Thursday, 26 February 2015

Review 2015 No. 7 | The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, illustrated by Christian Birmingham; C.S. Lewis (1950); Collins 

"I can always get back if anything goes wrong," thought Lucy. She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch over the snow and through the wood toward the other light. In about ten minutes she reached it and found it was a lamp-post. As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter of feet coming toward her.
Lucy Looks into a Wardrobe; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; page 9

With these immortal words, Clive Staples Lewis (or C.S. Lewis as he's usually known) conjured up one of the most captivating and unique children's fantasy world's ever created. The Irish Oxford University don created the Narnia world, seen throughout the Chronicles of Narnia's seven high fantasy novels. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published first in 1950 by Geoffrey Bles and masterfully illustrated by Pauline Baynes, whose illustrations are still used in many editions to this day.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, illustrated by Pauline Baynes; Pocket Edition; HarperCollins

Although published first, the story actually comes second chronologically in the series, preceded by The Magician's Nephew, published in 1955. The series sprouted from post-war England and reflects Lewis' conversion to Christianity following the early death of his wife. The Lion is the Jupiter of Michael Wood's The Narnia Code. Wood claims that each of the seven stories represent a planet and that the second is the snowy, icy winter tale representing a pre-Christian world before Jesus Christ's sacrifice, his place taken here by Aslan the lion. Best-selling British writer Philip Pullman has cast Lewis as a Christian propagandist is the guise of a children's author, famously opposing Narnia's religious undertones in his fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials.

The second in the series is set in 1940 and tells the story of how the Pevensie's - Lucy, Susan, Peter and Edmund - originally discovered Narnia in a wardrobe of the old house that they were evacuated to. Along the way we meet Professor Digory Kirke (who we first see as a child in The Magician's Nephew), as well as the White Witch Jardis, Aslan the Lion, and forests of talking animals. 

As a child I was captivated by the idea of finding another world in a wardrobe. It's similar to the Alice Through the Looking-Glass fantasy of a parallel universe lurking behind the mirrors in your house. I think that is why this book instantly became my favourite ever children's story, and why I spent my childhood looking in the backs of wardrobes and watching the 1988 BBC adaptation again and again. It is a crossover novel and is utterly charming. Whatever your beliefs, this is a winter tale like no other.

Watch an interview with the actors who played the Pevensie children in the BBC series adaptation:

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Bookish Things Haul | Little Women Out Of Print

Out Of Print is a company that searches for unique and quirky out-of-print book cover designs to use on book-related clothes and accessories. This beautiful pencil case, with a cover design for an out-of-print copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, is available, along with other Out Of Print products, from Waterstones

Visit the website to find out more:

Friday, 20 February 2015

'Mr Nutella' Chocolate Cupcakes | Weekend Bake Recipe

In honour of Ferrero Rocher chocolate tycoon Michele Ferrero, or 'Mr Nutella', who sadly died this week, I had fun developing these Nutella inspired treats. Warning: These cupcakes contain a combination of ingredients so indulgently sweet as to probably be capable of inducing a heart attack. Bon Appetit!

Ingredients (Makes 6):
2 eggs (room temperature)
2oz caster sugar
2oz self-raising flour, no need to sift (or plain flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder) 
2oz unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Butter icing: icing sugar, unsalted butter, vanilla extract, 1 dessert spoon of Nutella

1) Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5
2) Cream together sugar and butter
3) Mix in eggs and vanilla extract
4) Fold the flour into the mixture
5) Spoon half of the mixture into 6 muffin cases
6) Add a teaspoon of Nutella in the middle of each case
7) Spoon the rest of the mixture into the cases, so that it covers the Nutella blob in the middle
8) Bake for 15-20 minutes in the preheated oven and allow to cool on a wire rack when baked
9) Decorate with a sprinkle of icing sugar or a dollop of Nutella butter icing

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Review 2015 No. 6 | Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

The central premise of Around the World in 80 Days is known throughout most of the literary world - as it states on the tin, the tale is about an adventure around the world in eighty days. French author Jules Verne's 1873 classic is number 11 in the Extraordinary Voyages series and was cinematised in 1956. The book succeeded his 1870 20,000 Leagues Under The SeaThe story was inspired by just such an journey taken by Bostonian George Francis Train - circumnavigating the globe in the same manner as BBC/TV personality and comedian Michael Palin attempted to in 1989. Archetypal Victorian Londoner Phileas Fogg is following his life of leisure as a man of private means, visiting the Reform Club daily for meals and to read the papers with mathematical precision. This calm, unnerving man's world is interrupted when he strikes up a £20,000 wager (equivalent to £1.6 million today) that he can travel across the world in eighty days - in Victorian fashion, without airplane (as they hadn't been invented).

With the precision and tenacity of Hercule Poirot, and with his trusty French manservant Passepartout (meaning master key/skeleton key, a play on the English 'passport') in tow, he attempts the feat. The story is fascinating and enticing - the premise itself is one most people wish they could have written first - and is telling in its Victorian optimism ('anything one man can imagine, other men can make real'). There are unabashedly racist sentiments in many passages throughout - colonial Britain at its height and eugenics and the Nazi's yet to take hold of social ideas of biological determinism. As an anthropologist I find this uncomfortable at best, but, hey, cultural relativism hadn't been invented and it doesn't change how marvellous this book is. Despite this - as in many classics, particularly those assigned to the higher up shelves - Around the World in Eighty Days is well written and still a brilliant travel adventure to this day. 

Friday, 13 February 2015

Review 2015 No. 5 | The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (a Poirot mystery)

There are few characters in literary and cultural history that become so human to their audience that they take on a life of their own. Detective Hercule Poirot is quintessentially, simultaneously both Belgian and English. First birthed into the world by 'Queen of Crime' Agatha Christie, in 1920, Poirot has in the preceding decades become both a national and literary treasure. Dame Christie herself wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short stories, a writer so prolific and world-renowned that she has become a genre all of her own. 

All this being said, when it was announced in 2014 that author of the Spilling CID detective series, Sophie Hannah, would be publishing the first non-Christie Poirot novel, the release was to become hailed as "the literary event of the year". As a lifelong Christie fan I knew that I would have to get my hands on it! It is doubly problematic for reviewers when authors revive  another author's character, especially one as lovingly adored as Poirot, who stands in similar ranks to Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Who. Do we judge Hannah by Christie's standards, or assess the novel as a new phenomena - a non-Christie Poirot?

The Monogram Murders has it all - the fastidious mannerisms, attention to detail, charming punctuality and reverence for the truth. Poirot is joined in The Monogram Murders by Detective Catchpole, who neatly diametrically opposes Poirot. Catchpole is the perfect contrast - always late, missing clues, never quite grasping the mystery as it unfolds. The plot itself is Christie - three bodies in a London hotel, linked by past motives mirroring Christie's 1942 Five Little Pigs - but the novel is Hannah. And that, mon ami, is how we should view it. The story isn't a Christie. It never could be. But Hannah's style is all of it's own. She brings passion, revenge and guilt together in a uniquely Hannah way. 

To find out more about Sophie Hannah and watch interviews with her:

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Lifestyle Favourites | Winter 2015

This winter I have been loving smoothies. Using a hand blender to make my own (or buying the occasional cute supermarket variety) has mean my breakfasts are now fruitful ('scuse the pun). I love this Innocent Pomegranates, Blueberries and Acai pure fruit smoothie, with its own cute knitted hat; the hats are hand-knitted and raise money for Age Concern and Age UK. Double win! So why not boost your antioxidant/vitamin intake for the day and put a smile on your face at the same time.

Winter can put a strain on everyone's skin, let alone people with sensitive or dry skin. With rapidly changing indoor/outdoor temperatures and dry, cold winds our skin can be left dehydrated and dull. Maintaining a good regular skincare routine is vital during winter. One area we often neglect is actually our hands. I've been loving this Nivea Anti-Dryness Smooth Nourishing Hand Cream with Macadamia Nut Oil and Hydra IQ. 

Winter is the time for hot drinks. Drinking regularly, including cups of tea, is a way of boosting not only your nutrition but also your mental health, as tea is a proven stress-reliever. I have been trying out all types - Twinings Mango and Cinnamon, Twinings Earl Grey (occasionally, as it stains my teeth) - but have recently been trying Pukka Supreme Matcha Green, which is Fairtrade :)

Dental Care:
As some of you might know, I am at the end of fixed appliance dental brace treatment. Anyone who has had braces knows that they take a lot of maintenance and mean that you have to be extra vigilant with keeping your teeth clean. I use the Colgate Plax Antibacterial Mouthwash twice a day as it is alcohol free and so doesn't taste disgusting! 

To see some of my previous braces updates:

February can be a quiet time on the social life front. Stuck between Christmas/winter celebrations and Easter/spring, a lot of people (including me) like a good hibernation. But that is no reason to be bored! Films, books and plays were made for winter! I have been getting back to 'reading' after a few months of slump and have been posting regular book reviews. Look out for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Hamlet posts soon!

My review of the 1979 Moonraker film:

A review of the original book of The Jungle Book:

Monday, 9 February 2015

Review 2015 Film No. 1 | Moonraker

This year I am reviewing one film per month for the blog - in order to spread cinematic love as well as increase my own poor filmic knowledge base. So, a week or so into February, welcome to January's review - Moonraker! Moonraker is the third book and 11th film in the British cult classic James Bond adventures. Directed by Lewis Gilbert and fronted by Roger Moore, the film has all the best bits of Bond that you would expect - the baddie (Hugo Drax played by Michael Lonsdale), the gadgets, the chases, the casual sexism... The chases through Venetian canals, the Amazon jungle and Rio are superb, and Moore's acting is a nice mix alongside the female characters Corinne Dutour and Holly Goodhead. 

Released in 1979, the film also neatly reflects the 1969 American Moon landing. Ian Fleming's original book was published in 1955, years before the mission, and so was almost entirely prophetical and caught the political mood of the time in the anti-Red post-War States. After all that was put into the film, with its record-breaking $34 million production cost, you might wonder why it only gets mediocre reviews and two-star ratings. It is the eleventh film in one of the biggest film/book franchises of all time. I think that partly speaks for itself.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Review 2015 No. 4 | The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

I started this in October last year. Sitting on the bus I whizzed through about half of it in an hour or two (it was a longgg bus journey). It's hard to know where to start with this one, or how to critique it. Rudyard Kipling had it published in 1894 and his father John Lockwood Kipling provided the original illustrations, but most people will have experienced The Jungle Book, or The Jungle Books if you are discussing the sequel, via the 1967 Disney film classic. Despite this 121 year time lag, the 14 anthropomorphic jungle tales, inspired by Kipling's time in colonial India, are as fresh and witty as when he first put pen to paper.

Kipling writing is at times archaic, but always evocative and magical. The book has your favourite Disney characters - Mowgli the Man-Cub, Baloo the bear, Shere Khan the tiger, Bagheera the panther, Tabaqui - alongside others; Kaa, Rikki-Tikki, Toomai the elephant, and a Sea Cow. I will definitely be re-reading this (at some point), and I think that says a lot.

To purchase the beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classic above, follow the link: