Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Books I Read in High School

JoAnn @Lakeside Musing has recently been revisiting her high school texts.
It got me thinking...and discussing with the family about the highlights of our school reading lives.
The tragedy was gradually revealed, though, as B21 and B18 shared not only their lack of inspiring, interesting school texts, but the utter dearth of said texts in the first place.

Mr Books and I, over 30 years after the event, could recall every single book, play and poet that we read for our HSC years, and with a little more effort we could also recall most of the books read throughout years 7 - 10 as well.

Whereas both boys only remembered their meagre list of texts thanks to our prompts.

It seems like the teaching of English no longer stresses, you know, actual reading!
The books selected, according to the boys, were ones that could be read aloud in class, as no-one was expected to actually, you know, read the books by themselves at home.

They also don't remember discussing the books except in terms of purpose and narrative style.
They memorised certain critical phrases and ideas that they then regurgitated in exams, with no idea what any of it meant.
They didn't even have to read the books in question as none of the exam questions or class discussions were actually about, you know, the story.
The book was selected purely as an example of a text type and that's all that mattered for the rest of the course.
The joy of reading and language was completely absent.
Author intent and individual reader experiences were irrelevant.

Neither boy now reads.

Which breaks my heart.

B21 used to be an avid reader, but a combination of getting his first smart phone in the middle of his high school years & the current mode of teaching English stopped all that dead.

B18 always struggled to get into reading.
He just didn't see the point of it.
After constant trying, we finally found that he enjoyed stories like Wonder by R. J. Palacio, but as many of you probably already know, books like Wonder are not very common in the junior fiction market.
Since his high school years, anything to do with reading or books has been anathema for him.
Any need or desire he may have had for stories, magic or imagination he found in movies and getting lost in another's world now happens via games like Fortnight.

Given the amount of joy, comfort and companionship that books and plays and theatre have given both Mr Books and I over the years, we wonder what the boys will turn to during their own future times of need.

Perhaps, we're being old fashioned fuddy-duddy's.
Maybe the wonderful world of new technology, AI and AR will provide our Gen Zedder's with their own kind of joy, comfort and companionship?

I'm also forgetting, that during my school years, our parents were worried about the effects of television on our minds and lives.
Schools had stopped teaching grammar and our parents generation was horrified.
What were we doing to our kids and what did it mean for the future?

Maybe, I am now simply on the other side of the generational divide.
Oh the irony!

I just hope that I live long enough to enjoy watching our Zedder's angst over the educational standards inflicted on their oh so modern kids.

My School Texts

Andrew Marvell
John Donne
Judith Wright

Pride and Prejudice
The Great Gatsby
To Kill A Mockingbird
Lord of the Flies
And Then There Were None

Major Barbara
Saint Joan
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
King Lear
Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet

Mr Books

(A) Judith Wright
John Donne
Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Coleridge

Grapes of Wrath
Pride and Prejudice
Brave New World 
Swallows and Amazons
To Kill A Mockingbird

King Lear
Merchant of Venice
Under Milkwood
Streetcar Named Desire
The Importance of Being Ernest
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll


Robert Frost
(A) Peter Skrzynecki

Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time
Catcher in the Rye

(A) Gary's House
Merchant of Venice
Midsummer Night's Dream
(A) Summer of the Seventeenth Doll


Robert Frost

Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time
(A) Sabriel
(A) The Rabbits by John Marsden & Shaun Tan

(A) Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

He also recalls that early in Yr 7 or 8 he may have watched a TV version of a Shakespeare play.
It may have had fairies in it, but he can't really remember.
And he doesn't care.


Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

This is one graphic novel that really packs a punch.

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman is one man's journey to understand what happened to his father during WWII. It's obvious from the opening pages that what happened to Vladek during the war had a huge impact on everything that came after. His marriages, his relationship with his son, Art, as well as having deep, abiding influences over Art's life to this day.

Art began his cartoon in 1980. It was serialised in Raw, an avant-garde comic magazine published by Art and his wife, Françoise Mouly, until 1991. The comic reflects conversations that Art began having with his father in 1978 about his war experiences. The story moves between these events and the modern day, where we see Art & Vladek's troubled relationship play our during their meetings.

There is a lot of sadness and unhappiness in this story.
Near the beginning of this story (in a story within the story) we learn that a teenage Art had spent some time in a mental health facility. Art's mother then committed suicide when he was twenty. 
Vladek and Anja were married before the war and had a young son, Richieu, who died during the war. Vladek and Anja survived the Polish ghetto as well as their time in Auschwitz and Birkenau, before eventually moving to Sweden (where Art was born in 1948) and then in 1951 emigrating to the States. 

Spiegelman uses animals as a kind of metaphor throughout.
The Jews are mice, the Germans cats, the Polish are depicted as pigs (which created a controversial reaction when the book was translated into Polish in 2001) and the Americans are dogs. In a humorous meta-fiction moment in the story, Art and his wife are discussing how he should draw her as she is French. Should she be a frog? Françoise suggests a bunny rabbit, until they agree that since she converted to Judaism she should also be a mouse. I suspect there are whole websites, papers and articles dedicated to unpacking the meaning behind all of this, but I'm too tired to search them out right now! However, I did read that Art once said that using animals "allowed me to approach otherwise unsayable things." (MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus)

The Complete Maus contains two parts. 
Part I: My Father Bleeds History was first published in 1986, four years after Vladek's death. This part ended with Art walking away angrily from his father after learning that Vladek had destroyed all Anja's diaries and letters after her death when 'one time I had a very bad day'.
Art finds it hard to forgive his father for this act of destruction. 

Part II: And Here My Troubles Began shows Art struggling to come to terms with his newfound fame thanks to the publication of Part I. He has a young family and is obviously still trying to manage his own depressive episodes. 

Both Art and his father suffered from versions of survivor guilt, with Art not only living with his own memories but the stories of his parent's memories as well. The ghost memory of his brother, Richieu haunts him as well. Part II is dedicated to him, along with Art's own children, Nadja and Dashiell. (I read Nadja's memoir I'm Supposed to Protect You From All This a couple of years ago - it was one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time.)

This Pulitzer Prize winning book is not an easy read or a comfortable one, but if you only ever read one graphic novel in your lifetime, make it this one.
It's emotionally rich and complex.
The simple drawings convey so much emotion by the end, that I defy anyone to be left unmoved by the final page of the book. But it's Vladek's words that are at the heart of this story. Despite their complicated relationship, Art allows his father's words to stand. He bears witness to Vladek's story in an attempt to find meaning in something that is beyond understanding.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Just Flesh and Blood by Jane Caro

It feels like I've been waiting a VERY long time for Jane Caro to finish her Elizabethan YA trilogy. Just A Girl was first published in 2011, Just A Queen in 2015 and now, finally we have Just Flesh and Blood.

I'm sure that Caro must get asked all the time, why Elizabeth? In her acknowledgements at the back of Just Flesh and Blood, she says, 
I want to express my gratitude and admiration to Elizabeth Tudor herself. Her existence and commanding presence in history has always mattered to me. Whatever her mistakes and cruelties - and she was a monarch of her times so they were many - she proved to me when I most needed the proof that women could lead, they could wield power at least as well as any man, and they could do so on their own. I hope she helps young readers new to her story in the way she helped me when I was a girl in search of a hero.

Her Elizabeth is based on facts and known history, but she imagines what it must have been like to be this lone woman, in power, surrounded my men trying to manipulate her and use her for their own purpose. Caro explores the life-long impact on Elizabeth to have lost her mother at so young an age and in such horrific circumstances, at the wishes of her father. The ultimate act of domestic violence in fact.

Caro paints a very human queen, full of desires, impulses and incredible strength of will. A monarch who had to know her own mind in public, but was full of doubts and questions in private.

Just Flesh and Blood brings us to the end of Elizabeth's reign and life. She spends the book reflecting on the important, defining moments of her childhood as well as many pivotal events from her long and glorious reign. I found her voice, in all three books to be authentic and believable.

During an interview with L.J.M Owen on her blog: The Emotional Journey of Writers: Jane Caro, Feb 14 2018, Caro described her writing style as 'an act of imagination...an act of empathy',
I never set out to write her as a teenager or an old woman. I don't think about that. In the same way as in life, you don't think, 'Oh, I'm a teenager… Oh, now I'm an old woman'. You are just you, and so you just write as you.

That's what Caro brings to this story, a new, very personal and intimate way of viewing Elizabeth I. It's a chance for Elizabeth to step outside the history books and for us to see her in all her human glory, warts and all. There's a lot to admire.

Just A Girl
Just A Queen

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

I'm not usually a big reader of crime fiction.

During my younger days I enjoyed a good mystery wrapped up in an adventure series (thank you Trixie Belden and Enid Blyton) and I still love to delve into the psychological reasons why people do the things they do (Maigret fits the bill here). Cosy crime is my favourite though, especially if it's dressed up as historical fiction (Maisie Dobbs, Rowland Sinclair & Phryne Fisher) but straight up and down crime is not usually my thing.

However my book club chose Michael Robotham's The Secrets She Keeps as our latest read. I didn't read the last book club book, so I felt compelled to do better this month.

Mr Books is a big fan of Robotham, but I approached reluctantly. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Agatha and Meghan, two women with very big secrets to keep, whose lives are on a serious collision course. The cover told me that baby snatching was going to be the crime at the centre of this story.

I thought I had it all worked out very early on. The first part was a 'who-dunnit' and I thought I was being inordinately clever by working out who and how so quickly. Except, suddenly, by the midpoint so did everyone else. Which is where the story became more of a 'why-dunnit', the tension ramped up several notches and I found myself reading until 1am to find out what happened next!

Although I didn't really like any of the characters, I felt a lot of sympathy for the crim. She was one damaged woman, who made a lot of very poor and very dangerous choices. Robotham portrayed someone suffering from a severe personality disorder very realistically, albeit with the necessary literary exaggeration to make for an interesting tale.

Apparently the story of a baby being kidnapped from a hospital was based on a true event from the 1990's (perhaps this one).

The Secrets She Keeps was a true page-turner, but for me, it's also like eating fairy floss. Fun while it lasts, but not very satisfying in the long run.

I don't mean to sound like a genre-snob; everyone reads for different reasons, and it's truly wonderful that there's a book genre to suit everyone's needs. Mr Books loves this kind of stuff, along with political thrillers, Scandi noir, courtroom dramas and Underbelly style true crime. He reads it to relax at 5am when he can't get back to sleep. He likes an engaging story, straight-forward, but clever writing, language that has been pared back to the bone and a well-constructed, well-paced plot with complex, believable characters. Robotham ticks all these boxes.

It's just that in this short time I have on this planet to read all the book I want to read, I don't want to spend too much time on books that aren't really my thing. I read to find beauty, elegance and kindred spirits. I read to get lost in another's world. I read for intellectual stimulation. I read to find answers to life's big questions. I read for comfort and emotional connection.

Which makes me wonder why other people read?

Do you read like Mr Books, for the pure pleasure of escapism, like me, for the pleasure of connection and beauty, or do you have your very own reasons to read? Why do you read what you read?

Thursday, 6 September 2018


There are times in life when everything feels like it's getting away from you. 
I'm in the middle of one of those times right now. 
(At least, I hope it's the middle and not just the start of something bigger!)

My head space is full of routine stuff, life stuff, work stuff, planning stuff, organising stuff and I'm finding it hard to find time for creative stuff, reflection and personal growth.

Every time I think about my blog, I experience stress. 
Reviews are piling up - I'm simply not in the right space to write them. 
I need to write.

Could my inner creative side be in revolt? 
No more reviews; it's time to write something else? 
Except a huge part of me wants (CRAVES) this place that helps me keep track of my reading life. 
I like having this 8 year old record of my book journey. 
I'm reading much more mindfully than I ever have before and I'm loving it. 
But I'm making more time for reading, than I am for reviewing. 

What I need is to find a way to make this easier for myself.
I need to let go some of the stuff cluttering up my head space.
And I want to write something, anything; even if it's just another list!

Books Read But Not (Yet) Reviewed

Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Basho
My Purple Scented Novel by Ian McEwan
The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen & David M, Shapard
Just Flesh and Blood by Jane Caro

Books I'm Halfway Through

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham (by next book club book)
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo x3  (readalong)
Last Stories by William Trevor
The Best Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant
Love and Freindship and Other Youthful Writings by Jane Austen
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne

Books I've Just Started

The Compete Maus by Art Spiegelman
The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch (readalong)


Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John  Matteson
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor
12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson (perhaps I should uninstall this one!)
Basho The Complete Haiku
Mirror Sydney by Vanessa Berry

Bookish Things I'm Looking Forward To

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P XIII)
Seasonally speaking, this particular event always feels a little wrong to me. 
In Sydney, spring is desperately trying to make itself known.
The days are lengthening, I'm being woken by bird song every morning and the bulbs & blossoms are suddenly popping open.
There's a sense of waking up, emerging, and a sense of all things fresh and new.
Reading gloomy, dark, spooky stories feels like a good wintry thing to do; not a good sunny days, bursting with the joy of new life thing.

I'm sure we will have another bout of cold weather before true spring arrives; another grey, gloomy weekend when reading a gothic thriller will be just what the doctor ordered AND if that happens, then I will gladly, willing tackle Peril the Third and read one book for this 2 month challenge. 

I discovered this on Goodreads and thought it might be a nice way to read another book from my CC List #2. The Victorian era goes from 1837-1901. I have 3 possibilities. 

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)     (this could also help me with R.I.P. XIII)
Little Doritt by Charles Dickens (1855 - 57)
Basil by Wilkie Collins (1852)

I've never been organised enough to join in this challenge before, but I have 2 books on my TBR pile first published in 1944.
The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell
The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves

A chance to read Frankenstein in October (another R.I.P. XIII possibility)?
A copy has just made it's way onto my TBR pile, so maybe....


I was recently tagged on Twitter to name 3 books that made me stay up reading long into the night (thanks Kate).

Last night I read until 1:30am because I finally got to the exciting part in The Secrets She Keeps.
Last week it was The Annotated Persuasion.
But then I would have to think long and hard to remember a third....

On Instagram Fanda challenged me with this list:

Favourite Fantasy:
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy
Favourite Sci-fi:
anything by John Wyndham
Favourite Contemporary:
Liane Moriarty
Favourite Romance:
The Ladies of Missalonghi
Favourite book from 10 years ago:
is this favourite book that I READ in 2008 or favourite book first PUBLISHED in 2008?
2008 is pre-blogging days and I simply cannot remember everything I read back then.
I remember rereading Jane Eyre for my book club and I started Max Gallo's Napoleon series.
I also read Geraldine Brooks People of the Book (I went to a local book event and got a signed copy).
Published in 2008 but read and loved later, were The Hunger Games and Olive Kitteridge.
Favourite book from the last 100 days:
Too hard to pick just one, so here's five favourites.
Lenny's Book of Everything
Northbridge Rectory
Sugar Money

The thought of hunting down these books to take a pic of them was too much to bear!
Feel free to consider yourself tagged.

That's not in my brain any more.

Maybe there will be some space for creativity, reflection and personal growth today?


Saturday, 1 September 2018

Les Mis Chapter-a-Day Readalong Update

Life has been a bit crazy again this year, and lots of my good intentions for this blogging life have been curtailed, postponed or in a state of constant catch-up. But the one thing that has kept me going, albeit in fits and starts, is my chapter-a-day read of Les Miserables with Nick and friends from @One Catholic Life.

My last Les Mis check in post was way, way back in early April, which is when my chapter-a-day approach took it's first battering.

We had a three week trip to Japan planned. I didn't want to take a chunkster in my luggage, I also prefer to read books set in the country I'm travelling in at the time, so Les Mis was never going to work for a trip to Japan. I decided to read ahead before leaving.

Over two nights I read about 25 chapters. It was exciting, I felt that the pace picked up and the story was getting very interesting again as we got to back the main action of the story (and away from one of Hugo's very lengthy diversions). I loved seeing Valjean and Cosette settling into a more peaceful life in Vol 3, Book 5, getting to know each other and feel safe. Their life was frugal and inconspicuous.

The night time chase scene through the back streets of Paris in Book 6 was one of the high points in the story so far. So much tension, fear and suspense. It was easy to race through these chapters as I couldn't wait to see what happened next, and how or if, Valjean was going to escape the clutches of Javert once again.

But I did wonder at the time, how they might have been read differently and understood differently, if I had read them one at a time, slowly and thoughtfully.

Book 6 spent time LOTS of time discussing religion and one particular institution, the Petit-Picpus convent. I was glad to NOT be reading these chapters whilst on holiday. I found them dry and rather tedious, but knew that in the usual Hugo style, they were leading us slowly but surely to a point.

I did discover that there was no real Petit-Picpus convent thanks to this post at Carpe Horas and that there is a Les Mis fan community called Abaissé where some kind soul had posted a modern day photographic journey that showed the route of the Javert-Valjean chase. Lily Blackmore also has several Les Mis photo posts of her time in Paris in search of Les Mis connections. 

The love for this book runs deep and strong.

Book 7 in my Penguin edition of Les Mis, is treated as an afterthought by the translator, Norman Denny, and popped into the back of the book as Appendix A. A part of me can see why. Book 7 is another Hugo digression. This time into the nature of history, religion and faith. An interesting footnote into the mind and beliefs of the author, that reflected the times he lived through, but certainly not designed to make the reader feel like they can't wait to read the next chapter!

Since returning from Japan I have found it difficult to get back into a good routine.

June was a flurry of visits and weekends away. July saw the entire family sick with a nasty winter cold one after the other. And August was all about exams, as B18 studied for his final in-school exams.

I read Les Mis in fits and bursts throughout this time. Mostly it became a weekend thing where I would read all seven chapters in one hit. But I felt rather disconnected from the story and the readalong the entire time.

Last week I decided to reassert control over my Les Mis journey.

It was time to savour Hugo's work a chapter-a-day once again. With Vol 4, Book 3 I returned to reading this epic story little by little, one day at a time. Each night, before bed, I read my chapter. I'm trying to read each one carefully and thoughtfully.

And it has been a delight.

I have rediscovered the thrill I had at the beginning of the year.

The art of slow reading is not an easy path to follow, but I'm glad to be back on track. I can feel some of the year's stresses melting away, I'm feeling more connected and centred, my brain feels like it's working smarter and I've rediscovered the joy of reading (Les Mis).

As John Miedema, author of Slow Reading (2009) said,
If you want the deep experience of a book, if you want to internalise it, to mix an author's ideas with your own and make it a more personal experience, you have to read it slowly.

My hard-won tips for getting the most out of slow reading (Les Mis) are:
  • Pick a time of the day that works best for you AND stick to it.
  • Leave ALL devices in another room.
  • Do a brief meditation or breathing exercise to calm your mind & focus your attention.
  • Underline words or phrases that move you, that you don't know or want to research further.
  • Read some chapters or sections aloud.
  • Pause, consider, ponder, reflect.
  • Be kind to yourself. There will be times when Slow Reading isn't possible. Don't beat yourself up if you're going through one of those times. Wait it out. You'll know when you're ready to Slow Read again. And you'll love & appreciate it even more when you return to it.

The Battle of Waterloo the Victor Hugo Way
Finally Facing My Waterloo
Birthday Check In
Week 2 Catch Up
Week 1 First Impressions

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Austen on Screen Take 2

Last week I indulged in a little walk down the red carpet with Jane Austen. I quickly realised it was going to take more than one post to adequately explore my love affair with Austen on the screen. The Pride and Prejudice adaptations were so numerous and I found I had so much to say, that I feared I would have to do the same for all of Austen's books! But when I sat down to think about which movies I had actually seen, I realised that I had only seen one or two versions of the other books. So today is all about Jane on screen minus P&P.

After my first reading of Austen's books in my teens, Emma and Mansfield Park were my least favourite books. Emma was too annoying and Fanny was too nondescript. The romance wasn't as obvious as it was in Pride and Prejudice either, and during my teen years, it was all about the romance!

However my view of Emma changed completely when I saw the 1996 movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam for the first time. (Note the strategic use of the word 'first' - I have now watched this movie more times than I can remember!)

Douglas McGrath's lively, endearing take on this rather annoying, manipulative young lady hooked me in, along with his other brilliant casting choices. When I first read Emma at 17, I dismissed Mr Knightly as being 'too old' and therefore not worthy of my romantic considerations. Jeremy Northam's charming, thoughtful, generous portrayal of Knightly changed all that. A reread of Emma not long after my first viewing of this movie, revealed that I had been fooled by Emma's own descriptions and beliefs as she professed them, early on in the book. During a more observant reread Emma's flaws and misconceptions are easier to discern. But don't get me started on the joys and merits of rereading Jane Austen!

Toni Collette played the ingenue Harriet Smith a little self-consciously, but since Harriet is meant to be self-conscious and lacking in self-confidence it worked. Sophie Thompson's Miss Bates was truly inspired. She captured her silly, dithering nature but also the kindness and heart behind this lonely woman. Ewan McGregor's Frank Churchill was played beautifully too. The scene where he and Emma are singing a duet is hilarious every single time, just like the scene where Emma is nasty to Miss Bates hurts every single time. Mr Knightley's "badly done, Emma, badly done!" almost reduces me to tears as my own 'badly done' moments come flooding back to haunt me.

And that is exactly why Jane Austen is still so relevant today. Her characters may be wearing old time clothes and speak in an old fashioned manner to our modern sensibilities, but her characters behave and act in very familiar ways. Her characters have that unmistakable ring of authenticity as we recognise ourselves and those we know between the pages.

I have yet to see the Kate Beckinsale TV version of Emma from the same year, the 1972 or 2009 BBC series either - it's nice to have something to look forward to.

Modern adaptations can be ghastly experiences for those of us who truly adore a book, but sometimes everything conspires for the good. Clueless was one of those times when they got it very right.

Alicia Silverstone's modern day Emma (Cher) makes it obvious what JA was trying to say about youth and privilege and our ability to bend and twist reality to suit our own purposes. The movie highlights Emma/Cher's innocence and her ego. Cher teeters from lovable to loathsome and back to lovable again, and in Clueless we see Emma for the coming of age story that it actually is.

I avoided all Mansfield Park screen versions until this year. Only a few short years ago MP was still my least favourite Austen and the thought of watching sappy Fanny on screen for 2 hours was more than I could bare! But the reread changed everything. I suddenly saw (if you can call the 20 years of life and reading experience that led to this change, sudden) the incredible structure and beauty of Austen's craftsmanship. I had completely failed to see or appreciate the technical brilliance of MP the first time and I had completely failed to see or appreciate Fanny for who she really was.

Sadly Frances O'Connor also failed to appreciate Fanny for who she really was back in 1999 when this movie was made. At the start, the director clearly states that the movie is only 'based on the novel of the same name'. He went on to include a lot more about slavery and plantation life than JA ever would (even though she had very strong opinions about them in real life - but that's another post). All of which is fine, but Fanny is shy and reserved and timid. She is self-conscious and fearful and lacks a sense of belonging. O'Connor plays Fanny with far more energy, confidence and sass than Fanny could ever dream of - perhaps more appealing to a modern audience, but completely changing the story arc for Fanny. Instead of being a journey towards belonging and morality and learning to stand up for herself, we have this particular Fanny doing the same things at the end as she did at the beginning. There can be no story arc for this Fanny who has way too much pluck to belong here!

There is also an earlier BBC TV series of Mansfield Park to watch out for, but everything I've read suggests that MP is still due for a good screen interpretation.

The 1986 Northanger Abbey movie is the only on-screen version I've seen. It has attracted a lot of haters over the years, but I loved it. It captured the silly, romantic, gothic fluff that I believe Austen was aiming for. A lot about this novel is written tongue-in-cheek and this particular screen version embraces the parody with gusto!

Eerie music oozes over every scene, fog and mist cast shadows and mystery everywhere and all the characters a stereotypes, beautifully drawn, from the doe-eyed ingenue, the sexually aware BFF, the hoon brother and the amused romantic hero. It's delicious. Yes, it misses out lots of the details from the book, but all movies have to make that concession. The ones that work for me are the ones that stay true to the characters.

One day I will check out the 2007 version, but it doesn't look as lush and atmospheric as the 1986 one.

The 1995 Persuasion is another favourite. Amanda Roots completely owned her interpretation of Anne Elliot. 

Bath and Lyme feature strongly in this movie too with all the rain, grey skies and chill winds that one would expect. This is one of JA's most socially conscious novels and the movie goes to great lengths to show this off. Beautiful estates, country homes, naval quarters, inns, sumptuous town apartments and run-down rooms in the poor part of town. 

Ciaran Hands played the rugged Captain Wentworth with proper naval aplomb and the scene where our two lovers finally kiss has the added bonus of a noisy, colourful circus passing by with clowns backflipping and jumping for joy in the background. 

I've never bothered to check out the 2007 version, as this one continues to satisfy me every time.

The same goes for Sense and Sensibility. Ang Lee's 1995 movie is such a satisfying version of the story that I've never felt the need to look elsewhere.

Yes, most of the actors are way too old for their parts, but one can forget and forgive this for their faithful interpretation of their characters. I've gone into my feelings about this movie in much greater length before, so I wont go over old ground, except to say that I love the almost final and very emotional scene with Elinor and Edward so very much.

Adaptations and bio-pics are a curious thing. I had such high hopes for Becoming Jane, but was so disappointed to see that apparently all of Jane's good ideas and lines came from a man!!

Lost in Austen was far more successful. It was fun with lots of interesting comment about modern life versus Regency life. I'd happily watch this again one day.

One I have still to see and would really like to, is the recent movie version of Love and Friendship.

Austenland and Miss Austen Regrets are two I have also been recommended...for one day.
Do you have a favourite JA book or movie or TV series?

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Lenny's Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

I fell in love with Karen Foxlee's writing in 2014 when I read and loved Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy.

A Most Magical Girl confirmed her ability to move me with her words. So much so, that I acquired her YA backlist to read...one day...!

So I was thrilled to discover recently that she had a new book, Lenny's Book of Everything, due out later in the year. When an ARC turned up last week with my reps tear-soaked tissue rave about how good it was ringing in my ears, I popped it on top of the TBR pile for the weekend.

All the PR on the inside covers suggested that this would be Foxlee's 'break-out book', the one that would finally tip her over into the big time (where I've always thought she belonged, by the by).

The opening sentence told me they were correct.

Our mother had a dark heart feeling.

Straight away I had that lovely goosebumpy shiver of anticipation feeling that happens oh-so rarely these days. I knew this book was going to break my heart yet I couldn't stop myself. Even when that breaking my heart feeling almost got too strong, I couldn't look away for long. Because Foxlee breaks your heart so tenderly, so hopefully, so sweetly that you can't not go along for the ride.

Every life has times of sadness and darkness, stories like this remind us that despite the darkness, within the sadness, there can be kindness, loving and beauty. This is what makes our lives worthwhile, this is what gets us through the bad times.

Foxlee also reminds us that words have power. They have meaning and purpose. Some people choose to put that power and purpose to a negative use, but Foxlee shows us the positive, glorious, wondrous nature of words and knowledge. Words that illuminate, uplift and provide hope are her speciality. Her words enrich our lives and fill our souls with joy.

I know, I'm gushing! But I'm not the only one smitten.

The book is full of gushing quotes:
Anna McFarlane (publisher, Allen & Unwin) - it raises spirits while it breaks hearts.
Eva Mills (publishing director) - broke my heart (in a good way!)...a deep understanding of humanity.
Juanita Keig (account manager) - importance of kindness and human solidarity.
Radhiah Chowdhury (editor) - soothes even as it relates the most unutterable pain.

Karen Foxlee's note tells us that this story about 'an encyclopedia set and a boy who kept growing' has been in her head for quite some time, and that when she 'finally sat down to write it, Lenny was there waiting for me. I felt immediately comfortable in her voice.' It shows.

The complexities and nuances within this story have been woven in seamlessly and apparently, effortlessly by Foxlee. Her characters are fully realised with whole back stories just sitting out of sight, influencing all their actions and reactions. The push and pull between her characters as they rubbed up against each other on a daily basis, felt so real and so natural. They loved, they annoyed, they cared and they hurt each other.

Foxlee said she was trying to explore 'love in all its forms' and how wonderful it is to be alive and that 'even in the darkest hours, there's always hope'. She succeeded.

Although Foxlee is Australian through and through, she has set this story in the 1970's in New York City. I've never lived in NYC, but I now feel like I have, at least, in this one little pocket of NYC so vividly described by Foxlee.

The rest of the story details I leave for you to discover yourself.

Not many books make me cry out loud - I can count the contenders on one hand - but Lenny's Book of Everything made me blubber. Yes, my heart was broken, but it wasn't unbearable. My heart was full of love, wonder and hope too and my heart was mended, again.

The comparisons to Wonder, The Boy in the Striped Pyjama's and The Book Thief are spot on. They are all very different stories, told in very different ways, but they all share an authenticity and tell an emotional truth that is universal and enduring.

The final hardback cover will look like this:

If you'd like to read about the creative process that made this stunning cover, read about it @Things Made From Letters.

Lenny's Book of Everything is a Nov 2018 publication Allen & Unwin.
Book 20 of #20booksofsummer (winter) WAHOO!!
Temperature in Northern Ireland 19℃
Temperature in Sydney 18℃

Thursday, 23 August 2018

One of those days....

I'm having one of those days, when I WANT to write, but have done everything possible to make it NOT happen.

I started two posts (another JA on the screen post & another CBCA post) early this morning but neither were working so I cleaned the kitchen instead - top to bottom - the silver is gleaming, the splashbacks are sparkling and all that crappy stuff (a broken magnet from the fridge, dead batteries, dust gathering mini-candle holders (used once) & some kind of screw/hook thingy) that were cluttering up the edges - GONE! With bonus points for emptying the food & rubbish bins as well.

Which made me realise I needed to do a grocery shop that included a tour down the cleaning aisle, via a stop at my favourite cafe on the way. A load of washing, a few chapters of my book over lunch, followed by cleaning out the kettle and sorting out the wine & shoe cupboard (a new delivery (of wine not shoes) arrived yesterday).

I sat down to write again, but got distracted by emails and online banking before deciding to clean up the apps on my phone. The whole time, with one ear tuned to the radio to hear if anything else was happening with the leadership challenge (groan) happening in Canberra.

Enough was enough, so I swept the front porch and watered the garden and pot plants.

And guess what?

I still WANT to write, but what to write?

Isn't it awful to have the desire, but not the creative flow.
To be willing and able, but not inspired.

What to do?

Publish this.
Shut down the keyboard once again.
Hit the pavement.
Get some fresh air.
Smell the roses (or the new spring blossoms at least).
Get moving.
Try again later.

What do you do when you want to write but the muse goes missing?

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

A Walk in the Bush by Gwyn Perkins

I feel that the CBCA has slightly tweeked their judging criteria this year. The categories for the Early Childhood Prize and Picture Book of the Year have been clearly differentiated by how the illustrations are used and by the ages of their readers.

CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood:
Entries in this category should be books suitable in content and style for pre and beginning readers for children in the age range 0 to 6 years (infants and pre-school level). This include works of fiction, poetry, wordless, board and concept books. The illustrations reflect all the text on the page and often do NOT add extra meaning to the storyline.

CBCA Picture Book of the Year:
Entries in this category should be books of the genre in which the text and illustrations achieve artistic and literary unity and the story, theme or concept is enhanced and unified through the illustrations. A picture book can be written and illustrated by a sole creator or a collaborative effort between two or more creators. The text and illustrations work cohesively. The illustrations are an integral part of, or extend the meaning on the page. The age range for this category is 0 to 18 years.

Gwyn Perkin's A Walk in the Bush has won this year's Picture Book of the Year Award. Perkins is both the author and the illustrator.

He uses simple pen drawings, a soft colour palette & Photoshop to create an evocative, heart-warming stroll through the Australian bush. Perkins is based on a little island in the middle of Pittwater in northern Sydney, he also spends a lot of time in the Blue Mountains. All three areas are lovingly depicted in this book.

Perkins is obviously an advocate for mindful walking as opposed to serious hiking. His granddad character takes the time to listen to the birds, notice changes in the flora and smell the gum leaves. He tells bad granddad jokes to his grandchild/cat character and is constantly encouraging Iggy to engage with the natural world around.

One of the big successes here is Perkin's ability to tell so much of the story via believable, tender body language (instead of dialogue). There is genuine affection and caring between the two characters, even when they sit quietly enjoying the peace of the bush. Meanwhile the watchful wildlife constantly bring your attention back to the connection between the granddad and Iggy.

Each picture is a double page spread. Words are kept to a minimum while feeling oozes from every detail. Sharing this book with my colleagues produced oodles of laughs and bucket loads of awww's!

A worthy winner indeed of a book prize the celebrates the beautiful and meaningful combination of art and words.

Perkin's follow up book, A Day at the Show is equally as charming, funny and delightful. I also loved the nostalgic feeling I got from wandering around an old-style country show with granddad and Iggy...and chook. A 2019 contender for sure!

Book 19 of #20booksofsummer (winter)

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch

My intention this year was to read through my handful of Iris Murdoch books with Liz @Adventures in Reading for her #IMreadalong. She's reading all of them, one a month, in chronological order. I only have to slot in five books, but so far I've been woeful at sticking to her schedule. Fortunately Liz has been very gracious about allowing me to join in whenever I get around to reading the book and reviewing it.

The Unicorn was the book to read for May. In my defence, it only came into my possession in June, after seeing The Unicorn and the Lady tapestry exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. At the time I didn't believe that there was any direct correlation between the tapestries and the book, except for the word unicorn, but upon reflection I can see some shared symbolism.

The six tapestries are thought to represent the five senses plus a sixth one representing the soul or morality. It is undecided whether the woman in this final tapestry is putting away her jewels into a casket, or taking them out. Is she putting away the symbol of earthly pleasure, desire, free will and sexual pleasure or is she a virgin about to embrace earthly, carnal pleasures for the first time, knowingly and deliberately?

The unicorn 'is also the image of Christ' according to Max, but in courtly tradition a unicorn symbolises purity, chastity and knowledge. Hannah as unicorn makes quite a bit on symbolic sense, although once I read that Hannah had a 'plentiful mass of red-golden hair' I began to imagine she looked more like the unknown, mysterious lady in the tapestries. A woman who didn't know whether to embrace or push away her desires.

Certainly one of my desires was satisfied by the very appealing Vintage Classics cover by Liam Relph. The various shades of green soothed and agitated me at the same time. The darkened castle, the tempestuous waves, the fading light all added up to a heightened sense of mystery and menace.

The incredible landscape of County Clare was the very first thing that struck me as I started reading. The land is described by Murdoch as appalling, God-forsaken, dreadful, grotesque and sublime. Her protagonist, Marion finds the 'vast dark coastline repellent and frightening. She had never seen a land so out of sympathy with man.'

The Burren, County Clare

Marian had read about the great cliffs of black sandstone. In the hazy light they seemed brownish now, receding in a series of huge buttresses as far as the eye could see, striated, perpendicular, immensely lofty, descending sheer into a boiling white surge. It was the sea here which seemed black, mingling with the foam like ink with cream.

The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

The sea was a luminous emerald green streaked with lines of dark purple. Small humpy islands of a duller paler green, bisected by shadows, rose out of it through rings of white foam. As the car kept turning and mounting, the scenes appeared and reappeared, framed between fissures towers of grey rock which, now that she was close to it, Marian saw to be covered with yellow stonecrop and saxifrage and pink tufted moss.

Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare

The landscape had become a trifle gentler and a little dried-up grass, or it might have been a tufted lichen, made saffron pools among the rocks. Some black-faced sheep with brilliant amber eyes made a sudden appearance on a low crag, and behind them rose the dolmen against a greenish sky. Two immense upright stones supported a vast capstone which protruded a long way on either side. It was a weird lop-sided structure, seemingly pointless yet dreadful significant.

Looking, views and scenes are the predominant theme of The Unicorn. Everyone spends the novel looking in mirrors or out windows, and of course, the main house is call Gaze Castle. But other than the gorgeous, dramatic scenery, I'm not quite sure what we're meant to actually 'see'.

Maybe what I'm beginning to see is that Iris Murdoch had some issues of her own. I'm not sure that she liked people very much and she certainly didn't have a very high opinion of relationships. At least loving, healthy, adult relationships don't seem to feature in her books very often, but then, where's the story in that!

Perhaps the 'seeing' and 'gazing' going on here is all internal - navel gazing and psychological musings. The book that Marion reads with Hannah early on is called La Princesse de Cleves. I had to look this one up to find that it was a French novel published anonymously in 1678 and according to wikipedia, 'is regarded by many as the beginning of the modern tradition of the psychological novel'. It's a story of seclusion, spurned lovers, fidelity (or the lack thereof) and suffering. Another connection!

Seclusion, strange love and suffering certainly abounded in The Unicorn, as well as existential angst, confinement and a vague hint of domestic violence. Our characters also played a tug of war with the power of choice and non-choice and imprisonment versus freedom. Yet it's the potential of story (especially the stories we tell ourselves) to transform, inspire and escape that drives our characters to their various fates.

Another reference that had me reaching for google was that of Ate. 'Ate is the name of the almost automatic transfer of suffering from one being to another.' Max goes on to explain his thoughts more until he suggests that Hannah might be 'a pure being who only suffers and does not attempt to pass the suffering on' thereby ending the cycle or the power of the Ate.

Ate is the Greek goddess of mischief, delusion, ruin and folly. It can also refer to the action of the hero that leads to their downfall or death - the very first case of pride cometh befall the fall! And of course, The Unicorn has it's very own and very literal fall.

I'm sure there's also lots of stuff to be explored around Murdoch's continued use of the sea, the bog, the giving of dresses and jewellery, the situation of the two houses, all the donkeys and fish references and the seal. Hopefully when I go to visit Liz's review page after posting this, I'll find some more answers, or at least ask some better questions!

I should also read the Introduction again. I tend to skim it before starting to pull out a few of the main themes to help me on my way. Occasionally this backfires, when I accidentally read a spoiler, but mostly I can see them coming and skip over that section, until I can come back to it when I finish the book. One of the things I did get from the Intro by Stephen Medcalf, was Murdoch's fascination with Plato and Simone Weil (French philosopher, mystic and political activist 1909 - 1943). Two more things for delve into before reading my next Murdoch.

Of the three Murdoch's I've read so far, this has been my favourite. It had a vague Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier feel to it (that would be that Gothic thing I guess!)
I loved the melodrama and sense of menace and suspense that built up throughout the novel. It was eerie and creepy and disturbing as the characters became more and more insular and introspective. Love became twisted and bent out of shape. But there was always hope. As Effie said,
Love holds the world together, and if we forget ourselves everything in the world would fly into a perfect harmony, and when we see beautiful things that is what they remind us of.

Too bad he was delusional and delirious at the time!

Under the Net
This was my latest #CCspin and book 18 of my #20booksofsummer (winter) challenge.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Austen on Screen

There are so many versions of Jane Austen's books available to watch on the big and little screen, that it would take more viewing time than I currently have to do justice to all of them. But over the years, I've given it my best shot!

Today's post is all about Pride and Prejudice and some of it's screen adaptations.

My love affair with Jane on the screen began during my HSC year when our local ABC TV replayed the 1980 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. The screen play was written by Fay Weldon and consisted of five 55 minute episodes.

No Austen production can ever hope to include every single scene or nuance as written by Jane. Some choose to stay as faithful as they can to the original, while others pride themselves on their modern reinterpretation of the story.

The 1980 version of P&P is a faithful retelling with some fabulous characterisations. Perhaps because it was my first P&P, it has remained my favourite despite all attempts by newcomers to convert me to their way of thinking. Elizabeth Garvie will always be my ideal for Lizzy Bennet and Malcolm Rennie, in particular, will always be the odious, smarmy Mr Collins (although now that I've spotted that Matt Smith took a turn in Mr Collin's shoes in the 2016 P&P&Zombies parody, I may have to search out that production next)!

Tom Hollander in 2005 played the role too sly and knowing for my liking, although he did make me laugh. David Bamber (1995) and Rennie captured Collins' obsequiousness far better.

The 1980 version did have one glaring problem though. It obviously lacked the big budgets that other productions enjoyed. There were not many extras or sumptuous costumes and some of the scenes felt like an echoey stage. 
But I loved how my feelings for Mr Darcy grew and changed right along with Elizabeth's. When David Rintoul first walked on screen, I thought, oh no, they've got that VERY WRONG! But by the end, I thought he was the most handsome, dashing young man EVER!

I was prepared to love Colin Firth as Darcy. What's not to love, right? And Matthew Macfadyen - mmmmm! But both failed to replace David Rintoul as my preferred Darcy. 

Firth had the misfortune to be in my most hated version of P&P (controversial I know). I could barely sit through episode one without screaming at the screen! By halfway through the second, I gave up in disgust. I was so disappointed. I had hoped that the extra episode (it had 6) would mean they would include more of the scenes cut from previous versions due to lack of time. 

But no! 

Instead they added scenes that never ever existed in the first place (I'm looking at you Fitzwilliam in your wet t-shirt!). Andrew Davies is a highly regarded screenwriter and I'm sure he thought he was doing the right thing by sexing up Pride and Prejudice, but this particular Jane Austen purist was horrified. 

And don't get me started on how annoying Jennifer Ehle was! She rubbed me the wrong way from the opening sequence. She overdid the playful, lively wit thing. She came across as being self-conscious, rather smug and self-satisfied. Which is better (just) than the giggly girly Elizabeth that Keira Knightley went with in the 2005 movie version.

Oh dear!
What were they thinking?
Deborah Moggach (screenwriter) and Joe Wright (director) turned P&P into a YA rom-com.

Apparently (according to wikipedia) Moggach started off being faithful to the original dialogue, but Wright encouraged her to deviate from the text (because he didn't think that people spoke like that back then!) as well as changing the family dynamics and the time period to an earlier one. I can live with that, but I cannot bare a Lizzy who titters!

Elizabeth Garvie is still the only one who has got the balance right between Lizzy's wit, intelligence and maturity.

I viewed the 1940 movie version starring Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier after a friend told me that it was her preferred version. (I had lent her my copy of the 1980 P&P and she hated it - Greer Garson was her epitome of Lizzy and she found Garvie too dull). 
However I found the 1940 movie more like a Victorian melodrama than JA's Regency social satire. Greer played a sophisticated, aloof, drawing room Lizzy rather than Garvie's more nature-loving, down to earth, free-spirit.  

A two hour movie can never do full justice to the book. Too many things have to be left out or assumed. I'm hoping that one day, someone will get it all right, because so far, no-one has got Bingley right.

Bingley is meant to be Darcy's foil, not his fool, which is how he often gets played (Simon Woods 2005 was the worst culprit). Certainly none of them have been handsome enough (except for the dashing zombie slayer Douglas Booth, although I'm not really sure that this particular version counts).

It's also hard to get Mrs Bennet's silliness and nerves just right. She has to be silly and nervous, but also pretty and charming enough for us to see how Mr Bennet could have fallen for her in the first place.

I liked the more moderate version of Mrs Bennet that Brenda Blethyn showed us in the 2005 movie, but she was so moderate in the end that it was hard to see the Bennet's as an incompatible couple - which is the whole idea behind their relationship.

Wickham and Lydia are also difficult to capture on the screen.

Wickham has to be dashing and charming enough to attract Lizzy, but there also has to be something insincere and obvious about him that alerts the more suspicious viewer. Our 1980 Wickham was too innocuous and Orlando was too smarmy in 2005. No-one has got Wickham's ability to deceive and manipulate just right. And no production has got the pairing of Wickham and Lydia right either.

The 1980 Lydia was the perfect blend of silly, bitchy and head-strong, but she would have walked all over her innocuous counterpart. Julia Sawalha was annoying enough as Lydia and Jena Malone had lots of exuberance and flirtatious ways, but no-one has mastered Lydia's conniving side. 

The 1980 Mrs Bennet had the best relationship with her Lydia. It was obvious to see why this particular Lydia had grown up the way she did, indulged and petted by her very sympathetic mother.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh's haughty, condescending snobbery was well captured by Judy Parfitt in 1980. Normally I like Judy Dench in anything, but she felt miscast in the 2005 movie. I would have loved to see her tackle Mrs Bennet instead. However, an eye patch wearing ice queen Catherine as played by Lena Headey (of Game of Thrones fame) could easily become my pick of the bunch! Without having actually seen this movie yet, I feel like I can say that it was a truly inspired casting choice! I'm intrigued.

Nobody likes Miss Bingley. I don't believe you're not meant to. She not's very nice. Too brittle, too prickly and too superior. Yet curiously Marsha Fitzalan's version of Caroline created some sympathetic touches. She played her desperation so openly and so vulnerably, that you couldn't but help feel sorry for her. Anna Chancellor was already famous for her 'duckface' turn in Four Weddings and a Funeral by the time she got to Miss Bingley. A perfect, though less compassionate match. The 2005 movie Caroline was completely unmemorable.

As the eldest daughter in a large family of girls, I've always felt an affinity for Jane Bennet. Her ability to hide her feelings (unless you know her well, then you can read her like a book), act the patient peace-maker and trust in the goodness of others can make her seem like a sap. But she has courage, strength of purpose and a sense of responsibility that the Lydia's of this world will never appreciate.

Our 1980 and 2005 Jane's captured her gentleness and determination well. However, the 2005 Jane should never have fallen for that fool of a Took, Bingley and I would have preferred to see the 1995 Jane tackle Lydia instead. There was something about the way her smile suggested something different to her eyes, that made me think she could play Lydia's manipulative ways to a tee.

(I went round and round in circles on pinterest trying to find who I could credit for putting together the P&P character collages, to no avail. If it's you, please let me know so that I can rectify this oversight.)

There was also a 1958 BBC TV series of 6 episodes airing for half an hour each. It starred Jane Downs and Alan Badel. Sadly, it is believed that the entire series has been lost. Another production in 1967 honoured 150 years since the death of JA.

To show that I'm not a complete killjoy about adaptations and modern reinterpretations, let me rave for a minute about my love of Bridget Jones' Diary.

It was hilarious yet poignant and oh so big-hearted from start to finish. Casting Firth as the Darcy character was one of those sublime moments of right person, right time, right everything. Taking our much loved characters into the modern world clearly meant that Mrs Bennet was always going to have an affair with some gross TV presenter, and instead of a tribe of siblings, our modern Lizzy has to have a band of best friends to be her confidants.

I'm not so much a fan of the two sequels though. I watched The Edge of Reason out of curiosity, but failed to get excited about Bridget Jones' Baby at all.

JA has given the modern script writer the bones of such a clever, classic story, that they really have to work hard to stuff it up.

Even a fun musical version out of India in 2004 worked. The themes and characters of P&P are so universal that No Life Without Wife is the only obvious response to a 'truth universally acknowledged'.

I enjoyed the movie version of The Jane Austen Book Club more then the book itself, from memory. Jimmy Smits may have had something to do with that! Emily Blunt was not on my radar back then, so I'd like to re-watch this one day just to see her do her thing. This is not strictly a P&P adaptation either, as Joy Fowler's characters are influenced by all of JA's books over the course of the story.

The IMBd list for Pride and Prejudice adaptations suggests that I am woefully behind with my screen love of P&P - they have 32 possibilities and I've only viewed (or part viewed) ten.

And when I say love, I probably mean hope. No movie, TV series or adaptation has come close to doing Austen's story justice. Some actors have done a magnificent job, some of the sets have been gorgeous but I'm always left a little flat in the end. My hope of seeing Pride and Prejudice alive on the big screen as I've imagined it and felt it all these years has still not been achieved. But like Jane Bennet, I'm always optimistic.

 8th September 2018

Last night I watched Pride & Prejudice Zombies.
It was so much fun and may even become my favourite P&P adaptation!
I'd love to see this cast of characters play their roles in a more traditional P&P - everyone nailed it.
But I particularly loved Mr Collins, Lady Catherine, Mrs Bennett and Bingley.
Darcy's failed proposal scene to Elizabeth was an incredibly sexy ninja battle and I never got tired of seeing the Bennett sister's unsheath their blades for battle with the undead!

As a bonus for those of us who have watched many P&P adaptations, many times, there were parodies of much loved (by some) scenes (such as Darcy diving into the lake), rooms that looked very, very familiar rooms, certain famous lines from other Austen books, a number of scenes paying homage to other well-known screen versions (the wedding scene from Ang Lee's S&S) and a lovely cross-referencing moment when Lady Catherine (aka Cersei from Game of Thrones) arrives to threaten Elizabeth with a body guard as big and as loyal as The Mountain.

Tremendous fun; highly recommended...and much better than the book version by Seth Grahame-Smith, which I got tired of very quickly. It's a concept that works better visually I think.