Guest Review @ Evangelical Times

Guest Review @ Evangelical Times

Hi there!

I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I am a Christian, and I’ve read some Christian books. One of my recent reads was Be Still My Soul by Nancy Guthrie. It’s a helpful book on the problem of pain: how to deal with and understand sadness from a Christian perspective.

I wrote a little book review about it, which was published in the June edition of the Christian newspaper Evangelical Times; if this is something you’d be interesting reading about, you can find it if you click here:

Thanks!

– Judith

From One Blogger To Another: IT Discussion With The Blog From Another World

From One Blogger To Another: IT Discussion With The Blog From Another World

This is the first part of another collaborative series with Patrick, from The Blog From Another World. Stephen King is one of my favourite authors, and he wrote one of Patrick’s favourite novels, Carrie. With the upcoming release of a new film adaptation of the iconic horror, IT, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to discuss both the book and original film.

In case you are unaware of the plot of IT, here is a brief synopsis, courtesy of Wikipedia: ‘The story follows the exploits of seven children as they are terrorized by the eponymous being, which exploits the fears and phobias of its victims in order to disguise itself while hunting its prey. “It” primarily appears in the form of a clown in order to attract its preferred prey of young children.’

Patrick said, “What I loved about the book when I read it was the detail. King puts a lot of effort into his character development.” I also loved IT’s length – King provides brilliant detail of the characters’ lives as the plot switches from the perspectives of Bill, Ben, Bev, Richie, Ed, Mike, and Stan as both children and adults.

“The novel deals with the passage of time and the impact that traumatic childhood events have on our adulthood.” Patrick explained, “For this reason, I think the dual time period narrative is very fresh and gives the story a real weight which certain other King novels are missing.”

This style of narration submerges the reader and effectively conveys just how terrorizing It is to each character. IT cemented my positive opinions about Stephen King; he writes thrilling and / or scary material incredibly well – be it in the simple description of a child’s feelings, or about the many forms It takes. Whilst not every passage contains a ‘scare’, enough detail is always given to put the reader on edge.

Pennywise the Clown, the most common form of It, is certainly a fantastic monster. Patrick said, “As an idea, he is terrifying, and sticks in my mind even now.”

“A great horror monster often makes more of an impression that the heroes, and Pennywise is no different. Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Jason, even Darth Vader – these characters are cultural icons more beloved than the lead characters in their respective films.”

However, no book is perfect. Patrick commented, “IT has an overabundance of the clichés which feature heavily in most King novels.” Examples of this include one-dimensional bullies, an alcoholic writer, and a disappointing resolution.

Despite my love of King, the more of his novels I read, the more I see these tropes reappearing – in particularly the English teacher / author who struggles with alcohol. Another significant example of this character type is Jack Nicholson from The Shining. Whilst this is drawn from King’s own experiences (and we are so often encouraged to write about what we know), I can understand why a repetitive reuse of these tropes would come to grate on readers.

IT was adapted into at TV miniseries in 1990, starring Tim Currey as Pennywise the Clown. It was made, at the height of, as dubbed by Patrick, “the Stephen King adaptation craze”.

I thought the film was alright. Visually, the appearance of Curry’s Pennywise was exactly what I had envisaged as I read the book, and I liked the fact there was an adaptation of such a good novel available.

However, for me, Curry’s actual performance often flip-flopped between mildly scary and pantomimic.

IT suffers from a lot of the problems which plagues the miniseries – too much time to fill, and not enough money to make it really frightening.” Patrick explained, “A lot of the performances are very goofy, especially Tim Curry as Pennywise. He’s just so flamboyant and crazy that he doesn’t really scare me.” He continued, “IT hasn’t aged well and some of it is unwittingly hilarious – I’m looking at you Talking Head!”

Finally, Patrick summarised his thoughts on the book and film with a phrase that every book lover longs to hear: “If you want the unadulterated IT experience, read the book.”

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like.

You can read the second blog post in this collaborative series with The Blog from Another World tomorrow, in which we discuss the trailer of the new film adaptation.

– Judith and Patrick

Themes in: D.H. Lawrence’s Short Stories

Themes in: D.H. Lawrence’s Short Stories

Image via blogs.nottingham.ac.uk.

This post was written in advance, and is also the penultimate blog post on themes (for the time being).

I’m going to talk about the themes of war, class and gender and how these overlap across  England, My England, The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, and Monkey Nuts – three short stories by the Nottinghamshire writer D.H. Lawrence.

Class

In Monkey Nuts, Joe, a young soldier, and Albert, Joe’s corporal have come back from the war and work together unloading hay. There are close, and unified in their working-class status; despite Albert being Joe’s corporal, Joe ‘never thought of [him]… as a master’. This closeness, whilst interpreted as some as brotherly affection, has led to others interpreting the relationship between Albert and Joe as homoerotic.* Nonetheless, this intense relationship which has flourished, regardless of social status, suggests how war was helped to somewhat break down the class system in Britain.

*There are further nods to this as the two live together and even share a bed.

In contrast, The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter presents the relationship between people of differing classes completely differently. Firstly, the classes are geographically separate – Jack, a doctor, lives atop a hill in the village, whereas the working-class homes are below him in the valley, providing a clear metaphor that the working-class are also “below” him in all ways. Secondly, Jack finds visiting the working-class homes to treat the sick ‘stimulation’ for his mind. Free indirect discourse provides access to Jack’s thoughts; he thinks working-class are ‘emotional’, providing an interesting break from his own rational mind. The view that the middle-class are logical and intelligent, whereas the working-class are merely bumbling, emotional and a little odd is clearly discriminatory.**

**The fact that a working-class woman later throws herself in a pond probably doesn’t help matters.

War

England, My England is a story mostly focused on the theme of war. Evelyn is a middle-class man who joins the army, seemingly for something to curb his idleness and boredom – another suggestion that working-class lifestyle and labour is merely a “holiday” for someone belonging to a higher class. However, despite his wife’s enthusiasm and the general atmosphere of patriotism and excitement, Evelyn doesn’t share others’ favouritism of England, and is continuously upfront about what he’s going to do. A key sentence is ‘The distinction between German and English was not for him the distinction between good and bad’. This sentence is significant when context is considered. Lawrence was English, but his wife was German. As a result, Lawrence experienced lots of anti-German animosity because of his wife and was heavily critical of British propaganda. Lawrence saw war for what it was, and is: killing, and however, unsavoury that sounds, that’s the truth.

War is also a theme in Monkey Nuts. As previously mentioned, Joe and Albert are ex-soldiers, and work together unloading hay. Miss Stokes, a land-girl, passes them each day. This mix of both men and women in a working environment highlights how the war not only helped to partially erode class boundaries, but gender boundaries too.***

***If this was a history-themed blog, I could talk at length about women’s work in war and the women’s movement thanks to my History A Level, but it isn’t, so I won’t.

Gender

Following on from this, Miss Stokes is attracted to Joe and manages to hold power over him in such a way that she begins trying to start a relationship with him. However, she ignores his lack of interest and desire to be with her, and he is subsequently pressured into seeing her. This is a subversion of gender stereotypes, as it would be more common for a man to initiate the process of courtship a woman.

Similarly, in The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, Mabel (the working-class woman mentioned earlier) is rescued from the pond by Jack. He resuscitates her, takes her to his home and lies her by the fire and fetches dry clothes for her. Upon waking, Mabel interprets his life-saving actions as a declaration of his love for her. She begins to urgently repeat, chant and insists to him that ‘You love me’. Again, through free indirect discourse, we learn that Jack is categorically not in love with her, he merely saved her life as his duty as doctor. He is shocked at Mabel’s increasingly affectionate actions, such as kissing and embracing him. This increasingly predatory behaviour causes Jack to admit that he does indeed love her, so as not to upset the emotionally fragile Mabel.

In these two different stories, Lawrence has created female characters who initiate romantic behaviour, regardless of whether the men want it or not. I find this incredibly interesting, although I am not certain as to the reason behind this choice. It strikes me as a subversion – perhaps to emphasis to a male readership how truly horrible sexual assault and/or unwanted advances are, perhaps for another reason entirely.

***

Thank you for reading this blog post! Those are my summarised thoughts on the three stories.

I hope you enjoyed it – please click ‘Like’ if you did, or leave some feedback in a comment below.

– Judith

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (5)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (5)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Humble Pie, the autobiography of famous TV chef Gordon Ramsay, and Desperation, yet another Stephen King on my bookshelf I want to read. I haven’t got very far in Desperation yet because I only started it the other day.

2. What did you recently finish reading?

This lets me catch up with the last WWW post, in which I had a giant list of books I wanted to tackle as exam revision.

I gave up on Tess of the D’Urbervilles (by which I mean, I never re-read it at all and just watched the very good BBC adaptation instead). I finally finished Shooting History by Jon Snow, and it was such a tough autobiography to get through. Certain parts were incredibly dense and, dare I say it, dull.

I also read Devil In The Countryside and Being Simon Haines – both of which new books by new authors I was given to review, as well as Lost In A Good Book by Jasper Fforde – the second in the Thursday Next series, following on from The Eyre Affair.

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

Lots of books, hopefully! I have the summer to read now and I have some classic novels on my list, as well as some more Stephen King novels.


What are you currently reading?

– Judith

#RBRT Read and Review: DEVIL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE by CORY BARCLAY @CoryBarclay #BookReview #Thriller

#RBRT Read and Review: DEVIL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE by CORY BARCLAY @CoryBarclay #BookReview #Thriller
  • Title: Devil In The Countryside
  • Author: Cory Barclay
  • Published: 2017
  • Started: 23rd April 2017
  • Finished: 19th May 2017

Devil In The Countryside is a historically inspired thriller set in 1588 at the time of the Reformation. The plot follows investigator Heinrich Franz, who is looking for answers after numerous mysterious killings in the German countryside, attributed to the Werewolf of Bedburg.

The concept for the book reminds me of stories like Van Helsing, which is just the sort of thing I enjoy.

I think Barclay’s decision to mix fact and fiction was a bold one, but it made the political and historical context in which the book is set interesting.

Conventions of the genre, such as mysterious characters and gruesome murders were used well, and the writing was mostly easy to follow.

However, I struggled to imagine the settings and characters as authentically German. It felt more like a story about American characters that happened to have Germanic names. For me, this was particularly obvious when reading the amount of American slang used within dialogue – slang I’m quite sure wasn’t around in 16th century Germany!

This was a shame, because I think it prevented me from reading Devil In The Countryside as a historical fiction, and I read it more as a modern thriller.

Similarly, the dialogue also contained a surprising amount of crude swearing.

Normally, this is isn’t enough to discourage me, but in an era of strong religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, I doubt casual phrases such as ‘God dammit’ would be used in dialogue between priests and religious citizens.

Devil In The Countryside is a reasonable thriller inspired by historical events, and if you enjoy violence or the supernatural, I’m sure it would be a good read for you.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Devil In The Countryside is available to buy as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

***

Thanks for reading! This is another #RBRT review.  Thanks to Cory Barclay for sending me a free e-book copy to read. You can find his website here: www.corybarclay.com

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

[BONUS] Read and Review: BEING SIMON HAINES by TOM MACAULAY @TomMacAulay80 #BookReview @RedDoorBooks

[BONUS] Read and Review: BEING SIMON HAINES by TOM MACAULAY @TomMacAulay80 #BookReview @RedDoorBooks
  • Title: Being Simon Haines
  • Author: Tom MacAulay
  • Published: 2017
  • Date Started: 30th April 2017
  • Date Finished: 18th May 2017

Being Simon Haines is a difficult book to categorise. It tells the tale of Simon Haines, an ambitious lawyer chasing his dream: partnership at the legendary, family-run law firm of Fiennes & Plunkett. Simon is awaiting the results of a potential partnership with Fiennes & Plunkett, and decides to travel to Cuba to pass the time in an attempt to rediscover youthful enthusiasm and gather a clear mind before news that might change his life forever.

My Photo [Being Simon Haines]

Although not being able to pinpoint the genre of the book, I quite enjoyed Being Simon Haines.

It was well written, which made it incredibly easy to follow the two storylines presented – Simon’s current life in London, and his past life as a young adult.

I liked the flashback sequences most because, as a student myself, the first-person narrative perspective of a young adult was easier to understand than the first-person perspective of a city lawyer.*

* I also loved the mentions of the University of Nottingham – my very own university!

I struggled with the occasional legalistic jargon, but I don’t think this particularly hindered the book. They say to write about what you know; MacAulay is a solicitor from North London, so it is unsurprising that these things should feature in Being Simon Haines.

I liked MacAulay’s development of characters too – Plunkett is a ridiculous boss with meticulous standards who only communicates in whispers, Giles is a bumbling assistant who only ever seems to make mistakes, and Dan is a laddish best friend with many attractive qualities. The only puzzle seems to be: who is Simon Haines?

I noticed my perception of Simon change throughout the book, as more information was drip-fed – at certain points I felt supportive of him, and at others I felt downright aversion towards him. Whether this was intended or not, I thought it cleverly challenged the notion that comes with a lot of books which is “they’re the main character therefore I have to like them”.

Overall, I don’t think Being Simon Haines is a book I’d have normally have chosen – it’s not a horror, dystopian, or a thriller. However, what it is is an interesting exploration of a man with a dream, and the consequences that come with pursuing ambitions – no matter what the cost.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Being Simon Haines will be available to buy as a paperback on Amazon UK from June 2017.

***

Thank you for reading my review!

This blog post is part of the “blog tour” running by Red Door Publishing, who very kindly sent me a proof copy of Being Simon Haines to read and review for free!

You can follow Tom MacAulay here: twitter.com/TomMacAulay80 and follow Red Door Publishing here: twitter.com/RedDoorBooks

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

Read and Review [+ Film Review]: The Shining

Read and Review [+ Film Review]: The Shining

Book Review

The Shining (1977) is a paranormal horror by Stephen King. When Jack Nicholson becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, he moves his wife Wendy and five-year-old son Danny there as well. Although just a small boy, Danny has unusual psychic abilities – known as having a ‘shine’. As winter approaches and numerous blizzards cut the Nicholson family off from the outside world, the hotel appears to have a life of its own, causing dangerously scary visions and voices to play inside their heads. It looks, as The Shining’s book cover says, as if the hotel itself is ‘beginning to shine’.

King himself critiques The Shining – a skill I think all writers should posses – in his introduction, and comments that:

‘The result [of Jack’s character] wasn’t perfect, and there is a cocky quality to some of The Shining’s prose that has come to grate on me in later years, but I still like the book enormously’

I liked The Shining enormously too; Jack became a scarier and scarier antagonistic force, motivated not just by supernatural beings but by the haunting memories of his own abusive upbringing. The animal-shaped hedges seem to come to life, moving behind their backs, hunting the family so they can’t escape.*

*This reminds me of my favourite Dr Who villains, The Weeping Angels.

Whilst the narrative perspective did often change, (in true King style) because the Overlook Hotel is so isolated, the narrative mostly alternated between the only three tangible characters: Jack, Danny and Wendy. I thought these provided a much deeper insight to the thought processes of each character which is especially beneficial in a psychological novel about the powers of the mind as well as problems of the mind.

Although Hallorann’s involvement, particularly at the beginning of the novel, was useful at providing the reader with explanatory information about ‘shining’ abilities, he felt very much like an outsider and at times he felt like just a plot device.

 My one main criticism is a minor one.

In his last few pages, King uses the adverb ‘suddenly’ three times in the space of three sentences. If I recall correctly, he asserted in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000) that ‘suddenly’ is quite a lazy way of describing a given event. Maybe he formed that opinion upon reflection of The Shining, or maybe he included them purposefully for effect. Either way, I had trouble taking that last passage completely seriously, because of the way multiple ‘suddenlys’ were included. It’s quite a petty criticism, but I’m an English student and writer, so I can’t help but notice language or grammar that bothers me.

Overall, I quite liked The Shining, and would definitely recommend.

Film Review

I recently watched the 1980s film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick – a film, interestingly, King can’t stand! After watching it, I had lots of initial thoughts I just had to write down:

Negatives

1) As an adaptation of the novel, it is seriously lacking. Whilst an adaptation is not limited to religiously following every page of the source material, I would expect the core plot to be as similar as possible. However, Kubrick departs from this; there were multiple blatant changes or omissions from the book, which I felt detracted from the narrative of the film. For example, King’s Jack descends into insanity by mixing the the grisly and ghostly past of the Overlook Hotel with his struggles with alcoholism and abuse, whereas Kubrick’s Jack is introduced to the audience in a way that suggests he is already unhinged.

2) Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) is such a pathetic character. She does nothing but scream or cry, and it was just tiring to watch. King refer to her as ‘one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film […] that’s not the woman that I wrote about’. (IndieWire).

3) The ending left me unsatisfied, mainly because it was so different to King’s ending, and there was no clear resolution. However, this might also have its benefits: it raises lots of questions for the audience, mainly questions about what (and who) is real and what (and who) is purely hallucination. As my friend Florence commented, ‘The fact it raises so many questions is why I love it so much.’*

*Florence’s favourite film happens to be The Shining.

Positives

1) The musical score was brilliant; the tension was consistent throughout, by the raising or lowering of volume and the use of string instruments. The level of tension, even when there were no sudden movements or “jump scares”, was refreshing in comparison to modern horror, where the format seems to be nothing more than building up tension until the next “jump scare”.

2) Although King wasn’t overwhelmed by Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance, I thought he was superb. He looked and sounded like a convincing, raging psychopathic and he was by far the best casting choice.  I may be somewhat biased in this opinion as, before reading The Shining, I had seen a few clips – like the infamous “Here’s Johnny” scene – and so even when reading the book, it was Nicholson I pictured.

3) Some of the cinematography was stunning. One example of this are the tracking shots used to follow Danny’s tricycle around the hotel. The transitions are smoothly executed, and incredible attention to detail is given to the sounds of his tricycle. We hear him cycle over wood flooring noisily, he passes over a rug (suddenly making it eerily quiet), then he cycles back over the flooring. A second example is when (minor spoiler here) Jack is trapped in the pantry. The audience are left looking up at Jack, as he fights against the door; we see his nostrils flare, his eyes widen, and his muscles work to free himself – all while he looms over the camera in a domineering stance. Clever film techniques such as these are a Media Studies student’s dream (a dream I left behind at A Level sadly) and The Shining is certainly a well-crafted film.

My Photo [The Shining]
A still taken from the film.

Approaching the film with an analytical and psychological thriller perspective, I think The Shining is fascinating and for that reason I enjoyed it. However, as an adaptation dubbed the ‘scariest horror film ever’ (The Independent) and based on a fantastic novel, for me, The Shining falls short.

Thank you for reading!

Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed this post or click ‘Follow’ for more reviews and other book or film themed blog posts.

– Judith