Monday, 29 December 2014

My Year of Reading (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (1912)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 December 2014

Some Blogging Announcements

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 21 December 2014

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

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

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

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

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Crucible (2014 Old Vic Theatre)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/5
Certificate Rating: 12

Thursday, 4 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/5