Film Review: Emma

Film Review: Emma

Release date: 14 February 2020

Director: Autumn de Wilde

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Jonny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner

Runtime:  125 minutes

Genre: Period drama, romance, comedy

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 5/5 stars

This most recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma is my first experience of her well-known novel. I’ve read Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility, but not yet read Emma (though I’m sure I will having thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation). I’ve also not seen any other film or TV versions before, so wasn’t familiar with the plot before seeing the film. Emma is handsome, clever, rich and admired by those in her town. She’s an ambitious matchmaker but on her mission to make matches for others, discovers love herself.   

This adaptation is brilliantly filmed and acted. I was captivated and enthralled from start to finish. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Emma brilliantly, with her facial expressions and delicate touches of body language bringing the character to life. I love how Emma isn’t a typical heroine, and how she grows over the course of the plot. The chemistry between Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn is evident from the start and I revelled in their exchanges throughout. The casting overall was superb. Bill Nighy is excellent as Emma’s father and provided a lot of the comedy moments. As a big fan of Miranda, it’s always a joy to see Miranda Hart and she was very well cast for her role.

The set design, costume design and cinematography is sumptuous and vivid. There are no drab period rooms here, but a bright, pastel palette that’s a wonder for the senses. Every scene pops off the screen. I am no historian, and have absolutely no idea whether the sets and costumes are historically accurate or not, but from a viewer perspective they were sublime.

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Book Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: October 2015 by Oneworld Publications  

Pages: 602

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the worst thing she’d ever been through. That was before her planet was invaded. Now, with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating craft, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But the warship could be the least of their problems. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their biggest threat; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady plunges into a web of data hacking to get to the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: Ezra.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents–including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more–Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

I’m not sure how to approach this review as this book is so different from other books I’ve read. All I can say for sure is that I absolutely loved it. After I finished it, all I could think was wow. I had to wait a while before writing this review so I could process how I felt about this book.

 Illuminae is told in an epistolary style through a mix of interviews, reports, emails, diary entries and more. This makes it a unique reading experience, which does make it hard to compare to other books. It’s very visual as well. The artwork makes it really feel like you’re reading a file of documents.

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick this book up as it’s just the kind of unique thing that I would like. I think I did have reservations of whether the style would actually work and whether I would connect to the characters, which is perhaps what stopped me from picking it up in the past. But I really did not need to worry about that. Even though it’s told in this fragmented style, all the various documents flow really well so that skipping between different reports and emails and conversations didn’t feel fragmented, it felt like one long narrative. I also really connected with Kady and Ezra, and even many of the other more minor characters, even though the novel isn’t written in a traditional style. The voices of all the characters really pop off the page.

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Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

12406320Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor  

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

Publishing Info: Kindle edition September 2011 by Hodder (first published 2011)

Pages: 448

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

The first in a trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a phenomenal book. The world is so imaginative and captivating, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with it. I very rarely give 5 star ratings, because I usually have something to criticise, even something small, or it just doesn’t blow me away enough to warrant 5 stars. I had no hesitation giving that accolade to Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book from the rather mysterious summary. It certainly piqued my curiosity. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because it’s not knowing what’s really going on that kept me hooked, so I don’t want to spoil that for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Karou lives in the human world, but the only family she has known seem to occupy an ‘Elsewhere’ place that they won’t explain to her, leaving her in the dark as to why Brimstone, her guardian, sends her on missions to buy teeth. Karou is so curious about what he uses these teeth for, and I was compelled to keep reading to find out why too. What’s great is that it wasn’t predictable.

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Book Review: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Genre: General Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Publishing Info: May 2013 by HarperCollins (kindle edition)

Pages: 320

Star Rating: 5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.

There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.

There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.

The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.

The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.

 

The Shock of the Fall wasn’t what I expected. It was more. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and sometimes I felt like I was drowning in the words but I couldn’t stop reading. The words, so simple, but drew me in so much and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget this book.

I read the kindle edition, and I think it would be better to read it in paperback. It was fine reading it on kindle, but I think the experience of it would be better in physical copy. There are images and different fonts used, which I think would be easier to see in paperback.

There isn’t exactly a plot, so to say. It’s mostly the narrator, Matthew, talking about his past and life. He is mentally ill, diagnosed with schizophrenia in the book. It was a real delve into the character’s mind, of how his thought processes work and how he conveys things in his writing (the narrator is writing their story). I really felt like I was seeing things through his eyes. I was in his mind, feeling his thoughts and feelings.

I didn’t realise when I bought it, that it would be so much about grief, and I think if I had known I may not have read it. But I’m glad I did read it. I cried through a lot of it. It’s a far cry from my own life, but the loss of the sibling and the emotions and feelings were close to home for me. It made me incredibly emotional reading it. I guess that’s a good thing, because it must have been a realistic portrayal of grief, for the emotions of it to have made me stop reading for the tears in my eyes and streaming down my face blurring the words. I’m glad I finished it to the end, even though I found a lot of it upsetting.

I would full heartedly recommend this book. Though, I would warn that as it deals with grief and mental health it isn’t an easy read. But totally worth it.

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: September 2009 by Penguin UK (first published 2007)

Pages: 297

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

You can’t stop the future.

You can’t rewind the past.

The only way to learn the secret is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Hannah’s voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

All through the night, Clay keeps listening – and what he discovers changes his life…

Where to begin. I don’t give five star reviews much. I have to love a book so much it hurts. A five star review, to me, isn’t about a book being perfect. A book can’t be perfect, it’s impossible. A five star book is one that will stay with me forever.

I’ve wanted to read this book for years, and finally found myself opening the cover a few days ago. I don’t usually write a review right after finishing a book. I give it a couple of days to let it sink in. But today I’m writing this review having finished Thirteen Reasons Why half an hour ago.

The book uses the dual narratives of Hannah and Clay as he listens to the tapes Hannah left behind. It was hard to get around my head that Hannah was dead before the book even started. Isn’t there any hope? Can’t Clay save the day? No. This isn’t a book about saving someone, it’s about exploring what happened to them to make them give up.

Hannah’s voice really popped out of the page. It was haunting, imagining her voice replaying through those tapes. Asher managed to capture her voice excellently since we only get to know her through her voice on the tapes (well, there’s some of Clay’s memories of her, but we don’t see those through her eyes so it isn’t the same). I thought the mix of the two narratives worked well for the format, with Clay’s actions and his reflections on what he was hearing mixed into the tapes. It means you get to see his thoughts and responses to what he’s hearing in real time, as he’s hearing it. It wouldn’t have worked so well any other way. However, I would have liked to know Clay’s character more. By the end of the book you know nothing about Clay, except the parts of his life that relate to Hannah. Which, in a way, makes sense because to me Hannah was the protagonist of the story, not Clay, even though she was already dead before the book started. Clay was just a vessel to carry her story. But Asher could have breathed more life into his character. I got a bit of a sense of what he’s like, but not much. But maybe that’s not important for this story. Would it add to the value of the story if we were told unnecessary details or back story about Clay? No, actually, it probably would have distracted from the point of the story. So maybe it doesn’t matter.

I’ve read other reviews about how the reasons aren’t really reasons why someone would commit suicide, how Hannah was whiny and needs some perspective etc. but actually that’s the point. And highlights the problems with attitudes to mental health in our society. You can never know exactly what someone is thinking and feeling. We only hear what Hannah wants us to know on the tapes. We know nothing else about her life. A lot of little things (and bigger things) can build up to make you feel really awful, so there might have been more to it than what was on the tapes. We don’t know. We have no way of knowing. Those are the things she picked out to talk about, but that’s not necessarily the whole story. There isn’t always an explanation or reason for the way you feel. Sometimes you don’t even understand what you feel, never mind why you feel that way. Maybe this is Hannah trying to understand herself as well, to understand why she’s gradually felt worse.

Another thing discussed in other reviews I read was not getting enough emotion from Hannah, but I can see how someone who has got to that point may actually be quite detached from their own story. Hannah has already given up when she is making the tapes, she’s already made the decision to kill herself and it’s like she’s relaying her life from the other side of a glass screen. Nobody reached out to her, and so maybe the tapes are a last attempt to save herself, to go over what has happened to her, to get it out her system. But it doesn’t work, it just reminds her of all the ‘reasons’ to kill herself. There are so many interpretations to this story, because there are so many unknowns. All we have to go on is the tapes, and what Clay remembers about some of the events.

I think this book has an important message (or many messages, actually) – about how our actions influence others, and how even though it may seem insignificant in the context of the rest of that person’s life it actually has a bigger impact than you’d think. About how all it takes is someone to notice, to listen, to reach out, to tether someone to this world. Every action has a consequence.

Book Review: Under the Trees by Ashley Maker

Under the Trees by Ashley Maker

Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Fantasy, Romance

Publishing Info: September 15th 2015, Cliffhanger Press; kindle edition

Star Rating: 5/5

 

 

Back Cover Summary:

Desperate to prevent an abusive arranged marriage, Princess Araya flees to a neighboring kingdom, only to land at the mercy of the impulsive Crown Prince Thoredmund, who provides refuge in a secluded forest and teaches her survival skills. Her surprise at the unexpected hold the prince has on her heart mirrors his shock at falling for the one girl he can’t have.

As the young couple’s feelings for each other grow, the fragile alliance between the two kingdoms threatens to break apart. With a vengeful duke and an enraged king fast on their trail, Thor and Araya must decide how much they’re willing to risk for love.

Even if staying together means starting a war.

 

Under the Trees is an enchanting read that captured me from the very beginning. The opening is one of the very best I have read; it starts right in the action, immediately grabbing your attention. I also felt immediately connected to Araya because her fear and emotions come through so well in the first chapter.

The style of writing is excellent which helps the story flow very well. The book is written in the alternating first person perspectives of Araya and Thoredmund. This can be very tricky and was handled very well by the author. The characters voices were distinctive and it is interesting to see how the two characters viewed the unfolding events.

The two main characters are very strong and well thought out. I like how Araya is very strong, yet at times she can also be quite timid which I think is a very interesting presentation and also quite realistic. Her determination is an admirable trait which makes her likable. I also like how she isn’t just a damsel in distress, she also has the ability to stand her own ground. Thoredmund is very tentative and kind, and instantly likeable. I find it interesting how the other characters – especially his father – perceptions of him change as the book progresses. I really felt connected to the characters and definitely cared about what would happen to them. Another good point is that the romance isn’t forced and develops in a very natural way.

The minor characters in Under the Trees are as well thought-out as the two main characters. All of the characters have depth which is great to see. Often authors focus so much on their main characters that they forget to develop the others, but that is not the case here.

The world building is fairly good but Maker doesn’t go into too much detail, which isn’t really a problem as it isn’t essential to the plot. She alludes to different traditions in the different kingdoms which is a nice touch. The tensions between the kingdoms is well written and there is actually a reason for it which is explained.

Although the plot is simple, it is good and captivating. The fast-paced nature of the novel keeps the interest of the reader without glazing over the characters development. The story was certainly not predictable and there were a few twists that left me stunned. It has a satisfying ending, but not in a cliché way.

Overall, Under the Trees is quite a fast, easy read with very likable characters and a plot which will keep you hooked. There is just something about this book which I absolutely love and which made me give it five stars. Even if you are not usually interested in this kind of genre I would definitely give this gem a read.

Book Review: Divergent (Series) by Veronica Roth

 

 

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia

Publishing Info (of the editions I read):

Divergent – Published February 28th 2012 by Katherine Tegen Books (first published 2011)

Insurgent – Published November 21st 2013 by HarperCollins Children’s Books (first published January 1st 2012)

Allegiant – Published October 22nd 2013 by HarperCollins Children’s Book’s

Pages:

Divergent – 487

Insurgent – 529

Allegiant – 526

Star Rating:

Divergent – 5/5

Insurgent – 4/5

Allegiant – 3/5

Overall – 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Divergent – In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Insurgent – The thrillingly dark sequel to New York Times bestseller, DIVERGENT – a major motion picture in 2014. One choice can transform you – or it can destroy you. Tris Prior’s initiation day should have been marked by victorious celebrations with her chosen faction; instead it ended with unspeakable horrors. Now unrest surges in the factions around her as conflict between their ideologies grows. War seems inevitable; and in times of war sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge and choices will become ever more irrevocable. Tris has already paid a terrible price for survival and is wracked by haunting grief and guilt. But radical new discoveries and shifting relationships mean that she must fully embrace her Divergence – even though she cannot know what might be lost in doing so. New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth’s much-anticipated second book of the dystopian Divergent trilogy is another intoxicating thrill-ride, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreak, romance and powerful insights about human nature.

Allegiant – The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

 

So, I decided to review the ‘Divergent’ trilogy all in one go, because really I need to review the overall impression of the series as a whole. Also partly because I read them so quickly I didn’t have time to review the first one before I was moving onto the next and so on. I’m going to review each book individually and then do a bit about the series.

Divergent

I’m going to start off by saying I absolutely loved this book and gave it 5/5 stars. It just kept me hooked. I literally couldn’t put it down. I never knew what was going to happen next and there was no points where I was bored or where I thought it was too slow.

I like how real the characters are – they have realistic thoughts and feelings and they have flaws. Now, they don’t just have flaws for the sake of flaws like I see in some books because authors put them in to make their characters real. In Divergent the characters’ flaws make sense and fit with their individual personalities and environment. I also like Tris as a character and thought she had a good narrative voice. Four is also a good character. He seems raw and has a really individual character. He’s not like a typical bad boy and is actually quite nice and considerate but he has an interesting edge to him which makes him different, intriguing and stands out (in a good way). Also, the romance was realistic and it didn’t feel forced (and no silly love triangles! Yes!).

The plot was really interesting and I felt that Roth did a good job at the world-building. It was well thought out and I got a real sense of the place without there being tonnes of info dumping or over the top descriptions.

So overall I absolutely loved this book and I would really recommend it. It’s one of the best YA Dystopia novels I’ve read (though maybe not as good as The Hunger Games).

Insurgent

I was so excited for this sequel and it did not disappoint me. Yes, I gave it 4 stars rather than the 5 I gave Divergent as it didn’t quite have that 5 star feel for me but it was still an amazing and exciting read.

However, once you started reading the series you can’t really stop and that brings me to the final book in the series.

Allegiant

This book was a massive disappointment and I only gave it 3 stars. Gradually, each book in the series lost another star point. While Insurgent was a slight step down but still great, Allegiant was like falling into oblivion. I found a lot of the novel quite boring and it didn’t catch my attention and keep it held the same way the first two books did.

An important thing to tell you is that the book is told from the alternating first person perspectives of Tris and Four (whereas the first two were just Tris’ point of view). I wouldn’t have minded, but Roth’s characterisation ability went out of the window in this book. I found myself having trouble telling the difference between the two characters’ voices. The characterisation was very poor in this book, made even more noticeable by the contrast with the amazing characterisation in the first two books.

Without spoiling the book all I can say is the way the plot turned in this one seemed unrealistic and fell flat of my expectations built up from the first two. The ending is very controversial and, although I acknowledge Roth’s guts in writing the ending she wanted, it seemed like a pointless, purposeless ending that didn’t really have to happen and the rest was very drawn out.

Overall

I would very much recommend the first book, and probably the second to. But, if you start reading the series you end up needing to finish it and be aware that the final book is disappointing, anti-climatic, poorly written, poorly constructed, and unexciting.