24 Jun 2016

ALL YOU NEED IS ...

Know what day it is today? 

Care to take a guess?

Anyone?

No?

Let me give you a clue ...



OK, so I told a little fib, today isn't Pixie Dust Day but, close enough, 'tis ...


International Fairy Day.

A day for believers both young and (I won't say old) those who are young at heart as well as those who follow the old ways.

For centuries the wee folk, who according to Peter Pan author, J.M Barrie ...

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” 

have played a part in Celtic culture (indeed even today for many pagans the Fae play an important role and more so around Beltane when the veil between our world and that of theirs is at its thinnest).

Nowadays as often as not thought of as magical diminutive beings, albeit very cute, somewhat ethereal magical diminutive beings, fairies - faeries to give them there more traditional spelling - were once upon a time deemed to include any number of 'magical folk - satyrs, elves, portunes and Tuatha De Danann included.

Portunes, Tuatha De Danann?

Yes,  they new to me as well. 

Believed to be around about the same height as the height of a little finger, the Portune were said to have the appearance of very old men with wrinkled cheeks who could either be very industrious OR, presumably as the mood took them, very mischievous.

Whilst, according to myth ...

Said to be the first inhabitants of Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann, were said to have have the ability to shape-shift at will and, choosing to live above ground, thus became interwoven into heroic legends. Quite unlike the Daoine Sidhe, the 'people of the mound's, who though derived from the Tuatha De Danann, instead chose to reside underground as far away from humans as possible and thus became the stuff of fairy tales.

So many names, so many myths and stories. I guess the fun of International Fairy Day is to celebrate the child within us, to perhaps re-live the magic of our childhood whether it be by taking a walk in the woods in the hope of spotting a fairy ring, building a fairy house - Too ambitious? How about a fairy door? - or merely reading a favourite fairy tale. After all to quote J.M Barrie again ...

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”

22 Jun 2016

THE COMPLETE FIRST EDITION: THE ORIGINAL FOLK AND FAIRY TALES OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM.


THE COMPLETE FIRST EDITION: THE ORIGINAL FOLK AND FAIRY TALES OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM by . BROTHERS GRIMM (Translated by JACK ZIPES with illustrations by ANDREA DEZSO)

INNER FRONT COVER BLURB: When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Children's and Household Tales in 1812, followed by a second volume in 1815, they had no idea that such stories as "Rapunzel," "Hansel and Gretel," and "Cinderella" would become the most celebrated in the world. Yet few people today are familiar with the majority of tales from the two early volumes, since in the next four decades the Grimms would publish six other editions, each extensively revised in content and style. For the very first time, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm makes available in English all 156 stories from the 1812 and 1815 editions. These narrative gems, newly translated and brought together in one beautiful book, are accompanied by sumptuous new illustrations from award-winning artist Andrea Dezso.

From "The Frog King" to "The Golden Key," wondrous worlds unfold--heroes and heroines are rewarded, weaker animals triumph over the strong, and simple bumpkins prove themselves not so simple after all. Esteemed fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes offers accessible translations that retain the spare description and engaging storytelling style of the originals. Indeed, this is what makes the tales from the 1812 and 1815 editions unique--they reflect diverse voices, rooted in oral traditions, that are absent from the Grimms' later, more embellished collections of tales. Zipes's introduction gives important historical context, and the book includes the Grimms' prefaces and notes. A delight to read, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm presents these peerless stories to a whole new generation of readers.

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE STORIES: The Stolen Pennies. (Whilst not an exact word for word version as the one featured in this book, the version featured here is a near enough translation. TT)

SOURCE: A present from Mr T.

MY THOUGHTS: Phew! So much darker than the versions I can remember being read/told as a child. As the translator warns us in his excellent introduction these most certainly are not bed time stories for little ones.

As far as I'm concerned both a hit and miss. 

Riveting to realise just how sexist, racist (in particular antisemitic) and generally 'politically incorrect' the original tales were. Fascinating to note how the moral at the heart of the stories resonated in a way that they hadn't when I was younger. Interesting to compare and contrast them with the more sanitised versions that I came to know and love as a girl BUT ...

With lots of repetitive themes and plot lines, many of them so much so that some of the stories felt almost like carbon copies, I often felt an uneasy sense of deja vu.

For some readers perhaps a collection best enjoyed by the picking out of their favourite stories to see how they have changed over the years (Puss In Boots was a particular revelation to me). For others perhaps a collection best enjoyed for the stories they didn't know - if anything like me you'll be surprised at just how many there actually are. In hindsight, for me personally, probably a collection best read as and when rather than in one fell sweep as what I hadn't expected/had perhaps forgotten was how formulaic the characters actually could be. 

Combine these two factors together and I found myself easily distracted and, though it pains me to say it, occasionally bored.


16 Jun 2016

CRUEL REALITY: GAMES OF LIFE AND DEATH.


CRUEL REALITY: GAMES OF LIFE AND DEATH by C.J. WHITLEY.

AMAZON.CO.UK BLURB: Taken by masked men in the night, a host of British people find themselves at the mercy of unknown abductors. They cannot guess where they are going, or why they are going there. When they find an arsenal of medieval weapons in their new prison, horrific possibilities are imagined. When the cruel reality of their fate is revealed to them, they must learn a new way of life. Fight or die. There is nowhere to run.

FIRST SENTENCE { Chapter 1}: Mike's eyes opened slowly as he woke to a deafening roar.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 246}: Then he stopped chuckling, realizing that the very same thing could happen to him or any of the other warriors while out in the forest. If they were hiding and waiting in ambush, they could be betrayed in the same way. 

SOURCE: A Proof Copy received for review from the author.

MY THOUGHTS: Though as always left to the individuals discretion - in this case, I would have thought, an adult's discretion as to its suitability for younger readers - Cruel Reality is aimed at the Young Adult market and with very good reason. Though not what I thought of as gratuitous there are of necessity some themes that are unsuitable for young readers.

One of those books I admit I had second thoughts about accepting. A fairly lengthy tome of nigh on six hundred pages, would my attention be held throughout? Informed by the author (and I quote) 'A very brief way of describing it might be to say it is a bit like The Hunger Games, but set in the present day, real world'. Would it be too much like The Hunger Games OR, worse still, would it be written in such a way that whilst a book it was obviously written with a film deal in mind?

Not that I've read the books but I have seen the films and judging by these and these alone I think the author does himself a bit of a disservice. In my opinion better than The Hunger Games (the film adaptations at least) - whilst there is just as much action, I felt that there was more of an actual story to Cruel Reality.

A big book but with lots of short chapters. In my experience often a plus when it comes down to YA novels. 

Though definitely main protagonist Mike's story, there is in addition the occasional point of views from main female lead, Kay, and the entwined 'stories' of two others (I won't say what part they play in the book overall for fear of spoilers) which not only keeps the story fresh but, with a main male and female character, ensures the book as a great read no matter what your gender.

And as well as the action scenes - all well done which is surely testament to the author having had six months of sword and archery lessons - there are also lots of big themes throughout (the notion of leadership and fealty and, even, perceived sexism included). 

All factors which contributed to the plot flowing nicely. All ensuring the reader a roller coaster of a read, the family dynamics and tender, if largely understated, love story between Mike and Kay an emotional one.

But what of the characters?

Well developed each and every one of them. All manner of characters are covered and yet despite there being so many you really do come to know them as individuals and, if you are anything like me, will find yourself rallying for your favourites.

Worthy of every one of the five stars I awarded it on GoodReads/Amazon.co.uk. I wonder how many will manage to read the novel without pondering on what they'd do if it came down to fight or die. Not many I'm betting.



13 Jun 2016

FAHRENHEIT 451.


FAHRENHEIT 451 by RAY BRADBURY.

BACK COVER BLURB: Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books. 

Ray Bradbury's powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a prophetic account of Western civilization's enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity that stands alongside Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.

FIRST SENTENCE {Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander}: It was a pleasure to burn.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 58}: 'You weren't there, you didn't see,' he said. 'There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don't stay for nothing.'

SOURCE:  A special edition that celebrates fifty years since its first publication, this is one of Mr T's books off our shelves.

MY THOUGHTS: A book perhaps made notorious (and arguably the reason for its huge popularity) by it being included on the list of books to have been banned at one point or another. 

A 'science fiction'/'dystopian' novel, all about censorship and what it is to control/be controlled and, if I'm not very much mistaken, the 'dumbing down of society'.

Not what I considered a particularly well penned read. Not wishing to insult any school boys, but alas I found the writing, well, school boyish in its execution. The Mechanical Hound from whose snout there projects a lethal syringe unimaginative and, quite frankly, I felt laughable.

With neither a plot nor characters (probably the most important aspect of a story as far as I'm concerned) that I could immerse myself in, let alone believe in, I'm afraid I struggled. 

Then there was the whole futuristic aspect. OK, so there are those that see the author as quite the visionary and, yes, it could be said that with the increase in 'reality tv' (the opium of the masses?) he was right and I suppose in this respect the book is marginally interesting but not nearly so interesting as to grip my interest let alone hold my attention.

Whilst I shouldn't really compare the two, give me George Orwell any time.

Fahrenheit 451 was read for the 2016 Reading Challenge: 'A book that was banned at some point' category.


10 Jun 2016

THE BURIAL.


THE BURIAL by COURTNEY COLLINS.

BACK COVER BLURB: A woman has done an unspeakable thing ...

It is 1921. In a mountain-locked valley, amid squalls of driving rain, Jessie is on the run.

Born wild and brave, by twenty-six she has already lived life as a circus rider, cattle rustler and convict. But on this fateful night she is just a woman trying to survive.

She mounts her horse and points him towards the highest mountain in sight. Soon bands of men will crash through the bushland desperate to claim the reward on her head. And in their wake will be two more men, one her lover, the other the law, both uncertain if they should save her or themselves. 

FIRST SENTENCE {Prelude To Death}: Who hasn't heard of Harry Houdini.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 86}: Are you black? said the girl, examining him. We don't serve blacks.

Jack Brown tried to keep his cool. Where's the madam?

She's off crook. You look black but you've got blue eyes, said the girl.

And what colour do you think I am inside? said Jack Brown.

The girl looked confused. She did not answer. 

SOURCE: A reading group read.

MY THOUGHTS: Reading the disclaimer, 'This is a work of fiction - inspired by art, music, literature and the landscape as much as the life and times of Jessie Hickman herself', I had to wonder if the Jessie of our story was in any way connected to this Jessie Hickman.

Aha. Set in the Australian outback in the nineteen twenties and inspired by the life of one Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, The Burial (a debut novel which is also published as The Untold) is indeed a novel which re-imagines certain aspects of her life.

Perhaps more to do with the style of writing than the story (or what I perceived as a lack of story) itself. For me the only redeeming feature about The Burial was the picturesque descriptions of the outback.

Narrated by Jessie's dead child, a child, murdered by his mother, who in the dirt discovered they had eyes to see and ears to hear, that they could see and hear beyond logical distance and time. Doubtlessly something that some readers will find quirky. Personally I found it a little disconcerting and not something that worked well.

With no speech marks (my English teacher would have been apoplectic), any speech was denoted by the use of italics. Once again, something some readers will not mind but I found annoying. Annoying and yet oddly enough not nearly as annoying as that the character Jack Brown (despite there being no other Jack in the story) was always referred to as Jack Brown rather than just Jack.

With two protagonists, Jessie herself and Jack (or should I make that Jack Brown?), the events shifting between Jessie's past and present as the story unfolds, sadly I was left feeling oddly disconnected with not only the events but, worse still, the very characters themselves.

A 'Western' with a difference if you will. The Burial could have been a wonderfully poignant tale of the brutality of one woman's life in 1920's Australia and yet when all is said and done I'm afraid it simply wasn't a novel to my taste.


7 Jun 2016

LOVEFILM: APRIL/MAY '16



RUBY SPARKS ... 

Fun film, shame about the overly soppy, romantic ending. Call me cynical but it almost felt like one of those films in which worried the film might be too long someone took the decision to take the 'easy' option rather than explore other perhaps lengthier endings. TT

Yes, what she said. NJT

STILL ALICE ... 

A film about Early-Onset Familial Dementia.

Incredibly moving in parts (but then it would have had to be seriously poor to be anything but). However it brought nothing new to the multitude of dementia based films out there and was largely marred by unconvincing acting all round but especially that by Julianne Moore as Alice.

Based on a 2007 novel by Lisa Genova. I'm hoping this will have more to offer. TT

Again, what she said. NJT

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY #2 ...


Depending on what you were hoping to get out of this, the last film in the Hunger Games franchise, you are going to be left pleased at the return to adventure OR, like myself, underwhelmed that after Mockingjay #1 (see both Mr T's and my reviews reviews here) which proved potentially interesting here we are back to a film reliant on its action rather than any real sense of plot. 

Yet to read the books (I've always promised myself I would do once the hype had died down but never seem to get around to doing so) I can't say the films have inspired me to do so. TT 

I knew it was rubbish from the beginning... halfway through I was lulled into believing that it might have said something important about the nature of society, but no. Just collapses into formulaic, action oriented pointlessness. NJT

GET ON UP ...

The James Brown story.

With three time shifts (and that was just within the first fifteen minutes) alas I rapidly got lost off by the constant, chaotic (and illogical?) jumping around in time.

And then, ok so it may well have happened, the 'Godfather of Soul' may well have been guilty of spousal abuse, but there's a fine line between depicting events and what here felt almost like glorifying them.

A film I quickly became bored with, the latter part of it spent with only scant attention being paid. TT

Biopic, not a genre I usually enjoy too much, but I did find this an engaging film.  Those who struggle to keep up with the time shifts of which decade the film is in at any given moment may find it a little awkward as the flashbacks are peppered throughout and sometimes a brief as a few seconds and I'm not sure about the dialogue to the audience... but the story is compelling. Not the least aspect of which is the insight to racism in the US through the 40's and 50's as the backdrop for his rise from poverty and abuse to stardom and wealth. NJT


MACBETH ... 

Tis true, I cannot lie, I'm not a big fan of Shakespeare (a legacy of being bored throughout a theatre production of Julius Caesar as a teenager?) and even less so when it comes to his more darker offerings but hey-ho I live in hope that like his A Midsummer Nights Dream, his Merry Wives Of Windsor, I will come across one I enjoy.

Alas not a film I stuck with right the way through. I struggled with the language, of, Macbeth aside, not knowing just exactly who was who. Then there was - aagggghhhh! - the curse of the intrusive incidental music.

Something which, especially when used in conjunction with speech, I have trouble with at the best of times. In my 'old age', I find it increasingly annoying that film makers seem to think we, the viewer, need the use of poignant/dramatic incidental music to indicate a poignant/dramatic moment. Just cut the incidental music and let us get on with actually watching/listening to the film, we do recognise a poignant/dramatic moment when it occurs ... honest. TT

What can I say... Macbeth always cheers me up and this is a particularly fine production - full of scorpions is his mind and stepped so far in blood.  

Shaky Bill, can't beat him. I do think that the soundtrack could be turned down a bit though... NJT