Thursday, August 27, 2015

Middlemarch - George Eliot


I have a confession to make: I got this book as a present for my seventeenth birthday. It's taken me fifteen years to get around to reading it. Why? Because I had to read The Mill on the Floss for first year university fourteen years ago, and it was non-stop struggle street for me. Essentially, it put me off reading George Eliot for a really long time.

So when I was putting together my Classics Club list, I figured I may as well put this one on the list and see if I could get over my preconceived notions about George Eliot.

I...had mixed feelings about this book. It's essentially the story of a town's worth of inhabitants. The story starts with one or two major characters, then moves on to focus on a couple of characters who appeared as minor characters in the previous section etc etc.

As a general rule, I struggle with stories that jump around between a lot of characters. I had the same feelings about Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, and Shirley by Charlotte Bronte. Hell, I even felt that way about Game of Thrones. And it's not because any of those books were bad (although personally, I thought Game of Thrones was decidedly mediocre). It's just that they jumped around so much that I found it difficult to keep all the different threads of the story straight in my head, and I struggled with the sections dealing with characters that I didn't especially care for.

What I liked most about Middlemarch was that the characters weren't perfect. And I'm not talking flawed in the way that Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy are flawed where you can't help but love them. In Middlemarch, the characters are deeply flawed. They don't always get happily ever afters. They rush into marriage and then discover that their new spouse isn't the person they thought. They stand back and let people die. They hold grudges, they screw up, they're vindictive, they're petty.

And all of that was great. They were actual human characters leading actual human lives. But there were a lot of characters that I just didn't particularly care about. Either I didn't find them interesting or their stories dragged on and on without any real progress for hundreds of pages, and then all of a sudden things would be wrapped up in a neat little package with two pages to spare.

Really, I think the problem here was me more than the book. It was long and often dry, and there were times when I felt like I was reading page after page without making any real progress. The characters that I liked were enough to get this a three star rating from me. But I definitely didn't have the five star "OMG AMAZING" experience that so many others seem to have had. Which, frankly, makes me a little bit sad.

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Strictly Ballroom - the musical version

On Saturday afternoon, Mum and I went to the matinee performance of Strictly Ballroom, which finishes in Melbourne this week. And while I found it thoroughly enjoyable, I also...had a lot of thoughts about it.

1. The staging was AMAZING. 
The stage rotates, and the sets are all in pieces that can be moved and assembled as required. All the sets are also double-sided so that scenes can take place, for instance, inside the dance studio or looking through the windows, at Fran's house or out the front of the milk bar, on the dance floor or backstage.

Source

2. The costumes are glorious. 
A lot of them are basically copies of the costumes from the movie, but they're still great. Plus, there are so many on-stage costume changes that it's basically Eurovision. There are even some on-stage hair changes. Basically, everything about the costumes, hair and make up is great.

3. The choreography is great.
Obviously, they're restricted by the size of the stage, so some of the big dramatic moves from the movie have to be altered (like Scott spinning across the floor). But on the whole, the choreography was totally brilliant and far more individualised than musical choreography tends to be.

4. The music felt...disjointed.
Look, the music was such a huge part of the movie, and obviously they were never going to be able to get the rights to all the songs they used. And obviously, they needed to include original songs to progress the story. But the problem for me is that there wasn't a single choreographer. There wasn't even a single lyricist.

The original songs are split between about four main composers, with input from a range of others. Add in the fact that there are half a dozen songs that aren't original - including Time After Time and Love Is In the Air - and the whole thing just ended up feeling like there was nothing to tie it together.

There's a great quote from an episode of The Office where Darryl shushes Michael as the orchestra starts playing because "If we don’t listen to the overture, we won’t recognise the musical themes when they come back later." And I think that's part of the problem here. There really weren't any recurring musical themes.

5. The demand for new steps was weirdly turned into a Les Mis style protest-y song.
In the movie, the argument in favour of new steps is about 30 seconds of people chanting "new steps, new steps!" while dance newsletters spin on screen with sensationalist headlines, ending with Barry Fife saying "THERE WILL BE NO NEW STEPS". But in the musical, that somehow gets turned into two separate songs: one in which Barry has nightmares about people asking for new steps, and one in which the entire company wave placards and flags and Scott dances around encouraging them to protest. Basically, it was all a little strange.

6. Insufficient anger.
Don't get me wrong, Thomas Lacey was great in the role of Scott Hastings. But what shines through so strongly in the movie is Scott's anger. It's not just that he's bored of the steps, bored of doing what his mother and his dance teacher tell him. He's frustrated. He's angry. He's sick of other people dictating what he can do with his life. It's that anger and passion that makes that finale paso doble so perfect. And Paul Mercurio does that anger so brilliantly in the movie. But on stage - and it's totally understandable, because portraying that much anger consistently over two hours, eight times a week? NOPE - none of that really came through.

Source

7. Fernando Mira's solo was FLAWLESS.
It was never going to be easy to follow Antonio Vargas' fabulous turn as Fran's father, Rico, in the movie. And really, Rico feels like a much smaller part in the stage production. But the "pffff, that's not paso doble" solo from Fernando Mira was pretty damned incredible. It's not entirely surprising that he and Natalie Gamsu (who played Abuela) got the biggest round of applause during the curtain call.

8. I have mixed feelings about the audience participation elements.
Having the theatre divided into blocks of coloured seats and having the audience cheer for the performers wearing that colour in the "competitions" was a fun idea. And I loved the opening of act 2 in which a couple from the audience were pulled on stage to become part of the performance in Beautiful When You Dance, which was definitely one of the strongest songs.

But trying to recreate the ending of the movie, where the dance floor is flooded with spectators joining in the fun didn't entirely work for me. There ended up being maybe 50 audience members on stage, but many of them just swayed back and forth awkwardly, despite having rushed up on the stage. One little girl looked like she was about to cry. And then giving those audience members a curtain call was just...strange.

9. Mike Snell WAS Ken Railings.
He did an absolutely phenomenal job of playing a character who's sleazy and a total drunk but still incredibly funny and somehow likeable. If I hadn't known better, I would have sworn it was John Hannan, who played Ken in the film, up there.

10. I think I'd give it 7/10?
I know I sound like I'm being overly negative here. It really was a thoroughly enjoyable musical production. But. It's also not one where I left singing any of the songs, unlike when I saw Book of Mormon last year and spent the next three days with You And Me But Mostly Me stuck in my head. It's not one where I came out of the theatre and wanted to go straight to the box office for tickets to see it again, like I wanted to with Les Miserables last year (but didn't because tickets were $125). Instead, I came home and watched the movie. Which, strangely, does a better job of recurring musical themes...

So yeah. It was an enjoyable afternoon. But I can't help but think that it might be better if you had no prior exposure to the story and went in not expecting certain moments, certain pieces of music and certain characters portrayed in a particular way.

K xx

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bout of Books 14 - Days 5 to 7

I had grand intentions of doing an update over the weekend, but obviously that didn't go quite as planned. Still, I'm pretty pleased with the way the readathon ended up. I met all three of my goals, and I was able to get through all four Throne of Glass books with time to recover before Queen of Shadows comes out next week.

FRIDAY
Pages read: 519
Total pages: 2,957

Books finished: Men of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong (3/5 stars), Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas (4.5/5 stars)
Total books finished: 6


SATURDAY
Pages read: 272
Total pages: 3,229

Books finished: Middlemarch by George Eliot (3/5 stars)
Total books finished: 7

SUNDAY
Pages read: 156
Total pages: 3,385

Books finished: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas (4.75/5 stars)
Total books finished: 8

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't get through the remaining hundred-odd pages of Down Under by Bill Bryson. But you can't win them all. And considering I had to get up at 5.15 this morning, choosing sleep over finishing a book was definitely the right decision.

How did your Bout of Books finish up?

K xx

Friday, August 21, 2015

Bout of Books 14 - Day 3 and 4

We're up to day 5 of Bout of Books 14, and so far things are going pretty well! I've participated in a challenge, crossing one of my goals off the list, and I'm well on the way to completing the other two.

WEDNESDAY

Pages read: 448
Total pages: 1,704

Books finished: The Deeds of the Disturber by Elizabeth Peters (3/5 stars)
Total books finished: 3

THURSDAY

Pages read: 734
Total pages: 2,438

Books finished: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (4/5 stars)
Total books finished: 4

Still not done with Middlemarch, but hopefully tomorrow will be the last of it!

How's your Bout of Books going?

K xx

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bout of Books 14 - Day 1 and 2

I had grand plans for doing a recap of day 1 last night, but then I went out for dinner straight after work and didn't get home until 9.30, at which point I promptly uploaded a couple of vlogs for VEDA and Snark Squad and collapsed into bed.

So I'll update you guys on two days worth of reading instead of one!

In the past, I've been sure to make sure that I finish a bunch of books on the Sunday before so that I can start All! Books! From! The! Beginning! and have the entire book count towards my Bout of Books page count. But since I've implemented my current reading strategy (which I really must make a video about at some stage...), that approach doesn't work quite as well. So some of the books I'll be listing, I only read part of during the readathon. The page counts don't include what I'd already read before Monday though!

MONDAY

Pages read: 655
Total pages: 655
Books finished: The Last Oracle by James Rollins (3/5 stars)
Total books finished: 1

TUESDAY

Pages read: 601
Total pages: 1,256

Books finished: The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas (5/5 stars)
Total books finished: 2

I'm getting closer and closer to finishing Middlemarch. I'm down to about 100 pages remaining, so it will DEFINITELY be finished this week.

How's your Bout of Books going?

K xx

Friday, August 14, 2015

Bout of Books goals

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Bout of Books
So. Bout of Books 14 starts on Monday, and as such I figured it was probably about time that I talked about my goals for the week ahead. I'm not setting myself a certain number of books or a certain page count per day this time around, so my goals are pretty simple.
1. Finish MiddlemarchI've been reading Middlemarch since 21 July, and while I've been making steady progress (I'm currently just past page 600) I'm really very ready to be done with it. So I'm making it one of my goals to get through the last 200-ish pages next week.

2. Participate in a challenge
This was one of my goals last time, and I failed spectacularly due to an unusually busy week. This time around? I'm determined to do better.

3. Only pick up rereads
Look, this one is partly in place because I really want to reread all four of the Throne of Glass books before Queen of Shadows comes out on 1 September. But it's also because I don't really feel like I'm doing new books justice if I race through them during a readathon. So, with the exception of finishing off Middlemarch, I'm aiming for a reread-only event!

That's it for me this time around. Pretty simple goals, I know, but considering I don't have a whole lot of free time these days - especially seeing as we're smack bang in the middle of VEDA - I didn't want to set a bunch of targets and then find myself unable to achieve them. Hell, even if the only one I achieve is finishing Middlemarch? I'm going to be calling it a success.

Are you participating in Bout of Books?

K xx

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bout of Books 14

You may have noticed that I've been a little...absent...lately. There's one simple reason for that: it's August and therefore it's VEDA. So if you want to see an awful lot of my face, you can head over to my Youtube channel!

But that's not the point of this post. The point of this post is that Bout of Books 14 is happening next week. And despite the fact that it's VEDA and the fact that I'm working full time, I figured I may as well join in the fun. So. This is me, signing up.

Bout of Books

Here's the official blurb:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team


Will you be joining Bout of Books? If so, head here to sign up!

K xx

Saturday, August 1, 2015

July reading wrap up

Another month over, and I once again read far more books than was good for me... I also had a small "what am I doing with my life??" moment when Sweeney mentioned that she wasn't planning on rereading The Diviners before Lair of Dreams comes out, and I was all "I kind of have to because I've read a million books since then and have no idea what happened". Except I calculated how many books it's been since I read The Diviners in December 2012, and the answer is SIX HUNDRED AND EIGHTY SIX BOOKS WHAT THE HELL, KIRSTI. 

Books read: 37. WHAT. HOW.
New vs rereads: 21 new books versus 16 rereads. More even than last month, but still not ideal!
Most read genre: CONTEMPORARY. Again. Contemporary books really need to stop being so damned good... That said, the genres were far more balanced than last month!

Favourite book: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. This feels a little like cheating, seeing as it was a reread. But OH WELL. It was easily my favourite this month.
Least favourite book: Naughty Neighbor by Janet Evanovich. I gave up 50 pages in because it was filling me with rage, and I couldn't handle that much rage at 6.50am.
Favourite cover: I really love the cover on this edition of The Diviners by Libba Bray. It's SO much prettier than the Kindle edition I read when it first came out!

Diverse Books Project: I've decided that from this point on, I'm going to be reading far less books set in the US. Because there are so many amazing diverse books out there, and to have more than 50% of what I've read so far set in ONE COUNTRY seems ridiculous. Other than that, it's going pretty damned well!









In July, I ended up reading 4 graphic novels, 3 non-fiction books, and 30 novels. There are links to all my Goodreads reviews below!

My Life Next Door (My Life Next Door, #1)
4.5 stars: My Life Next Door |

More Happy Than Not
4.25 stars: More Happy Than Not |

War Brothers: The Graphic NovelLies We Tell OurselvesThe Art of Being NormalKissing in AmericaReaper Man (Discworld, #11)Paper TownsThe Complete Maus (Maus, #1-2)Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840-1870A Tale of Two CitiesViciousLion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody, #4)MonsterA Time to DanceThe Diviners (The Diviners, #1)
4 stars: War Brothers | Lies We Tell Ourselves | The Art of Being Normal | Kissing in America | Reaper Man | Paper Towns | Maus | Victorian London: The Life of a City 1840-1870 | A Tale of Two Cities | Vicious | Lion in the Valley | Monster | A Time to Dance | The Diviners |

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (Prisoner of Night and Fog, #2)
3.75 stars: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke |

Anya's GhostHawkeye, Vol. 3: L.A. WomanContestHidden Huntress (The Malediction Trilogy, #2)BossypantsIn the Arms of Morpheus: The Tragic History of Laudanum, Morphine, and Patent Medicines
3.5 stars: Anya's Ghost | Hawkeye Vol. 3: L.A. Woman | Contest | Hidden Huntress | Bossypants | In the Arms of Morpheus |

Black Dove, White RavenStarted Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie, #4)The AeneidThirteen (Women of the Otherworld, #13)I'll Give You the SunAn Ember in the AshesScarlet in the SnowSeven Up (Stephanie Plum, #7)99 DaysThyla (Thyla, #1)Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next, #2)
3 stars: Black Dove White Raven | Started Early, Took My Dog | The Aeneid | Thirteen | I'll Give You The Sun | An Ember in the Ashes | Scarlet in the Snow | Seven Up | 99 Days | Thyla | Lost in a Good Book |

Thunderhead
2.75 stars: Thunderhead |

South of Darkness
2 stars: South of Darkness |

Naughty Neighbor
1 star: Naughty Neighbor |


What did you read in July?

K xx
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