Random Book Quiz Round 28: Halloween

Next week is Halloween, so what better time to have a horror-themed quiz round? Down below I have listed 10 books you may fancy reading during the spookiest time of the year (I’m tackling number 4). All you need to do is guess the authors who are making things go bump in the night. Good luck and as always, let me know how you get on!

  • Frankenstein

  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

  • The Little Stranger

  • Dracula

  • The Haunting of Hill House

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray

  • Rawblood

  • Cujo

  • The Turn of the Screw

  • White is for Witching

Answers for Round 27

  1. A Streetcar Named Desire
  2. The War of the Worlds
  3. Dial M For Murder
  4. From Here to Eternity
  5. Alice in Wonderland
  6. Treasure Island
  7. Around the World in 80 Days
  8. War and Peace
  9. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  10. Peter Pan

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter review

I’m back! After the Wi-Fi went down at the weekend which meant I couldn’t write anything on Monday, it is finally up and running again. And my posting schedule has returned to normal. During my wee Internet-less break, I reread my favourite short story collection: Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. I’m sure everyone knows or at least has heard of it, but just in case, the collection is a series of fairy-tale retellings, often far darker than the originals (and that’s saying something!).

The titular ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is one of my favourite short stories. The mother/daughter relationship at the heart of the plot was wonderfully written and felt very relatable. The mother’s desire to protect her daughter but also understanding she needs to live her own life rang true. Plus, our narrator’s character arc is also delicately handled: she isn’t a particularly nice person but by the end there is a tremendous amount of sympathy for her. It was fun watching her develop and change over the course of the narrative. Of course, the story is supported by Carter’s stunning imagery, which manages to be both beautiful and gruesome. My favourite is the red choker the Marquis makes the narrator wear – a symbol of decadence, but also eerily looking like a slashed throat. The threat of violence is often present in these stories, simmering just below the surface before bursting out towards the end. Saying this, another favourite of mine is ‘Puss in Boots’, a totally different story from ‘The Bloody Chamber’. It is much more light-hearted and farcical, following cat Figaro and his owner trying to bed their respective loves. It is a sex-positive story, as seen through both the male and female characters, which provides a nice contrast to some of the other stories.  

Despite The Bloody Chamber being my favourite collection, there are still stories which baffle me. The very short ‘The Snow Child’ still makes me uncomfortable, yet I cannot not read it when I see it. Despite only being a few pages long, it is the one I remember the most, and the one I struggle to define. Every time I read ‘The Snow Child’ I glean something new: which is equally enjoyable and frustrating. The disturbing content aside, it is the one that always intrigues me the most. Another one I still think about is ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, which is a reinterpretation of Beauty and the Beast. Yet it is strangely tame by Carter’s standards, out of all of the stories this feels less experimental. It more or less follows the plot we all know with minor changes, making it probably the least exciting story. This rather staid adaptation is even more bizarre when considering Carter’s thoughts on Beauty and the Beast: that Belle should, upon hearing how the Beast will die if she doesn’t stay with him, merely reply, ‘Die, then’. Not fall for his emotional blackmail. So, whilst ‘The Courtship…’ has all the gorgeous imagery and language we expect from Carter, the plot is a bit bland. The other Beauty and the Beast retelling, ‘The Tiger’s Bride’, is a lot more imaginative.

With the nights drawing in and becoming colder, I always like to curl up with The Bloody Chamber and be swept away into these fantastical worlds. Carter’s writing is phenomenal, truly evocative and hauntingly beautiful and I enjoy the focus on the female experience. Not every story works for me, but The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is as close to a perfect short story collection as one can get.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is published by Vintage and you can find more information here.    

Random Book Round 27: 1950s Film Adaptations

I mentioned in my last post that this round would loosely be connected to Montgomery Clift. And it is. Very, very loosely. Since Clift’s film career is predominantly in the 1950s/early 60s, and I haven’t done a picture round in a while, I have dedicated this round to the decade. Below are 10 stills, all taken from 1950s adaptations of novels or plays. You just need to tell me what the movie/book/play is called. To help you out, where possible, I’ve also left the names of the actors below the image.

Good luck and let me know how you get on!

A Streetcar Named Desire review – hard times in the Big Easy | Film | The  Guardian
1. Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando

The War of the Worlds' (1953) Joining The Criterion Collection With New 4K  Restoration - Bloody Disgusting

11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder | Mental Floss
3. Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly

From Here to Eternity (1953) Montgomery Clift | Montgomery clift, The best  films, Best actor
4. Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster

An Intriguing Failure: Disney's Alice in Wonderland | Tor.com

Treasure Island
6. Bobby Driscoll and Robert Newton

Around.the.World.In.80.Days.1956.WEB-DL.x264-RARBG Torrent download
7. David Niven and Cantinflas

War and Peace (1956) | Audrey hepburn movie posters, Peace costume, Audrey  hepburn movies
8. Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer

Blast From the Past: 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'
9. Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe

Disney's Making A Live-Action Peter Pan, Because Pan Taught Them Nothing -  CINEMABLEND

Answers for Round 27

  1. The Metamorphosis
  2. Animal Farm
  3. Don Quixote
  4. Frankenstein
  5. Pride and Prejudice
  6. Mrs Dalloway
  7. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  8. IT
  9. Life of Pi
  10. Doctor Faustus

Book vs Film: Montgomery Clift

As some people will already know, the two things I love talking about are books and films. I have wanted to create a series centring on both for a while now, one that wasn’t my monthly round-ups. And so, I decided to start ‘Book vs Film’ where I talk about novels and their film adaptations, and ultimately decide which one is better. Each one will revolve around an actor and actress, and who better to kick things off than Montgomery Clift.

Clift is possibly my favourite actor. He is so compelling to watch and even when he is not the main focus of the scene I still find myself looking at him. All of his characters feel realistic; they don’t feel like melodramatic, heightened versions of people, they feel like people. He had a much more subtle acting style than his peers, and indeed, some actors working today. Coupled with the fact that 17th October would have been Clift’s 100th birthday (spoiler alert: Random Book Quiz on Saturday may be loosely connected to this) he seems the obvious choice for the Book vs Film post.

Despite only starring in 17 movies during his career, a whopping 11 of them were adaptations of novels, plays, and short stories. Because this post would be longer than War & Peace if I attempted all 11, I’ve picked perhaps 3 of Clift’s most famous films: From Here to Eternity (1953), A Place in the Sun (1951) and The Young Lions (1958).  

So here we go –  I’ve read 3 books and watched their film adaptations starring Montgomery Clift. But which one did I like more?

From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity - Wikipedia

Plot: Set at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, 1941, soldier and bugler Robert E. Lee ‘Prew’ Prewitt arrives to his new posting in G Company. However, upon arrival he discovers that the Commanding Officer has only chosen him for his ability to box, something Prew refuses to participate in. As a result, he is targeted and harassed by members of the boxing team. Meanwhile, First Sergeant Warden begins an affair with the Commanding Officer’s wife Karen and Prew falls in love with prostitute Lorene as the attack on Pearl Harbour looms closer…

Thoughts: Both versions of From Here to Eternity are great but very different. Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra) has a much greater part in the film, whilst in the book he is very much a secondary character. I much preferred book Maggio – his character arc was far more interesting, and Sinatra always felt like he was playing himself. The rest of the main cast – Clift, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Donna Reed – fare much better in their respective roles, though admittedly it was a tad bizarre to hear Reed’s Lorene referred to as a ‘nightclub hostess’. It is understandable due to the Hays Code warning filmmakers about showing ‘the sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue’, but in 2020 it’s odd. In fact, the film version as a whole could be described as ‘tame’: the swearing, mentions of prostitution, STIS, and homosexuality in the novel are completely removed. The two relationships mentioned in the plot also feel more developed in the book; the reader sees the highs and lows of both whilst in the film that only briefly occurs in a couple of scenes.

Book vs Film: Probably the book. While I do enjoy the film, the book feels a lot more realistic in terms of dialogue and tackles a lot of heavier subjects than its movie counterpart. Like I mentioned, the restrictions on filmmakers during this period probably meant they were unable to highlight certain topics, but I will still give the edge to the book.

An American Tragedy/ A Place in the Sun

A Place In The Sun' (2) 1951 - Fantastic A4 Glossy Print Taken From A  Vintage Movie Poster: Amazon.co.uk: Design Artist: Books

Plot: Theodore Dreiser’s novel follows Clyde Griffiths (George Eastman in the film) who is raised by his strict religious parents to help in their missionary work. Following a tragic incident which forces Clyde to leave Kansas City for Chicago, he meets his wealthy uncle Samuel. Taking pity on his nephew, Samuel offers him a job in a clothes factory and Clyde happily accepts. However, he quickly finds himself in a love triangle between factory worker Roberta (Alice) and wealthy socialite Sondra (Angela). 

Thoughts: Dreiser’s novel is incredibly melodramatic, with one things after another constantly happening to Clyde. He is a very unsympathetic character, especially with the incident in the first half of the novel. His actions regarding that I found abhorrent, and it was really hard trying to muster up any other emotion. Even the ending made me a little cold. In A Place in the Sun, because it skips the first section of the novel out, I found George more engaging. Obviously, he also does terrible things but he was also strangely relatable, especially in his wanting to better himself. I also really enjoyed Elizabeth Taylor as Angela, she had a wonderful mix of glamour and innocence, and it was clear why George would want to be with her. Shelley Winters as Alice wasn’t as convincing. At first she was a milquetoast, then by the end she was downright annoying and whiny. Alice should have our sympathies, but she was such a bland character it was hard to feel anything. She was just there; present only for the plot but given no real personality of her own. 

Book vs Film: Controversial opinion, but I preferred the film A Place in the Sun. It filleted a lot out of the novel, and it felt a lot more cohesive because of that. Looking back, An American Tragedy probably didn’t need to be as long as it was. And as much as I didn’t like Winters, both Clift and Taylor gave great performances.

The Young Lions

The Young Lions [DVD] [1958]: Amazon.co.uk: Marlon Brando, Montgomery  Clift, Dean Martin, Hope Lange, Maximilian Schell, Edward Dmytryk, Marlon  Brando, Montgomery Clift: DVD & Blu-ray

Plot: Set during World War Two, The Young Lions follows the lives of three soldiers. Christian Diestl, worried about his future, joins the Nazi Party. Noah Ackerman and Michael Whitacre join the American army; Ackerman, who is Jewish, suffers anti-Semitism from his fellow officers whilst Whitacre seems to be having a mid-life crisis. We watch these three as they struggle to survive the war and eventually their lives intertwine.    

Thoughts: I have saved the hardest one to decide until last; both book and film versions of The Young Lions have different pros and cons. I much preferred how Christian was portrayed in the book. Brando (with some form of ‘German’ accent) played him a lot more sympathetically, and while his portrayal was interesting to watch, it didn’t make his character stand out against Clift’s or Dean Martin’s. There was no contrast in the characters, no opposition, whilst in the book Christian always feels like a different entity. He becomes hardened the longer he is exposed to war, and that was fascinating to contemplate how he lost his humanity. Yet I really liked Martin’s performance, he captured Michael’s anxiety over life and his reluctance of warfare very well. I liked Michael’s arc in the film more too. Clift’s Noah was also great, though I found his relationship with Hope (Hope Lange) very sudden. They only have a handful of scenes together so there wasn’t enough time to fully develop it  in front of the audience – though I know of at least one scene that got cut.  

Book vs Film: Sorry Monty, but I’m going with the book. Ask me tomorrow, and I might switch back to the film. The movie has a lot going for it and would highly recommend it for those into war dramas. But the characters arcs were depicted a lot better in the Irwin Shaw’s novel, and the ending I found much more satisfying.  

Hope you enjoyed this post! Let me know what you think of this new series and any improvements you think I can make.  Also, if there are any actors/actresses you would like to see me do, then leave me a comment below.    

War is Personal by Roy & Elaine Wilkes review

War is Personal is one man’s memories of the Second World War. Roy Wilkes served in the Marine Corps as a teenager and was sent to both Okinawa and China. His daughter Elaine Wilkes has compiled notes and interviews Roy gave to give a moving account of one man’s experience of war.

The audiobook of War is Personal features two interviews Wilkes gave long after the war. While the sound quality is inferior to the first section, (which the listener is warned about) hearing Wilkes reminisce about his wartime experiences is perhaps the book’s greatest strength. I found it moving to hear his voice, hear the emotion behind it – I think being told a first-hand account makes the events much more impactful. Wilkes is also a very engaging narrator; he’s very humble and has a dark sense of humour which balanced out the more harrowing elements of his memories. As someone interested in the Second World War, I found the interviews of Wilkes interesting to listen to and learn about life in both Okinawa and China.

As mentioned above, the first part of War is Personal features narrator Kiff VandenHeuvel reading Wilkes’ notes. I had mixed feelings concerning this section. It does go into Wilkes’ experience of PTSD more, and that helped emphasise the effect the war had on him. The listener has a much clearer sense of that from the notes rather than Wilkes’ interview. The problem I had with the section was the repetition of language. The multiple references to mud and rain at first were very evocative: capturing both the emotional and personal hell soldiers went through at Okinawa. But by the end, it was a bit overdone – the sense of place, environment, the emotions were all fully established so the repetition felt unnecessary.

Despite this minor complaint, I found War is Personal a very interesting look at a significant period of history. It is a very personal account, and Wilkes is very candid at points which helps to make it all the more moving. The Epilogue, written and performed by Elaine Wilkes about her father, was also very touching and helped show how the war shaped Wilkes long after it had finished. VandenHeuvel is a great narrator, really capturing Wilkes’ emotions and the production quality as a whole was very high. The sound quality, while varying at different points, was really good; crisp and clear, every word easily heard. Those interested in World War Two history will find War is Personal a fascinating account.  

This review was first published on Readers Favorite. To find out more information click here.

Random Book Quiz Round 26: Novel Haikus

Throughout the Random Book Quiz we’ve had a few anagrams, both books and last week’s authors. So today I have decided to change it up a little: novel haikus. Down below are 10 haikus about famous novels, all you need to do is guess which book is being talked about.  I had a lot of fun researching this round and choosing the haikus, so hopefully you will enjoy it too!

  1. “What have I become?”

Uncertain, Gregor Samsa

puts out some feelers.”

  • “Revolt: two legs bad

Success: Enact 5 year place

Conclude: two legs good?”

  • “Delusional man

Partner rides on a donkey

Terrorist windmills.”

  • “Creates life in lab

Regrets the choices he made

Monster seeks revenge.”

  • “Daughters need husbands

Girl elopes with unfit man

‘Turn around the room?’”

  • “Woman buys flowers

The veteran takes a leap

Takes place in a day.”

  • “Forever youthful

Ages vicariously

Tries hedonism.”

  • “Can you smell circus?

The turtle can’t save you now

Down here we all float.”

“Shipwrecked boy on boat

Richard Parker hides there too

Believe what you will.”

  • “ A scholar trades a

few fun years for endless Hell.

Maths was not his field.”

Answers for Round 25

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Dylan Thomas
  3. George Eliot
  4. Beatrix Potter
  5. Daniel Defoe
  6. Oscar Wilde
  7. Sylvia Plath
  8. Vladimir Nabokov
  9. Margaret Atwood
  10. Truman Capote

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld review

After tackling the Women’s Prize for Fiction winner, today I am discussing the winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize: The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Translated by Michele Hutchinson, the book follows ten-year-old Jas, who lives on a farm in a small village. Just before Christmas Jas’s brother Matthies drowns in an accident, and the novel follows how this tragic event affects both Jas and her family over a year later.

The Discomfort of Evening is a strange, disquieting book. Throughout the novel Jas and her other siblings Obbe and Hanna engage in increasingly disturbing behaviour. Following their brother’s demise, they are very much interested in birth and death which is seen in how they view sex and their treatment towards animals. Some readers will find this content disturbing. Certainly, I’m still unsure what to think of Jas a character – her curiosity makes her at times incredibly childlike and watching her grieve makes her sympathetic. Yet her actions are so concerning, and her chain of thoughts truly bizarre, that it is hard to fully relate to her. But I couldn’t tear my eyes off her, and that is due to Rijneveld’s writing. They capture these very disconcerting characters and claustrophobic setting with great skill and stunning imagery. It is obvious that they are also a poet – the sentences flow so smoothly and not a word feels out of place or extraneous. The novel is also incredibly atmospheric – sometimes oppressively so. I was disturbed but always engaged.

Rijneveld also tackles the theme of religion in The Discomfort of Evening. The family are deeply religious, attending church every week and quoting the Bible in various conversations. Yet, like everything else in the novel, religion is a very ambiguous character. Jas even thinks at one point they are living through the ten plagues, and this can definitely be felt through the plot. Yet Rijneveld also tackles religion through the dialogue between Jas’s parents and the vet, who makes numerous appearances throughout. Whenever the children try to discuss something serious, the parents tend to ignore them or dismiss them with a Biblical quote whilst the vet tells them everything directly, no sugar-coating the truth. At first he appears as some sort of God or Jesus figure, this teller of truths who lives ‘on the other side’ and who Jas greatly admires. However, as the novel progresses, the reader becomes acutely aware of his true intentions, yet the family are seemingly unaware. He becomes very much the personification of the idea ‘Beware of False Prophets’, and it is interesting to see how through the secondary characters Rijineveld discusses religion, and how people perhaps hide behind it in order to shield themselves or to mask unsavoury aspects.

The Discomfort of Evening is a brilliant yet intense novel. There is so much to unpack from the characters to the language to the themes that it is hard to discuss them all. The ambiguity of it all as well, never quite knowing how to feel, also makes it a very interesting book to write and reflect back on. I’m still not sure what to think; my impressions change every time. And that’s what makes it such a haunting, memorable piece of work. Rijineveld has also brilliantly captured grief and the different iterations of it, how people deal with it differently, and Hutchinson as well has done an excellent job of translating – she has successfully captured a sense of place and atmosphere. A worthy Booker award winner.

The Discomfort of Evening is published by Faber & Faber and you can find more information here.              

Atomic Kiss by Brendan S. Bigney review

Today I am tackling a genre I don’t normally review (something I hope to change): poetry. Brendan S Bigney wants to write poetry for non-poets and in Atomic Kiss, he has succeeded. Both the topics and imagery used are so relatable that even those who don’t read poetry often will understand and appreciate them. Bigney seems very interested in discussing relationships – both romantic and with ourselves – and mental health, using imagery of the natural world. Throughout the collection, nature is often used as a stand-in for a woman. The strongest poem, the titular ‘Atomic Kiss,’ does something similar: a woman becomes a metaphor for the atomic bomb. Our narrator seems to be discussing both the whirlwind and aftermath of a toxic relationship and also the fallout after nuclear warfare. The poem tackles the anxiety and complex relationship humans have with nuclear weapons under the guise of a romantic one, and the combination of societal and personal problems makes ‘Atomic Kiss’ relatable on different levels.

The majority of poems in Atomic Kiss are short, sharp hits of emotion with some only a sentence long. Whilst a couple felt too slight and their ideas not fully unpacked, this technique worked overall mainly due to Brendan S Bigney’s coupling of certain poems. Two great examples of this are ‘How Worthless Our Emotions’ and ‘Their Importance’ which focus on two opposing ideas, namely the importance or worthlessness of emotions in our lives. They both ultimately have a similar message, but the clash between the poems’ angles makes the collection more dynamic and helps it to flow easier. Similarly, word choice is used in this manner: for example, ‘rise’ is seen at the end of one poem and then in the first line of the following one. I found this repetition of language helped tie the collection together and made it a lot stronger. Atomic Kiss is a quick read which brims with hopefulness despite the occasionally grim imagery.

This review was first published on Readers’ Favorite and can be found, along with more information about the book, here.

Random Book Quiz Round 25: Author Anagrams

Another Saturday, another round of the Random Book Quiz. I have done previous rounds featuring anagrams of famous books and guessing authors. Today I have combined both: below are 10 authors whose names have been scrambled. All you have to do is work out who the author is.

Good luck!

  1. I’ll Make a Wise Phrase (1564 – 1616)

2. Hasty Old Man (1914 – 1953)

3. Retie Google (1819 – 1880)

4. Battier Export (1866 – 1943)

5. Die Deaf Noel (1660 – 1731)

6. I Lace Words (1854 – 1900)

7. Aptly Lavish (1932 – 1963)

8. Vivian Darkbloom (1899 – 1977)

9. Raw Dog Amaretto (1939 – present)

10. Teacup Matron (1924 – 1984)

Round 24 Answers

  1. Tennessee Williams
  2. Ali Smith
  3. James Goldman
  4. Tove Jansson
  5. John Steinbeck
  6. Maeve Binchy
  7. Ernest Hemingway
  8. Frank Wedekind
  9. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  10. Barbara Kingsolver

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell review

Saving the best until last, my final review for the Women’s Prize shortlist is Maggie O’Farrell’s winning novel Hamnet. Our protagonist is Agnes and we alternate between two different periods of her life; her early life and marriage to a certain writer and 1596 when their eleven-year-old son Hamnet dies. O’Farrell explores Agnes’ grief and how, years later, her husband writes a play named after their child.

Despite being called Hamnet, it is Agnes that dominates the book. O’Farrell has taken a relatively unknown figure and gave them an incredibly rich backstory, an opportunity to voice their perspective. This is seen in O’Farrell’s decision not to name Shakespeare at any point in the narrative. He is described as a son, a father, a husband – but never explicitly named. He is a mere secondary character, and it was refreshing to see an author focus on Agnes/Anne rather than him, even though this is fictional.

Saying that, the first chapters that focus on Agnes’ childhood felt very reminiscent of the Bard’s plays. Her connection to nature, her discovering the different properties of plants had strains of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the image of a girl in a potentially magical forest felt Shakespearean. Agnes herself also had a magical, almost witchy quality which reminded me of texts like Macbeth. The nods to Shakespeare’s works were really fun to discover, though you don’t have to have read any of his work to enjoy Hamnet.

One of the book’s strengths is O’Farrell’s gorgeous language. She can take very simple, everyday objects and describe them in such a sensual, evocative way that they feel totally new and unique. The descriptions of food in particular were very rich – I was getting hungry just reading them. You’re instantly transported away to 16th century Stratford; the writing is so vivid and simply sensational. O’Farrell also beautifully tackles the subject of grief. It is both a deeply personal, yet universal emotion and she successfully conveys the depression and sadness, and how people cope differently. Sometimes I had to put the novel down as it was becoming too painful; I was reminded of my own experiences of grieving. It was a raw, honest look at loss, and I found it emotionally hard at points.

Hamnet was my first Maggie O’Farrell book, but it certainly won’t be my last. The characters, the language, the delicacy with which she handles her themes – they all rang true and combined created a stunning, quietly devastating novel. It is obvious why it won the Women’s Prize this year – and the 2020 shortlist had some truly great books – and I think it is a deserving winner.

Hamnet is published by Penguin Random House and you can find more information here.