Archive for February, 2013

This is not the usual kind of book I read, but Random House was kind enough to give me a free review copy.

I found it to be a very well written, gentle read and did enjoy it. I personally wasn’t very familiar with the culture of South Asia, but I felt the author did an excellent job of making it comprehensible to an outsider without over explaining. It was easy to become drawn into Meterling’s world on Pi and understand the expectations that were on her as well as to understand the consequences her decisions might have. As I am not from that culture, the importance placed on, for example, compatible horoscopes in marriage partners is foreign to me, but due to the excellent writing, I could easily understand its impact within Meterling’s family.

This is also a book of well-drawn contrasts and conflicts. I found it interesting to compare and contrast the viewpoint of the children to Meterling’s situation to Meterling’s own thoughts. A nice contrast is also set up between the colour, warmth and friendliness of Pi and the cold, greyness of London. This ties in well to Meterling’s emotional state at the time as she attempts to deal with the aftermath of the decisions she’s made.

The theme of adhering to traditions and society’s expectations vs following your heart is nicely explored through several of the characters and was, for me, one of the strongest aspects of the novel. It is turned around at the end as well in a neat twist.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy the Archer ghost storyline and this was for me the weakest part of the book. However, I could understand its significance and impact on Meterling.

All in all, I found this a gentle, easy read and enjoyed it. I gave As Sweet as Honey four stars out of five.

In writing this review of Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man, I would like to focus on a quote from about two thirds of the way through the book:

Arlen’s fingers tightened on the metal spear as he stepped from the circle.

Cue cliffhanger chapter break. For me, this was a real “oh, crap” moment, on a par with seeing Aragorn’s forces surrounded by the Mordor hordes in the Return of the King movie, and perfectly encapsulates Peter V. Brett’s mastery of his craft.

This is just one of many excellently written scenes. This one in particular works for me for several reasons; first, the author has done his world building well. At this point in the story the reader is well aware of the likely consequences of Arlen’s stepping outside of the circle and has good reason to fear for Arlen’s safety.

Of course, none of that matters if the reader is not emotionally invested in Arlen. Brett has developed his character well. Arlen is not always likeable, but he is relatable. His decision to leave the circle, while terrifying, is logical and easily understandable based on Brett’s characterisation. The reader cares about what happens to Arlen and the consequences of his action. This can be contrasted with the other main characters, Leesha and Rojer, for whom such a move would have been totally out of character, certainly at this stage in their arcs. All of the main characters are equally well developed and engaging.

Finally, there is the setup for the future. Arlen has some speculation about the spear but no proof. It is possibly a game changer in the war against the demons. Part of the tension of this scene is what it might mean for humanity going forward. The stakes here are not just Arlen’s life, but humanity’s survival.

This scene is just one reason why I thoroughly recommend The Warded Man and its sequel, The Desert Spear. I anxiously await tomorrow’s release of the next chapter, The Daylight War.

I give The Warded Man five out of five stars.

I have been reminded lately that great quality drama – both writing and acting – is no longer limited to the silver screen, TV and stage. I am an avid follower of Bernie Su’s and Hank Green’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. The “LBD” is a transmedia modernisation/adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and is another great example of quality writing and acting. It is well worth viewing if you have not yet seen it.

The main content is based around twenty-something grad student Lizzie Bennet’s YouTube blog in which she discusses her daily life with her parents and sisters Jane and Lydia. The Mary Bennet of the original becomes a cousin, and Kitty is Mary’s cat. Lizzie’s vlogs are supplemented by in character tweets and also vlogs by younger sister Lydia. Her best friend and blog editor is Charlotte Lu, and she has a volatile relationship with one William Darcy.

Speaking of Twitter, one of the real challenges the writers of the LBD had not faced by Jane Austen was to keep the in world characters ignorant of events in our world dominated by cell phones, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The main characters all have Twitter accounts. The writers got around this by having characters follow/unfollow each other at strategic points and having Lizzie’s cellphone die on her in the lead up to Lydiagate.

There have been other very clever updates. Pemberley, Darcy’s grand estate which also captures Lizzie’s heart, becomes Pemberley Digital, Darcy’s modern, high-tech company. Darn it, I want to work there! This allows for Lizzie’s being able to see how much Darcy is admired and respected by his staff, melting her prejudice as in the original.

The quality of the writing and acting are incredible. The writers have succeeded in holding to the main themes of the original novel while bringing the details into the modern age. The world in which Jane Austen published her novel almost exactly 200 years ago seems very different from today’s world; the beauty of the LBD is in showing that, although in many ways things have changed over the last two centuries, in others they remain the same.

A perfect example of this is in the Lizzie/Collins/Charlotte storyline. In the original, Mr Collins makes Lizzie an offer of marriage, which she rejects in favour of waiting for a more passionate union. Charlotte, desperate for financial security, marries Mr Collins in her place. In our time, women have far more options available to them than marriage. The Collins of the LBD makes Lizzie an offer of employment, which she rejects in order to pursue her studies about which she is passionate. Charlotte Lu accepts the offer in Lizzie’s place and, in a particularly poignant episode, justifies her decision to a horrified Lizzie, explaining that, faced with crippling student debt and a family in financial difficulties, she could not afford to pass up this secure income. So perhaps things haven’t changed as much as they seem.

The updating of Lydia’s storyline has also been very skillfully done. Clearly, in today’s age there is nothing shocking about Lydia’s running off alone with a man. Fans speculated on how this would be updated. The writers teased us with a few possibilities. Would it be drugs? An abusive relationship? The answer was revealed just a few days ago when the site Lydia Bennet tape (NB, not safe for work…) was launched. The writers have chosen to stick with the sex theme and have Lydia embroiled in a sex tape scandal. For me, at least, this comes close to evoking the feelings of shock and horror that Jane Austen’s original readership must have felt at Lydia’s running off with Wickham. It also shows that whether in Regency England or modern day America a blighted reputation can have serious repercussions on your future.

Although the main vlog is from Lizzie’s perspective, the expansion of the story via Twitter and Lydia’s vlog allows for the development of the secondary characters. This is most notable in the case of Lydia. If memory serves me correctly, the Lydia of the original Pride and Prejudice was a fairly two-dimensional character, with little more development than being a young, immature airhead. The Lydia of the LBD starts of in a similar way, but through Lizzie’s vlog and her own vlog we see there are so many more layers to our Lydia. Kudos both to the writers and talented actress Mary Kate Wiles. For this reason, and also the fact that I can relate more easily to the impact of the modern day scandal than the Regency one has really made me root for Lydia. At this point I have plans to tie up George Wickham between my cat and her food so that he dies a painful, toothy death, even more so having just watched Lydia’s reaction to learning about the video.

The heart of the novel and the adaptation remains though Lizzie’s relationship with Darcy and how it is impacted by his pride and her prejudice. This adaptation has kept most faithfully to this aspect of the novel, even having Darcy’s initial declaration of love to Lizzie be almost word for word from the book. And I just have to say it, our Lizzie (Ashley Clements) and Darcy (Daniel Gordh) are just so darned CUTE together! Watching their relationship unfold onscreen gives far more immediacy than reading Lizzie’s later account of it in the original. It is clear how much the viewers were invested in the characters when the Twitterverse went crazy after Darcy’s first appearance.

One thing that has changed for me is my feelings on the Jane/Bing(ley) relationship. As in the original, the LBD Jane and Bing are both incredibly sweet and seem a good match for each other. However, as a modern woman, our Jane has far more options to take her life into her own hands and when last seen was happy making a new life for herself. It was also highlighted for me just how significantly Bing’s allowing himself to be so easily influenced by Darcy has affected my impression of him. At this point, I’d be quite happy if Jane and Bing don’t end up together. At the very least, Bing has to do some serious grovelling to Jane and standing up to Darcy before Jane should allow him back into her life.

So in summary, I thoroughly recommend watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries for some excellent writing and acting. A must for Jane Austen fans, and fans of quality drama.