Monday, 27 April 2015

Bookish and Not So Bookish Thoughts

(c) Lianne @

Bookish and Not-So-Bookish Thoughts is a weekly blogging event hosted by Bookishly Boisterous. It allows book bloggers (and non-book bloggers) to write about pretty much anything, bookish or otherwise (i.e. share exciting plans for the weekend, rants on things they've encountered during the week, etc).

1. Hello again, dear readers! I have a job interview tomorrow morning and your prayers on this would be very much appreciated!

2. At the moment the weather where I'm from is sunny but cold and it's really annoying me! Yesterday I thought it looked quite warm so I didn't dress appropriately enough and I ended up being freezing cold. Today I thought "Well, I'm certainly not going to make the same mistake twice! Oh no, I'm wearing a jumper today!" Only it ended up being even colder than the day before so really I should have worn a coat over it. Grr! And the cold weather isn't doing my hands any good either. I have withered old lady hands right now. Hmm, you can tell I'm British can't you?! Complaining about the weather here is very much a national pastime!

3. I owe my friend Samara a massive thank you because she recommended a high fantasy novel called The Name of the Wind to me about a year ago which I've finally read... and oh my word it was freakin' amazing! :D I'm working on a review of it and it should be up in a few days :) I've also started to read the sequel to that book which is called The Wise Man's Fear. The author of these books is Patrick Rothfuss in case anyone's wondering.

4. I'm currently watching two literary web series at the moment, both of which I'm very much enjoying. They're called Elinor and Marianne Take Barton and From Mansfield with Love. I imagine that most of you will have worked out that they're adaptations of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. I've put the opening episodes of the web series down below for anyone who wants to check them out:

5. Lately I've been doing a bit of thinking about classic stories that could be turned into modern-day web series. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is definitely one of them - I've talked about it on the blog before - but other stories that I think could potentially work brilliantly in the modern-day are Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and Georgette Heyer's Cotillion

6. As I mentioned in my last Bookish and Not-So-Bookish post I've been loooving the BBC's Poldark. Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson and Jack Farthing all gave wonderful performances in the series finale of Poldark on Sunday night. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful episode and it's going to be such a long wait to the second series. *sighs* On a lighter note I thought I'd just share this behind-the-scenes clip of the show because I love to see actors having fun on the projects that they're working on. :) Trivia: Aidan Turner was a professional ballroom dancer before he became an actor and even danced for Ireland. Just when I thought he couldn't be any more attractive!

7. It's a long way off but I'll be watching the National Theatre's live screening of Hamlet on the 15th of October. I'm so excited to see Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet and I'm really happy with some of the supporting cast who were announced recently. Ciaran Hinds is playing Claudius and Leo Bill is playing Horatio. Bill played Robert Ferrars in the 2008 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility and Charles Darwin in the 2006 film The Fall (which is my favourite film). 

8. It's even further off but the Christmas episode of Sherlock has been on my mind quite a bit too! It's been confirmed that it's going to be a one-off episode set in the Victorian era and I'm really intrigued to see how the actors will differentiate their Victorian and modern-day characters. 

9. Susanna Clarke's book Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is an all-time favourite of mine and the BBC have finally released a full-length trailer for their adaptation of it. I have my doubts on whether some of the cast members *coughmarcwarrencough* will be able to pull off their characters but this certainly looks wonderful and I'm warming to their Jonathan Strange and Vinculus.

10. I went to the Harry Potter Studios near Watford not long ago! I mentioned it in my last Bookish and Not So Bookish post. I had a really fun day and I've put up a few photos of my trip down below. The last one is of me on the "Hogwarts Express" :)

Friday, 17 April 2015

'An Infamous Army' by Georgette Heyer (1937)

Synopsis: An Infamous Army is the sequel to Devil's Cub and Regency Buck. The year is 1815. Brussels is the most glamorous city in Europe and many British aristocrats have rented homes there for the summer. Napoleon has escaped from Elba and has returned to neighbouring France but no-one in the city is much concerned about this. One of the most scandalous figures in the city is the beautiful widow Lady Barbara Childe who is the granddaughter of Dominic Alastair and Mary Challoner (now the Duke and Duchess of Avon). Barbara wears revealing dresses, paints her toenails gold, swears like a sailor, and is having a very indiscreet affair with a notorious Belgian count. At a ball, Barbara then meets a dashing and handsome soldier called Colonel Charles Audley who is the younger brother of the Earl of Worth. For Charles it's love at first sight and it isn't long before Barbara falls for Charles. She then accepts his marriage proposal. However, Barbara isn't quite willing to give up her ways and she continues to flirt outrageously with other men, subconsciously daring Charles to break off their engagement. Charles endures these flirtations as best as he can but eventually it all becomes too much and after a nasty argument he breaks off their engagement. Shortly afterwards Charles is summoned to the Battle of Waterloo...

Georgette Heyer did a meticulous amount of research for all of her historical novels but for this book she completely out-did herself. An Infamous Army is widely considered to be one of the most historically accurate accounts of the Battle of Waterloo ever written. It was even on the required reading list at Sandhurst for many years. Unfortunately I wasn't really able to appreciate this book. In fact it bored me to tears. Usually I very much appreciate historical accuracy and attention to detail but Heyer's account of the Battle of Waterloo completely overwhelmed me. I found all of the battle tactics and manoeuvres in it extremely confusing and difficult to keep up with. I guess this might not be much of an issue for military history buffs but as most of my knowledge of Waterloo comes from what I've gleaned from Les Miserables and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell I was pretty lost.

As a romance this book didn't work for me either. I liked the glimpses that I saw of Charles in Regency Buck but he doesn't get a huge amount of character development in this one and Lady Barbara is very unlikeable. She's selfish, flighty and callous and is basically just a female version of her awful grandfather. She's even caused two men to kill themselves by breaking their hearts. Ooh, how lovely! There were a couple of points where the characters discussed Barbara's "good heart" but I couldn't see any actual evidence of this and I couldn't understand why Charles fell in love with her. Judith Taverner is in this book quite a bit too and that was yet another issue that I had with it. Judith really annoyed me in Regency Buck and she wasn't any more likeable in this one.

I think this book is now my least favourite Georgette Heyer novel. I really didn't like it :( There have been other Heyer novels that I've found mediocre but even those books had some characters that I liked and certain scenes that made me smile - and that certainly wasn't the case with this one. I'm pretty disappointed. I truly loved These Old Shades but none of its sequels have lived up to that book for me. I'm glad to put this series behind me.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Another 'Star Wars' Trailer!

I LOST it when the music started playing! This film may well be the death of me!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

'The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes' by Arthur Conan Doyle (1894)

Synopsis: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is the fourth book in the Sherlock Holmes series and is a collection of 12 short stories that were originally published in The Strand magazine between December 1892 and December 1893. The stories were then put together into a book in February 1894. The 12 stories in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes are Silver Blaze, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box, The Adventure of the Yellow Face, The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk, The Adventure of the Gloria Scott, The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual, The Adventure of the Reigate Squire, The Adventure of the Crooked Man, The Adventure of the Resident Patient, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, The Adventure of the Naval Treaty and The Final Problem.

This is yet another hugely enjoyable book in the Sherlock Holmes series! :) Most of the stories in this book are wonderful! But that being said... as much as I loved this book I did detect a few signs that Arthur Conan Doyle had lost some interest in Sherlock Holmes. The opening paragraphs of The Cardboard Box and The Resident Patient are almost word for word the same - which really confused me! - and The Stockbroker's Clerk is basically a paler imitation of The Red-Headed League. And during this re-read I noticed that Arthur Conan Doyle doesn't always bother to tell us whether or not Watson is married in the stories any more. As I said, I still loved this book but I can't help but wonder how obvious ACD's lack of interest in Sherlock Holmes is going to be in the final stories of the canon if I can even spot it here! Anyway, now I'm going to talk about my top three favourites from the book:

The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual - There are two "Young Sherlock" stories in this book which are this story and The Gloria Scott. The mystery behind The Gloria Scott isn't terribly interesting and Holmes doesn't really do all that much in the story. That being said it does give us a fascinating glimpse into Holmes' university days and we do get to find out about the one friend he made during his time there, who was called Victor Trevor. I'd love it if Victor showed up in the BBC's Sherlock! Heck, even just a mention of him would be really cool! The Musgrave Ritual is an even better story than The Gloria Scott though. In this one Holmes is approached by an old university acquaintance called Reginald Musgrave and he then ends up going on a treasure hunt! How awesome! And the mystery in this book revolves around a bizarre family tradition that dates back to the English Civil War. As a Cavalier fangirl this made me very happy! ;) I love the humour in this story too. I love that the only reason why Holmes even tells Watson the story is so he can manipulate his way out of doing some tidying!

The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter - Yay! Mycroft Holmes! This story is the first in the canon to feature him and as I'm quite the Mycroft fan I really love this story. Re-reading this story was quite an interesting experience. Considering that Sherlock hasn't even mentioned his brother to Watson up until now, his relationship with Mycroft seems very warm and relaxed here which surprised me. That's not to say that there isn't any sibling rivalry between the two of them. I do love the scene where they try to out-deduct each other! Another scene that I really love is the one where Sherlock and Watson leave Mycroft at the Diogenes Club and walk home only to be flabbergasted when they come home to find Mycroft casually smoking in their flat. Hahaha! I really love the ending of this story as well: that Holmes believed it was Sophy who dealt with the men who killed her brother. Wow, Sherlock's opinion of women really has improved!

The Adventure of the Reigate Squire - I wanted to pick my top three favourites from this book just like I did with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It was harder to do that with this book but I eventually managed it. But before I'll explain why I loved The Reigate Squire so much I'll have to mention The Final Problem. I couldn't do a review of this book without mentioning it! As ACD had gotten tired of writing about Sherlock Holmes he decided to kill his detective off and concentrate on writing more serious, literary fiction. But at the same time ACD wanted the series to go out with a bang so he gave Holmes an evil genius arch-enemy called Professor Moriarty for his final story. The Final Problem has a very different tone from the rest of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It's less of a mystery and has more of a James Bond-esque spy-thriller feel about it, which is pretty refreshing. Moriarty's visit to Baker Street is pure awesome-ness and the final sentence in the story is very touching. And yet... on my re-read of the story I couldn't help but compare this story to Sherlock's The Reichenbach Fall and I honestly love that version of that story even more. We get to see far more of Moriarty in that episode - brilliantly played by Andrew Scott! - and it's even more thrilling and emotional than The Final Problem I find.

So why did I pick The Reigate Squire then? Er, because it's awesome! I love this one! There are so many fantastic moments in it. In this story Holmes is overworked after doing a particularly gruelling case in France so Watson insists that he and Holmes take a holiday in the countryside near Reigate. Of course the two of them then get involved in a mystery which is much to Watson's annoyance and Holmes' delight. Both Holmes and Watson get seriously badass moments in this story. When the daft local police inspector is about to reveal to the criminals what the vital evidence for the case is, Holmes then fakes a panic attack. He does such a great job at it that even Watson, who let us not forget is a doctor, is completely taken in by it. And then it gets even better. Holmes then casually knocks over a bowl of oranges and a jug of water and coolly blames Watson for it. Watson is kind of annoyed but he's such a great friend and sidekick that he goes along with it. And then Holmes takes advantage of the confusion by sneaking off into the next room to find the vital clue. At this point the criminals, in a moment of complete insanity, dash off to the next room and try to kill him! When Watson and the inspector are right next door! I can't get over how stupid this is. I guess they just panicked. Anyway, Watson then gets to save Holmes which is really cool. Holmes is then like "Yay! Best holiday ever!" and then they go home. Aw.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, 6 April 2015

'The Age of Innocence' by Edith Wharton (1920)

Synopsis: The Age of Innocence takes place during the 1870s. Newland Archer is a young lawyer and the heir to one of the oldest and wealthiest families in New York City. Newland has recently become engaged to a pretty and thoroughly conventional young woman called May Welland and is looking forward to his marriage. This changes when Newland then meets May's alluring and mysterious older cousin Ellen Olenska. Ellen was born in New York but has spent most of her life travelling around Europe and is the wife of a Polish count. Ellen has scandalously returned home to New York after separating herself from her adulterous husband. She has set up her own home in an unfashionable part of town and her family are now putting great pressure on her to return to her husband and her miserable life. However, Newland is fascinated by Ellen and her exotic European ways and feels great compassion towards her. The two of them then become good friends. Newland's affection towards Ellen becomes even stronger and eventually grows into an intense passion. Even after his marriage to May, Newland can't put aside his feelings towards Ellen. He begins to rebel in small ways but still feels suffocated by his socially conventional marriage, job and life and longs for Ellen. Will Newland divorce May, run away with Ellen and become an outcast of society or will he stay with May and live a safe but dull life?

The Age of Innocence is my first Edith Wharton novel and it's now one of my favourite books of all time. It's an achingly beautiful book that I was completely captivated by and now I really want to read more of Wharton's works. The writing in this book is wonderful! It's vivid, emotional, poetic, beautiful and full of atmosphere. Edith Wharton was the first female author to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and her award was completely deserved. That being said I couldn't disagree more with the reason why the judges chose this book. The judges of the prize praised The Age of Innocence for revealing "the wholesome atmosphere of American life and the highest standard of American manners and manhood"... what were they THINKING?!

Edith Wharton grew up in 1870s' New York and The Age of Innocence is a scathing portrayal of that world. Most of the New Yorkers in the book are convinced that their culture and society is far superior to the French and English and yet Wharton depicts New York as a place that's stuffy, uptight, cruel and hypocritical. The city might be glamorous, beautiful and cultured but people aren't really alive in it. New York society is obsessed with tradition and is tied up in ridiculous and meaningless social conventions that have to be followed at all times. People care more about following conventionality and being "decent" than being moral. Ellen's family consider her an embarrassment because she has "odd" European ways and is now seeking a divorce and yet they're the ones who are trying to force her into going back to her husband! Even though they're perfectly aware that the Count had numerous affairs and - it's heavily implied - abused Ellen. I was very angry with these characters on Ellen's behalf! I did love the social commentary in this book though. Wharton's writing is witty, sarcastic and biting and it reminded me very much of Jane Austen in this respect. The bittersweet final chapter of this book is an interesting one too because Wharton indicates that times are changing and that New York society is improving and yet... The Age of Innocence was written in the 1920s. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in the 1920s and that book is a highly scathing portrayal of New York society as well. Clearly New York is changing for the better but it still has a very long way to go.

Another thing that I absolutely loved about this book was how engaging and complex the main characters. To compare this book with another classic novel that features the theme of adultery, I found Newland and Ellen far more sympathetic than Anna and Count Vronsky in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. They're nowhere near as selfish for one thing and they actually consider the feelings of their families. When I was reading the book I actually said out loud "Oh why couldn't the two of you have met you earlier?!" once or twice. Newland and Ellen seemed so intellectually and emotionally compatible. Newland is very flawed but I did him very interesting and sympathetic. He believes in women's rights, is well-travelled, appreciates European culture, and is an intellectual with a genuine love of art, music and literature. He doesn't go to the opera and the theatre for social reasons (like the other characters do) but because he genuinely enjoys the music and stories. Newland is also quite the romantic and the dreamer. I really felt his frustration and his inner struggle between his conscience and his desperate longing for Ellen. I had a huge amount for sympathy for Ellen as well. I really felt sorry for her because she isn't trying to be rebellious. She isn't revelling in her scandalous reputation. All Ellen wants is to have a quiet life and she's bewildered and hurt by New York's hostility towards her. She's a fascinating character and it's easy to understand why Newland falls for her; since she's mysterious, vivacious, passionate, independent and unconventional. I suppose I should mention May now who's the other part of the book's love triangle. May comes across as nothing more than a shallow, bland airhead for the vast majority of the book - appropriately - but there are certain occasions where Wharton hints that there's much more to her. And towards the end of the book we find out that May has a cunning, calculating side and was much more aware of what was going on between Newland and Ellen than Newland gave her credit for. However, whenever May shows any flashes of spirit she quickly represses this and reverts back to being boring and socially conventional again.

The final chapter of this book is highly ambiguous and I've read multiple interpretations about why Newland did what he did. Why did he refuse to meet up with Ellen even though his son Dallas encouraged him to do so and both May and the Count are now dead? Well, here's my own personal take on that: although I do believe that Newland loved Ellen I think he was afraid of meeting her again. It's quite likely that after living such very different lives for decades that Newland and Ellen might not have had very much in common with each other any more and I think Newland would have been aware of that. I think he would have been worried that he would no longer recognise the Ellen that he fell in love with or that she would now find him boring and insipid (which are the things that he once thought about May). Newland didn't have the courage to meet Ellen again. Instead he chose to dwell on the happy memories of Ellen which had sustained him - which is utterly heartbreaking and tragic but it's completely understandable and in-character. Throughout the book I think it's pretty clear that neither Newland or Ellen really had the courage to turn their backs against society.

The Age of Innocence is a spectacular novel. At this point in the year A Room with a View has been the most entertaining and delightful book that I've read but The Age of Innocence has been by far the most moving and powerful. I would highly recommend this book - especially to fans of classic novels and to fans of rich, internal character dramas.

Rating: 5/5

P.S. I've also seen the 1993 Martin Scorsese adaptation of this book and I would highly recommend that film as well. Scorsese is best known for directing gritty films like Goodfellas and Gangs of New York so I can imagine that to some he'll seem like an incredibly odd choice to be directing a period drama like The Age of Innocence. His film is extremely faithful to the book though and it really does justice to the story. Scorsese even utilises an omniscient narrator (voiced by Joanne Woodward) to recite much of Edith Wharton's prose. The film is a feast for the eyes visually and there are some stunning shots. I was also very impressed by how Scorsese handled the more emotionally charged scenes between Newland and Ellen. They're sensual and erotic but are very far from being explicit. Newland and Ellen's scenes together are written that way in the book but a lot of writers would have felt the need to "sex up" their scenes so I was impressed by the level of restraint that was shown in the film. Acting-wise, Daniel Day Lewis gives an absolutely brilliant performance as Newland. I was especially impressed by him because the last film I saw him in was the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of A Room with a View where he plays a completely different character in Cecil Vyse! The roles of Ellen and May in the film are played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. Neither Pfeiffer or Ryder look anything like their book characters - in the book it's Ellen who's the brunette and May the blonde - but they both give excellent performances. If Scorsese had made more films like The Age of Innocence and Hugo in his career I'd be a much bigger fan. 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Bookish and Not-So-Bookish Thoughts

(c) Lianne @

Bookish and Not-So-Bookish Thoughts is a weekly blogging event hosted by Bookishly Boisterous. It allows book bloggers (and non-book bloggers) to write about pretty much anything, bookish or otherwise (i.e. share exciting plans for the weekend, rants on things they've encountered during the week, etc).

1. I'm currently halfway through Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence right now and I'm really loving it. It's such a beautiful and heart-wrenching book. Once I'm finished with it I'm going to watch the Martin Scorsese adaptation and then I hope to read Edith Wharton's Summer soon. Summer is one of Wharton's lesser-known works but there are a lot of rumours flying around that there's going to be a film adaptation of it with Hailee Steinfeld, Richard Armitage and Dan Stevens. I've not seen Steinfeld in anything but I love Armitage and Stevens so I'm pretty excited about this! :D Oh and there's also that TV adaptation of Wharton's The Custom of the Country that's just been announced which is starring Scarlett Johansson. It looks like I got into Edith Wharton at just the right time!

2. A project that Dan Stevens is definitely in which I'm even more excited about is the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie. I loved the two most recent Disney fairytale films (Into the Woods and Cinderella) very, very much so I think they're on great form. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite films and it's definitely my favourite Disney film. Well, it might be tied with Tangled these days but it still claims the number one spot. I was initially annoyed when I found out that they were re-making the 1991 film but I've warmed up to the project now that they've announced the cast. I didn't actually like Emma Watson's acting in the Harry Potter films but I thought she gave a fantastic performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I think she's really improved as an actress. She auditioned to play Cosette in the Les Miserables film as well so one would think that she has a really good singing voice. I think that she'll do a great job as will Stevens and Luke Evans and everyone else. The only thing that's making me nervous about the film is that Bill Condon is directing it. I know he's won an Oscar in the past but his two most recent films were The Fifth Estate (which bombed) and Twilight: Breaking Dawn :S

3. I have a new phone! I've had a Samsung Galaxy for the past two years but now I've switched to an iPhone 5c. I love my new phone: I picked a very nice shiny blue colour for it and it's a lot faster than my old phone was. When I used to scroll on Tumblr with my old phone it would take ages for GIFs to load up but now they load up pretty much instantly. I still kind of miss my old phone though. I get very attached to my phones.

4. I am so loving the BBC's Poldark right now! I've never actually read the Winston Graham books that the show is based on but I knew about the 1970's adaptation of the books and how popular it was so I was definitely intrigued. The show was kind of like the Downton Abbey of its day in terms of popularity. That and the fact that I knew that Aidan Turner was going to be starring in it made me want to watch the show and now I ♥ it. I love almost all of the characters in it (apart from Francis who's so whiny and weak-willed that I just want to punch him all the time), it's romantic, it's dramatic, and the Cornish countryside is beyond gorgeous. I haven't been to Cornwall since I was a teenager and the show has definitely inspired me to go back to it at some point in the future.

5. Last month I made the decision to stop going to French class and now I'm learning the language independently. My French has actually improved since I stopped going to class! I have the Duolingo app on my phone and it's keeping me really motivated. I'm practising on it several times a day. The classroom environment simply wasn't working for me *shrugs*

6. A couple of songs that I'm really loving right now are Lorde's Bravado and an epic mash-up of Imagine Dragons' Radioactive with Fall Out Boy's My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.

7. I don't think I've mentioned it on the blog but I'm going to Italy this September. Some of you might recall that review I did on E.M. Forster's A Room with a View back in January? Well, the book and the 1985 film had me longing to go back to Florence and I suggested to my mom that we should go to Italy for our summer holiday this year and she agreed :) We're both excited. She's never been to Florence. I have but I didn't get to see any other towns in Tuscany and I'm hoping to do that on this trip.

8. A more immediate thing that I'm looking forward to is my trip to the Harry Potter Studios next Tuesday! I'm going with my brother. I don't even like the Harry Potter films that much - the books on the other hand! - but I'm still really excited about seeing the sets. I think it's going to be a really fun day out :)

9. I've never talked about it on the blog but I'm a huge fan of the BBC comedy panel show Would I Lie To You? I watched an especially funny episode of it last night. For non-British readers it's a show where the panellists and celebrity guests will read out things about themselves that could either be true or false. Everyone else then has to work out whether the person is lying or not. It's a hilarious show and you can even play along with it at home! And I especially love the banter between the panellists David Mitchell and Lee Mack and the host Rob Brydon :D Here are some of my favourite moments from the show:

10. I'm not going to commit myself to doing these posts every single week but I'm going to make an effort to do them every now and again because it will be a handy way of giving you all my flailings :) March has been a good month for me. February wasn't because I was ill for a lot of it and I've never really liked February anyway but March was good and hopefully April will be even better. I wish everyone reading this a happy Easter!