Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

When I was recently purchasing some more Fanny Burney books I saw the Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Remembering the references to it in Northanger Abbey, I thought it was a book that I should read and I'm glad I did!

The most popular book of the author's time, this Gothic Romance was published in 1794 and was read with excitement - in 1824 Sir Walter Scott recalled the eagerness of whole familes as the four volumes of the work "flew, and were sometimes torn, from hand to hand".

Set in France and Italy two centuries before it was written, it is a wonderful tale of suspense. Our heroine, Emily St Aubert, is orphaned a short period before she is of legal age. Aware of the proprieties and social moires of the time, she goes to live with her aunt, a cold, selfish woman. Before her father dies, she meets and falls in love with the Chevalier Valancourt and her early expectation of marriage to him under her Aunt's care is dashed when her Aunt marries Signor Montoni, and they remove to Italy - firstly Venice and then to the Apennines to the secluded Castle Udolpho.

Emily's fears of inpropriety, marriage to any man but her beloved Valancourt, and the loss of her family estate are soon expanded to almost permanent periods of terror induced by Montoni's heartless treatment and fearful associations, not to mention ghostly mysteries within the dark and gothic castle.

The novel is full of descriptive scenic views of the place and time, which belies the fact that the author only travelled abroad once in her life; poetry appears frequently and I must admit I skimmed over those passages a bit!

The pace of the novel can be slow and there is the occasional thread that lacks continuity (perhaps this is only something that the modern reader would note). Personally I don't think the romance aspect of the novel is all that convincing although the overall devotion of Emily and Valancourt is obvious.

The author's real strength is suspense and intrigue - for example, we wait right until the end of the novel before we find out what scares Emily so much in the remote room of Udolpho where a picture is hidden behind a black veil.

It is not a particularly 'easy' read. I found I needed quiet and preferably solitude to read it, and in that environment I could envision and enjoy the story more and make steady progress through the volumes.

It is a wonderful example of its genre and should be mandatory reading for lovers of Austen et al.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fallen by Lauren Kate

My 11 y.o. niece who is a confessed Twilight fan is now reading this book. She left it at my house a couple of days ago and I thought, 'why not?', picked it up and finished it that day.

A story of everlasting love with a handsome and aloof immortal male lead and a confused somewhat troubled mortal female lead, as well as a highschool setting with little parental input, it does bear some similarity to the Twilight novel and I can definitely see the appeal to the same audience. However instead of vampires, we're dealing with angels.

The book opens with an emotionally and sexually charged prologue where a young woman, mid 1850s, finds herself inexplicably drawn to a handsome young man. She succumbs to the magnetic pull she feels towards him, desire flames brightly and she disappears.

We then turn to the modern day. Luce, a troubled teen who has seen 'shadows' most of her life, is sent to a reform school, the Sword and Cross, after the mysterious and somewhat suspicious death of a boy she liked at her previous, ivy league school. Her new school is filled with a motley assortment of hard-core reform cases and she is quickly 'claimed' by a somewhat crazy girl who guides her through her first days.

Within hours of arriving at the school, she sets her eyes on Daniel, a gorgeous boy who almost immediately acts coldly towards her. However, there is a pull towards him she can't explain and she feels strongly that she knows him from somewhere.

As the story continues, Luce is befriended by a 'normal' fellow student who aids her sanity and need to find out more about Daniel, a boy with piercing green eyes attempts to romance her, she is involved in a suspicious death at the school and moments of closeness with Daniel that confuse Luce further while reinforcing the depth of her feelings for him.

Written for the young adult market, this is no great literary work. However it is a good story, rather hard to put down with stomach-twisting emotion that will appeal to girls and women who need a romantic/eternal love fix. (Yes, I'm one of them!)

The next instalment in the story, Torment, is due out September 2010.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Evelina by Fanny Burney

I was fortunate enough to see a blog mention this little gem. First published in 1778, this classic is a delightful romance set in 18th century England. First published anonymously, it was an immediate success and was the first of the novels written by Fanny Burney (later Madame D’Arblay).

Basically a love story constrained by the social mores of the time, it will have you avidly reading - occasionally sighing at the longing and love story between Evelina and Lord Orville, sometimes frustrated by Evelina’s inability to extricate herself from some people and situations, wincing at poor Evelina's discomfort, and even laughing out loud to the Captain’s tricks.

Written as a series of letters, the story follows the introduction into society of Evelina, unrecognized daughter of Sir John Belmont and his deceased first wife. Brought up in the country by Rev. Villers, who was both the tutor of her grandfather, Mr Evelyn, and guardian of her mother, Carolyn, Evelina at the tender age of 17 is sent for a visit to Lady Howard at Howard Grove. Lady Howard’s daughter, Mrs Mirvan then takes her daughter Maria and Evelina with her to London to await the return of her husband from sea, Captain Mirvan. Thence really begins Evelina’s awakening!

Evelina’s visit to London and exposure to society is both awe inspiring and confusing for the innocent girl and she makes the first of many social faux pas as we are introduced to the social moirés of 18th century England.

Twists and turns, confusion and false identities abound and it is a surprisingly hard book to put down!

Although it predates her, any lovers of Jane Austen will definitely enjoy this satirical look at the fashionable society of the day. Highly recommended!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spelling Rules & Grammar Guides


I’m always correcting the children’s spelling and whilst my grammar isn’t poor, I must have missed the week at school when they covered things like clauses and collocation. (Have you ever heard of that last one??)

My son, in year 6, comes home with English homework that really makes me wonder if I was even on the planet for grammar lessons. The girls, in Year 3 don’t stretch me quite so far … yet!

I was thrilled to find the website KidsLearningisfun (through the fabulous site Connect2mums) who make some tremendous little guides for parents and children to keep at home and help out when you get stuck with helping with homework. I have two guides - Spelling Rules and Grammar which are aimed at grades 1 through 7.

My son at 11 is quite capable of using the guide himself (without involving me at all – always a good thing) and I can show the girls (age 8) the more basic levels.

The guides are well designed – each page on the spiral bound book is laminated so eating afternoon tea and doing homework isn’t as damaging as it could be! The guides are colour coded for easy and quick reference.

I like the spelling rules – mentioning some of those tried and true favourite sayings to remember your spelling such as “i before e except after c” that they no longer seem to teach in schools, and going into more depth by covering less well known rules and exceptions.

The grammar book is sure to become well used. Even my son took an interest flicking through it to refresh his memory, saying “I always forget what nouns and stuff are”. Hmmm, well boys are known for their inability to express themselves!

The guides are well priced at $22.95 for the Grammar and $19.95 for the Spelling Rules. Basically if you have a child currently at primary school or starting soon, these will become an indispensable part of the homework roundabout.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Trinny and Susannah - What you wear can change your life

Authors: Trinny Woodall; Susannah Constantine

A self-confessed Trinny and Susannah watcher, this is the first book of theirs I have read and I’m glad I have!

Of “What Not To Wear” BBC fame, the famous duo share their insights with the women of the world to give them all more confidence (and look better too!).

The book covers basics such as sorting out what shape you actually are, good underwear and what colours will suit you, it then goes on to more involved topics like encouraging you to cull your wardrobe and sort out storage.

I love how they feature themselves as prime examples of what to do and what not to do, and they’re not afraid to share their faults with the world.

Great tips on beauty, hair, makeup and accessories, for which women basically have an inexhaustible need! So, no complaints in that department

As a bonus there are even tips for pregnancy and travelling. All in all a book full of wonderful gems of advice that won’t go astray.

Naturally, this isn’t a deep book. It's light, humorous and more of a ready reference guide. Skim through once quickly and then take the advice section by section as you have need.

The Audrey Hepburn Treasures

Authors: Ellen Erwin, Jessica Z Diamond

I just adore Audrey Hepburn and this book makes you feel like one of the family!

With a foreward by Audrey’s son Sean Ferrer, he offers a glimpse into the private Audrey and shares some of her most treasured mementos and memories.

Presented as part book/ part album the book includes replicas of original photos, letters and documents stored in special sections throughout the book.

Starting with photos and documents from Audrey’s birth and childhood and proceeding through the special occasions and career milestones throughout her life. Treasures such as a receipt for Audrey’s Best Actress Oscar for Roman Holiday from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fan letters and programs from her shows. Memories such as a note from Audrey’s grandfather, Baron van Heemstra, after he saw her dance in 1944, a letter from Cary Grant in 1982 and press clippings about Audrey. Photos such as Audrey’s baby photo, dance photos, family occasions and many more personal mementos.

Truly one for the fans that want to know the enigmatic Audrey that little bit better.

Monday, February 9, 2009

BAFTAs 2009

Best Film: (winners in bold)
Nominiees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008; Frost/Nixon (2008); Milk (2008);The Reader (2008); Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Alexander Korda Award for Outstanding British Film of the Year
Nominees: Man on Wire (2008); Other Nominees:Hunger (2008); In Bruges (2008); Mamma Mia! (2008); Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Best Actor
Nominees: Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler (2008); Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon (2008); Dev Patel for Slumdog Millionaire (2008); Sean Penn for Milk (2008); Brad Pitt for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Best Actress
Nominees: Kate Winslet for The Reader (2008) ;Angelina Jolie for Changeling (2008); Kristin Scott Thomas for Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (2008); Meryl Streep for Doubt (2008); Kate Winslet for Revolutionary Road (2008)

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008); Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder (2008); Brendan Gleeson for In Bruges (2008); Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt (2008); Brad Pitt for Burn After Reading (2008)

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008); Amy Adams for Doubt (2008); Freida Pinto for Slumdog Millionaire (2008); Tilda Swinton for Burn After Reading (2008); Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler (2008)

David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction
Nominees: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire (2008); Stephen Daldry for The Reader (2008); Clint Eastwood for Changeling (2008); David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon (2008)

Best Screenplay (Original)
Nominees: In Bruges (2008): Martin McDonagh; Burn After Reading (2008): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; Changeling (2008): J. Michael Straczynski; Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (2008): Philippe Claudel; Milk (2008): Dustin Lance Black

Best Screenplay (Adapted)
Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Simon Beaufoy; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Eric Roth; Frost/Nixon (2008): Peter Morgan ; The Reader (2008): David Hare; Revolutionary Road (2008): Justin Haythe

Best Cinematography
Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Anthony Dod Mantle; The Changeling (2008): Tom Stern; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Claudio Miranda ; The Dark Knight (2008): Wally Pfister ;The Reader (2008): Chris Menges, Roger Deakins

Best Editing
Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Chris Dickens; Changeling (2008): Joel Cox, Gary Roach; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall; The Dark Knight (2008): Lee Smith; Frost/Nixon (2008): Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill ;In Bruges (2008): Jon Gregory

Best Production Design
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Donald Graham Burt, Victor J. Zolfo ; Changeling (2008): James J. Murakami, Gary Fettis; The Dark Knight (2008): Nathan Crowley, Peter Lando; Revolutionary Road (2008): Kristi Zea, Debra Schutt; Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Mark Digby, Michelle Day

Best Costume Design
Nominees: The Duchess (2008): Michael O'Connor; Changeling (2008): Deborah Hopper; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Jacqueline West; The Dark Knight (2008): Lindy Hemming; Revolutionary Road (2008): Albert Wolsky

Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music
Nominees:Slumdog Millionaire (2008): A.R. Rahman; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Alexandre Desplat; The Dark Knight (2008): James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer; Mamma Mia! (2008): Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus; WALL·E (2008): Thomas Newman

Best Make Up/Hair
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); The Dark Knight (2008); The Duchess (2008); Frost/Nixon (2008); Milk (2008)

Best Sound
Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (2008); Changeling (2008); The Dark Knight (2008); Quantum of Solace (2008); WALL·E (2008)

Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); The Dark Knight (2008); Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008); Iron Man (2008); Quantum of Solace (2008)

Best Film not in the English Language
Nominees: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (2008); Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008); Gomorra (2008); Persepolis (2007); Vals Im Bashir (2008)

Best Animated Feature Film
Nominees: WALL·E (2008); Persepolis (2007); Vals Im Bashir (2008)

Orange Rising Star Award
Nominees: Noel Clarke; Michael Cera; Michael Fassbender; Rebecca Hall; Toby Kebbell

Carl Foreman Award for the Most Promising Newcomer
Nominees: Steve McQueen for Hunger (2008)(Director/Writer); Simon Chinn for Man on Wire (2008)(Producer); Judy Craymer for Mamma Mia! (2008)(Producer); Garth Jennings for Son of Rambow (2007)(Writer); Sol Papadopoulos, Roy Boulter for Of Time and the City (2008)(Producers)

Best Short Animation
Nominees: Wallace and Gromit in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' (2008) (TV); Codswallop (2008); Varmints

Best Short Film
Nominees: September (2008); Kingsland #1: The Dreamer (2008); Love You More (2008); Ralph (2008); Voyage d'affaires (2008)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

50 Books You Can't Put Down

From the 2008 Books Alive Guide (Australia)

The Household Guide to Dying - Debra Adelaide (fiction)
Breath - Tim Winton (fiction)
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks (fiction)
The Spare Room - Helen Garner (fiction)
Scar Tissue - Anthony Kiedis (biography)
The Six Sacred Stones - Matthew Reilly (fiction)
Exit Music - Ian Rankin (fiction)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson (fiction)
Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali (autobiography)
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini (fiction)
God's Callgirl - Carla van Raay (autobiography)
Change of Heart - Jodi Picoult (fiction)
Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert (autobiography)
Those Faraday Girls - Monic McInerney (fiction)
Skin and Bone - Kathryn Fox (fiction)
7th Heaven - James Patterson with Maxine Paetro (fiction)
Secrets of the Red Lantern - Pauline Nguyen with Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen (autobiography)
The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton (fiction)
Somme Mud - EPF Lynch (biography/war)
Vietnam: The Australian War - Paul Ham (war)
Les Norton and the Case of the Talking Pie Crust - Robert G Barrett (fiction)
Turn Turn Turn ... Please - Kerry O'Keeffe (sport)
Over the Top with Jim - Hugh Lunn (autobiography)
That'd Be Right - William McInnes (autobiography)
The Day After Tomorrow - Allan Folsom (fiction)
Nothing to Lose - Lee Child (fiction)
The Memory Room - Christopher Koch (fiction)
Addition - Toni Jordan (fiction)
Voodoo Doll - Leah Giarratano (fiction)
The Rouseabout - Rachael Treasure (fiction)
Avoiding Mr Right - Anita Heiss (fiction)
This Charming Man - Marian Keyes (fiction)
Back from the Brink - Peter Andrews (environment/agriculture)
True Green - Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin (environment)
He'll Be OK - Celia Lashlie (family/health)
Girl Stuff - Kaz Cooke (family/health)
Lucky for Me - Frank Robson (autobiography)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling (fiction/fantasy)
Obernewtyn (book 1 of Obernewtyn Chronicles) - Isobelle Carmody (fiction/fantasy)
The Gift (book 1 of Pellinor series) - Alison Croggon (fiction/fantasy)
Superior Saturday (book 6 of The Keys to the Kingdom series) - Garth Nix (fiction/fantasy)
Twilight - Stephanie Myer (fiction)
George's Secret Key to the Universe - Lucy and Stephen Hawking (children's nonfiction)
Treasure Fever (book 1 in the Schooling Around series) - Andy Griffiths (children's fiction)
Water Witcher - Jan Ormerod (children)
The Waterhole - Graeme Base (children)
Parsley Rabbit's Book about Books - Frances Watts and David Legge (children)
Quest for the Crown (book 1 in the Faraway Fairies series) - Eleanor Coombe (children's fiction)
Go Girl! Angels: Anniversary Edition - Chrissie Perry and Meredith Badger (children's fiction)
Nim's Island - Wendy Orr (children's fiction)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rachel's Holiday

Author: Marian Keyes

Another humorous Irish romp - although with a dose or two of reality quite apparent. Very touching and some true sadness (albeit only in moments) that will have tears and sniffles threatening to make an appearance.

Rachel Walsh is Irish, living in New York, with her best friend since childhood, Brigit. Brigit and Rachel are fun-loving and out for a good time, naturally always on the lookout for men and they love to poke fun at a group of Irish lads that are in a somewhat 70s haze in the looks department. Rachel falls in with one of the lads, Luke - tall, manly and sexy, but embarrassingly un-hip.

Rachel gets caught up in the New York lifestyle and finds herself in hospital, surprisingly, after having her stomach pumped after imbibing too many drugs.

Her family fly her home to Dublin and promptly deposit her in the 'Cloisters' - an addiction fighting centre, reportedly frequented by celebrities. Fully prepared for a nice holiday with massages, spas, high quality food and luxurious surroundings, Rachel meets a variety of addicts, but can't quite understand why she is there - after all, she doesn't have a problem... does she?

Well worth the read with a nice happy ending!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married

Author: Marian Keyes

Lucy Sullivan - in her twenties, an office worker and a serial dater of unsuitable men.

Lucy sees a fortune teller with some co-workers and is told that she will be married within 18 months. Considering she is currently footloose and fancy free this comes as something of a surprise to Lucy so she discounts the possiblity. However, her co-workers are soon linking events to the prophecies they received and everyone starts to think that Lucy really WILL be married soon.

Lucy actually does meet a man - totally unsuitable of course which Lucy can't resist and she starts to think maybe he is 'the one'. Of course to complicate matters there are other men in her life as well - could one of them be the lucky man instead?

On route to finding her marital bliss Lucy learns more about herself and her family than she ever suspected.

Amusing and eminently readable, as all Marian Keyes novels seem to be, this is the perfect novel to get away from your own life and find yourself flatting in London on the lookout for Mr Right.