Monday, 30 June 2014

Shakespeare (Original Pronunciation)

If you're any kind of a Shakespeare fan I think you'll find this video absolutely fascinating. A linguistics professor and his Shakespearian actor son demonstrate the original pronunciation of Shakespeare's plays. It sounds like the West Country accent with a little bit of Yorkshire thrown in! :)

Thursday, 26 June 2014

'The Unfinished Clue' by Georgette Heyer (1934)

Synopsis: Dinah Fawcett decides to go to the countryside and pay her married sister Fay a visit, but as soon as she turns up at Fay's house she's certain that the weekend is going to be awful. The household is in turmoil. Fay is being bullied by her emotionally abusive husband Sir Arthur Billington-Smith. Dinah's brother-in-law has also invited a married couple called Basil and Camilla Halliday over so he can outrageously flirt with the pretty gold-digger Camilla and make her his mistress. There are other guests at the house too. Sir Arthur's nephew Francis has got himself into heavy debt and wants his uncle to pay it off. Stephen Guest is in love with Fay and is hoping that she'll work up the courage to leave her overbearing husband for him. Sir Arthur's son Geoffrey has brought his fiancée - a famous Mexican cabaret dancer called Lola de Silva - over to the house. Sir Arthur has never loved his son and is appalled by this match. There's the local Vicar and his wife and also a woman called Mrs Twining, a widow whom Sir Arthur has known for many years. The atmosphere at the house is extremely awkward and strained and on Monday afternoon Sir Arthur is found murdered in his study. Almost everyone at the house had a motive to kill Sir Arthur and no-one is much upset by his death. It's then up to Inspector Harding of Scotland Yard to sift through all of this discontent and work out which of the potential suspects is the murderer.

Georgette Heyer is best known for her numerous Georgian and Regency romance novels, but over the course of her career she also wrote 12 contemporary mystery novels in the style of Agatha Christie. So far I've read about half a dozen of Heyer's romance novels and The Unfinished Clue is my first mystery. This book is decent but nothing special. I can't think of very much I can say about it really. The mystery isn't particularly compelling and the reader isn't given enough information to solve the crime by themselves. There's also a romance subplot in this book which felt tacked-on and rushed. The Unfinished Clue worked better as a comedy-of-manners than it did as a mystery/detective novel. It was a quick, light read and it was quite funny in places. Lola and Francis get some very amusing one-liners. I'd still like to read some more of Heyer's mysteries but I'm not expecting them to match the quality of Heyer's best romance novels.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Autobiography of Jane Eyre (2013-14)

In 2012 Hank Green and Bernie Su created a modern-day vlog adaptation of Pride and Prejudice called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. It became an internet phenomenon and even managed to win an Emmy Award. The following year the web series The Autobiography of Jane Eyre was launched. This web series was co-created by Nessa Aref and Alysson Hall, two students at the University of Victoria. Aref and Hall were so impressed by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries that it inspired them to make a modern-day vlog adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Alysson Hall would also play the role of Jane Eyre herself.

In The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, Jane is a 21 year old Nursing graduate who is about to embark on a second degree in Child Development. However, because Jane is feeling restless and bored she decides to embark on a new career. She starts a vlog and applies for a position as a live-in home-school tutor at a mansion called Thornfield, which is just outside of Vancouver. Jane's application is accepted. Her pupil is a highly intelligent young girl called Adele who is the daughter of a wealthy businessman called Edward Rochester. Jane is at Thornfield for several weeks until she finally meets Rochester. The two of them have a frosty first meeting but they're both intrigued by one another and a friendship grows between them. Rochester discovers Jane's vlog and appears in her videos. Jane's friendship for Rochester grows into love and she discovers that he feels the same way for her. They become engaged but, before their marriage can take place, Rochester's PA Grace Poole confesses to Jane that Rochester has a terrible secret. Although Jane forgives Rochester she believes that he needs to grow as a person if a relationship between them can have any chance of working. She leaves Thornfield but is then mugged and injured at a bus station. Jane is helped by a doctor called Simon Rivers and his two sisters Diana and Mary. They take Jane into their home and Jane is then able to find work at a community centre. Simon then invites Jane to accompany him on a trip to India but makes a surprising offer alongside it. Should Jane accept? Or should she find out what's become of Rochester? I've embedded the second video in the web series below so that you can get an idea of the tone of the series:

I'm a massive fan of both Jane Eyre and the Brontes but I was still extremely sceptical of this web series adaptation. Unlike Pride and PrejudiceJane Eyre didn't exactly strike me as being a particularly easy book to modernise. But in many respects this web series proved me wrong. I had my issues with the AOJE and I don't think that it ever managed to hit the heights of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries but it was still very enjoyable for the most part and it was far better than I thought it was going to be. One of the very best aspects of the AOJE is - oddly enough! - its low budget. The production values of the AOJE are clearly lower than that of the LBD. This did take a bit of getting used to but funnily enough it actually worked in its favour. The lower production values do make the AOJE a more realistic and believable vlog. At times Jane's camera even "glitches" on purpose because the creators wanted to give the viewers a sense of Thornfield's hidden darkness. We also get a greater variety of locations in this web series because Jane occasionally films her videos outdoors. We get to see Jane's outside world and some lovely Canadian scenery.

The AOJE isn't the most faithful adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's book e.g. it takes place in modern-day Canada, the Grace Poole and Mrs Fairfax characters are combined, and Adele is definitely Rochester's daughter. Nevertheless it's still a very faithful adaptation and the writers do a superb job at fitting the story into the modern day. Because of its vlog format the writers aren't able to show us Jane's childhood years but they still find very nice ways of incorporating Jane's past into the story. Jane tells her viewers that she was brought up by her aunt until she managed to win a scholarship to a private boarding school called Brocklehurst. Helen Burns (who died of cancer in this version) and Miss Temple are mentioned in her videos. We get to see the Reeds when Jane goes back to Gateshead. At one point Jane even shows her viewers the Red Room. St. John/Simon Rivers' love Rosamund Oliver ("Rose") is also in this web series.

Alysson Hall is great in the role of Jane. Hall's Jane is passionate, funny, sweet and extremely likeable. Jane isn't as reserved in this web series as she is in the book but this makes sense when you consider that the series is taking place in the modern-day and that Jane is now a vlogger. Jane is still an introvert though and initially she's slightly awkward in front of the camera. The acting in this web series is certainly very good but it's Hall who gives the stand-out performance. At times she even reminded me of a young Claire Danes. I didn't enjoy Adam J. Wright's Rochester as much as I did Hall's Jane but he's still very good in the role. He captures Rochester's sense of humour really well and it's very clear that he loves Jane. He also has tattoos which I loved. I can easily imagine a modern-day Rochester having tattoos! And as a A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones fan I got a huge kick out of Rochester and Jane discussing the books in a couple of the episodes. Other characters that I felt were done especially well in this series were the Reeds and Rose Oliver. Simon Rivers is sweeter in this web series than St. John is in the book - in fact he's downright adorable at times! - but they still show enough of the character's less attractive qualities for viewers to understand why he and Jane wouldn't be a good match. Diana and Mary Rivers are more fleshed out in this web series than they are in the book, which I really liked, and there's also an original character called Suzanne. She works as a maid at Thornfield and her character is very funny and sassy.

All of the other Jane Eyre adaptations that I've seen have had their faults and the AOJE is no exception. For all its virtues I didn't enjoy this web series as much as the book, some of the other JE adaptations, and the LBD. The AOJE doesn't always flow well for me. There are episodes that don't do enough to move the story forward and feel like filler: it isn't as tightly-written and plotted as the LBD. I also had a problem with Jane occasionally filming people without their consent. Fair enough it's possible to accidentally record people when you forget to turn the camera off but that doesn't mean you should put the videos on the internet. I wish that the location for Thornfield had been more gothic-looking too. From what we see of the house it looks very modern. The gothic atmosphere of Thornfield is one of the big reasons why I love Jane Eyre so much and I really wish that they could have found a cooler location for it - but then I suppose that big gothic houses might be something of a rarity in British Columbia. It also really bothered me that Jane and Rochester were planning to have a "symbolic wedding". In the book Jane refused to become Rochester's mistress and, by having a symbolic wedding, isn't that what Jane's becoming in this version? :S I know that times are different now but the Jane of the book had stronger principles than that.

Finally, the ending for this web series really rubbed me up the wrong way. It feels incredibly rushed and I found it very underwhelming. The ending for this web series isn't the one that the writers had initially planned but apparently Adam J. Wright left the series due to "differences" and they decided to go with something else. So we never get to see Rochester again unless you count one episode before that having a glimpse of his back (and I don't!) Yes the ending is prettily-filmed, features a great song (Amarante's "Lover's Song"), and there's a hint that Anna Karenina will be their next adaptation - but it's so disappointing! Why couldn't we have had some scenes with Jane and a recast Rochester? Yes that would have still been disappointing but then recasting often happens in TV shows and I'm sure that most viewers would have been able to suspend their disbelief for it to work. Some viewers have defended the ending by saying that "Jane Eyre is more than just a love-story and that it's really more about Jane's growth as a person". Well I completely agree with that but then that's exactly how I see Pride and Prejudice. That book is also more than a love-story and is also more about Elizabeth's growth as a person. That was partly why I was completely fine about the LBD not showing Darcy until its 60th episode, and also because Darcy still had a very strong presence in the story because of all of the "costume theatre". And the LBD tied up the Elizabeth-Darcy romance in a much more satisfactory manner than the AOJE does with Jane and Rochester. It's a shame. The AOJE has a great deal of merit and it's well worth a watch. The writers clearly love the book and their version is an enjoyable take on the story. I don't want this review to be too harsh. However it also feels like a missed opportunity. I like the AOJE but I don't love it.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, 19 June 2014

'Northanger Abbey' by Val McDermid (2014)

Synopsis: Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey is a modern-day retelling of the Jane Austen novel of the same title. Catherine "Cat" Morland is a home-schooled vicar's daughter and lives in rural Dorset. To fuel her active imagination she delights in reading. She especially favours ghost stories and vampire tales. Cat is also longing for some romance and excitement in her life. When rich family friends Andrew and Susie Allen then invite Cat to come with them to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival she couldn't be more thrilled. Cat is introduced to the theatre and the arts, goes shopping for new clothes, and makes regular trips to the Book Festival on Charlotte Square. She also meets some very interesting new people like Susie Allen's long-lost school friend Martha Thorpe and her three teenage daughters - the oldest of these daughters is called Bella and is roughly the same age as Cat. Bella and Cat bond over their shared taste in fiction and Bella attempts to set Cat up with her older brother Johnny (who went to Oxford with Cat's older brother James). When Susie Allen signs Cat up for lessons in Scottish country dancing she also meets a young man called Henry Tilney. Henry is a handsome, charming, mysterious and pale-skinned young lawyer. Cat spends a great deal of time with Henry and his sister Ellie and she becomes very attached to them. The Tilneys then invite Cat to spend a couple of weeks at their family home Northanger Abbey, which is a medieval Gothic abbey in the Scottish Borders. Cat's imagination has been stirred by the books she's been reading and, after some playful teasing from Henry, she begins to suspect that Northanger Abbey hides dark, mysterious secrets. When Cat discovers the truth, her life and her attitude towards fiction are completely changed.

Val McDermid is best known for writing gritty crime-thriller novels but her Northanger Abbey is the second novel of the Austen Project. This is an ongoing project to have six different authors write modern-day retellings of all of Jane Austen's six novels. I chose not to read Joanna Trollope's take on Sense and Sensibility because the reviews that I read for it were fairly mediocre. However, since the reviews that I read for McDermid's Northanger Abbey were more positive I decided to give it a try. Also, Northanger Abbey is one of my favourite Jane Austen novels :) I absolutely love Northanger Abbey and it's a criminally underrated book! Sadly it's one of Austen's lesser-known novels. It's nowhere near as famous and popular as the Jane Austen "big three" (Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility) and it has very few adaptations. This is such a shame! Yes, the book lacks the intricate plotting and polished prose of those books but it's still a wonderful novel! The book is a delightful comedy-of-manners and a hilarious parody of the Gothic romance novels that were popular in Austen's time. Catherine Morland isn't one of my absolute favourite Austen heroines but I'm still very fond of her and I adore Henry Tilney. Darcy, Knightley and Wentworth are all wonderful in their own different ways but Henry is unquestionably my favourite Austen hero. He loves to read novels. His best friend is his sister. He's a highly moral clergyman but he still has a slight bad boy edge: he's witty and sarcastic, he pokes fun at people, and there's a hint of mystery about him. He forgives Catherine for her very silly theory yet he still fiercely defends her to his father. He's willing to talk about traditionally feminine things (like women's fashion, sewing and romance novels) and never shows the slightest hint of embarrassment when he does. I see Henry as the male equivalent of Elizabeth Bennet and I'm actually the proud owner of an "I ♥ Tilney" badge that I bought from the Jane Austen Centre :D Northanger Abbey is in my Jane Austen top three and even before I read Val McDermid's retelling of it I felt it could work brilliantly in a modern-day setting. Earlier this year I even wrote a blog post where I said that I wanted a Pemberley Digital adaptation of the book.

There's been more than enough rambling in this post and I really need to review the actual book. Well, my feelings about this book are really quite mixed. Overall I did find McDermid's take on Northanger Abbey to be a fairly light and enjoyable read but sadly the book is nowhere near as good as it could have been. I'll start with the positives. I do genuinely believe that McDermid's decision to change the setting of the book from Bath to Edinburgh was a stroke of genius. I've had the great fortune of being able to visit both Bath and Edinburgh twice. They're both rich in Georgian architecture and are truly beautiful cities but Edinburgh is the much more vibrant of the two and it's one of my favourite cities in the world. Bath isn't as culturally significant as it was in Austen's time whereas Edinburgh is a capital city, a university town, and a major tourist destination. By changing the setting of the book to Edinburgh, for the very first time I was able to get more of a sense of just how bustling and exciting Bath must have seemed in Austen's time. There's another reason why the Scottish setting of McDermid's book works so well. The hit web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries updated the Regency balls of Pride and Prejudice into weddings, nights out at a local bar and parties - which is completely fine - but in this book the balls of Austen's Northanger Abbey are turned into ceilidhs! I really can't get over just how perfect the Edinburgh setting is!

There are some other logical updates in this book too. Instead of being obsessed with Gothic fiction, Cat is now a fan of Twilight and vampire novels. Cat doesn't have to rely on local gossip to find out more information about Henry. She simply searches him on Google and has a Facebook stalking session. The letters that are exchanged in Austen's book become texts, Tweets, Facebook messages and emails. General Tilney is a Falklands War hero and Frederick Tilney is a soldier on leave from Afghanistan.

McDermid's book has a lot going for it and many of its updates made a lot of sense, and yet there were many other updates in this book that had me scratching my head. Most of the "teen speech" between Bella and Cat is very awkwardly-written and unconvincing. I can't really see a modern-day Henry Tilney as a lawyer, and the age gap between him and Cat is too big in this book. It's fine in Austen's original setting but in our time would a qualified barrister in his early 20s really fall for a 17 year old girl? I think it would have been much better if McDermid had changed Henry's age to 19 and made him still at university. General Tilney's motive for kicking Cat out of his house is very odd and not at all true to the spirit of the book - both Austen's book and this one. Finally, I just didn't find McDermid's Cat to be as likeable as Austen's. In Austen's Northanger Abbey I find Catherine's over-imaginative fantasies amusing and endearing but in this book they got on my nerves more often than not. Yes, Cat is very imaginative and has had a very sheltered upbringing but her parents are clearly sensible people and she still had access to the internet and social media. Also, very early on in the book Cat dismisses believers of the Old Testament as "crazies" and yet she seems to sincerely believe in vampires! That really bothered me!

I certainly didn't enjoy McDermid's book as much as Austen's original or the ITV 2007 adaptation. The decision to set the story in Edinburgh was genius and I still found the book to be mildly enjoyable and fun, but the story wasn't as good as I wanted it to be so in that sense the book was a disappointment. I'm glad I read this book but it's not one that I could ever see myself reading again. I don't know if I'm going to read all of the other Austen Project books but I am planning to give Alexander McCall Smith's Emma a read. Emma is another one of my favourite Austen books and I've been meaning to read something by McCall Smith for a while (as some of my friends are fans of his). McCall Smith's Emma is due to be published in 2015 which is the 200th anniversary of Austen's book.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, 16 June 2014

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

Synopsis: A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in The Time Quintet. On a dark and stormy night, an old and very odd woman called Mrs Whatsit takes shelter in the Murry household. Before leaving she casually informs Mrs Murry that "there is such a thing as a tesseract". Mrs Murry's teenage daughter Meg suspects that this tesseract has something to do with her father who mysteriously disappeared several years ago. Before then her father worked as a scientist and was doing top-secret work for the United States government. Meg, her younger brother Charles Wallace and their new friend Calvin O'Keefe then go off to seek answers from Mrs Whatsit and her two friends, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. These women soon whisk the kids off on an adventure across space and time, where they encounter alien planets and creatures. The fate of Mr Murry depends upon Meg and her companions being able to outwit the forces of evil.

A Wrinkle in Time starts off with quite possibly the most cliched opening sentence ever ("It was a dark and stormy night") but thankfully everything that comes after that is terrific. I loved this book. A Wrinkle in Time is one of the most beloved children's books of all time and I really feel that I missed out by not reading it as a child. It's suspenseful, imaginative, atmospheric, beautifully-written, touching and full of adventure. The characters are likeable and engaging. The three Mrs W's are kind, eccentric, and utterly mysterious. Charles Wallace is a child genius who is nowhere near as annoying as he had the potential to be. Meg is clever, strong, caring, brave and a loving sister. Calvin is a good-looking, popular jock who - very refreshingly! - isn't stupid and doesn't start the story off as a complete ass. He's also discerning and fiercely loyal.

A Wrinkle in Time is simple and yet deeply profound as all of the best children's books are. It promotes individuality, intellectual curiosity, bravery, love and goodness. It lets children know that their parents aren't perfect and will make mistakes. It shows that, in the right situations, your flaws can sometimes be your strengths. The book also carries a very strong Christian message - I'd put it on the same level as C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. Jesus's name is mentioned and it contains some scripture and Christian symbolism. As a matter of fact, A Wrinkle of Time frequently finds its way onto banned and challenged book lists. Some readers object to the book because they think it's too Christian whereas other readers believe that it's not Christian enough. There are certain Christians who object to a section where Jesus's name is mentioned alongside historical individuals, including Gandhi and Buddha, who have all fought for good. Well, I loved this section and it was actually one of my favourite parts of the book! God loves everyone and His grace and truth can be found in all people and cultures! A Wrinkle in Time has so many beautiful and positive messages that the fact that it's a frequently challenged book is downright tragic :(

Before I wrap up this review, I feel like mentioning that Disney produced a made-for-TV movie adaptation of this book that came out almost 10 years ago. I've not seen this movie myself but the trailer looks terrible, I've read terrible reviews for it, and Madeleine L'Engle herself hated it. A Wrinkle in Time could make for a wonderful movie in the right hands though. Someone should give JJ Abrams a call once he's wrapped up the new Star Wars trilogy :)

Rating: 5/5

P.S. Here's a bonus reason to read A Wrinkle in Time: Sawyer read it on Lost :)

P.P.S. Also, Whovians should definitely check this book out! As a friend of mine pointed out, this book is a brilliant blend of sci-fi and fantasy and is full of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey ness :)

Friday, 13 June 2014

My Favourite World Cup Song :)

This is hardly a hard choice for me since I think that most of the Official England World Cup songs have been terrible but I do love the song :) It was recorded for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, it's by New Order, and it features a somewhat naff but still very entertaining and endearing rap from then-footballer John Barnes. Therefore the song's made of win! I've never talked about it on this blog before but I really enjoy football. I can hardly claim to be the biggest fan of the game though. I could never you give an in-depth tactical analysis of a match and I don't follow the domestic league all that closely but I just love the international game. I love watching the UEFA Champion's League, the Euros and, of course, the World Cup. I love the drama of it all! I happily games that don't even feature England - which is great because this is more than likely going to be a bad World Cup for us and we'll be fortunate enough to even get out of the Group stages. I'm hoping for a Brazil-Argentina final for this World Cup because I think it would be awesome - as long as there's no violence of course!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Sense and Sensibility (1981)

Earlier this year I watched the 1980 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Up until then I'd had very little interest in the BBC's older Jane Austen adaptations. This version of Sense and Sensibility is a three hour long miniseries that was written by Alexander Baron. He would later go on to write the script for Jane Eyre (1983). This miniseries was also produced by Barry Letts. Whovians will know Letts as the executive producer of Doctor Who during the Jon Pertwee era.

Sense and Sensibility isn't one of my favourite Jane Austen novels but I still think that it's a great book. It's brilliantly-written, intelligent, funny, dramatic, and it has some wonderful characters. But I've come to realise that I enjoy the 2008 adaptation just as much as the book and that I enjoy the 1995 adaptation even more than the book. I guess this might seem like a shocking thing for an Austen fan to admit to but then... disguise of every sort is my abhorrence *smirks*. The ending of Austen's book feels rushed to me and as a romance I don't find the book as satisfying as Austen's other novels. I don't think the male characters are very appealing. Willoughby is immoral. Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are bland, especially Edward! I've read Austen's book multiple times and I still can't understand why Elinor falls in love with him! That's a big reason why I've enjoyed Sense and Sensibility's adaptations so much. They've made Edward and Brandon more interesting. I still really enjoy Austen's Sense and Sensibility but for me the book isn't up there with Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

This particular adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is now my least favourite version of the story. I'm not as attached to the book as I am with most of Austen's other novels but I still rate it far more highly than this miniseries. This adaptation is very far from horrible though. It's quite faithful to the book for the most part. The dialogue is often word-for-word accurate and it does include things that the other adaptations have left out. It shows Marianne and Willoughby singing together. It shows Lady Middleton and Mrs Ferrars arguing about whether John Middleton Jr or Harry Dashwood is taller. We don't get to see Robert Ferrars buying a toothpick case but we do get to hear him talking about it to the Steele sisters. When Marianne gets ill at Cleveland, Mrs Jennings stays behind to help Elinor nurse her back to health. But, like all of the other Jane Austen adaptations, this version does make a few omissions and changes. In this version there are only two Dashwood sisters because Alexander Baron chose to get rid of Margaret Dashwood. This is a shame but I can understand why he did it since Margaret is a very minor and underdeveloped character in Austen's book. And in this version Marianne's passion is for Gothic novels rather than Romantic poetry (Um, why?! Gothic novels are Catherine Morland's thing!)

Viewers who aren't accustomed to the BBC's older adaptations might find the low production values of this miniseries rather off-putting. The interior scenes are all filmed on cheap-looking sets and the production values pale in comparison to the 1995 and 2008 adaptations. I do consider this to be one of this adaptation's faults but then I've watched other BBC productions from the same era and have really enjoyed them so the low production values weren't that much of an issue for me. My biggest issue with this miniseries was that I simply didn't enjoy the acting very much. I was particularly disappointed with its main actress. Irene Richard isn't really bad in the role of Elinor but she seemed too cold, whereas Emma Thompson and Hattie Morahan show more of Elinor's sense of humour and her loving heart. Irene Richard also played Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice (1980) and I thought she was far better in that role. Her Charlotte is practical and sensible but she still manages to come across as warm and friendly. It's a shame that Richard wasn't able to put that warmth into Elinor.

The best performance in the entire cast came from Tracey Childs who plays the role of Marianne. Whilst hers isn't my favourite portrayal of the character - Kate Winslet ftw! - I still loved her in the role. Childs was very close to Book Marianne's age at the time, she's very pretty, and she really acts like a sweet young woman who's bursting with passion and feeling. Her portrayal of the character is actually quite similar to Kate Winslet's and that definitely helped in my enjoyment of her performance. Peter Woodward plays the role of Willoughby in this miniseries and he definitely gives the best performance out of the male actors. He's handsome and charming enough for the role too. Unfortunately he didn't get nearly enough screentime. Bosco Hogon as Edward Ferrars was flat and dull but sadly his portrayal is probably the most accurate interpretation of the character I've yet seen, although he is about 10 years too old for the role and is obviously wearing a toupee. Robert Swann's Brandon was also fairly flat and dull.

Another issue that I had with this miniseries was its ending. After Elinor and Edward get engaged, Colonel Brandon comes over to Barton Cottage to lend Marianne a copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And that's it! I know I've complained about the book's ending being rushed but this is far worse! At least in the book Austen tells us that Marianne eventually fell in love with Brandon and married him!

This adaptation is far from terrible. It's perfectly decent and watchable and there are some far worse Austen adaptations out there. But it's definitely my least favourite Sense and Sensibility adaptation. Watch this version if you're feeling curious but the 1995 and 2008 adaptations of the book are so much better.

Rating: 3/5
Viewer Certificate Rating: U

Sunday, 1 June 2014

'Rose Daughter' by Robin McKinley (1997)

Synopsis: Rose Daughter is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. Beauty is the daughter of a wealthy shipping merchant. Her mother died in a riding accident when she was only a young child. The only thing that Beauty can remember about her is her rose-scented perfume. Because her father's soothsayers failed to warn him about his wife's death, her father turns against magic completely. This eventually costs him his business. Beauty, her father, and her two sisters Lionheart and Jeweltongue then move to a small house in the countryside called Rose Cottage. When her father hears that one of his ships has been recovered he then goes on a trip back to the city. When he offers to get each of his daughters a present, Beauty only asks for a single red rose. Her father returns but he paid a price in taking the rose. He took it from the garden of a mysterious Beast who is now demanding that Beauty be sent to his palace. Beauty reluctantly volunteers to go. She then discovers that the Beast is actually kind and gentle and that he asks her to marry him every night.

About a year ago I read Robin McKinley's Beauty and I loved it :) It was a beautifully-written and lovely take on the classic fairytale. When I found out that McKinley wrote another retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale almost 20 years after her first attempt I was certainly intrigued. I can't think of any other modern authors who've attempted to retell one of their own stories! Now that I've read Rose Daughter I think I understand why authors don't do it: your second attempt will never be as good as your original. Rose Daughter is nowhere near as good as Beauty. Rose Daughter is very well-written and Beauty's two sisters are better developed than there were in Beauty, but everything else about Rose Daughter was a huge disappointment. I found most of it painfully boring and tedious.

In Rose Daughter's afterword, Robin McKinley claims that she felt the urge to retell the Beauty and the Beast story again after moving to England and taking up rose-gardening. As she learned more about roses and how to cultivate them she began to wish that she'd written more about them in her original. So, whereas the heroine of Beauty was passionate about books and horses, the heroine of Rose Daughter is passionate about gardening. When she's at the Beast's palace she wakes up, has breakfast, does some gardening, plays with some cute animals, does some more gardening, has a bath, has dinner with the Beast, they talk for a bit, she goes off to bed, falls asleep, dreams about her family, wakes up, has breakfast... you get the idea. The story felt so repetitive. I found the heroine of the story boring and harder to relate to than the heroine of Beauty and her love-story with the Beast is under-developed. Beauty spends more time gardening than she does with the Beast. It really doesn't help matters that they're only together for a few days either. In Beauty, the heroine spends almost a year at the Beast's castle but in Rose Daughter the heroine is only with the Beast for seven days. It's so much less believable that Beauty would develop such strong feelings with the Beast when she spends such little time with him. There are some very odd subplots in this book too and they go nowhere.

I also had a major problem with the ending of this book. It seems to be addressing one of the common criticisms about the Beauty and the Beast fairytale: the fact that the Beast turns back into a human prince at the end. "Looks aren't everything!", some people say, "Beauty loved the Beast when he was a Beast so he should stay a Beast!" Well I completely disagree. I don't think the Beast turning back into a human at the end undermines the message of the fairytale. I  find the idea of the Beast remaining a Beast at the end incredibly disturbing and creepy. How will Beauty and the Beast's marriage work?! Are they going to consummate their marriage or what?! Urgh, I don't even want to think about it! Read Beauty instead. Now that book I can recommend!

Rating: 1.5/5

'A Clash of Kings' by George R.R. Martin (1998)

Synopsis: A Clash of Kings is the second book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros are now in the midst of a civil war. The cruel and sadistic King Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne following the death of his father King Robert Baratheon. However, rumours are beginning to spread that Joffrey isn't really a Baratheon at all and is really the child of an incestuous relationship between his mother Cersei and her twin brother Jaime Lannister. As a result, both of the late King Robert's brothers are determined to take the Iron Throne from Joffrey. Stannis Baratheon has enlisted the aid of a mysterious priestess called Melisandre who believes Stannis is the reincarnation of Azor Ahai - a legendary figure in her faith. This is much to the alarm of Stannis's loyal knight Ser Davos Seaworth. Renly Baratheon has allied with the powerful House Tyrell and has gathered a large army. Robb Stark is fighting the Lannisters in order to rescue his sisters Sansa and Arya, avenge the execution of his father, and claim independence for the north. Sansa Stark is being held captive by the Lannisters and is being subject to the cruelty of King Joffrey, whilst Arya Stark is now disguised as a boy and is travelling back to Winterfell. Tyrion Lannister is now serving as the Hand of the King and is working to improve the defences of the city and keep his sister and nephew in check. Balon Greyjoy has declared himself King of the Iron Islands and is plotting to conquer the north in Robb Stark's absence. The Night's Watch is mounting a reconnaissance mission over the Wall in order to investigate the Wildlings and their "King-beyond-the-Wall" Mance Rayder. Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryren is travelling across the deserts of Essos with a small group of Dothraki followers, her loyal advisor Ser Jorah Mormont, and her three baby dragons. She is working to amass an army that she can bring across the Narrow Sea and use to reclaim the Throne of her ancestors.

After becoming a big fan of the HBO show Game of Thrones it was only going to be a matter of time before I decided to read the book series that the show is based on - A Song of Ice and Fire. I read the first book in the series a couple of months ago and I loved it. Even though I already knew almost everything that was going to happen I still found it to be an incredibly absorbing and suspenseful read. I loved that I got to know the characters and the world that they lived in better. I loved George R.R. Martin's truly excellent writing. I have to admit that I didn't enjoy A Clash of Kings as much as its predecessor. A Game of Thrones has faster pacing and a tighter narrative than this book. I also found myself struggling with the new POV characters. Theon Greyjoy does so many terrible things in this book and I find him so unlikeable; although at least his story is more interesting than Davos Seaworth's. Davos has never been one of my favourite characters in the TV show but his POV chapters in this book bored me to tears. I'm aware that Davos gets POV chapters in the following ASOIAF books so I'm really hoping that either he gets fewer chapters or that his story becomes far more interesting! I really wish that Daenerys Targaryren could have gotten more page-time in this book too. Dany is one of my favourite characters and, given the finale of the first book, I was quite surprised by how little page-time she got in this.

This review is probably sounding quite negative now so I should stress that I still found this book highly entertaining for the most part. I loved Daenerys, Jon, Tyrion, Sansa, Bran and Arya's storylines. I know I've complained about Dany's lack of page-time in this book but I still really enjoyed the chapters that she did have. And the House of the Undying chapter? Uh-may-zing! It's so much cooler than how it's depicted in the TV show (although I do love the part where Dany's dragons breathe fire right through her body). It has so many enticing prophecies and visions! The prophecy about the three-headed dragon, the Prince that was Promised, the song of ice and fire, the glimpse of Rhaegar Targaryren, etc. I can understand why the writers might have wanted to get rid of the Red Wedding hint but I'm sure that if I'd have watched that episode after reading this book then I'd been really upset by the lack of supernatural awesome-ness! :D Jon Snow's warging into Ghost and his glimpse of Mance Rayder's army was another one of my favourite scenes in this book. I was really pleased that Jojen and Meera Reed were introduced in ACoK earlier than they were in the TV show because I really like their characters and they made Bran's scenes much more interesting. Arya's scenes are full of action and adventure. I missed her scenes with Tywin Lannister (which were added for the TV show) but her scenes with Ja'qen Hgar are still there. Sansa Stark becomes much more likeable in this book. She was quite naive and selfish in AGoT but she develops hugely in this book and really starts to come into her own. You get to see how sweet and kind she is. Jaime Lannister only gets one scene in this book but it's terrific. His confrontation with Catelyn Stark is very powerful.

Then there's Tyrion Lannister. If Ned Stark is the main character of A Game of Thrones then I think Tyrion is the main character of A Clash of Kings. Tyrion struggles with his new position as the Hand but he ends up doing a superb job. Ned was a good, kind and honourable man but Tyrion is obviously far more suited to the position of the King's Hand than he ever was. Tyrion is much more crafty than Ned and is far more deft in dealing with political and court situations. He manages to outwit his sister, slap Joffrey, make Sansa's life at court easier, rally troops against Stannis at the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and still be witty and optimistic. It's such a shame that Tywin Lannister takes the position away from him at the end. Who knows what Tyrion would have then gone on to do?!

I'm really looking forward to the next book in the ASOIAF series. Everyone seems to think that A Storm of Swords is the best book in the series. I did really enjoy this book and I think the next book will be even better :)

Rating: 4/5