Pride and Prejudice Book Review

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Review:

It’s probably safe to call Pride and Prejudice my favorite novel. It comes down to Pride and Prejudice vs Middlemarch, but while I consider Middlemarch to be the slightly better novel, I’ve read P&P a lot more times. And watched the BBC adaptation a lot more times, as well as most of the other film adaptations, including the modern AU, the weird black & white one with the 1840s fashion and the totally OOC Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and the Bollywood version.

I get that it’s a totally predictable and boring choice for favorite book, but it really is just that good. And I don’t just mean the romance, although the romance is obviously wonderful. Jane Austen was freaking hilarious and an extremely astute observer of life, so even if you don’t like romance in general, you should give this book a try for the satire.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Historical Fiction By Sharon Kay Penman Review

Sharon Kay Penman has been one of my favorite authors since I was a teenager. Her novels focus on the Plantagenet family that ruled England for several centuries starting in the 12th century, and their contemporaries.

It would be admittedly be pretty tough to make the Plantagenets boring (they were some of England’s least boring rulers, and that says something!) but Penman’s novels are not only highly regarded for their historical accuracy, they’re also rip-roaring good reads, with plenty of action, romance, and intrigue to keep almost anyone enthralled. For such a male-dominated period of history, I like that she also puts a lot of focus on the female characters and their complex situations.

My Favorite Penman Novels: The Welsh Princes Trilogy

The Welsh Princes trilogy were the first Penman books I read, and are still my favorites. I think they have the most appealing characters (confession time: teenage me had a huge crush on both Llewelyns), although history being what it is, they’re also something of an emotional roller coaster, especially the second and third books.

Book 1: Here Be Dragons

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The first in the series focuses on Joanna, a bastard daughter of King John. (Yes, that King John.)

Joanna is married to the Welsh prince Llewelyn ab Iorwerth (more commonly remembered as Llewelyn Fawr, or Llewelyn the Great) at the age of 14, and soon finds herself torn between her loyalty to her beloved father (who is here given a more nuanced portrayal than usual) and husband, who she also grows to love deeply.

Joanna is nearly unique in the annals of royal wives in that she was caught in an adulterous relationship and not only forgiven by her husband but restored to full favor and position at court. (A Royal Affair demonstrates a much more common aftermath for such a situation.) By all accounts, Llewelyn was grief-stricken by her death some years later, and even founded a Franciscan friary in her honor, which was completed shortly before his own death. I thought Penman navigated this tricky and unusual situation well, and came up with a plausible explanation for it, given the apparent happiness of Llewelyn and Joanna’s marriage otherwise.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Book 2: Falls the Shadow

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Book 2 continues with the deaths of most of the characters you grew to love in the first book (seriously, keep a tissue handy!) but introduces new ones in the form of Llewelyn Fawr’s grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, and Simon de Montfort, the reform-minded French husband of Joanna’s younger half-sister Eleanor (Nell), as they each contend with John’s weak and incompetent son Henry III, and the rise of Henry’s far stronger son, the future Edward I (Longshanks).

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Book 3: The Reckoning

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Don’t throw that tissue away yet! You’ll need it a few more times as Edward warms up for his future role as “Hammer of the Scots” by taking on the Welsh. Although I love them all, this is probably my favorite of the trilogy. Family drama, romance, and high tragedy abound.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

If you enjoy the Welsh Princes trilogy, I also recommend Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, which focuses on the lives of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd and his brother Davydd.

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Arcadia Review

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Review:

I had a terrible time finding a copy of this play at the library and finally gave in and bought it, a decision I have never regretted. It is one of the funniest and most intelligent plays I have ever read and has now been one of my favorites for many years.

As a non-math person (not completely hopeless, but definitely not gifted either), Arcadia can be a fairly challenging read. Once, I understood it all once, in a flash of blinding light of the sort that probably accompanies religious conversion, but alas, the revelation didn’t choose to stick around. The rest of the time I have to be satisfied with sorta understanding the fractal stuff and being happy that I do get the literary bits.

Along with being intellectually invigorating, the play is also full of wit and heartbreak: it is the play, as one critic wrote, that definitively proved that Stoppard “knows enough about hearts to break them.” My own heart broke several times, especially over Thomasina and Septimus. It’s funny, because their relationship ought to be about as squicky as they come. Not only is she 13 (later almost 17) to his 22 years, he is her tutor, and student/teacher relationships are something I’ve always looked askance at. But somehow in Arcadia, it works, perhaps because of the fundamental innocence and playfulness of their relationship, and it does break your heart to know that it’s ultimately doomed.

I’ve never seen the play on stage (though I’d have given a great deal to see the original London production, with Rufus Sewell in the role of Septimus Hodge) but I hope to some day.

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My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

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The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast Albums Review

When I was a child, there was a Carol Burnett/Julie Andrews skit that I thought was absolutely hilarious called “The Phantom of the Opry”:

Inspired, my parents gave me the “Highlights from The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast” album for my 8th birthday and I’ve been a huge “phan” ever since.

To this day, more than 25 years after the musical opened on London’s West End, the original London cast is considered the best by many phans. Though I enjoyed the 25th Anniversary Concert and the three touring productions I’ve seen of the stage musical, I have to agree. Sarah Brightman’s acting skills apparently left something to be desired on stage (see the music video below for evidence), but her high, pure soprano was perfect for the role of Christine and comes across beautifully in the cast albums, while Michael Crawford’s vocals – by turns hypnotically beautiful and threatening – epitomized angel, phantom, and ultimately, man.

Which original London cast album is right for you?

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Phantom, by Susan Kay Book Review

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Review:

Don’t be mislead by the terrible cover!

Gaston Leroux’s classic horror novel The Phantom of the Opera has received many adaptations in many different forms, the most famous of which include the 1925 silent film starring Lon Chaney and the Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. There have also been many literary adaptations, including retellings, “sequels,” and more. Phantom, by Susan Kay, is by far the best of these.

Leroux gave his readers some tantalizing hints of Erik’s life before he took up residence in the basement of the Paris opera house and became the dreaded “Opera Ghost,” but his novel covered only the last few months leading up to Erik’s death. Kay’s novel takes those scant hints and spins them into a rich backstory full of adventure and tragedy alike. She makes good use of several different narrators, including Erik’s mother, the Persian, Raoul, Christine, and Erik himself, to flesh out his story and bring it to life from birth til death, and beyond. Though I’m a diehard Erik/Christine shipper, my favorite aspect of the book may have been the relationship between Erik and the Persian (here named Nadir). It was wonderful to see it fleshed out and their interactions produced some of the book’s best moments and lines of dialogue.

Phantom is beautifully written and intensely emotional. I’m admittedly soft-hearted, but I cried multiple times reading this novel and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Most phans will adore Phantom, and it’s also an excellent introduction to the story for non-fans and casual fans, as it’s written in a more modern style than the original novel.

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My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

You’ve Got Mail Movie Review

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Review:

A smart and charming update of The Shop Around the Corner that benefits from the great chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. As a confirmed hick, this film is also to be commended for accomplishing the rare task of making me want to visit New York.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Much Ado About Nothing

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Review:

Not Shakespeare’s best play, but one of my favorites due to the awesomeness of Beatrice and Benedict, one of the world’s best written bickering couples ever. Here, the pair is played brilliantly by Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson, who were married to each other at the time it was made and have always had great chemistry.

The rest of the cast is also great (with one or two puzzling exceptions) and the resulting film is frothy and fun and full of beautiful, sunny Tuscan scenery to boot.

My rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Shakespeare in Love Movie Review

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Review:

Stoppard and Shakespeare is a magic combination. Witty dialogue, romance, great acting, zillions of literary allusions, beautiful costumes… what’s not to love?

My rating: 5 Stars (5 / 5)

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Emma (1996) Movie Review

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Review:

I know it’s fashionable to hate on Gwyneth Paltrow, but though she does seem… annoyingly oblivious to reality in many ways, I can’t join in, because she’s been in too many of my favorite movies. So clearly, if nothing else, she has great taste in roles.

Emma isn’t my favorite Austen adaptation, but it’s pretty high on the list – charming, witty, romantic, and with a host of excellent performances, of which my favorites are the delicious Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley and Sophie Thompson (Emma‘s sister) as the spinster Miss Bates.

My rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

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The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Review:

Okay, okay, this is not so much a movie as an experience, but word is that there’s going to be a DVD release at some point (for the video elements of it, at least), so I’ll just call it a movie.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is, as you might have guessed, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in modern times and told via the medium (mainly) of Lizzie’s YouTube video blog. Various other forms of social media, including Twitter and Tumbr, also got involved at various points, as did video blogs by other cast members (most notably Lydia).

They did a surprisingly good job of updating the story to the present day, and it’s all tremendous fun, with many laugh-out-loud moments and, yes, ultimately some appropriately swoon-worthy romantic moments. Highly enjoyable.

My rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

You should also check out the official website, which is the easiest way to keep track of all the various videos, tweets, Tumblr posts, Pinterest accounts, etc. associated with the story.