Wednesday, 29 January 2014

'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak (2006)

Synopsis: The Australian author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, has a German mother and an Austrian father. Their stories about growing up during WWII inspired Zusak to write his book. The Book Thief is set in Germany during the years from 1939 to 1943. It tells the story of a young girl called Liesel Meminger. She and her younger brother Werner are sent to live with a couple called Hans and Rosa Hubermann. They travel to the Hubermann's home in Molching (a small town on the outskirts of Munich). However, Werner dies on the journey and this prompts Liesel to take a book from the cemetery called "The Gravedigger's Handbook". This is her first act of book thievery. Liesel continues to steal books and by reading them she learns about the significance and power of words and literature. She also forges deep and loving bonds with her foster parents, a neighbouring boy called Rudy, and a Jewish man called Max who is secretly living in her house. The Book Thief is narrated by the personification of Death - who has had a number of encounters with Liesel and took a diary that she wrote in. In a way this makes both of them book thieves.

The Book Thief is a very awkward book for me to review and this post will be one of my shorter reviews. I first read The Book Thief several years ago but I felt I should give it a re-read before I saw its upcoming film adaptation. The film isn't out until the 26th of February in the UK.

I remember loving The Book Thief the first time I read it but although I still enjoyed it this time around I found it harder to get through. As I was reading The Book Thief it dawned on me that the book hasn't really stayed with me or left that much of an emotional impact on me. The book hasn't been a "life-changer" for me and I was really surprised at how much of its story I'd forgotten. For this reason I can't call the book an all-time favourite of mine.

I wouldn't have a problem in recommending The Book Thief at all because I know that many readers have been deeply moved by it and the book has some great messages. The book reminds us of the brutality and horror of war. The characters are likeable and engaging; my favourite being the lovely Max Vandenburg. Zusak's writing is descriptive and haunting. There are many lines in the book that I absolutely loved; lines like "I am haunted by humans" and "I have loved the words and I have hated the words and I hope I have made them right". However I've come to the conclusion that the book would have probably left much more of an impact on me if Liesel herself had been the narrator. Having Death as the narrator of the story is a very interesting idea but I think it makes for a lack of intimacy and empathy which is really important for a story like The Book Thief. I still like The Book Thief but I don't enjoy it nearly as much as everyone else seems to.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, 27 January 2014

10 Actors I'd Love to Hear in a Disney Film

I've made a Top 10 list of actors that I'd love to voice characters in a Disney film :) The actors aren't necessarily in order though. Oh and honorary mentions are Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Kate Winslet, Ramin Karimloo, Hadley Fraser... there are a lot of actors that I could have easily added to this list!

1. Aaron Tveit
Erm, do I even need to explain this one? He's got the pure Disney prince voice!

2. Sierra Boggess
Sierra's voice is just so pure and beautiful and even though she's a brilliant coloratura soprano she's also got a terrific belt. She puts so much emotion into her voice. I love her Ariel and her Christine Daae and her Fantine. I'd love her to voice a Disney heroine!

3. Samantha Barks
I love her in Les Miserables and Oliver! and I really don't want her new-found movie fame to fade away. I'd love for her to voice a Disney heroine in one of their movies. I also reckon she'd make a great Belle in the stage version of Beauty and the Beast :)

4. Lara Pulver
Lara Pulver is probably most famous for playing Irene Adler in Sherlock but she's an experienced musical theatre actress and an Olivier Award nominee. She has a great voice and I'd love for her to play a Disney villain!

5. Arthur Darvill
Darvill is most famous for playing Rory Williams in Doctor Who. He hasn't got a very traditional Disney prince voice at all but he's still a great singer and I love his voice. And he's recently done a stint in the Broadway production of Once so he is a musical theatre performer now!

6. Nick Pitera
OK I've completely cheated with this one because Nick Pitera isn't an actor. In case you're not familiar with Nick Pitera he's a very popular YouTube singer. I'm not entirely sure about this choice because I don't know if he can actually act. But he has such a brilliant voice and he has a spectacular range. And he actually works for Pixar! It's his day job. So they could actually get him to animate and sing in a Disney film! How awesome would that be?!

7. Hugh Laurie
I'm fairly certain that Hugh Laurie has never done musical theatre but he's a brilliant actor and he has released a couple of blues albums (which are great according to my friends who've heard them). Also he'd make such a great Disney villain! As an actor he's so versatile that I can easily imagine him as a very suave and quietly menacing Shere Khan-like villain and as a more comedic villain like Captain Hook or Hades.

8. Neil Patrick Harris
In addition to being a Broadway star, Neil Patrick Harris is a fantastic comedy actor and should definitely voice a comic side character in a Disney film.

9. Laura Osnes
Like Sierra Boggess, Laura Osnes has a very pure and beautiful voice. I'm not as big a fan of Laura Osnes as I am with Sierra Boggess because I've only heard her in one role (Cinderella). I do really love her voice though and it's very Disney-esque. It would also be great for her to voice a character in a Disney film because her Cinderella co-star Santino Fontana got to voice Hans in Frozen.

10. Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbach isn't a technically great singer and I'm slightly concerned that he might end up being typecast for playing villains - but he really would make a wonderful Disney villain! His singing in Neverwhere is so marvellously creepy and ominous, his acting sells the song so well. I also love the haunting background music that the YouTube user has provided.

So, what about you? Do you agree with any of my choices? And is there anyone else you'd like to voice a character in a Disney film?

Monday, 20 January 2014

A J.R.R. Tolkien Biopic is in the Works

I'm cautiously optimistic about this announcement. If it's done well it could be a beautiful film but I'm also feeling a bit nervous because, much like Jane Austen, Tolkien didn't have a particularly exciting life and that might not make for very good drama. I'm also a bit worried that they might take liberties regarding his Catholic beliefs, love life, etc. Any thoughts?

'11 Things About Me' Tag

My blogger friend Mizzie-Me over at Music & My Mind has done a tag which I'm now passing on. Basically you write 11 random things about yourself then answer 11 questions from the person you got the tag from. You then write down 11 questions for someone else to answer. I haven't tagged anyone specific for my questions, anyone is welcome to answer them.

11 Things About Me

1. I love cemeteries. I find them amazingly peaceful and I love walking in them. One of my favourite places in Paris is the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It's really old and there are crypts and tombs everywhere. It's awesome! :D

2. My main motive for learning French was simply because I thought it would be really cool to read Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in its original language. But I really love the language now and I'd like to learn others. I'm also interested in studying German, Latin, Spanish/Italian, Welsh and Ancient Greek.

3. I'm from Birmingham, England but I don't have the "Brummie" accent. In my hometown we also have a special word for a forward roll. We call it a "gambole". Don't ask me where the word comes from because I have no idea! Also, a person in Britain would tend to call their mother their "mum" (or "mam" in certain parts of the north) but where I'm from we call our mothers "mom" like Americans would do.

4. I'm not a morning person. I never have been and I never will be.

5. My favourite English monarchs are Elizabeth I, Charles II and Queen Victoria.

6. Roald Dahl was the first author I ever loved.

7. I think that Canadians are the nicest people on earth. I've never spoken to a Canadian that I didn't like. Having said that I haven't met Justin Bieber...

8. The Eurovision Song Contest is the funniest and most entertaining television event of the year for me, the thing that makes me most proud to be a European! :D These videos should give people from the rest of the world a very good idea of why it's so hilarious!

Romania - It's My Life.
How can you not love a Romanian eunuch vampire?!

Greece - Alcohol is Free.
Now I think I understand why Greece ended up in national debt...

9. I wouldn't describe myself as a very arty person but certain artists that I love are J.W. Turner, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro and Sandro Boticelli.

10. I think everyone should watch Horrible Histories. It was a BBC children's sketch show that was aimed at teaching kids history but it was so subversive and hilarious that it soon picked up a big adult following as well. It had some brilliant songs in it too! Sadly the show has now finished and I really miss it. Here are just two examples of its hilarity. You'll never guess what films they're parodying! :D

11. The celebrity males that I'm finding most attractive at the moment are Tom Hiddleston, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Mison and Lee Pace.

And now for Mizzie's questions...

1. What's the most terrible book you've ever read?
Well, I tried to read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code but I was immediately put off by the, er, less than sparkling prose. A book that I've hated and finished is Ian McEwan's Atonement. I wouldn't call it the most terrible book I've ever read but it was certainly the most disappointing. I was expecting it to be beautiful, profound and emotional but it turned out to one of the most boring books I've ever read! It was dull, dull, dull! If you read the book and loved it then please forgive me.

2. If you can remember any dreams you've had, what's your best one?
The best dream I've ever had is also my most frustrating one. I was in my school and I was following a teacher down a corridor. She then went down a secret passage so in my dream I got all excited and was about to do down the passage myself - and then I woke up! Argh!

3. What do you want to be doing 15 years from now?
In 15 years time I'll be 42. Yikes! Well, that all depends on whether or not I have kids because if I did then I wouldn't want to have a full-time job. I'd only consider part-time work. Obviously some mothers have no choice and have to work full-time but I'd prefer not to. At the moment I'm working towards becoming a qualified librarian so unless I end up hating it in 15 years time I might very well still be doing that. I'd also like to be living and working in London.

4. Do you have paintings or posters on your wall?

5. What is your favourite love song?
This was by far the toughest question but I managed to narrow it down to two.

The Smiths - There is a Light That Never Goes Out. 
The Smiths are my favourite band ever.

The Sundays - Wild Horses. 
The original is by The Rolling Stones and whilst I do love their version I prefer this one. I like the singer's voice more and it was used very, very effectively in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode! Heck, I was never a Buffy/Angel shipper and even I cried!

6. Are you going to watch this year's Academy Awards, or otherwise follow any news related to them?
This year, probably not. All of the films that I really loved in 2013 are in the technical categories. Usually there's always at least one or two of the nominated films that I'll be really rooting for but this year there aren't any at all! The only "Best Picture" nominee that I've seen is American Hustle and whilst that film was good it wasn't THAT good! I do really want to see 12 Years a Slave but I'm not sure when I will. It looks amazing but very harrowing. It looks one of those films that I'd need to be in the right mood for like Schindler's List. But I am really rooting for Let It Go to win the "Best Original Song" and I'd love for Michael Fassbender to win the Best Supporting Actor award just because I loved him in X Men: First Class and Jane Eyre. And I'd love for someone who isn't Meryl Streep to win the Best Actress award.

7. Would you ever sing/have you ever sung in a karaoke bar?
Yes. Yes I have. Now let's never speak of it again.

8. Can you touch type? (type without looking at the keyboard)
Of ciyesw I can touch tuoe. Sre youcraxy. Does that answer yiyr question:

9. What colours do you have in your wardrobe?
Er, let me see. *goes off to have a look* Lots of greens and blues and reds and blacks and a bit of white.

10. Do you vote? (If you're old enough to vote)
Yes and I support the Labour Party.

11. What do you do if you find it hard to sleep? 
Use my tumblr app on my phone and then realise that I could do something much more sensible like counting my breaths.

And now for my questions:

1. If you're a Harry Potter fan which Hogwarts house would you most like to be in as opposed to the house that you think you'd be put in?
2. What are your favourite TV shows?
3. If you could be any animal (besides a human) which animal would you pick and why?
4. What do you usually eat for breakfast?
5. Name just five of your favourite books.
6. What's your favourite desert?
7. Who is your least favourite fictional heroine?
8. Are you a dog or cat person?
9. If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you most like to go to?
10. What is your spending vice? For me it's theatre tickets and TV boxsets.
11. Are you good at coming up with tag questions? I'm awful at it. It takes me ages to think of any!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Game of Thrones (Season One)

Game of Thrones is a fantasy-drama show and the TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin's book series A Song of Ice and Fire. The show was created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and is produced by the cable channel HBO. Although Game of Thrones is an American TV show it has a mostly British cast and is filmed in Europe. Season one of the show was filmed in Northern Ireland and Malta. The season consists of 10 episodes and each one is just under an hour long.

Game of Thrones takes place in a fantasy world and on two continents which are called Westeros and Essos. In Westeros, Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) is the Lord of Winterfell and the Warden of the North. He has faithfully served his friend, King Robert Baratheon of the Seven Kingdoms (Mark Addy), ever since Robert rebelled against the "Mad King" Aerys Targaryen and usurped the Iron Throne. Ned has a wife called Lady Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and six children. He has an illegitimate son from another relationship called Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and five children from his relationship with his wife: Robb (Richard Madden), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson). However John Arryn, who is King Robert's right-hand man and Ned's brother-in-law, then dies. Ned is asked to take up the now vacant position. Robert even travels to Winterfell so he can make the request in person. Ned is extremely reluctant to take up this position though because he would have to move to the capital city King's Landing in the south. But Ned then receives a troubling message from his widowed sister-in-law Lysa (Kate Dickie). She believes that her husband was murdered on the orders of Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and that the Queen's powerful family is now plotting against the king. Ned then decides to accept the position so he can protect his friend. As he takes over his new duties he begins to investigate the death of his predecessor. In the process he finds out that both the city and the royal court are full of corruption, conspiracy, and treachery.

Meanwhile, Ned's son Jon Snow decides to leave Winterfell and travel further north so he can join the Night's Watch. This is an ancient, military order designed to protect the people of the Seven Kingdoms from horrifying zombie-like creatures called the White Walkers. These creatures haven't been seen for thousands of years but Jon then discovers that they might be making a return. And finally, across the Narrow Sea and on the continent of Essos, the exiled prince Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) is seeking out a means of reclaiming his father's kingdom. He decides that his best way of doing this is to marry off his younger sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) to a fearsome war lord called Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). Viserys can then use Khal Drogo's army to invade Westeros and take back the throne. But, much to his alarm, Daenerys quickly adapts to her new role as the Khaleesi. She grows in strength, power and wisdom. Her brother and the Council of Westeros become even more frightened of her when it turns out that she's pregnant - but what they don't realise is that Daenerys's greatest power is actually her secret connection to dragons... These story arcs are the main plot threads of season one. There are a few other subplots in this season but I'm not going to go into them for this review.

The Starks at Winterfell

Cersei Lannister and her son Joffrey Baratheon

Viserys Targayren

Daenerys Targayren

Jon Snow

It took me quite a while to start watching Game of Thrones because I'd always intended to read the A Song of Ice and Fire books first. I'm a great believer in reading books before their adaptations. I only ended up watching the show because I found out that my brother really wanted to watch it, so I bought him a boxset of it as a birthday present. My brother usually hates fantasy but he loved Game of Thrones. After he finished watching it I ended up caving in and watching it for myself - and I loved it too! So far I've watched season one twice and am about to rewatch season two. I'm also waiting for season three to be released on DVD and I have the first two books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series sitting on my bookshelf. There are currently five books in that series (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons) with another two that are yet to be published. Apparently Game of Thrones is very faithful to the books and I'm really looking forward to reading them. 

Before I go into why I enjoyed Game of Thrones I have to say that the show is absolutely nothing like J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Both the show and the ASoIF books are frequently compared to Tolkien's book and the Peter Jackson film adaptations but I really don't understand where the comparisons come from! Yes, they're both works of high fantasy and the adaptations both star Sean Bean but really they're far more different than they are similar! I really don't think it's fair to compare them (although The Lord of the Rings is better). The Lord of the Rings is an epic quest novel that was heavily influenced by Tolkien's love of Norse mythology and his Catholic beliefs. Game of Thrones is really more of a political thriller that just so happens to be set in a medieval-esque fantasy world. George R.R. Martin was heavily influenced by the War of the Roses and Imperial Rome.

Game of Thrones is probably the most aesthetically beautiful show that I've ever seen. As soon as I started watching the show I was immediately struck by its stunning visuals. The CGI is easily the best that I've ever seen for a TV show. In fact I've seen feature films that have less impressive special effects than Game of Thrones! *cough Twilight cough* The sets and costumes in the show are fantastic and the attention to detail is simply exquisite. The show has very high production values and each episode is believed to have cost about $6 million. It really shows! Even the opening credits are brilliant and show just how much effort and care has gone into the show. It's a stunningly well-made sequence and for a viewer like me, who hasn't yet read the books, it's extremely interesting and helpful to see where all of the different landmarks and locations are. These credits, combined with Ramin Djawadi's beautiful and dramatic music, make for a truly epic start to the show! I can never get tired of watching these opening credits! Only Doctor Who has better opening credits than Game of Thrones! 

Another huge factor in the quality of Game of Thrones is its brilliant characters. The Stark family are hugely likeable characters. They're brave and honourable and honest. Also, despite Catelyn's completely unfair hatred of her stepson, they seem like such a close-knit and loving family. Admittedly I did find Sansa quite annoying at first but her story became so heartbreaking that I had nothing but sympathy for her towards the end and completely forgot about how much she annoyed me at the beginning. As a measure of just how much I love the Starks I've even got a House of Stark wallpaper as my computer background :)

As for my thoughts on the other characters... the Lannister family are a hateful bunch. Apart from Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) they're horrible people but they're still quite interesting. I love Daenerys Targayren. She's very moral and compassionate and her character development in the season is great to watch. At the beginning of the season she's very timid because she's been bullied and bossed around by her older brother Viserys all her life, but as the season progresses she grows in self-confidence and becomes a strong and powerful young woman. I really don't understand her love for Khal Drogo though! His character seems to be a big fan favourite but I despise him! His relationship with Daenerys is so creepy and rapey! I'm also very fond of the character Petyr Baelish or "Littlefinger" (Aidan Gillan). He's not likeable but he's such a complex and interesting character that I can't help but love him. I think he's a brilliant character. And the actors who bring the characters to life? They're wonderful. All. Of. Them. Not a single actor in the show is miscast. Every single actor in the show is great whether they've got plenty of acting experience (Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Charles Dance) or not. In fact it was actually the younger, less experienced actors on the show that impressed me the most. Some of the younger actors on Game of Thrones had had barely any acting experience at all before they started doing the show but you'd never know it from watching their performances! I expect big careers for Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Jack Gleeson, Richard Madden and Harry Lloyd.

Really the only thing that lets Game of Thrones down for me is its very adult content. The show shouldn't be watched by anyone under the age of 18. It's got bloody violence, graphic sex scenes and nudity. The show would be just as good if it was to tone down on these things and quite probably better. I found the sex scenes and nudity especially annoying because it felt like the majority of these scenes were only there for titillation. As I haven't read the ASoIF books yet I don't know if this is a genuine part of Martin's world or not but most of these scenes felt very forced and gratuitous to me. They didn't really add anything to the story or characters and almost all of the nude scenes involve the female actors. I mean if this is going to continue for the duration of the show then can they at least balance it out by including more male nudity? Game of Thrones does have female fans! And yet I still love the show. I recognise that it won't be for everyone but I'm personally willing to overlook the very adult content because everything else about it is just so, so, so good. It really is a brilliant show. Its world is fascinating and well-developed, the acting and production values are fantastic, and it's just gripping and suspenseful. I'm a fan :)

Rating: 5/5
Certificate Rating: 18

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

'Venetia' by Georgette Heyer (1958)

Synopsis: Venetia Lanyon is 25 years old. She's taking care of her brother Conway's remote estate in North Yorkshire whilst he's living in France. Venetia is beautiful and wealthy but she's lived a very sheltered life. Her overprotective and reclusive father wouldn't let her "come out" properly and she's only known a very limited circle of acquaintance. She has only her beloved younger brother Aubrey for company and he'll soon be heading off to Cambridge. Venetia has resigned herself to the fact that she's either going to have to marry the boring and pompous Edward Yardley or become a spinster. But Venetia's life changes dramatically when she finally meets her next-door neighbour. This neighbour is the scandalous rake Lord Damerel, who has recently returned to the area after many years of travelling. When Damerel first sees Venetia he immediately tries to seduce her. Venetia sensibly ignores his amorous advances and decides to stay away from him. However, when Aubrey is injured and Damerel shows great kindness towards him, Venetia is very touched. She and Damerel become good friends and then fall in love - but Damerel then decides that he isn't worthy of Venetia and that it would ruin her reputation if he married her. They're both heartbroken. Meanwhile, Conway Lanyon sends his new wife and mother-in-law to the family estate. Conway's mother-in-law Mrs Scourier is an odious woman and Venetia's domestic situation becomes intolerable. She decides to spend a few months in London with her aunt and uncle whilst she looks for a new home. Her relatives hope that a change in scenery will help her to forget Damerel but Venetia can take no real enjoyment of London life. She misses Damerel and Aubrey too much. When Venetia then discovers a family secret she suddenly realises that she can use it to her advantage by convincing Damerel that she would genuinely be better off marrying him.

I didn't technically read Venetia because I listened to an abridged audiobook version of it. This is very unusual for me: I don't think I've ever listened to an audiobook before and I can't stand abridged books. I have a "Go hard or go home" policy when it comes to literature :D But on this one occasion I caved in because I found out that Richard Armitage had recorded an abridged audiobook version of Venetia. I could happily listen to Richard Armitage reading the phone book. For those readers who don't know who Richard Armitage is - poor you - he played John Thornton in North and South (2004), Guy of Gisborne in the BBC's Robin Hood and Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. He's also recorded audiobooks for Georgette Heyer's Sylvester and The Convenient Marriage. I'm definitely planning on listening to those other audiobooks now. I loved Richard Armitage's reading of Venetia. It was worth listening to an abridged version just to hear his voice. Also I never really got the sense that I was listening to an abridged version anyway. I still really want to read Venetia in its full unabridged form but this abridged version didn't feel disjointed and I never got the sense that things were missing. Armitage is excellent on this recording and he gives every single character their own distinct voice. I especially enjoyed the voices he used for the elderly females, Aubrey and, of course, the voice he used for Damerel. It's very seductive. If anyone from the BBC is reading this you have absolutely got to make an adaptation of Venetia and to cast Richard Armitage as Damerel. Immediately!

Venetia is my fourth Georgette Heyer novel and my favourite so far. Richard Armitage's narration definitely enhanced my enjoyment of it but even if I had read it in its written form I'm still sure that it would have been my favourite. I loved this book! I think the reason why Venetia is my favourite Georgette Heyer novel so far is because it isn't as fluffy. It's still hilariously funny in places but it has more of an emotional depth and maturity than the other Heyer novels that I've read. Venetia is a very romantic book. It's very heartfelt and emotional in places. I really cared about the characters and their romance. I could really feel Venetia and Damerel's inner pain and happiness. I was genuinely moved by it in places.

Venetia has also got some wonderful characters. Venetia herself is an extremely likeable heroine. She's mature, witty, independent, sensible, intelligent and spirited. Damerel - in spite of his rakish ways - is funny, charismatic, intelligent, intriguing and kind. I loved these characters and I loved their relationship. Their banter is always highly entertaining. Then there all of the great secondary characters in this book. One of my issues with the last Georgette Heyer book that I read (Arabella) was that its secondary characters were all a bit flat but that's definitely not the case with Venetia. The secondary characters in this book are really well-rounded. I absolutely loved Aubrey Lanyon. I loved him just as much as Venetia and Damerel and he's a very interesting character. He's slightly selfish but he's still very kind to his sister and clearly loves her. He's bookish and funny and his friendship with Damerel is very sweet. I could quite happily read an entire book about him! Mrs Scourier is so rude and unpleasant that you're longing for Venetia to just kick her out of the house. Edward Yardley is persistent and condescending. Venetia has also got another suitor in this book called Oswald Denny - a bumbling, teenage Lord Byron wannabe - who cracked me up. We even get a very strong sense of Conway Lanyon's personality and he never actually shows up in the book!

I was completely captivated by this book. I kind of wish that we'd gotten a bit more evidence of Damerel turning away from his rakish lifestyle but you can still see a big difference between his talks about his old life and his behaviour towards the Lanyons. And MAJOR SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) I also wish that we could have gotten more of an insight into Venetia's emotions at finding out that her mother is still alive. Venetia only seems happy about it, because she knows that she can use this knowledge to marry Damerel. But wouldn't she have also felt some anger and resentment at being abandoned by her?

But apart from these minor things I still really loved Venetia and I completely recommend it to Jane Austen fans. It's got great characters, it's funny, it's moving, it's really well-written. Georgette Heyer does such a brilliant job at writing in a Regency style that if I didn't know any better I'd think she was actually a contemporary of Jane Austen's. I wish I'd started reading Georgette Heyer's books years ago.

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Why I Love Sad Things

I can really identify with this. The quote comes from the character Sally Sparrow who was in an episode of Doctor Who called Blink. Sally was played by the actress Carey Mulligan (who is apparently an INFJ herself). I've always had a love for things that make me feel sad - songs, musicals, episodes in TV shows, films, books, art, etc, etc. I've recently discovered that the love of sad things is a trait that's very typical for my MBTI type. INFJs are very attracted to sadness - which probably makes us sound crazy. Most people tend to not like things that make them feel sad. So why do INFJs like feeling sad then? Well, because it makes us feel alive. We love things that make us feel very deeply, we love things that make us feel emotion, we love things that make us feel human. We can find beauty in sadness. We're highly emotional and sensitive people and we crave emotional catharsis. So now you know why I love sad things.

P.S. For the record I still love happy and uplifting things as well :)

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A Film Critic I Deeply Respect

Mark Kermode is my favourite film critic. He writes for The Observer, is a vlogger, and does a two hour weekly radio show for the BBC (which is also filmed). Kermode describes himself as a a feminist, a near vegetarian, an Anglican and a massive horror film fan. He's also good friends with the actor Jason Isaacs. They went to school together and Isaacs has often guest-starred on his radio show. Mark Kermode is my favourite film critic because his reviews are just so entertaining - especially his rants which are quite famous! He'll rip the films that he hates to shreds! Some of his rants have literally made me cry from laughter! I've embedded some my favourite film rants from him below. I don't always agree with Kermode's reviews but I love his sense of humour and his passion for cinema.

The Holiday



Sunday, 5 January 2014

'Coriolanus' by William Shakespeare (1623)

Synopsis: Coriolanus is a historical tragedy that takes place just before the establishment of the Roman republic. It tells the story of Caius Martius who is a brilliant Roman soldier. He then goes into battle against the Volscians and almost single-handedly captures the town of Corioles. To honour his achievement Martius is given the official name of Coriolanus. The people of Rome rejoice and he's given a hero's welcome when he returns. Coriolanus's power-hungry mother then persuades her son to take advantage of his new found popularity by entering into the field of politics. However, Coriolanus has much contempt for the common people and has two powerful enemies called Sisinius and Brutus. They use his temper and anti-democratic views to their advantage and manipulate the public into turning against him. Coriolanus then has a massive public outburst that kills his political career stone-dead. He's also branded a traitor and is cast out of the city. This leaves Coriolanus feeling completely betrayed. He then teams up with his former arch-nemesis Tullus Aufidius and plots a vicious assault upon Rome. Is there any way to bring Coriolanus's old loyalties back?

Coriolanus was Shakespeare's final tragedy and it's also one of his more obscure plays. Coriolanus is nowhere near as famous as some of Shakespeare's other tragedies like Macbeth and Othello and Hamlet. I'd never been very interested in reading it before and the only reason why I did read it is because I'm seeing the National Theatre's live broadcast of it at my local cinema on the 30th of January. The production stars Tom Hiddleston, Mark Gatiss and Hadley Fraser. I love all of those men so how could I resist? :D And now that I've read the play I'm even more excited about seeing it because I was shocked at how much I liked it!

Coriolanus is an overlooked gem. I found it a real page-turner and it's full of depth. The themes of the play are still very relevant. It's got political pandering, war, manipulation of the masses, etc. After I read the play I had a look through some online reviews because I just couldn't understand why the play isn't more widely known. A lot of people were saying that it isn't as quotable as some of Shakespeare's other tragedies and I suppose that's true but still... Coriolanus gets some very passionate and intense speeches in the play. There's the opening scene where Caius Martius mocks the Roman mob clamouring for bread, the scene where Caius Martius tells some of his soldiers that they have "souls of geese", the scene where Coriolanus gets banished and basically says "No, I banish YOU!", and the scene where Coriolanus shows up at Aufidius's house. Aufidius then starts saying that he loves Coriolanus far more than he's ever loved his wife and that he has constant dreams about all of those times that they've engaged in combat. It's actually very heavily implied that the two of them have a homoerotic relationship (I believe they call this foe yay).

The other reason why Coriolanus isn't as popular as some of Shakespeare's other tragedies is probably because Coriolanus himself just isn't a very likeable character. He's arrogant, confrontational, stubborn and full of bitterness and rage. I think he's a fascinating character though and there were definitely moments in the play when I felt sorry for him. There's an obvious reason why he's the way that he is. His mother Volumnia is a cold-hearted, ruthless bitch. She has no maternal love for her son at all and her only interest in life seems to be the glory that he can win. She packed Coriolanus off to fight in wars when he was still a teenager. She's actually pleased when her son gets badly injured in the shoulder because it will make him look like more of a war hero. She makes Lady Macbeth look like Maria Von Trapp! It's really no wonder that Coriolanus turned out the way that he did. He's been brought up all of his life to believe that killing people in war is what you have to do to become a man and that anyone who doesn't strive to earn glory on the battlefield is worthless. It's not as if Coriolanus is any worse than his opponents in this play either. Yes, Coriolanus has contempt for the commoners of Rome and that's wrong but then Sisinius and Brutus make him out to be far worse than he actually is and conspire to have him killed. They're so sneaky and manipulative. At least Coriolanus has integrity and is honest. He doesn't want to sell out on his beliefs or lie to people by telling them what they want to hear. Interestingly enough the commoners of Rome aren't shown in a great light in this play either. They seem so fickle and stupid and easily swayed.

I wouldn't say that Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's very best plays - I think the ending is kind of weak - but it's still a very powerful and thought-provoking piece of work. This play is extremely underrated.

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Frozen (2013)

Disney's Frozen is extremely loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Snow Queen and is set in a fictional Norwegian kingdom called Arendelle. The film begins with a princess called Elsa, a girl with the magical power to create snow and ice, accidentally injuring her younger sister Anna. Elsa's parents then decide that the best way of stopping this from ever happening again is to lock Elsa up in her bedroom, isolate her from her sister, and teach her that her powers are dangerous and must be hidden at all costs. Unsurprisingly Elsa's relationship with Anna is damaged and Elsa becomes an emotional wreck. She lives in fear of anyone discovering what she can do. And the Award for Worst Movie Parents of the Year goes too...

Many years later, and after the death of her parents, Elsa is crowned Queen of Arendelle. However at Elsa's coronation party Anna makes the announcement that she's marrying Prince Hans of the Southern Isles - a man that she's only known for just a few hours. Understandably this upsets Elsa and she loses control of her powers, exposing them for all to see. She then panics and runs away, accidentally creating an eternal winter on the kingdom in the process. Anna had no memory of Elsa's powers and now feels guilty about what she's done. She goes after Elsa and on the way she teams up with an ice salesman called Kristoff. They hope to convince Elsa to come back and restore the kingdom to summer. They must also do this before the Duke of Weselton's men find Elsa and try to end the winter by taking her life.

I saw Frozen last month and had intended to finish this review much earlier than I did - but in my excitement over The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug I ended up putting it aside. But Frozen is a brilliant film as well! Some film critics are even saying that it's on a par with Beauty and the Beast! I wouldn't go that far. I don't think that Frozen is as good as Beauty and the Beast or even as good as Tangled but I still think that it's a great film. Frozen is beautiful, moving, charming and funny. It features delightful characters, breathtaking animation and terrific songs. It has a very traditional Disney feel but it still manages to incorporate some new and refreshing things.

One of the biggest reasons why I loved Frozen as much as I did is that it's the first Disney film ever that actually features two heroines! And, whereas other Disney films tend to focus on the heroine finding true love, this film is far more focused on the relationship between Elsa and Anna than on any romantic relationship. It made for an extremely refreshing change! Both of the heroines in Frozen are extremely likeable and well-written. The film focuses mainly on Princess Anna who's cheerful, optimistic and clumsy. She's a bit silly perhaps but very brave and caring. Anna is voiced by Kristen Bell who has a beautiful singing voice and is great in the role. However, although she doesn't get as much screentime, my favourite heroine in this story was Queen Elsa. Queens are almost always evil in Disney stories so it was great to see a likeable one! Elsa has awesomely cool magical powers and gets the best song in the entire film. She's strong yet vulnerable. She's a deeply caring and kind person. She also reminds me of Elphaba from Wicked and Elphaba is one of my favourite fictional heroines. The characters are even played by the same actress! Elsa is voiced by Idina Menzel who originated the role of Elphaba in the Broadway and West End productions of Wicked. There are quite a few Broadway actors voicing characters in this film actually and I loved that. Cinderella star Santino Fontana plays Hans, Spring Awakening actor Jonathan Groff plays Kristoff, and Book of Mormon actor Josh Gad plays Olaf the Snowman - and they're all great! In the past Disney have often asked Broadway actors to voice characters in their films rather than A-list Hollywood actors and I salute them for that. It's one of the many reasons why I find Disney films far preferable to Dreamworks films. How about getting Aaron Tveit or Sierra Boggess or Laura Osnes to voice some characters in your next film, Disney? :)

The songs in Frozen were written by the husband-and-wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The pair of them wrote the songs for Disney's recent Winnie the Pooh film and Ropert Lopez co-wrote the musicals Avenue Q and Book of Mormon. Their songs are wonderful and they're all very catchy and memorable. The best song in this film though is Let It Go. It is absolutely stunning! It might even be my favourite Disney song!!! It's a gorgeous song and was the highlight of the film for me. It's the Defying Gravity of the film. It's just so beautiful and Idina Menzel sings it with so much emotion and power. I reckon that about half of this song's 24 million YouTube views are because of me ;) I'll be gutted if Let It Go doesn't win the award for Best Original Song at the 2014 Oscars. My second favourite song in Frozen was the song Love is an Open Door. It's just such a fun, cute and uplifting song. I've embedded both Let it Go and Love is an Open Door below so anybody reading this can hear the songs for themselves. And I have to say that I would be absolutely thrilled if Frozen could get a big-budget stage musical adaptation! I know that an Aladdin musical is due out on Broadway soon and that a Tangled musical is supposed to be in the works but I would love to see Frozen on stage as well! I know it wouldn't be an easy thing to pull off but with an extended score and a big budget I'm sure it would be a huge Broadway or West End hit and a visual spectacle.

Let It Go

Love is an Open Door

In addition to everything that I've mentioned about Frozen already there are also a couple of cute sidekicks: a reindeer called Sven that acts like a dog and a talking snowman called Olaf. Kids will love them both. Sven doesn't talk in this film but Kristoff talks for him :) And I know that the kids will definitely love Olaf! When I went to see Frozen all of the kids in the audience clearly thought he was hilarious. I didn't find Olaf as funny as they all seemed to but he's still a fairly amusing character. And then last but not least there's the character of Kristoff. I wouldn't call Kristoff one of my absolute favourite Disney heroes (I prefer Flynn Rider and Aladdin) but he's still very likeable and his "conversations" with Sven are really endearing.

So, is there anything that I didn't like about Frozen?! Well... I'm not a fan of the Demi Lovato version of Let it Go that's played over the end credits. I don't have a problem with Demi Lovato. I think she's a really good singer. It's just that the pop-py arrangement of the song is horrible. The title of the film bugs me as well. When the Disney executives were trying to work out why The Princess and the Frog wasn't as big a hit as they all thought it was going to be they came to the conclusion that boys and men must have found the title too "girly" and therefore off-putting, so for the past few Disney films the heroine's names haven't been featured in the titles. I mean, yeah, remember The Little Mermaid? What a massive flop that turned out to be... *rolls eyes* Honestly Frozen should have been called The Snow Queen! And Tangled should have been called Rapunzel! The title might sound like a really small thing to get annoyed about it but it just irritates me. If Disney were to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs today it would probably be called Poisoned! I also think that it's quite sexist of Disney to assume that men and boys wouldn't want to see Disney films that feature "feminine" titles. But I do have a bigger issue with Frozen as well. It wasn't enough to ruin the film for me - like I say I still loved it - but it did stop me from enjoying it as much as I would have done.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) There's a twist in the film because Anna's fiance Hans turns out to evil. He has a diabolical scheme to take over the kingdom. I'm sure that some people out there will really like this twist but I wasn't a fan. This is partly because I really liked Hans up until his hidden agenda was revealed but I have another reason for not liking it. To me it felt like the writers just suddenly thought "Hey! If Anna ends up breaking off her engagement to Hans and choosing Kristoff then the audience might feel sorry for him! We can't give Anna two likeable suitors! We'll just have to make Hans evil!" *sigh* I just really hate it when films feel the need to make a character's spouse or betrothed absolutely horrible in order to "justify" them getting cheated on - even more so since the Love Never Dies musical came out! It's a really big pet peeve of mine. I just think it would have been soooo much better if Anna had actually recognised that she was falling in love with Kristoff and had then broken it off with Hans. He could have then taken it really well and said "Well... I guess it really was crazy of us to get engaged after we'd only known each other for just a few hours and I admit that you and Kristoff really do seem like a great couple". Now wouldn't that approach have been so much nicer and more mature?! Maybe Hans could have even ended up with Elsa at the end.

But leaving that issue with the film aside I still really loved Frozen and I think it's pretty clear that we're onto a new Disney Renaissance now.

Rating: 4.5/5
Film Certificate Rating: PG

P.S. If you're as big a fan of Tangled as I am then you'll be thrilled that Rapunzel and Eugene make a "blink and you'll miss it" cameo appearance in this film. They appear during the First Time in Forever scene. Sadly I didn't know about their cameo appearance when I went to see the film but I'll be definitely looking out for them when I get the DVD. I'm really wondering what they made of everything that was going on in Frozen!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

'Death Cloud' by Andrew Lane (2010)

Synopsis: Death Cloud is the first book in the Young Sherlock Holmes series. The year is 1868 and Sherlock Holmes is 14 years old. He attends boarding school and is about to go home for the summer holidays. However, Sherlock is dismayed when his older brother Mycroft turns up at the school and tells him that he won't be able to go home. This is because their father has been called away to India, their mother is ill, and Mycroft is busy working for the government. Sherlock will have to spend his holidays with his aunt and uncle at their vast home in Hampshire. When Sherlock arrives there he's ignored by his relatives and is unsettled by their malevolent housekeeper Mrs Eglantine, so Sherlock spends his days wandering around the Holmes estate and meets a working-class orphan called Matty Arnatt. They become friends and Matty tells Sherlock that he saw a mysterious cloud hovering over a murder scene in the nearby town. Mycroft then employs an American tutor called Amycus Crowe to teach Sherlock over the summer holidays (much to Sherlock's disgust). When Sherlock is on a nature walk with Crowe he discovers a dead body on the Holmes estate, and a cloud very similar to the one that Matty described hovering over it. Sherlock realises that something very sinister is afoot. He sets out to investigate these mysterious deaths and is assisted by Matty, Crowe, and Crowe's teenage daughter Virginia.

A book about a teenage Sherlock Holmes should be entertaining, clever, interesting and witty but unfortunately none of those adjectives describe this book. I had many issues with Death Cloud but the biggest one was that I don't think a teenage Sherlock Holmes would have been anything like the one that Lane portrays. It really bothered me. Lane's Sherlock Holmes is just far too nice and "normal". Where's the biting wit? The arrogance? The eccentricity? The love of adventure? And even the razor-sharp intelligence and detective skills? If anything the Sherlock Holmes of this book seemed like a blank canvas who will eventually get turned into the great detective that we all know and love by his mentor Amycus Crowe. And I had a huge problem with this. I hate the idea of him learning all of his skills and personality traits from another person! Sherlock Holmes's skills should be completely inherent and unique. Okay I suppose that ACD's Sherlock Holmes would have picked up habits as he got older and honed his skills but the very essence of his character should have been present at birth. In my mind ACD's teenage Sherlock Holmes would be less like the Sherlock Holmes of this book and much more similar to Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: arrogant, sarcastic, charismatic, extremely intelligent and desperate to gain adventures and knowledge.

I had a big problem with the romantic subplot in this book. Although Sherlock doesn't fall in love with Virginia in this book it's quite clear that he finds her attractive - he daydreams about her face and hair - and that this will be developed further in the sequels. No! I'm sick and tired of adaptations giving Sherlock Holmes love-interests! I'm completely against the idea that Sherlock Holmes was in love with Irene Adler or that he was secretly gay. Sherlock Holmes just isn't interested in sex and sexuality in the ACD stories and, like many Holmesians, I'm firmly convinced that his character is an asexual. Sherlock Holmes is a bit of an icon to the asexual community.

The plot of this book isn't too great either. The book does start off fairly well but the mystery isn't terribly engaging and there are too many unanswered questions. What was going on with Mrs Eglantine? Why is she no friend to the Holmes family? Was she working alongside the villain the whole time or was her character only there to lurk about in the shadows and act as a Mrs Danvers ripoff? Oh, and the villain's henchmen get some very cheesy and unintentionally amusing lines in this book too like "Prepare to meet your maker!" They made me laugh but I don't think I was supposed to!

This is probably sounding like a really scathing review but honestly Death Cloud isn't that bad. I can imagine children enjoying it and even with all of its faults it's still far, far better than the only other Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel that I've read: a Sherlock Holmes/The Phantom of the Opera crossover called The Angel of the Opera. Some of the secondary characters in Death Cloud are actually quite likeable. Matty is quite sweet and I liked Amycus Crowe as a character although I hate the idea of him being the mentor in all of the things that make Sherlock Holmes who he is.

To be honest I only decided to read this book because I thought it would help to keep me occupied in the wait for series three of Sherlock. Since it's New Years's Day I don't have much longer to wait! :D

Rating: 2/5