Author Archives: bookandbiscuit

Labyrinth TV Series

Promo image for Labyrinth TV series 2012

Did anyone else watch the mini-series adaptation of Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth starring Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Felton and Vanessa Kirby? And if you did, were you really disappointed in it?

I’m not sure who wrote the script, or whether it received a hard edit, but I thought that the character progression sucked to the point where characters in the books were totally transformed. Sajhe is played by a twenty something all the way through, so instead of seeing a boy growing up in love with Alais and doing everything he can to protect her, you get a (slightly gormless) brooding young man who stares at her in a creepily perverted way throughout. Audric wasn’t old or frail enough and was far, far too smug, thus enhancing this weirdness. Likewise, there’s no chance for a relationship/reconciliation to develop between Alais and Guillame or Alice and Will, so Alais looks weak and insipid in the formed and creepy spontaneous face sucking breaks out between the latter.

The typecasting didn’t help either. I’m not sure that it’s bad acting per se, but Jessica Findlay Brown pouted her way through the series in a poor repetition of her portrayal of Lady Sibyl in Downton Abbey to the point where she looked a little concussed as though she was waiting for Carson to come in and explain what the heck was going on. Oriane was played by Morgana from BBC’s Merlin, who occasionally plays the part of Irish actress Katie McGrath, but fortunately, she didn’t need to act in this role, just stride around cackling madly (as in Merlin) while trying to maintain a constant accent and simulating bad sex with Alais’ husband.

Oh and the sex was bad. If you’re going to do it, do it properly. Oriane and Guillame looked as though they were doing some weird form of aerobics, lined up in their respective positions ensuring that there was at least two feet of air between their persons at all time. And I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m not sure what exactly lingering shots of Jessica Findlay Brown’s naked arse added to the telling of the story. It’s a lovely bum, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt a bit creepy, as if I were POV of the newly perverted Sajhe. In fact, the concept of the Grail seemed to be secondary to the weird sex/tangled relationships element of it.

It’s a pity that this hadn’t been made into a bigger budget film, or at least a proper TV series and actors who weren’t playing stock types from other popular series. All in all a real let down for me.

What did you think?

Cloud Atlas- a film review by someone who read the book

A weekend or so ago, I went to see the film version of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I will put it out there from the beginning that I rather enjoyed it, though could see why many people wouldn’t. For one thing, if you hadn’t read the book I don’t think you stand a hope in hell of following what was going on. If you have read the book, then it’s interesting to see how they’ve adapted the story to screen.

In many ways, the script and casting would have been better suited to a theatre production. I didn’t hate the idea of actors playing several characters (possibly because I spent too much time in drama groups as a teenager) but even I found it a little gimmicky towards the end. It is also very, very long. So long that if you haven’t seen it in the cinema yet, I would recommend waiting until it is released on DVD so that you can watch it but cut it into hour-long chunks at a time. On the whole I would have preferred it as a TV series.

In addition to the length and the rep style casting (which was clever but overdone) my main criticism would be that I think they over did it with the concept of reincarnation and made it the centre of the story in a way that it just wasn’t in the book. Once you’d finished playing what Charlie Brooker called something like Where’s Wally with famous people, you end up feeling like you’re playing spot the birthmark. Unless you haven’t read the book, friends I’ve talked to who hadn’t didn’t notice it.

My thoughts on each individual story and how they were adapted are below:

 

A Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Adam Ewing)

By far the driest story in the novel (though important, obviously) I think they did a great job of making this more interesting on the screen. They brushed over the darker elements of racial Darwinism and focussed on the story of an unlikely friendship between a professional white man and an escaped slave who become one another’s salvation. Which was a relief. I thought that Tom Hanks was reasonable here but when I read the book and thought about a film adaptation, I pictured Robert Downey Jr playing Henry Bones. Maybe I’d just watched one of the Sherlock Holmes films.

Letters from Zedelghem (Robert Frobisher)

This was probably my favourite story in the book. I loved Frobisher’s irreverent narrative and shady dealing s and I do think Ben Whishaw was perfectly cast, sadly this story was massively interfered with partly to reduce the film’s running time and budget, partly because… well who knows? The story is moved from Belgium to Edinburgh, Ayres is syphilitic but no longer blind. Nor is he nearly as vile as he was in the novel. The daughter is cut out completely, which makes it look as though Frobisher commits suicide as a result of a rejected pass at Vyvyan Ayres. My mind is still reeling from the horror of it. On the Brightside, you get to see Ben Whishaw naked. Which means I get to type that and net in unsuspecting googlers who aren’t in it for his acting talents.

The First Luisa Rae Mystery (Luisa Rey)

Halle Berry was pretty good here, it’s just a pity that you don’t really get much information about why everyone is being killed. Hugh Grant is smarmy. I’m not sure Tom Hanks in a blonde wig is a love at first sight thing. By far the worst thing about this story was that they had Agent Smith from The Matrix playing another bad guy. Actually he cropped up as Agent Smith from The Matrix in some of the other stories as well. Must’ve been a glitch in the matrix…

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Timothy Cavendish)

Another great story in the book, this was well adapted in the film and made me laugh almost as much as reading the book did. Though when I laughed at Tom Hanks’ Irish accent, it wasn’t in a good way. I was a little confused about why they tried to make this story look like a reincarnation link between Luisa Rey and Somni-451, since the Luisa Rey story is set in 1975 and Timothy Cavendish is present day and 65, so the dates don’t work. This is made clearer in the book by Cavendish wanting to edit allusions to reincarnation out, but I guess that doesn’t work with the “message” of the film. Oh, and you get to see Ben Whishaw in drag. Sorry, need those google hits.

An Orison of Somni-451 (Somni)

Again, well adapted and this story was visually stunning. I think they blew their production budget here which explains why they had to save on Hugh Grant’s make up in every other story. The book is far nastier than this extract in the film. A lot has been cut eg. Somni’s time as a student’s Science project and the horrible moment with the little fabricant doll. I thought one of the eeriest bits of the book was when Somni explained to the archivist that everything she had told him had been a story and that she wasn’t the first ascended fabricant- they cut that for the film but I thought they made up for it quite well.

Sloosha’s Crossin an’Ev’thin’ After (Zachary)

To be fair to Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, I think they acted this as well as they could have done with this. You lost a bit of dialogue from the dialect, but otherwise this was well acted and the setting was beautiful. My main issue was that in the book Zachary is a teenage boy when you see his father and brother killed/taken at Sloosha’s crossing and it explains his fear of Old Georgie without making him look like a coward who sat back and watched a child die. Tom Hanks’ Zachary was harder to like because you don’t see the death of his father, the disappearance of his brother, the loss of his baby when he’s still very young. So to make Zachary and Meronym the same age… meh. I wasn’t a big fan but it was well enough done for what it was.

 

 

My Top 5 Fictional Badgers #teambadger

Image by BadgerHero, used under the terms of Wikimedia Commons License

Badgers remind me of my childhood. Mysterious woodland animals who usually played a noble role in fiction, defending the weak, standing up for what was right… They remind me of more innocent days in my naive youth. A time when I believed that a democratically elected government had to listen to the views of the people, or, if they insisted upon taking a paternalistic approach, the mainstream of scientific opinion… you know, silly things like that…

Given the UK government’s current foray into badger fiction* (fiction in the sense that they are flying in the face of the facts/a ten-year independent scientific study into badgers and Bovine TB) I thought I would share my top five badgers in actual fiction.

 

1. The Badger Lords of the Redwall Series  by Brian Jacques

I was obsessed with the Redwall Series by the late, great Brian Jacques when I was small. I’ve always had a fondness for rodents. The Redwall books are a little like what Lord of the Rings might be if you take out the magic and replace hobbits, dwarves and orcs with mice, squirrels and wildcats.  My favourite characters always the badgers and the mice. Though the badgers are noble characters, they suffer from bloodwrath which turns their eyes red, the sign of a great warrior who will not hold back or even be able to restrain themselves in the heat of battle.

2. Badger in The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

If you’re of a similar age to me, you’ll probably remember The Animals of Farthing Wood as a television series in which a diverse group of woodland animals  who are threatened by man’s interference in their wood, form a motley crew and journey to the safety of a woodland reserve. It doesn’t look as though this will go ahead, due to the smaller animals natural fear of the carnivores eating them, until Badger suggests they take an oath of mutual protection. It’s a very nice story about understanding other people’s limitations and supporting them (Badger carries Mole on his back because he can only walk very slowly). Someone should also read it to the Environment Secretary because it makes the point that animals under threat migrate.

3. Tommy Brock The Tale of Mr Tod Beatrix Potter

Now Tommy Brock is a very naughty badger, the kind of badger you could imagine the government wanting to do something about. Don’t be fooled by his smart waistcoat and downturned gaze. This is the kind of badger who would steal a nest of baby rabbits and hides them in Mr Tod’s oven. Now you might say that badgers don’t commonly eat rabbits in the wild. To that I say, foxes don’t commonly own ovens. We’re suspending our disbelief here. Suspended? Thank you. Many people love Beatrix Potters “good characters” but I’ve always had a soft spot for the villains. Yes, I prefer Samuel Whiskers to Tom Kitten, and I salute Tommy Brock for stealing the baby rabbits and making everyone wonder why Benjamin Bunny decided to sire a family with his first cousin Flopsy. Well, that’s rabbits for you.

4. Mr Badger The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme

I admire any badger that wears a dressing gown, and the solitary Mr Badger may have attempted to stage one of the first interventions in literature when he tried to dissuade Toad from his path of self-destruction by placing him under house arrest. Interestingly, Badger and Mole are driven out of Toad Hall by a crew of stoats and weasels. Did you know that the TB virus can survive for a very long time in empty badger setts, infecting any badgers which move into the area. Interestingly, since rats and weasels move into Toad Hall, rats, weasels and ferrets can also carry the disease. As can foxes. And deer… shoot anything that moves will be next.

5. Trufflehunter Prince Caspian C S Lewis

This Old Narnian badger rescues Prince Caspian and hides him when he is fleeing from his evil, murderous Uncle Miraz. As a good and true Narnian, he surely lives on in Aslan’s Country, the true Narnia. But you have to wonder what fate lies in store for less vocal members of the meles meles if the government proceed with this madness.

 

Honourable mention should go to Bill of Rupert the Bear fame and Captain Ramshackle of Automated Alice but I felt that we had one randomologist too many in the form of Owen Paterson at this time.

* Even if your name isn’t Sherlock, you will notice that I have used this post on fictional badgers to ram home my views on the cull. I make no apology for that, it is madness. A ten-year study has shown that culling will not solve the problem of Bovine TB. It may in fact make it worse as studies showed TB decreasing in cull zones but rapidly increasing in surrounding areas. 92% of the surveyed British public are against the culls so both the scientists and the people the government have been elected to represent are being ignored.

If you’re a UK resident and as annoyed about this as I am please sign this petition. It’s already been debated once and the cull was postponed. Hopefully a second debate will see the cull cancelled altogether and Bovine TB managed through vaccination, improved husbandry and better biosecurity.

Look what I found in Waterstones…

On Saturday I went into Waterstones, Oxford and found myself in the middle of a Regency style musical performance. I was a little annoyed that the crowd which had formed around the performers meant that I could get nowhere near the fiction books I’d planned to spend half an hour browsing, but when I heard Austentation (there to mark 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice being published) performing Greensleeves– which is one of my favourite folk songs- I quickly forgave the disruption!

Austentation Oxford

No chance of getting at those books without the right costume!

Welsh Cakes for St Dwynwen’s Day

Sweet treats for your cariad?

Sweet treats for your cariad?

It’s Dydd Santes Dwyenwen/St Dwynwen’s Day tomorrow (a bit like a Welsh Valentine’s Day) so how better to show some love than by baking someone some Welsh cakes, or pice ar y maen. It’s a traditional recipe which couldn’t be easier to make but which always goes down a treat in my house. I’ve made some to take into work with me tomorrow- along with a ginger cake which I just fancied trying out- because we’re holding a joint celebration with Burns’ Night.

To make Welsh cakes you need a heavy, flat griddle (I use one which belonged to my great-grandmother) though a bakestone will do the same job. The you also need the following ingredients:

225g self-raising flour

110g butter (some go half butter and half lard but I save my lard for birds)

85g caster sugar

A handful of raisins (more or less according to taste)

1 medium egg

Milk

Extra butter for greasing

In a mixing bowl, rub together the flour and fat until you have something that looks like crumbs with no lumps of fat showing then stir in the sugar and raisins. Beat your egg then mix it with the dry ingredients to form dough. At this stage, my dough isn’t usually doughy enough, so I add in a tiny bit of milk at a time until I can bind it into a dough that I can roll and work with.

Roll your dough out on a floured surface until it’s about half a centimetre thick and then cut circles out using a cutter. Welsh cakes normally have a frilly edge and though I normally use a cutter which is about  4inches in diameter, this time I will be using one which is 3 1/16th inch (sorry, I can’t type fractions!) because you can make extra cakes that way which is good if you have lots of people eating them and you only have one egg left! Made with a normal sized cutter this recipe makes about 8 cakes.

When your dough is made and your cakes are cut, grease your griddle and fry each cake for two or three minutes on each side until they are golden brown, though they taste fine if they go a little darker.

I like my cakes pretty much straight off the griddle with a cup of tea while they are still hot and buttery, but they will last a few days in an airtight tin. In university, my housemate’s Mamgu made us enough to fill a 5kg cake tin and we lived off those for weeks. They got a little stale but they were fine washed down with tea!

The Girl With The Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

the girl with the glass feetI’ve just finished reading The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw which was one of the books I was given for Christmas and I’m in two minds about it.

On the one hand it’s an impressive debut novel with characterisation which grips and shakes you as it touches on the lives of a diverse group of people who are connected by their experiences in an metaphorically incestuous community on the remote island of St Hauda’s Land.

On the other, the narrative weaves these stories together as if they should lead the reader somewhere and I don’t see the point in a red herring outside of crime fiction. For me, they only detract from the story being told here. It’s as if Shaw hasn’t decided whether he’s writing a fairytale or a story which contains magic realism. It might seem trivial, irrelevant even, but to me they are very different genres and while I’m in favour of a little generic cross dressing, I think that these genres can’t be fairly combined without creating a story which isn’t entirely satisfactory.

If we take Ida’s feet as the main story and bring with that the associated stories of Midas’ father, Henry Fuwa and Midas’ mother, Carl Maulsen and his obsession with Freya… good, you’ve got a great story and it’s worth reading the book for this. But then you look at the extra touches that have been thrown in and they become red herrings which, if the story was a fairytale, should lead to resolution and, if it is intended as magic realism, begin to look like little more than creative conceits. What, for example, is the point of the constant references to the creature which turns everything it looks at white? What is the point of Midas’ father’s letter? By the time I finished the book, I felt underwhelmed by what should have been a really moving conclusion because I was still waiting to see why the author had devoted so much attention to writing about these details which were never revisited.

In addition to that, I think the book as a whole could have done with a harder edit. The language is more flowery than is generally fashionable these days, leading to passages such as this which made me roll my eyes:

“Overnight the head of a fat old rose in Catherine’s had shed petals like burnt bits of ribbon into a glass vase. Midas stared sadly at the warped red planets in the water’s cosmos and thought of Ida’s legs.”

I can’t believe that got past an editor without a request to slash either the simile or the metaphor. But worse for me was the inclusion of occasional mistakes which should have been picked up by anyone who read the final draft of the book. For example, on page 81 of my copy, Denver is described as “a mouse-haired seven-year-old with a grin full of disorganized teeth” then on page 82 as “an earnest child with a whizz of ginger hair, eyes too big for her freckled face and newly grown adult teeth overlapping like a hand of cards”. Why do we have the double description of her teeth, let alone the conflicting descriptions of her hair colour only a page apart?

This will seem very petty, but the litter of awkwardly flowery language and silly oversights, coupled with unnecessary red herrings and plot holes really did detract from my enjoyment of what was otherwise a really imaginative story with great potential.

Have you read this book? How did you feel about these points?

 

 

View from my desk

When I arrived in work this morning, it had snowed and the view of the trees from my desk was the prettiest it has ever been. I took a picture of it at lunchtime to send to my boyfriend, and was quite impressed with the silhouettes of some of our more recent books as they stacked up against the snowy scene outside so I thought I would share it with you too:

Books, trees and snow

Books, trees and snow

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Jacob Portman always thought his grandfather’s tale about fleeing from Poland to escape monsters who he later went on to fight was something like a fairy, a tale he’d concocted to articulate the horrors of life during World War II to his small grandson. But when Jacob is sixteen, a horrible family tragedy occurs. Soon, Jacob finds himself travelling from Florida to Wales, in search of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It isn’t long before he begins to wonder whether there might have been more truth in his grandfather’s stories than he could possibly have imagined.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a haunting fusion of photography and narrative. It represents a labour of love for Ransom Riggs (is this his real name? it’s amazing) and his fellow collectors who salvaged the vintage photographs which are a key part of this eerie scrapbook novel. Though the photographic element of the novel is compelling, this is in no way a gimmick to sell an inferior piece of writing. The story and characters would be engaging on their own, but the photographs do add a disturbing realism to this tale of the paranormal. The designer and production team deserve some kind of award, it’s a real work of art.

Upon finishing this novel, I not only wanted to know when the follow-up is due(Quirk Books has an untitled Miss Peregrine sequel as being available from June 2013, no cover design as yet) but found myself wanting to know more about the improbably named and wholly brilliant Ransom Riggs. Wikipedia tells me that he is an American author, but he must have spent some time around the Welsh because even as an enthusiastic (and slightly prickly) Welshie, I found myself laughing at the realistic representations of Anglo-Welsh dialect “I said shaddap, ya dozy bastards” and the slightly Chavvy boy rappers Dylan and Worm, who might easily have been inspired by Maggot and his friends in Goldie Lookin’ Chain.

Not only am I looking forward to reading about Ransom Riggs’ peculiar children, but I will be experimenting a bit more with titles from Quirk Books. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a little gimmicky for my liking, but I think that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children demonstrates a genuine commitment to a more experimental type of publishing and they have to be applauded for this.

I’m really excited about some of the promising sequels being released in 2013!

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own MakingWhen a Green Wind arrives at the kitchen window offering to take September to Fairyland, she puts aside her washing up and climbs straight onto his Leopard to fly away and seek adventure. When she arrives at Fairyland, she discovers that a wicked Marquess is ruling by terror- fairies and dragons are banned from flying, witches who displease her are being killed and children are being selected at random to be sacrificed as a tithe to the Glashtyn. With the aid of a Wyvern (who thinks his father was a library) and a Marin, September sets out to set Fairyland to rights. But will she succeed? And will she ever make it home?

Reading this book, I began to suspect that my copy had magic powers. It seemed to be circumnavigating my house, aided by some mysterious force. Whenever I put it down, I would find that it had moved by the time I came back to it. And it found the most cunning places to hide…

These vanishing acts were the only thing about the book that I found unsatisfactory. Otherwise, it was a great book to read as my first book of 2013.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making is the first book in a planned series of five by Catherynne M Valente, and having read the first, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. It has all the makings of a brilliant cross over novel which will appeal to both children and adults- great characters, a strong plot and a seemingly simple but hilariously knowing narrative. Fairyland was charming and enticing while retaining a sufficient threat of danger beneath the surface, and even though this is a book which would make a great bedtime story for children aged eight and up, there were moments when I felt genuinely anxious for September and her motley crew.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There, which is released in the UK this month.

Catherynne M Valente has also written a prequel to the series The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland- For  A Little While.

My Grandmother and Beryl Cook’s Fat Ladies

I think she likes it

I think she likes it

A few years ago, my grandmother gave her copy of a book by her favourite artist to her friend while she was in hospital to cheer her up. Sadly, her friend then died. My grandmother always talks about how much she loved the book and how much the pictures used to make her laugh, so for Christmas, despite knowing very little about art, I resolved to track down a copy for her.

It was surprisingly easy. I just did a quick search for “artists who paint fat ladies” and Beryl Cook’s name came up along with some very familiar looking paintings of fat ladies.

It was great to see how much my grandmother enjoyed looking at those paintings again. And an added bonus came when she was looking at the book with my very prudish boyfriend and a picture of a chubby lady in suspenders brandishing a whip turned up. I only wish I’d managed to capture the look on his face when she turned to him, with an innocent smile and asked, “Do you like being whipped, Jon?”

Old ladies, they think they can get away with anything!