Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence (2014)

First of all a big thank you to Hamlette for doing another Tolkien Blog Party!

1.  Who introduced you to Tolkien's stories?
Erm... myself? Or Tolkien? I suppose I must have heard about Tolkien's stories from someone but I can't remember who. I can remember reading The Hobbit when I was still at primary school though so I suppose one of my teachers could have mentioned it or I could have seen it in the school library. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was at secondary school when I was about 11 or 12. Then The Fellowship of the Ring movie came out a year later.

2.  How old were you when you first ventured into Middle Earth?
I would have been about 11 or 12 when I read The Lord of the Rings. I'm not too sure about The Hobbit but I'm going to say... 9 or 10. It's funny because even though I'm not too clear on my age when I read the books I know exactly what the covers were!

3.  Did you read the books first, or see the movie versions first?
The books first.

4.  A dragon or a balrog - which would you rather fight?
This is a bit like the "Would you rather lose an arm or a leg?" question isn't it? But I'd go for a dragon. I think only a wizard or Glorfindel could take on a balrog and live to tell the tale.

5.  Who are three of your favorite characters?  (Feel free to elaborate on why.)
Last year I cheated and talked about four (Aragorn, Sam, Legolas and Faramir) but this year I'm actually going to stick to three.


He's probably my number one favourite. He's very mysterious (at first). He's self-confident but humble. He spent decades protecting the people of Bree without taking any credit for it. He took on Sauron with the palantir. He's brave. He's loyal. He's compassionate. He assumes the mantle of leadership after Moria. He kicks ass. He's definitely on my "Characters You'd Want To Be With If You Were Stranded on an Island" list. One of my favourite parts of both the book and the films is the scene where Aragorn makes his entrance in the Prancing Pony. At first he seems shady and not to be trusted and it's all very film noir :) And my favourite quote in the book is about him.

One of the things that Tolkien is often criticised for is his lack of female characters which is a terrible shame because the few women that are in this books are awesome! I love Eowyn. She's passionate, she wants adventure, she can fight, she follows her heart and she goes after what she wants. And I love her romance with Faramir. I don't love Eowyn in the movies sadly. I don't think Miranda Otto looked the part and her Eowyn is much too weepy and fragile for my liking. I much prefer the steely dignified Eowyn of the book and in my head she looks more like Rosamund Pike.


Gandalf is funny and extremely wise. He can be grumpy and irritable but he's still very warm and kind-hearted towards all of the peoples of Middle-earth. He wouldn't let the balrog pass. And if it wasn't for him choosing Bilbo to be the dwarves' burglar then The Hobbit and by extension The Lord of the Rings would never have happened! So yeah, go Gandalf! :D

6.  Have you ever dressed up like a Tolkien character?
No, I've never done cosplay. I do have a piece of Tolkien inspired jewellery though! I found it on Etsy via Pinterest :)

7.  If someone asks you to go on adventure, how do you respond?
Before 10 am? No chance! After that, yes! Hehe.. I've always been able to relate to Bilbo in that I love the thought of travel and adventure but also really love the thought of staying in my cosy home and not doing anything.

8.  Have you read any of the "history of Middle Earth" books?
No and to be honest I don't want to. I'm interested in The Children of Húrin and I've read The Silmarillion but that book was one of the most challenging I've ever read. It's brilliant but it can be so overwhelming. I have a feeling that the History of Middle Earth books are for the truly hardcore fans. You know, those fans who actually speak Quenya and Silmaril. Or Stephen Colbert.

He is truly our king! :D

9.  Would you rather drink a bowl of Ent Draught or a glass of Old Winyards?
I hate beer but love wine so a glass of Old Winyards it is!

10.  List up to ten of your favourite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken:
The crownless again shall be king.

And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many. And many indeed saw them and the light that shone about them as they came down from the walls and went hand in hand to the Houses of Healing.

“Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?” 

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.” 

"One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. The great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, and ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly."

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” 

But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Emma Watson's UN Speech

This is beautiful and important. Please watch it.

'Devil's Cub' by Georgette Heyer (1932)

Synopsis: Devil's Cub is the sequel to These Old Shades. Dominic Alastair, the Marquis of Vidal, is the grown-up son of the Duke and Duchess of Avon. Unfortunately Vidal has inherited both of his parent's biggest flaws. He has his father's old rakish ways and his mother's quick temper. When Vidal is then involved in a drunken duel at a gambling house, his furious father demands that he go over to France and stay there until the scandal has died down. However, Vidal intends to enjoy his time in France and soon makes plans to take a beautiful but air-headed young woman called Sophia Challoner along with him as his mistress. When Mary Challoner - Sophia's less pretty but far more intelligent and sensible older sister - finds out that Vidal is planning to elope with Sophia she's horrified. To save her sister's reputation, Mary takes the drastic step of disguising herself as her sister and taking her place. She assumes that Vidal will send her back as soon as he finds out his mistake and that no-one outside the family will find out what has happened. But when Vidal finds out that he's been tricked he becomes livid. He decides to teach Mary a lesson by kidnapping her. Believing Mary's morals to be as loose as her sister's he then attempts to force himself on her but Mary, wanting to protect her virtue, shoots Vidal in the arm. Realising that Mary is a virtuous woman, and that he will have ruined her reputation by carrying her off to France, Vidal now feels guilty. He tries to put the situation right by proposing to Mary but she refuses. Although Mary has developed romantic feelings for Vidal she believes that he's only proposing to her out of guilt. Finding the idea of being married to a man who doesn't love her intolerable she runs away from Vidal. He then begins to search the country for her.

Since Devil's Cub is the sequel to These Old Shades (which I loved) I was really looking forward to this book. In the end I was a little disappointed. Overall I still found the book fun and enjoyable but nowhere near as much as These Old Shades. That was all down to its hero. I've loved some of Heyer's other rakish heroes like Lord Damerel, the Marquis of Alverstoke and the Duke of Avon but Vidal didn't do it for me at all. Vidal might have inherited his father's old rakish ways but he has none of Avon's wit and charm and I found him very unlikeable. In fact he's horrible! He doesn't care for anyone apart from his mother. He's a callous murderer. He kidnaps a woman, bruises her neck, and then threatens her with rape. And there is every indication that he actually means to go through with the rape until Mary shoots him. Later on Vidal tries to justify his actions by saying that he thought Mary was a silly coquettish female who was only playing hard to get but that still doesn't make it right. It's all very Blurred Lines. ಠ_ಠ

It's a shame because if only I could have liked Vidal then I would have probably loved this book. It has the rich period detail and the witty and funny dialogue that I've come to expect from Heyer. For me the best moments in the book were Rupert's complete bemusement as to why Vidal had run off to Dijon and the scene where Avon and Mary meet :) It isn't necessary to have read These Old Shades before Devil's Cub - as the storylines aren't really continuous - but as a fan of that book it was great to read about Avon, Leonie, Fanny and Rupert again. Naturally Devil's Cub isn't as focused on them as These Old Shades was but they all get a good amount of page-time and I loved their scenes. I really liked Mary as a character too although I couldn't see what she saw in Vidal. Even his own father thought Mary deserved better!

I will be reading the other books in the Alastair series (Regency Buck and An Infamous Army) but I've read quite a few of Heyer's books this year and I think I'm going to take a break from her for a while. I don't want to get through them all too quickly!

Rating: 3/5

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists! (2012)

AHOY! Today be "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" and me blogger bucko Hamlette be hostin' an event for it. T' mark t' occasion I'm reviewing Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists! And now I'm goin' t' be droppin' all this pirate lingo :) *clears throat*

Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists is a stop-motion film by Aardman - the studio behind the Wallace and Gromit films and Chicken Run. The film is based on the first book of a series by the author Gideon Defoe and it was Defoe who wrote the script for this film. If you're an American reader then you'll probably know this film as Pirates! Band of Misfits! I don't know why they changed the title in the US and I can only assume that their marketing people thought American kids wouldn't fancy seeing a movie about scientists. Bloomsbury USA did something similar with the Harry Potter books when they changed the title of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It was because they didn't think that American children would want to read a book with the word "philosopher" in it. If I was an American I'd find that quite offensive but that's just me.

If I was to sum up this film's plot in a single sentence I'd say "It's totally mad but brilliant!" :D The film takes place in the year 1837 and the main character is the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant). The captain is deluded and incompetent but also very charming and kind-hearted. He has the unswerving love and devotion of his entire crew. The Pirate Captain is also deeply ambitious and has spent years trying to win the much-coveted Pirate of the Year Award. The Captain fails miserably at this every single time; partly because he's terrible and partly because his rivals include the top pirates Peg-Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven). The Captain decides to make one final last-ditch attempt to win the award so he and his crew go all out to get as much booty as they possibly can. They then end up capturing the ship of Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who is on a scientific voyage to look for exotic animals. When Darwin points out that the Pirate Captain's "big-boned" parrot Polly is actually the only Dodo in the world the crew then sets sail for London. Darwin has told them that unveiling Polly to the scientific community will bring them "untold riches" and the Pirate Captain is hoping that this treasure will give him what he needs to win the Pirate of the Year Award. But the crew will have to be careful because the diabolical Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) hates pirates and is hell-bent on riding them from the seas...

When I first found out about this Pirate blog event I initially considered doing a review of Muppet Treasure Island or Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (the only POTC film I like). But in the end I felt I had to do this one because it's such an under-appreciated gem. This film might not be as famous as some of the other Aardman films but it's absolutely hilarious! I actually managed to miss a lot of its dialogue the first time I saw it; I couldn't hear it because I was laughing so hard from other bits of dialogue! This film just cracks me up. It's brilliantly witty and clever but also zany and whimsical. That is exactly my kind of humour! :D Even the names of the Pirate Captain's crew members are funny in this film! There's the Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman) who is the Pirate Captain's first mate. There's the Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) and the Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey in the UK version; Anton Yelchin in the US). Best of all there's the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) who is a woman in drag. Apparently the silly names are a nod to the fact that in big ensemble movies no-one can ever really remember the names of all of the characters. Go on, name me all of Captain Jack Sparrow's crew members without looking it up! I dare you! The animation really adds to the humour of the film as well. There always seems to be something going on in the background. There are funny shop signs and posters with puns. Darwin's monkey butler Bobo communicates with flashcards (which is one of my favourite things about the film!) This film took two and a half years to make and you can really tell that a lot of creativity and love went into it. It's a great-looking film.

The voice acting in this film is terrific as well. Hugh Grant might seem like an incredibly odd choice to play the Pirate Captain but he's surprisingly brilliant in the role! Generally speaking I'm not a Hugh Grant fan but he's great in this film and it's obvious that he was having the time of his life voicing his character. Martin Freeman, David Tennant and Imelda Staunton also deserve some special mention I think but, honestly, everyone in this film does a great job. And the music in this film! The soundtrack features great songs from the likes of The Clash, Flight of the Conchords and Jimmy Cliff! :D

Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists got great reviews, did well at the UK box office and won an Oscar nomination but because the film didn't do very well at the US box office the chances of it getting a sequel are very low. This is such a shame! :( I haven't even read Gideon Defoe's books but I would love to see Pirates! In An Adventure with Communists! and Pirates! In An Adventure with Romantics! With those titles how could they not be good?!

I absolutely love this film. I've found all of Aardman's films enjoyable but this is hands down my favourite. The pacing drops slightly in the middle and I wish we could have found out more about some of the crew members but, apart from that, I can't think of any other flaws that this film has. It's honestly one of my favourites. It's hilariously funny and is a film that both adults and children can enjoy. The plot is bonkers but it's hugely entertaining and heart-warming. The characters are likeable and fun. The voice acting is excellent. It has some terrific action scenes - the bathtub scene and the scene where we get to see Queen Victoria's lethal fighting skills come to mind :D The animation is great and it has a kickin soundtrack. I thought I'd put the trailer for this film in this review as well. It's awesome! This is a film about a pirate sailor and we're singing in the trailer! Oh my word, I LOVE it! I demand more singing trailers in the world!

Rating: 5/5
Film Certificate Rating: U

Friday, 12 September 2014

'Evelina' by Frances Burney (1778)

Synopsis: Evelina Anville is a 16 year old girl who has spent her entire life in the secluded countryside.  She's been raised by her godfather, the Reverend Arthur Villars, ever since her mother died during childbirth and her father refused to acknowledge her. "Anville" isn't Evelina's real surname. Evelina's profligate father Sir John Belmont only married her mother for her money; when Evelina's grandmother disinherited her mother he then tore up their marriage certificate and denied that they were ever married. Villars has raised Evelina as his own daughter and has seen to her education. Lady Howard, the matriarch of the Mirvan family and a good friend of Villars, then invites Evelina to accompany her and her family on a trip to London. Villars fears that Evelina will fall into corruption in the city but reluctantly agrees to let her go as he knows that Evelina greatly wishes it. In London, Evelina discovers a new world. Her beauty makes her prey to a variety of buffoons, rakes and unscrupulous men who wish to seduce her. Evelina meets a man called Lord Orville that she is genuinely interested in but, when she overhears a private conversation, she gathers that he doesn't have a very high opinion of her. Evelina fears that Orville thinks her a very foolish little girl. On the other hand an acquaintance of Orville's called Sir Clement Willoughby is obviously interested in Evelina, to the point where he puts her in embarrassing and compromising situations. Things become even more stressful for Evelina when she finally meets her vulgar grandmother Madame Duval, who wishes to take Evelina back to France with her. Evelina keeps her godfather informed by sending him constant letters.

Frances Burney might not be a very famous author now but she was hugely popular in her own time and her books were apparently a major influence on Jane Austen. I'm having a hard time believing that because reading Evelina has only increased my respect for Jane Austen's novels! Did Austen really enjoy a book as boring and preachy as this?!

Burney's characters aren't even close to being as likeable and interesting as Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer's. They're all boring and annoying and none more so than Evelina. If it wasn't for her being a stunning beauty I wouldn't have had the faintest idea why all of the men in the story keep falling for her. She's insipid, whiny, dim, passive and has no backbone or a sense of humour. She lets her grandmother, her cousins and Willoughby (ha!) walk all over her. I could appreciate that she was shy and didn't want to offend them but, when she kept getting into embarrassing and even dangerous situations because of these people and still didn't do anything about it, I could feel my sympathy slipping. Orville has no personality at all and I couldn't care about his romance with Evelina. Captain Mirvan and Madame Duval are so OTT that they're basically caricatures. Oh, and Arthur Villars has to be one of the most incompetent father figures that I've ever come across! He's supposed to be this loving and protective guardian but Evelina writes to him on many occasions saying things like "Willoughby grabbed me and prevented me from running away! and he doesn't do anything! Okay so he writes back saying things like "Ooh, I don't like the sound of that man one bit!" but he never does anything useful! Why couldn't he have given Evelina some solid practical advice or written an angry letter to Willoughby about his conduct?

Evelina is also an epistolary novel and although there are some epistolary novels that I absolutely love (The Woman in White, The Screwtape Letters) this is one of the weakest that I've come across. Evelina's letters are far too detailed and are full of things that you would never write to your father-figure. I'm very close to both of my parents but I would never tell them about what my innermost feelings were when I spoke to my crush!

There was another thing that really wound me up about this book. All the way through I got the very strong sense that Burney had a huge dislike of cities and city-dwellers and it really bothered me. Not that there's anything wrong with disliking cities but the story of the book is basically that some pure, innocent, virtuous young woman from the country gets thrown into cities with VICE and MORAL CORRUPTION! *dun dun da!* Apart from Orville, everyone that Evelina meets in London and Bristol is deeply unpleasant and means her harm in some way. Sometimes it's just clingy men asking her to dance but then at other times it's a lot more serious. At one point Evelina gets lost in a park and is then grabbed by a drunken sailor who tries to rape her! But not to worry, Evelina gets rescued by two women! But wait! These two women are sinister prostitutes! *sighs*

It honestly pains me to criticise anything that Austen might well have liked but personally I couldn't stand this book. I know some readers out there find this book funny but personally I couldn't find anything amusing about it.

Rating: 1/5

Netflix Are Planning to Adapt 'A Tale of Two Cities'

No, this isn't a cruel joke! Netflix are planning to adapt Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and are in talks with Channel Four about a possible co-production. The script is being written by Alan Bleasdale who previously adapted Oliver Twist (1999) for ITV. Woo hoo! The book hasn't had a TV adaptation in over 20 years and the last film adaptation came out 50 years ago. Why that's the case I don't know because the book is one of Dickens' shorter novels and it's very cinematic. It's got action, an epic scale, romance and tragedy. So, yeah, exciting times! :)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A Quick Announcement

I've given my "About Me" page a much-needed update! There's even a selfie! A good selfie I think! Feel free to have a look at it and leave a comment even if you've visited this blog many times before. In fact please do! I spent over two hours writing it so I'd really appreciate it!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

'Pygmalion' by George Bernard Shaw (1912)

Synopsis: George Bernard Shaw's play was inspired by the Pygmalion story of Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion is a Cypriot sculptor who carves a beautiful woman out of ivory and then falls in love with his creation. He then persuades the goddess Aphrodite to bring the sculpture to life so that he can marry her. George Bernard Shaw's play is a radical interpretation of the story with a strong feminist message. The Pygmalion figure is now a renowned and eccentric professor of phonetics called Henry Higgins who makes a bet with his new friend Colonel Pickering. Higgins bets that he can train a dishevelled cockney flower girl called Eliza Doolittle into passing herself off as a duchess within six months, simply by changing her vocabulary and accent. Eliza agrees to receive speech lessons from Higgins as she wishes to become genteel enough to work in a flower shop. Higgins succeeds in getting Eliza to speak and act like a duchess but Eliza becomes angry at Higgins' lack of consideration for her feelings and proudly asserts her independence.

I don't usually read more than one book at a time but since I'm finding the book that I'm currently reading very boring I took a break from it and read Pygmalion. The play's most famous adaptation is the musical My Fair Lady and I've long regarded it as one of my favourites. I've never had the chance to see the musical live but I've seen the 1964 movie quite a few times. There are many, many things that I love about that film. I love the brilliant wit and the comedy, the Lerner-Loewe songs, the costumes, the sets and Audrey Hepburn's delightful performance as Eliza. The scene where Eliza goes to the Ascot races is absolutely hilarious! But even though My Fair Lady is a fantastic musical it has a major flaw - the ending. I've always found it weird and confusing and after reading this play I can't stand it! What were they thinking?! Did they not read George Bernard Shaw's afterword?! The ending is completely out of character for Eliza! She gives Higgins a much deserved lecture about his treatment of her, asserts her independence, and then walks out on him only to go crawling back?! No! The Eliza of the play and the musical wouldn't settle for a man who constantly puts her down! She wouldn't fetch his slippers, she ain't got time for that! Okay so we're not told why Eliza has gone back to Higgins but still... there's a heavy implication that Eliza and Higgins are going to be having a romantic relationship and that's what most people have took from the musical.

I still love My Fair Lady but I really can't deny that the ending completely undermines Shaw's powerful feminist message. The whole point of his play is that the Pygmalion and Galatea characters don't end up together! Eliza isn't a romantic and she isn't in love with Higgins. She only wants him to respect and appreciate her as his equal. It makes absolutely no difference to Eliza that she's an uneducated, lower-class girl and that Higgins is a man and a gentleman. Eliza is a woman who is truly ahead of her time and she's a delightful character. She's strong, independent, self-confident, practical and brave even before her lessons. And she's hilarious! She's honestly one of my favourite fictional heroines now and how anyone could want her to spend her life with Higgins is beyond me. I'm really not fond of Higgins despite him getting some amusing one-liners every now and again. Higgins is smug, immature, rude, manipulative, selfish and misogynistic. He calls Eliza an "idiot" and a "slut" and almost hits her twice! The ending of the play is in no way depressing. When Eliza basically tells Higgins to f-cough and walks out on him I think it's glorious! Shaw would have absolutely hated the musical's ending. In fact Shaw was so annoyed by audiences interpreting Higgins and Eliza's relationship as a romantic one that he would later write an afterword for the play. In this afterword - which is just as entertaining as the play itself! - Shaw gives a detailed and painstaking explanation of what happened to the characters after the ending of the main plot. He has this to say:

"Almost immediately after Eliza proclaims her considered determination not to marry Higgins, she mentions the fact that the young Mr. Frederick Eynsford Hill is pouring out his love daily for her through the post. Now Freddy is young, practically twenty years younger than Higgins: he is a gentleman (or, as Eliza would qualify him, a toff), and speaks like one. He is nicely dressed, he is treated by the Colonel as an equal, loves her unaffectedly, and is not her master, nor ever likely to dominate her in spite of his advantage of social standing. Eliza has no use for the foolish romantic tradition that all women love to be mastered, if not actually bullied and beaten," *claps* Bravo Shaw, bravo!

In the afterword Shaw makes it clear that Eliza and Freddy really do marry. They then open a flower shop and have a happy life together. This is an immeasurably better ending than the musical's ending! Freddy is by far the better match for Eliza! Okay so he's not all that bright but he truly loves Eliza and is perfectly happy to let her do her own thing. He never seeks to boss her around. Shaw also makes it clear that Freddy improves under Eliza's influence and becomes a much more useful and productive member of society. Even in the musical Freddy is much nicer to Eliza than Higgins is and actually compliments her. And he's played by Jeremy Brett which is a massive bonus!

Pygmalion is a brilliant play and a true classic. I absolutely loved it and I would love to see it live. It's extremely entertaining and funny and Eliza is a wonderful character. But it's also very deep and thought-provoking too. I'm sure that fans of Greek mythology will find it interesting and there's quite a bit of social commentary on feminism and the classes of society. The play also touches on the importance of language and how it can change lives. Words have power. God created life with words and I don't think it's a coincidence that there are countless fairytales and fantasy stories where magic is produced with words. The great leaders of our time have all been powerful writers and communicators. Pygmalion is also surprisingly short considering the length of My Fair Lady! This play and Tolkien's The Hobbit are two books that you could actually read in less time than it would take you to watch their adaptations! So if you're one of those people who says "Oh gee, I would love to read more books but I just haven't got the time so I watch the adaptations instead", well, you've got no excuse not to read these books! :D

Rating: 5/5

P.S. George Bernard Shaw sounds like an interesting man. He was very good friends with G.K. Chesterton despite them having completely different views on religion, politics and the eating of meat. He also wanted the spelling of "fish" to be changed to "ghoti". I'm totally with him there. Who wouldn't want to catch a ghoti?

Saturday, 6 September 2014

'The House in Paris' by Elizabeth Bowen (1935)

Synopsis: On a wet February morning, an 11 year old English girl called Henrietta arrives at the Gare du Nord in Paris. She's travelling down to her grandmother's house in the south of France. Henrietta finds herself being obliged to spend the day with a family friend while she waits for her evening train. She's picked up by a woman called Miss Fisher and is taken back to her house. Henrietta has been looking forward to this day. It's her first time in Paris and she's desperate to see the Trocadero and to have tea in a cafe. However, Miss Fisher has a surprise for Henrietta. Her visit has coincided with that of a 9 year old boy called Leopold. As a baby he was adopted by Americans living in Italy and is in Paris because his birth mother has expressed a desire to see him. Leopold's nervous excitement about meeting his mother has made him irritable. Miss Fisher is agitated and her mother is upstairs and very ill. The House in Paris is split into three sections. The first and third sections of the book are told in the present day while the second section of the book takes place 10 years in the past and is set in England, Ireland and France. It tells the story of Leopold's parents and how he came to be born.

I stumbled across an online review of this book fairly recently. It was a glowing review and the book itself sounded really interesting. Then when I was in Dublin last week I did some browsing in Hodges Figgis, which has a massive Irish Writers section, and this book was on one of their shelves. I was really keen to get a book by an Irish writer in Ireland so I bought this book and John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things.

I can't really say that I enjoyed The House in Paris. It's not that I think it's a bad book. It's just that the book did nothing for me. I happen to think that I'm an intelligent person - sorry but I do - and yet I found Bowen's writing to be quite challenging. The book has a very vivid and melancholic atmosphere - which I appreciated - but Bowen keeps going off on philosophical tangents that I simply couldn't relate to or understand. At times this book made me feel a little bit stupid. I had a hard time with the characters in the book as well. I couldn't understand the motivations of the adult characters at all which is why I found the present day sections of the book much more engaging than the past section. Although Henrietta and Leopold are both extremely precocious, and not all that likeable, they still act like typical children in many ways. They're curious, sulky and tactless. I didn't hate this book but I know I won't read it again.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, 5 September 2014

'These Old Shades' by Georgette Heyer (1926)

Synopsis: These Old Shades takes place in France and England during the reign of Louis XV. The notorious Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, has moved to Paris and is plotting revenge upon the Comte de St Vire. The Comte has been his sworn arch-enemy for the past 20 years. Then one night, while taking a walk through a dark Parisian back alley, Avon literally collides with a red-headed urchin boy called Leon. The urchin has such a distinctive look that Avon immediately realises that he can only be the child of the Comte. Avon buys Leon from his abusive older brother and takes him as his page boy. Avon sees Leon as a potential weapon of revenge and flaunts him in glittering Paris and Versailles high society in order to gauge the reaction of the Comte. Avon has also worked out Leon's secret. "Leon" is actually a stunningly beautiful young woman called Leonie in disguise. As Avon seeks out definitive proof of Leonie's parentage he finds himself becoming oddly fond of and protective towards the girl. He becomes determined to bring her story to light and to restore to her what is her due.

These Old Shades is one of Heyer's earliest novels and a huge fan favourite. And now I can completely understand why. It was such a fun holiday book! It has a cross-dressing heroine who goes from being a downtrodden urchin to a page boy to a duchess via a My Fair Lady style makeover :)

These Old Shades made for a pretty interesting change from the other Heyer novels that I've read so far. Most of the other Heyer books that I've read have been set in Regency England but this book is set in the Georgian era and mostly in France. It was fascinating to read about the glittering world of pre-revolutionary Paris and Versailles. Tonally this book differs from the majority of the other Heyer books that I've read as well. Most of the other Heyer novels that I've read have been comedy-of-manners books (think Jane Austen with a dash of P.G. Wodehouse) but although These Old Shades is still a romance it also features a lot of adventure and mystery. I loved the story of the book and I even found its backstory interesting. Georgette Heyer had originally intended it to be a sequel to her debut novel The Black Moth. Heyer was extremely fond of that book's villain, the Duke of Andover, and wanted to write a story that would redeem him. But in the end Heyer changed her mind. She felt that a sequel to The Black Moth wouldn't quite work and basically decided to rewrite that book. She gave the characters different names and made them "shades" of their former selves, hence the title. These Old Shades then became Heyer's breakthrough novel.

The Duke of Avon is a great hero. Despite the fact that he dresses like a fop he's still unquestionably masculine and is, initially, even slightly sinister. He's also witty, sharp, sarcastic and hilarious. Leonie is a lot of fun too. She's mischievous and vivacious and I also loved her enthusiasm for fencing. I understand that some readers find the 20 year age gap between Avon and Leonie a bit creepy but that didn't actually bother me. It would have probably bothered me in a contemporary-set novel but when it comes to historical novels I'm more laid back about these things. Admittedly I could have done without Avon calling Leonie "my enfant" on a number of occasions but I always took that as a sign of him trying to convince himself that he wasn't falling in love with her. Avon's brother and sister Rupert and Fanny were entertaining characters as well.

These Old Shades has a sequel called Devil's Cub and I'm really looking forward to reading that book. I also can't understand why this book hasn't been adapted! I think that most of the Georgette Heyer books that I've read so far would make for fantastic film or miniseries adaptations! If anyone's interested I think Benedict Cumberbatch would be perfectly cast as Avon and I'd love for Karen Gillan or Rose Leslie to play Leonie. I'm leaning more towards Rose Leslie because she's said that These Old Shades is her favourite book! For Venetia, which is still my favourite Heyer book so far, I'd be thrilled if Richard Armitage was cast as Damerel because he does such a brilliant job "playing" him in his audiobook reading. And I'd love for Natalie Dormer or Romola Garai to play the title character.

Rating: 5/5

Emma Approved (2013-14)

Emma Approved is a modern-day web series adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma and is Hank Green and Bernie Su's follow-up to their Emmy Award-winning Pride and Prejudice 
adaptation, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Emma Woodhouse (Joanna Sotomura) is now a young and ambitious businesswoman who runs a subdivision of the Highbury Partners business group with her long-time family friend Alex Knightley (Brett Bailey). They specialise in match-making, event planning and lifestyle advice. Emma is also making videos as she plans on using the footage for a future documentary. Despite having no interest in romance herself, Emma is a successful match-maker and has recently set up her client Ryan Weston (Gabriel Voss) with her best friend Annie Taylor (Alexis Boozer). Emma then gains a new personal assistant called Harriet Smith (Dayeanne Hutton). Emma decides to go against Knightley's advice by attempting to find Harriet a boyfriend and refine her tastes. She convinces Harriet to turn down a date from sweet IT repairman Robert "B-Mart" Martin (James Brent Isaacs) and to set her sights on a politician called James Elton (Paul Stuart). When her careful plans go disastrously wrong, Emma begins to reflect that she might not know as much about life and love as she thinks she does. However it takes a while for Emma to completely learn her lesson and, with the arrival of new people in her life, her life is made even more interesting.

I fell in love with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and when I found out that its creators were going to be taking on Emma for their next big adaptation I was extremely excited! :) Emma happens to be my favourite Jane Austen novel after Pride and Prejudice and I thought it could work brilliantly as a modern-day vlog. After watching all of Emma Approved's videos I can finally say that I found the show very enjoyable. However, I was never able to love Emma Approved as much as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Partly because I don't love Emma as much as Pride and Prejudice but mostly because I don't think Emma Approved is as good an adaptation of Emma as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is of Pride and Prejudice.

Emma Approved gets off to a much weaker start than The Lizzie Bennet Diaries did and I have to say that I didn't like its early episodes very much at all. Even its creators have since admitted that the show didn't start off very well. A major issue that many LBD fans have had with the show is its confusing format. The LBD was told in the form of a YouTube video blog and Lizzie's videos exist in the universe of the show: Lizzie would directly interact with her viewers and characters from the show were able to find her videos. But Emma Approved isn't told in the same way. Instead of being a video blog the show is really more of a mockumentary. Apart from the Q&A videos, Emma's videos aren't actually supposed to be on YouTube in her universe. I can understand why the creators chose to do this. Emma would have been fired for the things that she said about Elton and Caroline Lee if they'd been able to find her videos. But then... why the Q&A videos? :S Having gone back and watched these episodes, most of the questions that are addressed to the characters can only have been asked by viewers who have seen the content of Emma's videos! And yet Emma is supposed to be the only person who's meant to have seen these videos! As soon as you stop and think about it the set-up of the show really doesn't make sense. Don't stop and think about how the show actually works folks or you'll give yourself a headache!

Emma Approved also makes the mistake of starting off at an earlier point than Austen's book. In the very earliest episodes of the show the Miss Taylor and Mr Weston characters aren't yet married and it turns out that Annie Taylor wants to cancel her wedding. Emma never actually asks her why which you'd think would be the very first thing that you'd do if your best friend told you that she wanted to call off her wedding! Instead she gets out at a huge binder full of invoices. Rather than trying to remind Annie of why she fell in love with Ryan in the first place, Emma tries to remind her of hugely expensive the wedding has been and how much of a hassle it would be to cancel everything. This is certainly not the action of a good friend or a good businesswoman! Unsurprisingly this plan of Emma's backfires. It's only after Emma and Harriet do some detective work that Emma realises that Annie wants to call off the wedding because she thinks that Ryan's stepbrother Frank Churchill doesn't like her. Emma then gets Frank to send Annie a wedding present and everything is sorted. To me these opening episodes are utterly pointless and confusing. A friend thinks that the creators were trying to provide a better introduction to Frank Churchill with these episodes but the execution is downright shoddy. Emma Approved has a few other flaws as well which I'll get out of the way in a nifty bullet point format (I like bullet points):

  • Why isn't Knightley's first name "George" in the show?! I can understand why the LBD changed Darcy's name from "Fitzwilliam" to "William" but why change Knightley's name from "George" to "Alex"? "George" is a great name!
  • Some of Emma's clothes are completely inappropriate for an office environment. No office, no matter how trendy, would allow its staff to wear short shorts and crop tops! The costume department really should have watched The Devil Wears Prada for inspiration! Also, because The Devil Wears Prada is a great movie. Everyone should see it :)
  • I was disappointed not to see John Knightley and Mr Woodhouse in this adaptation. John Knightley is one of Austen's most underrated characters and Mr Woodhouse is actually quite an important character in Austen's book. His big contribution to the story is to show how loving Emma actually is. Even though he must be very annoying at times Emma always treats him with complete patience and kindness. I was disappointed not to see Mr Bennet in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries but the lack of Mr Woodhouse in Emma Approved bothered me even more. And how hilarious would it have been if he'd walked into the office one day, saw Emma filming a video, and then had a major freak out because he thought Emma was talking to strangers on the internet?

Now at this point you might be thinking that this is actually quite a negative review and I wouldn't blame you. But overall I did actually enjoy Emma Approved! The show begins to steadily improve when it starts to cover the actual events of Austen's book and after a while I began to genuinely enjoy it. I'm glad I stuck with it. Emma Approved is mostly faithful to Austen's book; certainly much more so than the film Clueless which also updated Austen's book to the modern day. Emma Approved includes more characters from Austen's book - Miss Bates, Isabella Knightley and Jane Fairfax - and it's more family friendly. Emma Approved did an in-universe and out-universe charitable campaign against modern-day slavery. The acting in the show is brilliant. I don't know where Pemberley Digital keeps finding such talent! I didn't love everyone in the Emma Approved cast because the actors playing Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax didn't do very much for me. However Emma, Knightley, Harriet, Robert B-Mart, Annie, Maddie Bates and the Eltons are all brilliantly portrayed. Joanna Sotomura captures Emma's more annoying qualities but is still very likeable and she blew me away in the Box Hill video. She was amazing! She and Brett Bailey are also dating in real life which is surely the reason why they have the best chemistry out of any Emma/Knightley pairing that I've yet seen.

Another point in Emma Approved's favour is that it managed a few crossover episodes with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries! It combines the Mrs Elton character of Austen's Emma with the character of Caroline Lee (Caroline Bingley) from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Usually I absolutely hate it when characters are combined together. You should hear me rant about Les Miserables (1998) combining Enjolras and Marius together! But in this instance Caroline and Mrs Elton are such oddly similar characters that them being combined together actually kind of makes sense in a weird sort of way. And I do love crossovers. I was always thrilled whenever Buffy and Angel did their rare crossover episodes and I loved this fan-made Doctor Who/Sherlock crossover. This Lizzie Bennet Diaries/Emma Approved crossover also made me happy because it confirmed that the characters all live in the same universe! In my head canon all of Jane Austen's characters live in the same universe and I've often wondered how they would get on. I think Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot would get on brilliantly, that Emma and Fanny Price would have the most awkward and strained conversations ever, and that if Henry Tilney had shown up at the Meryton Assembly in Pride and Prejudice that Elizabeth Bennet would have instantly fallen in love with him. But I have a feeling that that one will be controversial.

Caroline in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries...

and Caroline in Emma Approved!

Emma Approved might not be my favourite Emma adaptation and it's much more flawed than The Lizzie Bennet Diaries but at the same time it has an awful lot going for it and as a standalone show it has barely any flaws. I'm not passionately in love with Emma Approved but I'm definitely a fan.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Meme: On Books & Reading

I saw this meme from Liane's blog over on I thought it looked fun so I gave it a shot!

1. Favourite childhood book?
There are too many to choose from! Sorry, that's one question I couldn't possibly answer.

2. What are you reading right now?
At the moment I'm reading Elizabeth Bowen's The House in Paris. It's a very short novel and I've already read most of it. I expect I'll finish it sometime tonight. I bought it in a book shop in Dublin last Wednesday. The shop had a huge Irish Writers section and that was where I found the book. A blog post on my trip is in the works :)

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
Nothing at the moment. I've put more of an effort into reading library books since I started working in libraries but the problem is that I just really love to own books. If I borrow a book that I end up really loving I resent having to give it back!

4. Bad book habit?
See my answer for 3.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
I have a couple of chick lit books that I checked out for my mum plus Frances Burney's Evelina. I'll probably start that once I'm done with The House in Paris.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
I have a kindle. Kindles and printed books both have their advantages. A kindle is ideal for travelling because it means you can take a lot of books away with you without having a backpack that weighs a ton. Also, e-books are cheaper than printed books and you can often get classic novels for free. I also really like that my kindle gives me a percentage breakdown of where I am with a book. But if I do read a book on the kindle and really enjoy it then I'll still want to own a physical copy of it. I prefer the feel of printed books and I love that they actually have a smell. And of course I love to collect them and put them on my bookshelves. It's my dream to have my own library one day.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I can only do one at a time I'm afraid. I've always been terrible at multi-tasking and that applies to books. If I try to flit between several books at once I actually find it a bit disorientating. I don't know how other people manage it!

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Before if I read a book that I wasn't enjoying then I'd just give up on it. Since I've started blogging I try to soldier on thinking "Well, at least someone might enjoy a review of it".

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far?)
Erm... probably Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea even though I did manage to finish it.

10. Favourite book you've read this year (so far?)
George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Loved it! Other books that I've loved are John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Georgette Heyer's Venetia. I love how different these books all are from each other! It makes me feel that I have diverse tastes :)

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
12. What is your reading comfort zone?

13. Can you read on the bus?
I can't. I can read on a train or a plane but if I try to read in a car or a bus I feel nauseous. The motion gets to me.

14. Favourite place to read?
In my bed or on the sofa. I like to put my feet up and feel comfortable :)

15. What is your policy on book lending?
Hmm, I don't tend to do it. The only friend that I would lend books to has moved away so I don't get to see her as often as I used to.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
*gasp* Never! I always use a bookmark or a piece of paper or something.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
I wouldn't dream of it for "regular" books but when I was a student I would do it in my text books.

18. Not even with text books?
See my answer for 17.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?
English. It's the only language I can read in!

20. What makes you love a book?
  • Likeable and/or fascinating characters that have depth and development
  • A gripping plot that keeps me invested until the very end
  • Beautiful writing
  • Witty and amusing dialogue
  • Thought-provoking themes and social commentary that manages not to be preachy
  • A vivid atmosphere

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
See my answer for 20. If I love a book then I'll recommend it until my friends are sick of hearing about it! :D

22. Favourite genres?
  • The classics - basically 19th and early 20th century literature plus Shakespeare.
  • Fantasy - I grew up with C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and J.K. Rowling's books. As an adult I've come to love books by authors such as Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke and George R.R. Martin. 
  • Gothic Literature - e.g. Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Woman in White, The Phantom of the Opera, etc.
  • Mystery/Detective fiction - e.g. books by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie
  • Historical fiction - I'm really picky about my historical fiction though! The books have to be set in an era that I find interesting. I avoid trashy, bodice ripping romance novels and gritty "battle-heavy" books. I also tend to go for books that feature fictional characters because with books that feature real-life characters I know I'll get irritated by inaccuracies

23. Genres you rarely read (but wish you did?)
I'm aiming to read more historical biographies, more poetry, more fairytale retellings and more magical realism.

24. Favourite biography?
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
26. Favourite cookbook?
27. Most inspirational book you've read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

28. Favourite reading snack?
I try not to eat snacks whilst reading but every so often I might treat myself to biscuits :)

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Ian McEwan's Atonement. I have friends who love that book but it just didn't work for me.

29. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I'm honestly not sure. For some reason I don’t tend to read critical reviews of books but I do with films (there I think it's about 50/50).

30. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
If it's a classic/really popular novel then I might feel a bit uncomfortable. Everyone loves this book! Has the world gone mad or is there something wrong with me?! But I would still stand by my opinion. If I didn't like the book then what can I say?

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
French. I would love to be able to read Les Miserables in French!

34. The most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I'm intimidated by George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for years. I'm not even sure why I bought it! I'm also intimidated by James Joyce. That bookshop in Dublin that I mentioned had several shelves of James Joyce's books. I had a flick through Finnegan's Wake and thought "Nah..."

35. Favourite Poet?
There are still lots of his poems that I have yet to read but probably Edgar Allan Poe. I love The Raven.

38. Favourite fictional character?
Argh! I have far too many favourites to list them all here! But based on my current mood...
  • Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
  • Henry Tilney from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey
  • Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters from John Green's The Fault in Our Stars
  • Peeta Mellark from Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games series
  • Marius Pontmercy from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables
  • Konstantin Levin from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
  • Westley and Inigo Montoya from William Goldman's The Princess Bride
  • Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series
  • Willy Wonka from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

39. Favourite fictional villain?
Again, there's quite a few.
  • Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Snow from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire
  • Dolores Umbridge from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series
  • Count Fosco from Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White
  • Bob Ewell from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Mrs Danvers from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca 
  • Lucy Steele from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility
  • Uriah Heep from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield
  • Mrs Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda
  • Erik from Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. He's a sympathetic villain though, really more of an anti-hero.

40. Books I'm most likely to bring on holiday?
I'd take something light and cheerful. A holiday isn't the right time to be reading Tolstoy or Dostoevsky!

41. The longest I've gone without reading.
Sadly I have gone through periods in my life where I haven't read much. I went through a period in my teens where I barely read anything at all. Looking back I think it was probably because I just wasn't very interested in teenage books. But now I try to read at least 30-40 pages of a book a day.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Recently there was Homer's The Iliad. Even though I actually came very close to the end I just couldn't bring myself to finish it. I had such a struggle with that book!

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Noise, like the sound of the TV or a baby crying or something.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?
I picked 10 adaptations that I love in this post. There are a lot of other adaptations that I love though. I could very easily pick another 10!

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
The Dario Argento adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera is absolutely horrific!

46. The most money I've ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Er, £50 maybe? That would have been when I was a student and buying expensive textbooks.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
I'll usually give the beginning and middle sections a quick skim. I wouldn't skim the end section in case of huge spoilers.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
It would take a lot for me to give up on a book these days but if the book was that bad and I had absolutely no interest in how it would end then I would stop.

49. Do you like to keep your books organised?
I sort them by height and then by the surnames of the authors.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them?
I keep the books that I enjoyed and know I'll read again. When I'm starting to run out of space I'll give the books that I didn't like to a charity shop.

53. A book you didn't expect to like but did?
I was shocked at how much I loved Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I thought I'd like them but I wasn't expecting them to blow me away as much as they did.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn't?
Jo Baker's Longbourn. I'm usually very sceptical about spin-offs of classic novels but unlike other Jane Austen fanfiction novels this book had actually picked up really good reviews. And the first 100 pages of it or so were extremely promising. But everything that came after that... *sighs.*

55. Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Over the past year I've become a Georgette Heyer fan. I haven't enjoyed all of her books but Venetia, Frederica, Cotillion and These Old Shades are fabulous fun :) Stephen Fry is a big fan of Heyer although he does consider her books a guilty pleasure sadly. He talks about her books in the first couple of minutes of this video.