span is pretty good but I wasn't terribly familiar with the play and I did wonder if it would be too long for me. Well, that wasn't remotely the case! I was emotionally invested in it the whole way through. I guess people with very short attention spans might be better off watching the play in stages when it eventually gets put onto the DT website but personally I had no problems with its length. By the time it had ended I certainly didn't feel like I'd been in the cinema for as long as I had. I didn't find the accents in the play at all distracting either. The actors in this production of The Crucible all speak in northern English accents instead of American accents. I thought that this could be quite jarring but actually it worked perfectly well. The people of Massachusetts would have been British citizens at the time after all. Technically the USA wouldn't even exist for another 80 years or so.

Richard Armitage is an RSC trained actor but John Proctor was his first stage role in 12 years. I've been a huge fan of Armitage ever since North and South. He's a brilliant actor and he deserves to be just as appreciated and famous as, say, Tom Hiddleston. Armitage gives a beautiful performance as John Proctor. He puts so much passion and energy and emotion and heart into the role and I really felt for his character. My favourite moments from RA were probably John's first scene with Abigail and his final scene of the play, which is incredibly moving and powerful. I really can't wait to see him play Thorin Oakenshield's descent into madness in the final Hobbit film now! Anna Madeley played the role of Elizabeth Proctor and she gives a very lovely and sympathetic performance. Some readers might know Madeley from her role as Lucy Steele in the 2008 BBC Sense and Sensibility adaptation. I thought Madeley was miscast in that miniseries but I liked her much, much more in The Crucible. The role of Abigail was played by Samantha Colley. Abigail Williams was not only Colley's first ever professional role; she was still at drama school at the time! If there's any justice Colley deserves to have a huge career after this production. She gives a chilling performance and I would never have guessed that it was her first professional role! Another performance that I especially loved in this play was Adrian Schiller as Reverend Hale. I thought I was going to hate Reverend Hale when he first appeared but it turns out that he's actually quite a complex character and by the end of the play I felt really sorry for him. Natalie Gavin was also brilliant as Mary Warren. I'm not going to name any other names but I must stress that every single cast member in this play were great. I don't think I've ever seen a play with such a brilliant ensemble!

To fully understand The Crucible I think it's important to know that the play was written in 1952 when the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) was at the height of its power. Actors, screenwriters, playwrights, film directors and musicians could be denounced as communists and lose their careers and reputations if they displayed any "anti-American" sentiments. As a response to this Miller wrote The Crucible. He chose to link the hysteria and paranoia of the Salem Witch Trials with the Communist Witch Hunt that was going on at the time. The play is therefore highly significant as a piece of social commentary. Miller claimed that he'd always had a deep interest in the Salem Witch Trials but the play wasn't as historically accurate as he made out. It's true that many of the characters in the play are based on real-life people who lived in Salem at the time but I've read that Miller played around with ages and combined some characters together so that fewer actors would be needed. Usually I'm a bit of a stickler for historical accuracy in stories but I don't mind the changes that Miller made because - and this is probably not going to be very well-put but I'll try - I believe that the play has a higher truth. The Crucible shows us things that have gone on throughout history. It shows us what fear and ignorance can do to people. It shows us that people will use and manipulate the faith of others for their own ends. Sadly the play is just as relevant now as it was 60 years ago. I can see why some people maybe wouldn't like The Crucible. I can imagine that some people would find its themes too challenging or depressing. Well, sometimes we need stories that will challenge us and will make us think. The play reminds us that evil will thrive if good people are willing to do nothing, and that we have to stand up and become John Proctors. The play is also a reminder that if we forget our history that we're doomed to repeat our mistakes. People thought there would never be a genocide again after Nazi Germany but then there were genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda. Personally I wouldn't say that the play is too depressing either. Okay so it's hardly a barrel of laughs but there are some funny lines from time to time. When I saw it at the cinema the audience did laugh at some points. The ending of the play is deeply tragic but at the same time Proctor's sacrifice is very heroic and inspiring.

I still don't think that I can call myself an Arthur Miller fan but I know that I loved The Crucible. I would definitely rank it as one of my favourite plays and I strongly recommend this production of it. It's a magnificent production and it deserves at least five Olivier Awards! If it doesn't win the awards for Best Revival, Best Director (Farber), Best Leading Actor (Armitage), Best Supporting Actress (Colley) and Best Supporting Actor (Schiller) I'm going to be dreadfully disappointed!

Rating: 5/5
Certificate Rating: 12

Thursday, 4 December 2014

'William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope' by Ian Doescher (2013)

Synopsis: Verily, A New Hope is written in the style of William Shakespeare and is an officially licensed retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope. The story takes place a long time ago in a starcrossed galaxy far, far away. The galaxy has been taken over by an evil Galactic Empire but a small band of resistance fighters, the Rebel Alliance, have won their first great victory against the regime. During the battle, rebel spies were able to steal secret plans to the Empire's Death Star, a space station capable of destroying an entire planet. But after the rebel spy Princess Leia is able to take possession of the plans, her ship is then captured by the lord Darth Vader and his Imperial fleet. In order to prevent the plans from falling back into the hands of the Empire, Leia hides the plans in the data memory of a droid called R2-D2. The droid and its companion droid C-3PO then flee to a desert planet called Tatooine. The droids are then found by a farmboy called Luke Skywalker. After Luke delivers the droids to a Jedi Master called Obi-Wan Kenobi he decides to accompany them on their mission to return the plans to the Rebel Alliance, and to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi Master.

This book was an absolute joy to read so a five star rating is absolutely necessary! Verily, A New Hope could have been a cheap and unfunny gimmick like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but instead it's extremely well-written and is a hilarious and wonderful tribute to both Star Wars and William Shakespeare. I loved this book to pieces! :) I've included some quotes from it that display its brilliance:

C-3PO: Now is the summer of our happiness
Made winter by this sudden, fierce attack!
Our ship is under siege, I know not how.
O hast thou heard? The main reactor fails!
We shall most surely be destroy'd by this.
I'll warrant madness lies herein!

R2-D2: -Beep beep,
Beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!

LUKE: [aside] This Force, by troth, I'll never comprehend!
It doth control and also doth obey?
And 'tis within and yet is beyond,
'Tis both inside and yet outside one's self?
What paradox! What fickle-natur'd pow'r!
Aye: frailty, thy name - belike - is Force.

The thing that most surprised and impressed me about this book was, er, just how Shakespearean it was. You see I was expecting this book to be just the dialogue for Star Wars but written into Shakespearean iambic pentameter but in fact the book has a lot more than that. It's got an omniscient chorus, soliloquies and asides! And because of the book's format it became clear to me just how Shakespearean the story of Star Wars really is. How could I not see that before?! Fate and destiny are hugely important themes in Star Wars; just as they are in many of Shakespeare's plays. The Force has a deeply mystical nature and mysticism is also present in many of Shakespeare's plays. Han Solo and Leia's relationship is very similar to Beatrice and Benedick's from Much Ado About Nothing. Darth Vader has an element of Macbeth about him. The scene where Obi-Wan's ghost communicates with Luke brings to mind Hamlet's scenes with his father. Ian Doescher points out even more of the similarities between the two texts in his afterword.

In addition to being a surprisingly enlightening experience, the other major reason to read this book is because it's so funny! Doescher's portrayal of R2-D2 cracked me up! In this book it turns out that R2-D2 can actually communicate in words but chooses to only speak in beeps and whistles as a way of getting everyone to underestimate him. There are illustrations in this book, some of which are very entertaining. I especially liked the picture of Jabba the Hut wearing an Elizabethan collar. There's plenty of meta in this book too. Several of Shakespeare's most famous quotes are hilariously incorporated into the story. Doescher pokes fun at the legendary incompetence of the Stormtroopers, pokes fun at Star Trek, and even makes a hilarious joke out of the "Han or Greedo?" controversy!

Obviously this book isn't going to be for everyone and you're going to have to be a fan of both Star Wars and Shakespeare in order to enjoy it, but for those readers who are fans of both I would say that it's an absolute must-read. The only vaguely negative thing that I can say about this book is that some of the Luke and Leia scenes are a bit cringeworthy but then of course that's the source material's fault. Verily, A New Hope is fantastic. I can't wait to read The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return and I really hope that someone will put on a theatrical production of this book some day. Are you reading this, RSC?!

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, 30 November 2014

'A Study in Scarlet' by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)

Synopsis: A Study in Scarlet is the first book in the Sherlock Holmes series. John Watson is a former army doctor who has been forced to return home to England after sustaining an injury during the Anglo-Afghan War. Watson spends several months living in a London hotel before he decides to move to a more affordable residence. Watson then runs into an old acquaintance called Stamford who previously worked with him at St Bartholomew's Hospital. When Watson mentions that he's looking for somewhere to live, Stamford tells him that he knows an eccentric man called Sherlock Holmes who is looking for someone to split the rent at a flat at 221b Baker Street. Stamford introduces Watson and Holmes and within a few days the pair are living at Baker Street. Watson is fascinated by Holmes. His new friend has a profound knowledge of chemistry and sensational fiction but he knows next to nothing about astronomy, politics and literature. He guessed that Watson had served in the army during their first meeting. Holmes also gets mysterious guests visiting him at various times throughout the day. Eventually Holmes reveals that he is a "consulting detective" and that these guests are clients. Holmes then receives a telegram from Scotland Yard and invites Watson to accompany him to a crime scene. Holmes takes Watson to an abandoned house in Brixton where an American has been murdered. The Scotland Yard detectives Lestrade and Gregson are utterly perplexed. No violence has been done to the victim and there are no signs of a struggle but there is blood all over the crime scene and the corpse has a look of sheer hatred and horror on his face. Holmes is eventually able to solve the mystery and identify the murderer. The story then flashes back to Utah during the late 1840s and the backstory of the murderer is explained.

I'll start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start :) When I was a little child one of my favourite Disney films was The Great Mouse Detective. It's still one of my favourite films to this day and I class it as my introduction to Sherlock Holmes. When I was about 12 or 13 I then read Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles and I really liked it. I re-read the story as an adult and loved it! After I read that novel I then watched the first series of the BBC's Sherlock and became a super massive fangirl of that show. Since then I've read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I've seen series two and three of Sherlock, the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films, and the first season of the CBS show Elementary. I've also read a couple of Sherlock Holmes pastiche novels. Now I've set myself a challenge: I'm aiming to read all of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books in their published order during the next 12 months.

A Study in Scarlet might be the original Sherlock Holmes story but I think a newcomer to the canon would be better off starting with The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In the eyes of many Sherlockians what I'm about to say is tantamount to blasphemy but it's my honest opinion: Sherlock's A Study in Pink is a huge improvement on this book! A Study in Scarlet is... an odd novel. It has quite a weird structure and is basically two stories in one. The first half of the book is excellent. Sherlock Holmes is witty, mysterious, eccentric, compelling, conceited and brilliant. The mystery is intriguing, there's plenty of humour, and the interactions between Holmes and Watson are highly entertaining: e.g. Watson's bewilderment at Holmes' ignorance of the solar system :D Then at the halfway point the story completely changes. The murderer gets a jarring and unnecessarily long backstory that involves evil Mormons in America. I wasn't keen on this part of the novel on my first read and during this re-read I liked it even less. Quite frankly it just isn't something that I'd want to read about in a Sherlock Holmes story. If it wasn't for this backstory the book would probably get a 4.5/5.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, 28 November 2014

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

*excitementintensifies* The lightsaber! The Millennium Falcon! And Benedict Cumberbatch is clearly doing that voiceover! :D I'm praying so hard that this film won't be like the dreadful prequels. 

'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' by Winifred Watson (1938)

Synopsis: Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is a frumpy, middle-aged governess. Miss Pettigrew has never been able to hold on to a position for very long and she's deeply afraid that she'll end up in a workhouse. Desperate for a new position, Miss Pettigrew goes to an employment agency. However, there's a mix-up and the woman at the agency sends Miss Pettigrew to the wrong address. Miss Pettigrew then finds herself meeting a beautiful and glamorous nightclub singer called Delysia LaFosse. Miss Pettigrew quickly discovers that Delysia is torn between three romantic suitors: Nick Calderelli, a wealthy and powerful nightclub owner who pays Delysia's rent; Phil Goldman, a West End producer who could give Delysia a leading role in a musical; and finally Michael Pardue, a self-made man who has been recently released from prison. Over the next 24 hours, Miss Pettigrew and Delysia become fast friends and their lives are changed forever. Miss Pettigrew is able to use her common sense and unique perspective to sort out Delysia's complicated love life and has the time of her life doing so. She gets dressed up, makes new friends, drinks cocktails, gets taken into the glitzy and glamorous world of London high society, and even gets a romance of her own.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is set within a 24 hour timeframe on a damp November day and I managed to read the book and see the film adaptation within the space of 24 hours during a damp November! :D That probably sounds pretty impressive but it's not really because, at just over 200 pages, the book is actually pretty short.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is both a comedy of manners and an update on the Cinderella fairytale. Before I go on to extol the book's virtues I should mention that there were a couple of things in it that didn't sit well with me. Sadly some casual racism crops up in the book: characters that are in all other ways very likeable make some derogatory comments that are directed towards Jews and Italians. I try to make allowances for historical/cultural attitudes in fiction but racism always upsets me. I remember getting very wound up by all of the anti-semitism in Oliver Twist when I read that book earlier in the year! I was also a little bit unsettled by a comment that Michael made about Delysia. Michael is obviously the best choice out of Delysia's three suitors but his comment that Delysia might be in need of some "physical correction" from time to time still made me a little uncomfortable. Because of these unfortunate drawbacks I actually preferred the 2008 film adaptation. The comments that I had a problem with in the book aren't in the film and Michael (played by the gorgeous Lee Pace!) is dashing and passionate and lovely. But I do have to counteract the things that I've said about the book so far. In all other respects this book was an absolute delight and I loved it! It's witty, fun, fast-paced, romantic, and extremely heart-warming. I also loved the fact that the book featured Mary Thompson's original illustrations for the story! The illustrations are adorable and really add to the charm of the book. I wish that more books featured illustrations!

Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is a hugely likeable character. At the beginning of the story she's lonely, insecure and full of fear but over the course of a single day her life is magically transformed. She discovers new skills that she didn't know she had and she gradually becomes more self-confident. She gets to meet people who admire and like her. Miss Pettigrew doesn't entirely approve of her new friends' morals but, since these people treat her with far more respect and consideration than the genteel and respectable people that she's previously worked for, she treats them with indulgence. Miss Pettigrew gets a new job and she even manages to catch the eye of a wealthy and charming businessman called Joe. I loved Miss Pettigrew. On the other hand I found Delysia's flighty, indecisive, gold-digging ways annoying but I'd warmed to her by the end of the story. Her final scene with Miss Pettigrew is really quite touching and sweet.

I find the story of how Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day came to be rediscovered just as heart-warming as the book itself so I thought I'd mention it. The book was originally published in 1938 and it was a pretty big bestseller in Britain, America and Australia. It was also translated into French and German. There were even plans for a movie musical adaptation of the book with Billie Burke (Glinda from The Wizard of Oz) in the title role but this was stopped by Pearl Harbor and the film went into development hell. After that the book fell into obscurity. However, a woman called Henrietta Twycross-Martin was introduced to the book at a young age because it was her mother's favourite. Twycross-Martin read the book for herself when she was a teenager and it became a huge favourite of her own. When Twycross-Martin found out that Persephone Classics were looking for more titles to publish she decided to recommend the book to them. Persephone Classics is a publishing company which is dedicated to finding and re-publishing obscure classic novels. Twycross-Martin gave her battered family copy to PC and they loved it. They even asked Twycross-Martin to write the preface for the book. But the story gets even better! When Twycross-Martin researched the book she discovered that Winifred Watson was still alive - aged 93 - and she even got to interview her! Watson lived to see her book republished in the year 2000. I love this story so much! Had it not been for this one person thousands of people would have never got to read this book. It shows the impact that a single person can have and it really makes you wonder how many other wonderful forgotten novels are out there. I'm definitely going to seek out some other Persephone Classic titles.

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, 20 November 2014

'A Feast for Crows' by George R.R. Martin (2005)

Synopsis: A Feast for Crows is the fourth book of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The War of the Five Kings has almost come to an end. In King's Landing, Tommen Baratheon now sits on the Iron Throne with his mother Cersei Lannister acting as Regent. Cersei is becoming increasingly suspicious of the powerful House Tyrell, especially Margaery, and her reign is running into debt. She also falls out with her twin brother Jaime who then travels to the Riverlands in order to negotiate with the Tullys. Brienne of Tarth is also making her way to the Riverlands. She's travelling with Tyrion Lannister's former squire Podrick Payne and is on a quest to find the missing Sansa Stark. Sansa is now in the Vale. She's pretending to be Petyr Baelish's illegitimate daughter Alayne Stone and is helping to manage the Eyrie's household. Petyr is also giving Sansa some informal training on politics. On the Iron Islands, King Balon Greyjoy is now dead and his brother, the pirate Euron Greyjoy, has returned from the smoking ruins of Old Valyria and claimed the throne. This is much to the anger of Balon's other relatives. In Dorne, Oberyn Martell's daughters are grieving over the loss of their father and are putting pressure on their uncle Prince Doran to take revenge on the Lannisters. Doran's daughter Arianne and her lover Ser Arys Oakheart are also plotting to crown Myrcella Baratheon as the Queen of Westeros. Arya Stark has now left Westeros behind and has sailed to Essos. She arrives in the city of Braavos and manages to find the House of Black and White, the headquarters of a group of assassins. The assassins take Arya on as a pupil. Finally, the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jon Snow, has sent his friend Samwell Tarly on a mission to research the Others and become a Maester. Sam is travelling to Oldtown (via Braavos) and is being accompanied by Maester Aemon, Gilly the wildling, Gilly's newborn baby, and a fellow member of the Night's Watch called Daeron.

A Feast for Crows is definitely my least favourite of the A Song of Ice and Fire series so far. Mind you I was kind of expecting that to be the case since most of the reviews that I'd read before reading the book hadn't been particularly positive. The general consensus from the ASoIaF fans are that the fourth and the fifth books in the series aren't as good as the first three books. One of the common criticisms of A Feast for Crows in particular is that many of the major characters from the ASoIaF series aren't actually in the book. Daenerys Targaryren isn't in it. Tyrion Lannister isn't in it. Bran Stark isn't in it. Davos, Stannis and Melisandre aren't in it. Jon Snow is in the book but only very briefly. I found myself really missing a lot of these characters and it didn't seem right to me to have an A Song of Ice and Fire book without Jon, Bran and Daenerys. Aren't they supposed to be the "ice" and the "fire" of the series?! It really didn't help matters that Martin introduced a lot of new characters in A Feast for Crows. The Greyjoys are all incredibly unlikeable and all of the chapters that were set on the Iron Islands bored me to tears. And why did Martin feel the need to provide three different Greyjoy narrators when only Victarion would have sufficed? The chapters that were set in Dorne weren't all that much better. Again, Martin gives us three different narrators for this section when only Arianne Martell would have been enough. Arianne could have really done with some more character development and the only section on Dorne that I genuinely quite enjoyed was her final chapter. It turns out that Arianne was secretly betrothed to Viserys Targaryen and that the Prince of Dorne is actually pretty badass after all!

Another common criticism of A Feast for Crows - and also the fifth book A Dance of Dragons - is that it's too slow-paced. As soon as I came across that view the alarm bells started to ring in my head. I thought that A Storm of Swords was a brilliant book but even I found that one a little bit draggy and hard to get through in places so how draggy must books four and five be I thought?! Well, yes, it's true, A Feast for Crows does often drag. I've already mentioned that I struggled with the Iron Islands and Dorne sections but even the chapters that featured the familiar characters often bored me. I really like Brienne as a character but her story in this book was so repetitive that it wasn't long before I became bored with it. Sam is kind but he's so whiny and cowardly that I simply can't respect him, and his story bored me as well. I have a couple of friends who really enjoyed Arya's story in this book but personally I thought her chapters were only okay.

George R.R. Martin's writing in this book bothered me at times too. There's still a lot that I admire about Martin's writing. He's never crafted a sentence that's made me to want to cry at its beauty - unlike Tolkien - but his writing has always been atmospheric and engaging. He's done a brilliant job with his POV narrators. His narrators have all got very distinct voices and I'm sure that's not an easy thing to pull off. However, there's this certain immaturity about Martin's writing that's really starting to irritate me now. I don't know if it's because Martin has gotten less subtle or if it's because my greater enjoyment of the previous three books blinded me to an extent but... he seems to have a fixation with breasts. Whenever any new female character shows up Martin will always resort to describing their breasts! Even in the chapters where the POV narrator is female! Personally I find this juvenile and distasteful. The writing also felt more repetitive and lazy to me than the other books did. How many times did we need to be told that Tyrion ordered Grand Maester Pycelle's beard to be shaved off? How many times did we need to read Brienne saying that she was "looking for a highborn maid of three and ten, with a fair face and auburn hair"? How many times did we need to read Jaime's thoughts on Cersei's possible, er, activities with Lancel, Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy? Characters call their cousins "coz" and refer to their uncles as "nuncles" in this book when those words never came up in the previous three books. Martin gives POV characters multiple names which he never did in the previous three books. "The Kraken's Daughter", "The Iron Captain", "The Prophet". Why couldn't Martin have simply titled these chapters "Asha", "Victarion" and Aeron"? If Martin was trying to tell us things about the characters through those titles then that's... weak. In the other books we learned about the characters through the chapters themselves.

You'll have gathered by now that I think A Feast for Crows is much weaker than the previous three books in the ASoIaF books but I didn't hate it by any means. There are some genuinely great moments in the book. Really! Cersei is the character who gets the most chapters in A Feast for Crows and much to my surprise I actually found myself enjoying her chapters quite a lot! I hate Cersei so the fact that she made so many incompetent and idiotic decisions made for some highly entertaining reading! :D Cersei sees herself as being a female version of her father but she's nowhere near as cunning and intelligent as Tywin or her brother Tyrion. Her schemes fail spectacularly and she ends up being arrested and put on trial. I admit that I did feel a tiny bit sorry for Cersei by the very end but she did have it coming. Jaime Lannister continues to get some great character development in this book too. He's resolving to keep his temper better, he's taking his vows as a knight more seriously, he's showing sympathy towards people that he would have probably killed a couple of books ago, and he's becoming more self-aware. I'm convinced that Jaime is going to get killed off by the end of the series but I very much hope that he finds some kind of redemption before then.

I really enjoyed Sansa's chapters in this book too! Sansa has some fantastic chapters in A Storm of Swords so at first I was extremely disappointed when I had a flick through A Feast for Crows and realised that she wouldn't be getting many chapters in it - but I really enjoyed the chapters that she did have. Poor Sansa Stark is an extremely underrated character. The fans don't hate her like they do with Joffrey or Cersei or Theon but she isn't a popular character like Jon Snow or Daenerys or Tyrion. Why? Okay, I'll admit that in A Game of Thrones Sansa was selfish and bratty but she's had some of the very best character development in the series ever since then! It's been about two years since Sansa left Winterfell. During that time her father was beheaded right in front of her. Her mother and her oldest brother Robb were brutally murdered. She's under the impression that all of her other siblings have died. She was abused and humiliated by Joffrey. She was forced to marry a Lannister against her will. Her mad aunt Lysa tried to kill her. And yet, considering everything that Sansa has been through, it's remarkable that she's been able to hold onto her hope and innocence! She hasn't become bitter or filled with hate! As far as I'm concerned Sansa is a true survivor and is one of the strongest characters in the whole series. She's become one of my favourites and if she doesn't survive and end up ruling over the north and/or the Vale by the end I'm going to be bitterly disappointed! Sansa gets some really interesting character development in A Feast for Crows. She's learning how to play the game of thrones and there's a lot of Littlefinger in her chapters which I really appreciated because Littlefinger fascinates me. Is he after the Iron Throne himself? What are his plans?

A Feast for Crows has some great moments but it isn't a great book and it's definitely the weakest out of the ASoIaF books that I've read so far. I'm hoping that A Dance with Dragons will be an improvement.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ireland (27th August-1st September 2014)

So, as some of you might know, I went on a short holiday to Ireland a while ago! It wasn't my first time there. I first went to Ireland 10 years ago for my 16th birthday although I don't remember the trip very well now. I went with my mother that time but on this occasion I went by myself. I flew into Dublin, spent a couple of days there, took the train over to Killarney, spent a few days there, and then I got the train to Cork and flew back home to England. I picked a pretty good time to go to Ireland because I've recently discovered that I have some Celtic blood! I have some Irish and Welsh ancestry :) Anyway, here's what I got up to on my trip...

Wednesday, 27th August 2014
I woke up pretty early this day, got ready, said goodbye to the family, left the house, and got a bus and then a train to the airport. The check-in and the going through security was completely straightforward and hassle free. I always get really stressed out about this part of travelling and I have no idea why because it's always been completely fine! Once we were on the plane the journey only took about 90 minutes. And then I landed in Dublin!

I only brought cabin luggage for my trip so as soon as I got through customs I was able to just walk straight out of the airport. Then I got a bus to Dublin city centre and got off at Trinity College, because that's where the hostel I'd booked had told me to get off. Their directions were really good and I had no problems finding the place. Then I checked-in at the hostel and went to my room. The hostel was okay. It wasn't bad but it wasn't great either. I've stayed in much nicer places. I then sat down on my bed and lay down for about 30 minutes. Then I put on some make-up, because I thought I looked kind of rough, and left the hostel. BTW, it's one of my pet peeves when women go on plane journeys in movies and step off looking like they could be on the front cover of Vogue. No! No-one looks good after a plane journey! Everyone looks tired and dishevelled!

By this time it was about 2pm and I spent the next few hours having a walk around the city. My first stop was the lovely St Stephen's Green which was just down the road from where I was staying. Below are some photos. It was a cloudy, rainy day but I still think they came out okay. Then I walked over to Merrion Square because I wanted to see the house that Oscar Wilde grew up in. I only got to see the outside though. Sadly you can't go inside the house because it was bought by the American College and they discontinued the tours a few years back. *grumbles* After I was done with Merrion Square, I did some more walking around and stumbled upon a bookshop called Hodges Figgis. I hadn't heard of it before but when I got back I discovered that it's actually quite a famous bookshop and very old. It's Ireland's largest bookshop and has been around ever since 1768. I spent a good while browsing around this place. I'd taken a couple of Georgette Heyer novels to read on my trip but I still wanted some books to take away with me as a holiday memento. The shop had a huge Irish Writers section and I was really keen to get at least one book by an Irish writer in Ireland. It took me a good long while to decide what I wanted but I eventually chose Elizabeth Bowen's The House in Paris and John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things. I've read and reviewed both of these books now. The House in Paris was alright but The Book of Lost Things left a very sour taste in my mouth. I wish that I'd picked better books but oh well. That evening I went back to the hostel, had a shower and read my book. I spent all of my evenings this way so from now on I'll just describe what I got up to in the day-time.

St Stephen's Green

Oscar Wilde's house, Merrion Square

Thursday, 28th August 2014
Even though I went to bed fairly early (11pm) it was a real struggle to get up this morning. I must have been tired! But I forced myself to get up early and I had a full day to look around the city. I started off the day with Trinity College. I started off looking around the grounds and then bought a ticket to see the Book of Kells and the Old Library. Got to be honest, I found the Book of Kells underwhelming but I loved the Old Library! After that I walked down the River Liffey. I went back and forth over the bridges a few times and then I stopped for a glass of cider in the Temple Bar area (the Norseman pub if anyone's interested). Then I went onto Dublinia to learn more about Viking and Medieval Dublin. Both of these eras fascinate me so of course I loved the museum. After I was done at the museum I went to see St Patrick's Cathedral and stopped to have some lunch. I went back to the hostel for a couple of hours before I went back out to see Grafton Street and the National Gallery.

The Old Library

The River Liffey

The Norseman, Temple Bar


St Patrick's Cathedral

Grafton Street

Friday, 29th August 2014
This was a fairly quiet day for me. I checked out of the youth hostel at about 9.30am and then walked over to Heuston Station. Google maps said it would take about 30 minutes but it took me almost an hour! It was a good job that I left quite early otherwise I'd have missed my train!

You can't get a direct train to Killarney from Dublin so I had to change trains at Mallow. The train into Mallow got delayed but that didn't matter because the connecting train stayed behind to meet us. I got to Killarney and got a taxi to the B&B where I was staying. It seemed luxurious after the small, cramped youth hostel at Dublin! I had a double bed! And my own bathroom! And there was complimentary tea and coffee! I was living it up! :D It was raining pretty hard so I chilled in my room for a bit and then left to have a walk around the town. I had dinner at a pub and bought a fridge magnet in a tourist shop. Then I walked back to the B&B and had a shower. After the shower I was horrified to discover that there was a grasshopper hopping around the bathroom! I'm really not good with bugs! I had to put my hand over my mouth to stop myself from shrieking. Yep, I'm a wimp! I was tempted to ask the B&B owner to get rid of the grasshopper but it was late by this point and I felt guilty about bothering him. I just shut my bathroom door and asked him to get rid of it for me the following morning.


Saturday, 30th August 2014
On this day I went to the Killarney National Park. I spent almost the entire day there. Killarney itself is a really nice town but the surrounding countryside is gorgeous! It's so beautiful! My photos really don't do it justice. I walked by the lake shore and through the woods. I even saw a deer, a female deer, at one point! It was such a lovely day :)

Killarney National Park

Sunday, 31st August 2014
On this day I bought a ticket on a tourist bus so I could see the Muckross House. It was built for a wealthy Scotts-Welsh couple in the 1800s and Queen Victoria once stayed there. The tour guide who took us around the house was informative and hilarious, and the house and its surroundings were both beautiful :) I would have loved to have taken some photos of the interior of the house but they're very strict about people not taking photos.

That evening I walked around the town and ended up having a conversation with a woman in a sweet shop who once met Michael Fassbender (who's from Killarney). According to the woman he's really nice and not one of those celebrities who's an asshole in real life - which is good to know!

Monday, 1st September 2014
This was another quiet day. I checked out of the B&B and then took the train to Cork (via Mallow again) so I could fly back home. I only had a few hours in Cork itself and I really wish that I'd got to sped more time there because the city was far prettier than I'd anticipated. I'm going to have to come back to it some day. And that was the end of my trip! I hope this post was at the very least semi-interesting to read. I've never really attempted a travel post before!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Paddington (2014) Trailer

I was initially sceptical but this trailer has completely won me over! It looks so good! I just hope that they haven't put all of the funny parts of the film into the trailer like a lot of comedy films do...

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Imitation Game (2014)

I've literally just got back from seeing this film! I wouldn't usually write about a film so soon after seeing it but a friend asked me to write a "thorough review" and I think I have enough of an opinion of it to write something of a reasonable length. Also, I'm not tired enough to go to bed yet! :) Okay, so I had high expectations for The Imitation Game and in the end those expectations weren't met. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy this film. I definitely liked it and I know that I'll happily watch it again at some point. The problem is that I really wanted to love this film and I wasn't able to. For any readers who might be unaware, The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing as he attempts to break the Enigma code at Bletchley during WWII with the help of a small team. Actually, there are three plots in this film. The major plot of the film is set in WWII but we get flashbacks of Alan's childhood when he was still at boarding school and also flashforwards of Alan in 1950s' Manchester as he gets investigated by the police after a break-in at his house. The trailer of the film is below:

There are some extremely funny moments in this film. The audience laughed their heads off during the scene where Turing has his job interview at Bletchley and there was even a scene between Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong towards the end of the film that actually got a small round of applause. I should probably point out that Brits hardly ever clap during movies. But the script was my main issue with the film and the reason why I wasn't able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked. I'll admit that I don't know a huge amount about the Enigma code breaking but there were a lot of scenes in this film that felt very Hollywood to me and by that I mean "over-dramatic and fake". That really bothered me. Maybe I'm wrong! Maybe The Imitation Game is actually incredibly historically accurate but I very much doubt it. And I was nowhere near as moved by this film as I had expected - and wanted - to be. Alan Turing famously committed suicide after he was publicly shamed as a homosexual and was forced to undergo chemical castration, but the film never really allows us to see the pain and heartbreak that he must have gone through in the final few months of his life. There's a lovely scene between Benedict Cumberbatch's Turing and Keira Knightley's character Joan Allen towards the end of the film but it wasn't enough.

The acting is by far the best thing about this film. Mark Strong, Charles Dance and Matthew Goode are all great as is Alex Lawthur as Young Turing (although we don't get to see a huge amount of him). Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley were the stand-outs for me though. Cumberbatch has played a lot of super-intelligent characters now (e.g. Sherlock Holmes, Khan, Victor Frankenstein, Turing) but he's been able to play them all very differently from each other and he's as brilliant in this as his fans would expect :) I'll admit that I've been quite critical of Keira Knightley's acting in the past because some of her performances have wound me up the wrong way. However, she gives an excellent performance in this film and has a lovely chemistry with Benedict Cumberbatch. She brings a huge amount of warmth and charm to Joan and she's surprisingly funny in many of her scenes!

So, yeah, that's my take on the film! I know it's not in any huge depth but then I did only see it once and it isn't a film that I either loved or hated. I can usually write a lot for those kinds of films!

Rating: 3.5/5
Film Certificate Rating: 12

Friday, 14 November 2014

Happy Birthday, North and South (2004)!

It's the 10th anniversary of the BBC 2004 North and South adaptation today! The Elizabeth Gaskell novel is one of my favourite books and I adore this adaptation. I love it so, so much and every time I rewatch it I fall in love with it even more. It's a truly wonderful companion-piece to Elizabeth Gaskell's novel. Usually, even when I've really enjoyed an adaptation, I won't love it as much as the book it's based on but this adaptation is different. I love it just as much as Gaskell's novel! This miniseries is spectacular :)

Thursday, 13 November 2014

'The Book of Lost Things' by John Connolly (2006)

Synopsis: The Book of Lost Things begins in London during WWII. David is a 12 year old boy whose mother is gravely ill. When she dies, David is naturally heartbroken. David's father then swiftly remarries a woman called Rose and soon they have a baby called Georgie. David's father then uproots the family to the countryside so they can escape the London Blitz. David struggles to cope with his new life. He's lonely, he desperately misses his mother, and he feels deep resentment towards his stepmother and half-brother. David's only comfort are the myth and fairytale books that his mother used to read to him... but then he starts to hear voices coming from the books and he begins to have some frightening dreams. Then one night, after a particularly bad argument with his father and stepmother, David hears his mother's voice calling to him, begging him to save her from something horrible. David follows the sound of her voice to the bottom of the garden and finds a hole in the garden wall. When David emerges through the hole he finds himself in the land of fairytales - and there's no way of going back. David then runs into the Woodsman from Little Red Riding Hood who manages to save him from a pack of were-wolves. David is then told that he must seek out a mysterious and legendary book called the Book of Lost Things with the help of the Woodsman and a brave knight called Roland. This is all whilst evading the were-wolves and the terrifying Crooked Man who follow David wherever he goes.

I really wanted to love this book. Heck, I was expecting to love this book. It sounded so promising! "A historical setting?! A fantasy novel that features fairytale retellings?! A quest?! A bookish hero?! A beautiful cover?! Yes please!" :D

The more I think about this book, the more frustrated with it I feel. At first I really did enjoy The Book of Lost Things. Initially I found it suspenseful, gripping, well-written and atmospheric. But then I gradually started to lose all interest in it. I'd heard that this book was a dark read but bloody hell! I've read books that have contained darkness and tragedy before but I've never read anything as brutal, disturbing and horrifying as this particular book! That part with the enchantress at the castle and then the part where David goes through the Crooked Man's torture chamber... *shudders* I can't recommend this book at all. I didn't like the way it made me feel - repulsed! Needless to say this book wasn't for me.

Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Trailer

Wow, I wasn't expecting that! I was expecting something epic and exciting but I'm really surprised at the honesty and emotion of this trailer! It's making no attempt whatsoever to hide the fact that this film will be full of death and tragedy, and there are some really lovely character moments and dialogue. I mean, take this moment here. Talk about getting hit right in the feels! :'(

I'll be seeing Interstellar, The Imitation Game, Mockingjay and a filmed screening of The Crucible before this year is out - and I'm looking forward to them - but my anticipation for these things is nothing compared to the level of anticipation that I have for this film. I am beyond excited! The things that I'm most looking forward to seeing in this movie are (in no particular order):
  • Smaug's death
  • The White Council showing up at Dol Guldur, rescuing Gandalf, and defeating the Necromancer. I'm really hoping that we'll get to see Galadriel and Saruman kicking some ass!
  • Thorin's madness over the Arkenstone and his reconciliation with Bilbo. I'm sure that Richard Armitage is going to be amazing in these scenes.
  • Thranduil. I freakin' loved Thranduil in Desolation of Smaug and I'm really excited at the thought of seeing his character get developed further. 
  • The Battle of the Five Armies itself
  • The ending. Actually I have deeply mixed feelings about this. It's going to be such a bittersweet moment. That will be it. There won't be any more Middle-earth goodness to look forward to any more :( I'm hoping that they'll bring it full circle and have the film end with Bilbo's 111st birthday party in the future.