Sunday, 30 November 2014

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, 28 November 2014

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, 20 November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ireland (27th August-1st September 2014)

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

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

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

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

St Stephen's Green

Oscar Wilde's house, Merrion Square

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

The Old Library

The River Liffey

The Norseman, Temple Bar


St Patrick's Cathedral

Grafton Street

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

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


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

Killarney National Park

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

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

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

Monday, 17 November 2014

Paddington (2014) Trailer

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

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Imitation Game (2014)

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5/5
Film Certificate Rating: 12

Friday, 14 November 2014

Happy Birthday, North and South (2004)!

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

Thursday, 13 November 2014

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

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

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

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

Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Trailer

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

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

Sunday, 9 November 2014

If I Was a Shakespearean Heroine I'd Be...

...Luciana from The Comedy of Errors. I took a quiz and this was the description:

You are a textbook idealist. When you fall in love, it is head over heels... and usually, it's love at first sight! No matter, since you are all heedless optimism and idealism. As a result, you can be a bit sensitive and your heart (and ego!) has been bruised more than once. Your friends value you for your good nature and positive outlook on life. You can be sneaky and crafty when you go after what you want, and it doesn't always turn out how you expect - but it does always ends up for the best!

I think that's mostly accurate although I don't believe in love at first sight and "heedless" suggests "impulsiveness" which I'm definitely not. But, yes, this description is mostly accurate I think! If you want to take the quiz for yourself click here

Thursday, 6 November 2014

'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley (1818)

Synopsis: On a freezing cold morning, a man called Victor Frankenstein is rescued by a ship on an Arctic expedition after being found wandering across the polar ice caps. Victor is starved and half-frozen. As Victor slowly recovers he begins to tell the ship's captain Robert Walton his life story. Walton then relates Victor's story in letters to his sister Margaret... Victor Frankenstein is born into a wealthy family from Geneva. Victor forms an intense passion for science from a very young age. Victor then leaves home to study at the University of Ingolstadt and soon excels. He throws himself into his research and within two years is able to construct a new creature out of the body parts of stolen corpses. He then brings it to life. However, the creature is hideously ugly and Victor is repulsed by it. He abandons the creature and has a nervous breakdown. Victor is then very ill for several months while his best friend Henry Clerval nurses him back to health. The murder of Victor's little brother William prompts him to come back home. To his horror, Victor discovers that the creature is the murderer and that the creature is now demanding a mate. Victor reluctantly agrees to grant the creature's request but the hatred between them - caused by Victor's abandonment and the creature's bitterness - leads to further tragedy.

This is going to be one of the hardest reviews that I've had to write. I read Frankenstein for the first time when I was 18 during my first semester at university. Despite the best efforts of my seminar tutor the book bored me to tears and I couldn't connect with it at all. I found Mary Shelley's writing dry and over-descriptive, I despised Victor, I didn't have very much sympathy for the Creature, and some of the plot-points in the novel seemed downright silly to me. But over the past year I've been wanting to re-read the book because of the 2011 National Theatre stage adaptation of the book. I managed to watch last year when one of its filmed performances was re-shown at my local cinema.

The National Theatre production was written by Nick Dear, directed by Danny Boyle, and it starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. Cumberbatch and Miller alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature every other night and would both go on to win a joint Olivier Award. Even though I'd spent years disliking the book I'd heard such great things about the play. That and the fact that I'm a fan of both Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller - especially Benedict! :D - made me pretty curious to see it. The version I saw had Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Victor Frankenstein. I thought I might enjoy the play but I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did! I was mesmerised by it. I found it far more compelling, fascinating and suspenseful than the book. The plot-points that I had an issue with in Shelley's novel were removed or changed. And I was far more moved by the play. I had far more sympathy for the Creature this time around and I even sympathised with Victor a little bit more! I loved the National Theatre production so much that I went back and watched the version with Miller as the Creature and Cumberbatch as Victor a few weeks later. And this Halloween they showed the version with Cumberbatch as the Creature again so I went back and watched that again too. If they carry on showing the play every year then Frankenstein might become an annual Halloween tradition for me! :)

I love this gif!

I re-read Shelley's novel again a few days ago and I had a different reaction to it. I haven't fallen in love with the book by any means and I actually prefer the National Theatre production. I still think that the book is flawed and I still think that the 18 year old me's reaction to the book was valid. Those silly plot-points still bother me. I'm perfectly willing to accept the fantastical premise of the book - that a man can create another creature and bring it to life - but there are still certain things in it that really push my ability to suspend disbelief! I still think that the Creature learning perfect, fluent French by hiding in a shack owned by the De Lacey family and spying on them is ridiculous! There's also the fact that Victor accidentally ends up sailing from the Orkney Islands all the way over to Ireland and discovers that the Creature went to Perth, kidnapped Henry, took him over to Ireland and killed him! But how on earth did the Creature guess that Victor would end up in Ireland?! And how did he manage to do all of those things by the time Victor got there?! The Creature only left the night before Victor did! In the National Theatre production De Lacey discovers the Creature's existence very early on and explicitly teaches him how to speak and read, which is much more believable, and the Ireland section of the book is completely left out.

After some thought I've decided to give Frankenstein a 3.5/5 3/5 rating. Eight years ago I would have probably given the book a 1.5/5 or a 1/5 rating. The plot-points that I've mentioned still annoyed me but my experience with Frankenstein was a lot more positive this time around. It helped massively that I love the National Theatre adaptation and that I was reading the book out of choice. I definitely got more out of the book this time around. The premise of the book is fascinatingly dark and thought-provoking. This book isn't just a gothic-horror novel and a tragedy; it's widely considered to be the world's first ever sci-fi novel. I found Mary Shelley's writing far more engaging during this re-read. The book is a bit draggy at times and Shelley's writing lacks the polish of Jane Austen's, but nevertheless I loved her descriptions of the Swiss Alps and there are some truly beautiful and emotional pieces of writing in her book. I found the characters in Frankenstein more engaging and interesting too. Well, not Henry or Elizabeth since they're essentially plot devices but Victor and the Creature - yes. I don't think anyone could say that Victor Frankenstein isn't a pretty horrible person. He's egocentric, selfish, immoral, irresponsible, histrionic, whiny, cowardly and weak. He decides to create a life just to see if he can. He's then incredibly cruel and callous towards the Creature and just because he's ugly. Victor! You stitched him together from the body parts of stolen corpses! What did you expect?! And Victor's reaction to Justine's execution is just awful:

The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the awful boundary between life and death, felt not as I did, such deep and bitter agony.

Oh, yes! Justine, who is about to be executed for a crime she didn't commit, isn't suffering nearly as much as Victor is apparently! Victor doesn't really learn his lesson by the end either. Right up until the end it's very clear that he still sees himself as being the victim of the situation when really he's just as much to blame for everything that's happened in the book as the Creature is, if not more so. Victor acknowledges that he created the Creature but he completely fails to understand that it was due to his lack of compassion that the Creature turned out the way he did. But, in spite of my dislike of Victor, I couldn't help but pity him. It's truly tragic that he loses his brother, friend and wife. He also recognises that Robert is on a similar destructive path to himself and is able to help him. But it's the Creature who is by far the most sympathetic character in the book. Victor creates him essentially on a whim, is repulsed and disgusted by him, and then leaves him to die. The Creature is then forced to fend for himself and discovers that everyone fears and hates him because of his appearance. This then turns him bitter and murderous. It's so sad! As much as I was appalled by some of the Creature's actions it's not as if anyone taught him differently. His character is very similar to The Phantom of the Opera in this respect. I truly felt for the Creature and I wanted him to be redeemed and to find peace. Interestingly enough the Creature expresses true remorse for his actions at the end whereas Victor doesn't. This again reinforces my view that the Creature is by far the more sympathetic character of the two.

Many people have interpreted Frankenstein as being Mary Shelley's warning to scientists and the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution; a reminder that they're not God and that they shouldn't take on things that they can't handle. I wouldn't necessarily dispute this interpretation of the book but it seems to me that Victor is more to blame for his lack of Godly compassion and love for the Creature than in anything else. But that's just my interpretation of the book.

Rating: 3/5

P.S. It's interesting that there are so many upcoming Frankenstein adaptations in the works! There's the Big Finish audio drama with Arthur Darvill, Nicholas Briggs and Georgia Moffett that's just been released and there's an upcoming modern-day ITV series which will be starring Sean Bean. The adaptation that I'm most interested in is the upcoming 2015 film which is starring James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe and Jessica Brown-Findlay. Sherlock fans should be interested in this one because Mark Gatiss, Andrew Scott and Louise Brealey will all be making appearances in it :) There's also going to be a biopic about how Frankenstein came to be written with Sophie Turner and Jeremy Irvine playing Mary and P.B. Shelley. Why are all those adaptations coming around now I wonder?