Book Review: ‘Cross Stitch’ by Diana Gabaldon

(re) Read: March 2013

Enjoyment/Story Rating: 4.5/5.0

Style/Language Rating: 3.6/5.0

Note: As you can see there’s been a slight change to the way I rate things. This is due to the fact I did not think it entirely fair to lump the rating of the content/story in with the author’s ability to write/usage of language, because one might be extremely different from the other. If someone can think of a better, all-encompassing, word for the above categories please comment and let me know! I’ve got a lovely head-cold at the moment and my brain isn’t working properly…

Anyway, on with the review!

I have always loved this story, hence the reason the enjoyment rating is so high. It’s fast-paced, it’s sexy, it’s dangerous and it’s intriguing; all wrapped up into one novel. I must have read it at least four times, and every time I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it, wanting nothing more than to go into hibernation with my book and a never-ending flask of tea. I told you I have a habit of returning to things I’ve already read…

The story itself concerns a young woman, Claire Randall, dragged through a circle of standing stones in Scotland from 1946 to the world of the Jacobites in 1743. She is in a world torn by conflict, suspicion and clan-feuds. Having been a nurse in World War Two she is more than equipped to deal with the bloody wounds and carnage that face her as she struggles to return to the stone circle to get back to her own time. What she isn’t prepared for is the passion and attachment she will develop for a young Scotsman called Jamie Fraser; who offers who equal passion, love, protection and fierce loyalty. She is torn between two worlds; the one she has come from and the one she finds herself in; where she knows the impending disaster of Culloden field is looming…

In my opinion the book is definitely more aimed at those who enjoy a “romantic” novel, but it does have scope to be enjoyed by all. It is not a historical-novel per say, more bordering on fantasy with touches of reality here and there. The two main characters are well developed and their relationship is continually interesting as we see how the events around them effect themselves and each other. I enjoy that fact that even though Claire adapts to the world she is living in, she doesn’t lose the independence afforded her as a twentieth century woman. When you juxtapose her with the character of Jenny (Jamie’s sister), you can see that even though they are both strong and independent, there are major differences between them. Clair certainly has some fairly twentieth century ideas when it comes to eighteenth century discipline, the patriarchal society and also the “proper” place for a woman. The language is approachable – even when it’s written in broad scots! I attempted to read some of the lines written in a Scottish accent (i.e. “dinna fash yerself lassie”) but for some reason always ended up in an Irish one… oh well!

I think the reason I enjoy this book so much, is that whilst it is a romantic novel and does seem to make every woman fall in love with Jamie Fraser, it does also have the blood of the Jacobite Scotland, the historical touches, the fantasy/sci-fi aspect and also the many many plot twists and turns which leave the reader wanting more. This is the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series and I will be fairly shortly embarking on number two A Dragonfly in Amber. If you’ve read this novel; please let me know what you thought about it!

‘… da mi basia mille, diende centum,

dein mille altera, dein secunda centum…’ 

(Then let amorous kisses dwell,/On our lips, begin and tell/A Thousand, and a Hundred, score/A Hundred, and a Thousand more.’

Thanks,

B

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A Little Out Of Place I Know… A Dedication

Okay, so I know this post doesn’t belong on this page. This page is supposed to be for reviews and the such like, right? Well it is also a personal blog page and I like to think I reserve the right to talk about things here and there that really bother me, interest me or have affected me. Today is one of those days.

I love music. Whether it be rock, metal, punk, pop-punk, classical, pop, or sometimes the occasional bit of rap; it’s all their on my playlists. Who do I have to thank for opening the door to the world of music for me? My Chemical Romance, a band originally from New Jersey, USA. And today they split up.

When I was twelve years old, I barely listened to any music at all, it just wasn’t on my radar; other than the odd jamelia song or occasionally rihanna. And then someone sent me two My Chemical Romance songs over a now obsolete IM service and I was hooked. It through open the door to rock music, and I quickly started to enjoy bands like Green Day, The Rolling Stones, Alkaline Trio, Kill Hannah, The Misfits and many, many, many more… without those two songs I probably would have carried on oblivious. Their album ‘The Black Parade’ changed my life in that it showed me this entire other world where I began to feel comfortable.

The band meant such a lot to me through my teenage years, which aren’t exactly the easiest of anybody’s life. I found solace and refuge in their lyrics and their message; I wasn’t alone, and I had the strength to be who I wanted to be. Yes, it all sounds slightly melodramatic now, but at the age of fifteen a sub-deity with black hair and eyeliner telling you that can mean a lot.

I count myself lucky that they did play such a big part of my teenage life, I got to see them live four times and I do count my lucky stars for that, because some fans have never seen them. They showed me how important music is, and how it could mean so much to so many people. They made some absolutely awesome music, and I’m thankful for the legacy they leave. They were a personal band, a fans band, and sometimes when you’re feeling low, a lyrical hug is exactly what you needed.

Hopefully this is goodnight and not goodbye, I want to see the guys go on a do other things with their incredible talent.

Thank you,

Bryony

“Remember the first time you went to a show and saw your favorite band. You wore their shirt, and sang every word. You didn’t know anything about scene politics, haircuts, or what was cool. All you knew was that this music made you feel different from anyone you shared a locker with. Someone finally understood you. This is what music is about.” — Gerard Way

What To Read Next?

Okay, so I am still reading Goodbye To All That by Robert Graves and I hope to get that finished by the middle of next week at the very latest. My problem is that I tend to start books, get halfway through and start another; does anyone else do this?

As well as the afore mentioned book, I am also reading Cross Stitch the first novel in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series. This is actually a re-read; I think this book is fantastic and seeing as I haven’t read it in a couple of years, lost my original copy (through lending it out), I decided to download it onto my kindle and read it again. So far I’ve been hooked once again; all I’ve been wanting to do for the past couple of days is curl up with a cup of tea and my book! It’s a pity that this week is also essay week at the university, so I’ve been busy researching and writing about the Romantic poets and their influences… hilarious fun. Not.

Aside from those two, however, what do you think I should read next? Judging by what I’ve reviewed so far, do you have any awesome recommendations for me?

Anyway, that was just a little update of what will be coming soon,

Thanks,

B

Film Review: ‘The Hobbit’ directed by Peter Jackson

Rating: 4.6/5.0

WARNING: REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Once again, it seems, I am much behind the times in reviewing this film. I am actually surprised at how behind the times I am. Being a massive Lord of the Rings fan (films, books, Tolkien in general), I had plans to see this film on the day it came out. That didn’t happen, and then I was going to see it over the Christmas holidays, but it just kept getting pushed back further and further. Luckily, however, my university cinema showed it the other day, so I finally got the chance to go along and watch it.

Like most other Tolkien fans, I had very high hopes for what this movie would be like and needless to say I was not disappointed. One thing I had been concerned about before going to see the film was that, judging by the plot outline, they had managed to drag six chapters out into a three hour film. I was concerned that it would feel stodgy and stuck, and parts of the plot would get very boring, very fast. I didn’t find this, however, and even though I know The Hobbit story very well, I found that film was able to create tension for me. For example, in the part where Gollum is sitting in the exit gap to the Misty Mountains, I knew that Bilbo would take a flying leap and get free, but I still found my heart pounding with terror lest he didn’t escape. I think another way Peter Jackson effectively create tension was through the addition of the white Orc. There is no such character at this stage in the Hobbit book, and yet I didn’t find the addition to be in anyway clunky or to not sit right with the movie.

This leads on to the other additions that I thought were effective; the part with Radagast and the coming of the nameless terror were very well done; they are alluded to in the books but I thought the way it fully played out was most interesting. Also, the part with the white council and the riddle of the sword really gripped my attention. I thought it was fascinating to see the beginnings of character traits that I have come to know and love in the Lord of the Rings films. I thought the casting was terrifically done as well; Martin Freeman as Bilbo has just the right amount of lightheartedness as well as emotional depth, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield provides a brooding and yet somehow empathetic character as the leader of the dwarves. Returning cast members were equally as fabulous; Sir Ian Mackellan as Gandalf the Grey, Christopher Lee as Saruman the White, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel (love this women, and what would I give for her costumes!), and of course Andy Serkis as Gollum. I love Andy Serkis, he’s a genius (and the fact that he went to my university is pretty cool as well!), and he manages to make Gollum funny, terrifying and yet incredibly sad at the same time.

Aside from the actual plot line of the story, I thought it was incredible well filmed; the score by Howard Shore was immense as ever and this positioned next to the breathtaking scenery of New Zealand really got my heart soaring. I can’t say everything about all things I would wish here, because then the review would be several thousand words long. If you are interested in this film, I strongly suggest you go and look at the production videos that are available on YouTube, that will give you the ins and outs of how things worked, from the creation of the concept art, through to location choosing and on to post-production.

As to these films, I cannot wait for the next part and to see what Jackson and his team will do with it.

Book Review: ‘The Queen’s Fool’ by Philippa Gregory

Rating: 3.9/5.0

(re) Read: March 2013

The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory is part of her Tudor series, which I am currently re-reading in its entirety. It was originally the second in the series, following The Other Boleyn Girl but Gregory then wrote The Constant Princess, which now starts the whole series off. I have a lot to owe to these books; they made history accessible to me at an age when more “serious” historical texts were too hard for me to tackle, they are a great gateway for people who wish to read more about history, or for those or simply enjoy a good story.

The story itself follows Hannah Green (Verde), a Marrano (a converted Jew) fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition with her father. They have ended up in London where she is begged for a Holy Fool to Edward VI after seeing an angel behind some court lords in Fleet Street. She is quickly swept up into the intrigue of court life, serving Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth (in this novel, Princess) in turn. She appears to have no political machinations and this leaves her open to the manipulations of Robert Dudley, whom she is in love with. Whilst this is going on, the book is also interspersed with her own, totally fictional, personal history. This juxtaposition of the private and public makes the novel feel more real and homely, allowing the reader to interact on a more personal level with the character of Hannah. I really enjoyed that Hannah appeared to have a mind of her own, and the best part was that she was educated to a level that she could keep with the educated men and women she finds herself in the company of.

The reason I didn’t give this book a 4 or higher is because, whilst it is very well written, I feel it is not quite as good as it’s predecessor The Other Boleyn Girl. The story is good and it’s a definite page turner, but it doesn’t quite (for me anyway) hold the same emotional depth as that which came before. I would recommend this book to anyone who even has a passing interest in Tudor history; of course one must remember that events are often skewed in order to fit in with the story, but it provides a nice jumping off point if you do find yourself eager to know more.

Other books in Gregory’s Tudor Series:

The Constant Princess

The Other Boleyn Girl

The Queen’s Fool

The Boleyn Inheritance

The Virgin’s Lover

The Other Queen

Albums Coming Out in April 2013… (The Ones I’m Excited About Anyway)

April 2nd – My Shame Is True by Alkaline Trio

I have loved this band for about six years now and I’m very excited to see what they come up with next. Due for release on the same day as their Broken Wing EP. Coming out through their own label in a joint venture with Epitaph Records. The first single ‘I Wanna Be A Warhol’ is available to listen to and download – it sounds like classic Alkaline Trio, but with Skiba’s voice and their playing technique showing the maturity of band that have been together for two decades. 

April 8th – House of Gold & Bones Part 2 – Stone Sour

Second Part of Stone Sour’s concept album, via Roadrunner records. 

April 9th – Paramore by Paramore

Follow up to Brand New Eyes and the first album since Paramore became a three piece. I’m interested to see where this might go because I wasn’t a huge fan of the first single ‘Now’; I disliked the way they had distorted Hayley Williams’ voice – she has a really good voice I didn’t really see the need for the over auto tune that they seemed to have done. But I’ll withold judgement until I’ve heard the rest of it… 

April 16th – Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy

After their explosive return from hiatus, this is the new album from Fall Out Boy. I liked their first single ‘My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)’ – it’s a very good workout track, so I’m excited to see where the rest of this album goes. I wasn’t a massive fan of Fall Out Boy before their hiatus but I appreciated their music and style. Interested to see what they do with this return. 

April 22nd – Tape, Deck, Heart by Frank Turner

This album doesn’t really fit in with the general ‘rock’ of the other four albums, but Frank Turner is one of my favourite artists. I’ve been a fan for about three years and I can’t wait to see him at Leeds festival later this year. I am very very excited for this album because the first songs released ‘Four Simple Words’ and ‘Recovery’ have been absolutely amazing and I simply can’t wait for the rest of it! If you haven’t heard Frank yet, please give him a go, he’s a punk rock singer songwriter from London and he’s bloody brilliant! 

Book Review: ’50 Shades of Grey’ by E.L James

Rating: 2.3/5.0

Read: March 2013

I feel I am very behind the times in reviewing this book, the reason being that I have put off reading it for so long, having heard nothing but negativity about it. I have to say, this review will be much of the same I’m afraid. I managed to read it in about three hours, due to the ease and simplicity of the text and also the general lack of storyline, but more of that later.

The first thing that struck me, and it’s really hard to overlook with the book, is the complete lack of character in Ana, the protagonist. At the beginning she has a small bit of personality, in that she challenges some of Grey’s demands, but that quickly disappears when she realises how good he is in bed. I have had mixed responses to this lack of character, some people find it equally annoying, others say that it allows women the world over to imagine themselves in the position of Ana and therefore makes the text all the more exhilarating. I have to say that I agree with the first, but at the same time I applaud the fact that this book allowed women the world over (the book has sold 65 million copies and been translated into 37 languages) to reconnect with their sexy side and it got people talking about sex, which can only be a good thing.

The literature itself though, is not great, the sentences are clumsy and repetitive, and I soon found myself getting bored with the clunky way that James articulated her characters and plot line. The storyline, apart from being fairly predictable, did very little for me and I found myself reading it intensely quickly. The heroine seems to have little to say for herself, another than repetitions of the words ‘oh crap!’ or references to her inner goddess, making her seem intensely flat and two-dimensional.

Here, I could really go to town on the ins and outs of the text itself, testing just truly how bad it is in a written form, but I feel that would be a little bit harsh. It is not a good book, in my opinion, but as I mentioned before I do applaud the fact that it has got people talking about sex. Lots of the world’s problems (teen pregnancy, sexual assault etc) stem somewhat from lack of information, and the oppression of sexual thoughts and desires. If people now feel that they can talk about such things without feeling ashamed, well I feel that that must be a step in the right direction.