Hamlet (Royal Shakespeare Company 2016 Production) – Theatre Review.

Title: Hamlet

Cast: Paapa Essiedu, Marcus Griffiths, Tanya Moodie, Cyril Nri, Natalie Simpson, Clarence Smith, Ewart James Walters, James Cooney, Bethan Cullinane.

Director: Simon Godwin

Venue: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon


As I’ve said before, being an English student has given me the opportunity to watch dozens of adaptations, performances, reimaginations and versions of William Shakespeare’s plays. Howevhamlet_production_photos_march_2016_2016_photo_by_manuel_harlan_c_rsc_187355-tmb-img-820er, when I had the privilege to watch the 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company’s production, I felt like I was watching something entirely new and entirely different.

Although still set nominally in Denmark, the play gives us something new and takes on a west African flavour. With cultural heritage and identity crisis at its core, Hamlet is first shown at his graduation ceremony oversees, but the death of his father makes him rush home to a country that he now feels completely lost in. And with the subsequent marriage of his mother to his father’s brother (later revealed his father’s power-hungry murderer), Hamlet is completely lost in the Danish court.

For the first time in RSC’s 55-year history, the titular character of Hamlet was given to a black actor. And what a marvel he has turned out to be. Paapa Essiedu shone with all the poise and calm of a seasoned actor, but with the young age of 25 and a baby-face to match, it is clear that this young man will become something of a success story in the coming years. When he spoke the immortal and well-loved soliloquy starting with ‘To be or not to be’, it was then we saw the once-suited and smart Prince turn into something new. We watch as tears roll down his face, his eyes half-closed and as though the words are tumbling from his mind. It is then we see Hamlet’s descent into madness and despair.

The cast were all beautifully selected, and fit in their respective roles well. We see Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (portrayed by Tanya Moodie) fall from a dignified and regal queen, into a shell-shocked mess, and Natalie Simpson’s Ophelia is sweet, suitably sassy and cocky in the first half, but distressingly unhinged towards the end. Edward James Walters also gave a chilling performance as the Ghost, as he rose in a mist of dry ice and traditional African costume, and Clarence Smith’s Claudius was sleek and well mannered. However, one of my personal favourite’s was definitely the portrayal of Polonius. Cyril Nr'Hamlet' Play directed by Simon Godwin performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, UKi has given Polonius a new breath of life, by making him somewhat of a court jester, as well as a scatty and fussy parent.

With Hamlet, so much has been done with it in the past, it may have been challenging to breath new life into this timeless play. However, with a thrilling soundtrack of drums, limb-jerking dancing and graffiti, Simon Godwin’s Hamlet is visceral, raw and gives us a rising star who doesn’t so much as shine but blaze as our mercurial Dane.

Hamlet is at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon until August 13th. Book now, or see it live at participating cinemas. Visit The Royal Shakespeare Company website for dates.

 

 

Less FOMO, More GOMO! – Summer Plans and Enjoying Yourself!

With summer approaching at a frankly alarming pace, it’s definitely time for us to shack off our winter blues and coats, stuff them into a corner and pull on our dusty sunglasses and straw hats. So, with the help of Eventbrite and their wonderful summer campaign of putting our FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to bed, and embracing the GOMO (Going Out More Often), I’ve decided to share my own summer plans, and what to do when you’re on a tight budget, or just a little stuck for plans in this hot next couple of months.

1: Book a holiday!pirate-bay-staniel-cay-3

Now, I start on a high note, I realise this. People view holidays as expensive and tiring, but this doesn’t have to be the case. When I say holiday, I mean just time away from your normal life. If you want to have a holiday, but don’t fancy the exotic, book a stay-cation in your county or country. Stay-cations can be reasonably inexpensive, and can have all the feel of a new place, but with the familiarity of the language, currency and culture. Or just spend a night away from your house, and have a new view to wake up. Sometimes breaking the routine can really help you get in touch with yourself as a person, and not just a worker or whatever role you live your day to day life in.

This summer I’m flying over to Ireland and seeing extended family. I haven’t been to Ireland since I was quite young, so I’m excited to explore the country of my ancestors, and being able to reconnect with my roots.

2: Do something that scares you… Even once!

This is both a big and a small point. Scary things don’t necessarily come in packages of spiders, heights or small spaces, but in trying something new, or something that you never thought you wocomfortzone1uld do. But this is the summer of reinvention. So even for one hour in a day, do something that will genuinely scare you. For some people this is travelling, or buying and wearing a bikini in public. For some it’s going out socially, or conquering old fears. But once you’ve done it, the feeling of accomplishment will outweigh the initial fear, and you will be able to look back at that time and go ‘Yep! Well done me!’

This summer, I’ll hopefully be starting a new chapter in my working life. This wouldn’t just be a filler job, but actual experience in my chosen career path, and I’m so excited, but terrified of the future coming at me. I don’t feel ready to be an adult, and start this chapter just yet, but if I won’t do it at 22, then when will I?

3: Go to a concert or live music event.

It was Victor Hugo who said ‘Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent’, and this is a sentiment I love living by. Listening to your iPod when you’re running day to day errands, or on the commute from work fills an-argument-for-live-music1up those empty hours, and gives you something to look forward to. So why not actually witness it live? There is nothing I love better than going to a gig that I’ve been looking forward to, and hearing my favourite songs being played loud and proud in a room full of equally excited fans. Live music gets you dancing, gets you excited and gets conversations going between like-minded people, and even if the concert wasn’t particularly memorable, I’m sure the experience would be.

And this summer will be a huge one for live music. And whether you want to pay a  lot, or just find something free and local, it’ll always been something to reminisce on.

This summer I’m going to see the Hoosiers perform with my best friend, and I cannot wait!

So, these are my little summery plans and experiences, and I hope I’ve prompted any readers to go out and just take this summer by the horns and live it! Because I’m sure you’ll be regretting it come the cold November nights.eventbrite_logo_gradient_v2

And if you need any more inspiration for this summer, visit Eventbrite. They are the largest self-service ticketing platform in the world, and they help people find and plan events.

 

 

Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016) – Film Review

Title: Alice Through The Looking-Glass

Cast: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska, Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen

Director: James Bobin

Genres: Action, Adventure, Disney, Fantasy, Book-to-Film Adaptation, Gothic

Rating: 3/5


As you can tell by the title of this blog, this particular reviewer has an affinity to Alice in Wonderland. I was named after that book, and have had it as part of my literary life as much as any other childhood book.

When Tim Burton released his 2010 reimagination of Lewis Carroll’s tale, I fell in love with how he took the original characters and put his own unique spin on what would happen if Alice grew up and returned to Underland (incorrectly named ‘Wonderland’ by the child Alice), and I assumed there would be a Looking Glass sequel. So when I saw it in the cialice_through_the_looking_glass_film_posternema with my boyfriend last week, I went in with all the expectations and knowledge from the book, but unfortunately came out a little disappointed.

We find Alice a few years after we left her in Burton’s original film. After rejecting Hamish’s marriage proposal and becoming a sea captain of her father’s ship, The Wonder, Alice has explored Asia and returns to England with a head full of plans, reports and expectations. However, her whole world comes crashing to a halt when she finds her mother in a perilous financial state, with the loss of her home and the ship looming thanks to the efforts of her daughter’s jilted suitor.

But as usual, Underland beckons, and Alice manages to find another Narnia-esque portal through a disused mirror. Alice soons tumbles back into the world of her childhood adventures, but she soons releases that all is not well in the magical land. The Mad Hatter seems to be in a depressive slump and falling farther and farther into madness, thanks to the memories of his deceased family, and Alice is dispatched to travel back through time and save his family from their brutal slaying by the Jabberwocky.

But in order to do so, Alice has to deal with Time. And Time isn’t just a abstract concept in this film, but an actual half human/half robotic demigod, whose prize possession is the exact thing Alice needs to steal to complete her mission.

The audience is then treated to a series of different time periods and origin stories. The Mad Hatter is shown as a young boy and then a fresh-faced youth who is the black sheep of his austere hatting family, and we are given new reasons for the Red Queen’s swollen head and her hatred for her sister. And through a series of incidents, Alice has to save the hatter, mend time as well as save her mother.

So, what did I think of the film? Well, like I’ve said, I adored the first film. I really enjoyed the cast (I still do in this film), love the setting and beauty of the CGI and imagination of Underland (I still do), and I really liked the dynamic and chemistry of the characters and how they interact. But this film was lacking something. Maybe due to the fact that Burton was only a producer and not the director of Looking Glass, but this film didn’t have the sparkle and zazz of the 2010 film.

The plot was busy, and wasn’t particularly strong in the plot points. The whole idea of Time was good, and I loved the setting of the clock and the visual element of that, but I didn’t necessarily think the Hatter’s family needing an origin story, and there wasn’t a need to alter time lines. However, I did enjoy seeing the young Red and White Queen, and where their quarrels and differences came from. null

I also loved the smaller details of the films, such as Time having creations he called seconds, which turned into minutes, and why the Red Queen was so keen to cut peoples heads off. But I did feel that it was slightly jumbled and too busy for one film.

The characters were also good, with the memorable cast of Johnny Depp playing a ditzy yet loveable Mad Hatter, and Mia Wasikowka’s Alice being a proper no nonsense and tomboyish version young woman. Sacha Baron Cohen’s personification of the robotic, German-accented Time was also a refreshing and comical feature, and there was real poignancy and emotion of hearing the late Alan Rickman’s voice as Absolem.

But all in all, I felt that despite it being an overall entertaining, light-hearted romp in Underland, this film was really missing something. It didn’t have the gothic beauty of Burton’s original film, nor was it particularly strong in plot wise or story wise. It just felt a bit distracting, colourful and all over the place. Which is shame.

In the words of the Mad Hatter from the first film, ‘You were much more… muchier. You’ve lost your muchness’.

 

This Savage Song by V. E Schwab – Book Review.

Title: This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity Book 1)

Author: V.E. Schwab

Rating: 4/5

Fantasy: Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult, Fiction, Adventure, Teen Fiction


 

The world of Young Adult fiction is a hard category to break into if you’re an author, and equally hard to wade through if you’re a reader. There are categories within sub-categories within sections within communities etc, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming at the choice.

But, to me anyway, there always seems to be one theme and one consistent subplot through these stories, and that is of romance. And to be honest, this has become overused, over-tired and irritating. Especially when it drives the narrative, and without it, the story wouldn’t work.

So when I was sent this book to review by Titan Books it felt like a breath of fresh air. As when I picked up and devourted  This Savage Song, it had all the promise and familiarity of a well-written YA fantasy novel, but without all the use or plot-need of fated romances or even love.

In This Savage Song,  we are set into the world of Verity, a divided city where the violence of the streets has started to creat and manifest itself into real and grisly monsters. Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to this city, and both have their own agendas and ideas on how to survive in this dangerous world. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the inhabitants of his side pay for his protection. August just wants to be human, as good-hearted as his father – but his curse is to be what the humans fear. The thin truce that keeps the Harker and Flynn fathis-savage-songmilies at peace is crumbling, and an assassination attempt forces Kate and August into a tenuous alliance. But how long will they survive when the streets are safe, and the monsters no longer want to lurk in this shadows?

What I liked about this book is the easy flow of writing and the fact the plot never seems to dip or just go slow. The action is fast-paced, continuous and keeps you hooked from page one until you close the book. I haven’t read any of Schwab’s other books, but I’ve heard they’re equally as entralling. The two main characters were also fleshed out well. I felt that although August was my personal favourite, due to his selflessness and overall wish just to be human, Kate was also interesting. Schwab went indepth with her character, and by slowly exploring her weaknesses to the readers and the characters, she felt so real, and living through a mask.

The world-building was good in some parts. I really enjoyed the use of violence actually creating monsters, and how different levels of violence impacted on which sort of monster would manifest. I also enjoyed the political views of Callum and Henry, as they deal with the creatures in different ways. The end was also good to tease the reader for the next book. However, sometimes I needed clarification over which secondary character was which, and I would have loved to find out more about the history of the city and how the monsters came to be. I felt that a map of the city would’ve been useful, as I couldn’t really orientate myself as I was reading.

But one thing I did love was how it was just a good, well-written fantasy novel. When reading it I was so glad over the lack of romance, as another author could’ve easily put it in and just made it about two star-crossed lovers. Kate and August are just allies and friends who were trying to make the city better. Romance was never needed, and I didn’t miss it.

All in all, this was just a good urban fantasy novel. The writing didn’t annoy me, the characters felt three dimensional, and the premise was good and it didn’t failt to deliver a good story. It did help me revisit my fondness of the YA genre, and did give me some faith that not every book has to feature romance. So I’d heartedly recommend this novel to any fantasy fan.

This Savage Song is out June 7th – Buy it here!

 

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S Denning – Book Review


Title: 
Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone

Author: G.S Denning

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Alternative History, Fantasy, Mystery, Detective Fiction, Retelling, Supernatural


When it comes to Sherlock Holmes, there have been dozens of reimaginings and retellings of the famous figure.  Whether it be young Holmes, modern day Holmes, American Holmes or Robert Downey Jr Holmes, we’ve seen Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters been changed and rejigged for different audiences.

So when I was sent Warlock Holmes for review, I wasn’t surprised that another author had given our favourite consulting detective a new story and a new life. But what I was surprised about was how much I enjoyed this crossover.untitled203_1

In the original stories, Sherlock Holmes was a genius whose deductive skills were unparrelled and his mind was virtually unchallenged by regular people. Warlock Holmes, on the other hand, is an idiot. A good man, yes. A font of archane and witchy powers, who communicates with demons, devils and otherwordly creatures, yes. Yet his deducing skills rival that of a knat. So when he meets and subsequently befriends the brilliant Doctor Watson, they make an unlikely but excellent duo. And with the help of the nilistic vampire Inspector Vladislav Lestrade and actual ogre Inspector Torg Grogsson, Holmes and Watson go through a delightfully ‘weird’ version of London and solve mysteries.

This book reimagines six of Sherlock Holmes most popular cases (excluding Baskerville) and puts the occult spin on each one. And through each one, the writing is easy, fluid and comedic. Denning sticks to the original stories quite well, which gives the stories a good standing to fall back on. And with the addition of fantastical creatures, it just adds more to the text, rather than take anything away.

Throughout the text, Denning has swapped the dynamic between Holmes and Watson, yet it doesn’t lessen the relationship between the two men. I actually love the more idiotic and dim Holmes, as he does excel in the occult-ish sense, but lets Watson take the lead. The author also has put a fair bit of slapstick and quite silly comedy throughout, but as this wasn’t meant to be a serious retelling of the Sherlock Holmes saga, I felt like it didn’t make it feel too childish.

As a whole, the book is easy to read and very enjoyable for Sherlock Holmes fans. With Moriarty cropping up as a malevolent spirit who possess Warlock on occassion, and then coming to quite a dramatic ending, I actually found myself eager for the next book. Denning has left it with a marvellous cliffhanger, and to be honest, has written such a good retelling, it almost makes it feel believable.

All in all, a funny and lighthearted retelling of Conan Doyle’s stories, and a must-read for fans.

Warlock Holmes is out on the 27th May 2016 – Pre-order it here!

 

The Jungle Book (2016) – Film Review.

Title: The Jungle Book

Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito.

Director: Jon Favreau

Genre: Action, Fantasy, Drama, Disney, Adventure

Rating: 4.5/5


In the past few years, we have been lucky enough to see some of the  ol’ Disney favourites being remade and rejigged for a newer audience. Alice in Wonderland has, and is still having, the Tim Burton treatment, whilst Cinderella and our favourite baddie Maleficient have been given live-action counterparts and new movies to entrathe-jungle-book-heronce audience back into the cinema seats. And when it was announced that they were going to be doing the same with The Jungle Book, I was so excited. As somebody with younger siblings, I’ve watched The Jungle Book a lot, and still find the story and songs as charming and whimsical as the day I first watched it. And as time passed, and a star-studded cast was announced to be playing my favourite animal roles, my excitement grew. And boy, did this film not disappoint.

Adapated from the 1894 collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book tells the story of the orphaned Mowgli, who was raised from a very young age by a wolf pack in the jungle. Despite considering himself a wolf, and feeling right at home with his adoptive family, Mowgli’s life is turned upside when a threat from the fearsome and rengade tiger, Shere Khan, forces him to flee the jungle and join the human village. Assisted by his friends, Bagheera the panther and Baloo, the bear,  Mowgli is sent on a journey of finding out who he is, and who is is capable of becoming.

What I love about this remake is despite going into the film already familiar with the plot, it never lost its magical feel. The original 1967 movie was the last time Walt Disney gave a movie his personal touch,, and there is something masterful about that film that spans generations. But this new version only updates this feeling. Gone is the old-fashioned animatioTHE JUNGLE BOOKn, and it has been replaced with state-of-the art technology and CGI. The animals looked hyper real, and the songs (despite being radically cut down to only including ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’) feel natural and not just like another Disney musical. The story had relatively the same storyline, but with a new plot development including Shere Khan and the leader of the wolf pack, Akela, the film creates new and ingenous twists on the familiar story.Also, by using some of Kipling’s later stories, such as with the addition of the the Water Truce, along with The Law of the Jungle poem, it really gave the first part of the film a literary and emotional tie to Kipling.

The cast were utterly fantastic and fiting for the characters they spoke for, but what really stole the show for me was Idris Elba’s Shere Khan. The old villianous tiger has been reimagined to far more bloodthirsty and dangerous, and Elba’s smooth and sometimes arrogant tones really add something to the tiger. Both Scarlett Johansson, in her memorising portrayal of the nefarious Kaa, and Bill Murray for his rendition of the mellow ursine Baloo won high praise from me. Lupita Nyong’o’s gentleness and maternal warmth brings a dignity to Raksha, the mother wolf. And without the cool wisdom of seasoned thespian Ben Kingsley, Mowgli’s guide through the jungle, Bagheera the panther, would have fallen short.441210-shere-khan-the-jungle-book

But be warned, this film is not for children, or the faint hearted. Despite only being rated a PG, the film has got some dark points, and with the detail of the CGI, the animals feel more realistic. Tigers have become tigers, and not just cartoon characters. So, this isn’t going to be a film you take a six-year-old to see.

But all in all, a fantastic rendition of Disney’s classic masterpiece, and if this is anything to go by, I’m very excited to see what the next live-action adaptation is going to be like.

The Jungle Book is out now!

Top 5 – Book-to-Film Adaptations.

Now, I’m sure I’m not alone in the fact of when I hear about film adaptation of a book I’ve read; I get extremely excited for it. It helps if I’ve obviously enjoyed the book, and I love theorising over who will be cast as who, and how they’ll direct particular scenes and what wording from the book will make it into the movie. And whether it’s a good adaptation or a bad one, it’s always worthy comparing them and seeing whether the film stands up to the book, or vice versa.

So, with my blogpost series of Top 5’s  becoming an actual thing, I thought I’d do a blogpost about my personal top 5 favourite book-to-film adaptations. And from this you’ll hopefully be able to discover some new films, or even new books.

1: Gone with the Wind.
Film: 1939 – Book: 1939
Director: David O. Selznick – Author: Margaret Mitchell.gone-with-the-wind
Mitchell’s text is an historical, sweeping novel set in and around the Deep South during the American Civil War, and focuses on life of Scarlett O’Hara, ex-Southern Belle and survivor of the war. And with the film having an impressive running time of nearly four hours, it certainly matches up to the gargantuan novel. The film sticks fairly faithfully to the plot, and with Hollywood royalty of Clarke Gable, Vivian Leigh, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, the film is rich, sumptuous and a true classic.

2: Memoirs of a Geisha.
Film: 2005 – Book: 1997
Director: Rob Marshall – Author: Arthur Golden
Set against the beautiful Japanese backdrop of 1920s Kyoto, Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha memoirs-of-a-geishaenthralled me as a young teenage, as young Chiyo is sold to a geisha house and through her trials and tribulations, ends up being of the most celebrated geisha of her time. And Marshall’s movie brings this story to life, with a very well-cast crew of actors (Gong Li is a superb Hatsumomo), and a very true-to-novel plot, the film isn’t loud of brash, but approaches Chiyo’s tale in a superb manner.

 

 

3: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Film: 2009 – Book: 2005
Director: Niels Arden Oplev – Author: Steig Larsson.
the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattooA unsettling and thrilling film which grabs all the tension of Larsson’s first novel, and runs away with it. By paying close attention to the novel, and casting the fierce Noomi Rapace as the mysterious Lisbeth Salander, the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is ride from start to finish. Although scenes are taken from later books in Larsson’s series, the film is taut, terrifying and delightful all in one go.
(I haven’t seen the English version starring Daniel Craig, so I can only recommend this version)

4: Rebecca
Film: 1940 – Book: 1939
Director: Alfred Hitchcock – Author: Daphne Du Maurier
Once again, another classic film that has thrilled audiences for decades. Fans of Du Maurier’s original novel have praised this novel for how faithfully it stuck to the story, and with the power crebecca-alfred-hitchcock-21250737-400-303ouple of Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine playing the tragic Mr and Mrs de Winter, this black-and-white gothic tale has thrilled and titillated since release. With Hitchcock’s supreme directing style, and use of suspense, it is no wonder that the author herself said that this film, along with Don’t Look Now, are the only adaptations of her work that she had time for. Also, watch out for Judith Anderson’s excellent acting as the deranged housekeeper Mrs Danvers.

5: To Kill a Mockingbird
Film: 1962 – Book: 1960
Director: Robert Mulligan – Author: Harper Lee
I don’t think any film list can be complete without putting this film forwardto_kill_a_mockingbird_still. Lee’s Gothic tale of racism, inequality and moral issues has been read in countless schools, and her protagonist’s father, Atticus Finch, has served as a sort of moral hero for readers. And in Mulligan’s 1962, Gregory Peck plays Finch in a sensitive and just manner, and with an excellent script and casting of Scout and Jem, the film really blows other adaptations out of water due to its direction and faithfulness to the text.

So, these are my top 5 choices. This year there are so many good books being adapted into films (I’m very excited to see Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), but I’d like to know what you’re excited for. Leave your answers in my comments.
Until next time!

My Parisian Adventure – Day 3 (Place de la Bastille, Notre Dame, Jardin des Tuileries and the Eiffel Tower)

Now, the third day of my holiday was definitely a very touristy one. Like I’ve said before, there were parts of Paris that I was very eager to explore and see with my own eyes.

So, I plotted out a route that would allow me to pass the majority of these sites.
So, after a good night sleep, we set out fairly early to go and see Place de la Bastille and start our day. As a history student, I studied the French Revolution and was very interested in the events that set off the Storming of the Bastille. So I naturally wanted to go there.
Now, in our experience during the week, the metro in Paris runs a lot like the London Underground. I cannot speak for the people living in Paris every day, but it seemed fairly reliable for us. 10615441_891399697536876_4881684208277563119_nWe walked the majority of the time, but used the metro to get to and from our apartment (which wasn’t particularly central, but close to Gare du Nord) as well as at the start and end of our holiday. We bought a Paris Visite pass, which gave unlimited transport for 3 days in the city itself.

To get to the Bastille, we used Line 5 from Jaurès, and ended up just circling the Place de la Bastille. Now, as the actual Bastille prison was destroyed in the Revolution, the area where it stood is just a plaza of traffic, shops and café. In the very centre of the plaza, The July Column commemorates the Revolution, and it was very interesting to see the Bastille stood all those years ago.
From there we travelled to Notre Dame. I’m not alone in thinking that a trip to Paris would be incomplete without a visit to this beautiful cathedral on the banks of the Seine. Now tied up with the story of Quasimodo and the Hunchback, Notre Dame is not only a world famous example of French Gothic architecture, but a site of high significance for the Catholic church.
The cathedral itself is free, but there are queues outside which can be around half hour long during peak times. During our visit, it never felt overly busy or crowded and you can take photos in the church. But beware! As with all touristy parts, the risk of pickpockets and muggers is higher here, so keep a very close eye on your personal belongings. 10626495_891398157537030_9217817442239124454_n
We spent around an hour in the cathedral, after which we walked around the outside and ate our lunch overlooking the Seine.
For our lunches, we chose to buy some simple pasta and sauces from the local shops, and load up on fruit and veg. It cut down the costs for us, and allowed us to cook in our little apartment. It also made buying food out quite a novelty.
After our lunch, we started the trek across Paris. All in all, we ended up taking a water break in the Jardins des Tuileries, before finally crossing the Pont Alexandre III and ending up at the Eiffel Tower. By sticking to the Seine, you get to see a lot of famous Parisian sights, such as the Grand Palais, Les Invalides and the Louvre, and get to see Paris unfold as you walk. The riverbank also has lots of little touristy gift stalls, cafes and seats, so you can restock on souvenirs and water as you continue on your journey.

During this holiday, we didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower, as we have both been up there before. But be aware, the queues for the tower can be ridiculously long and time-consuming. The tower attracts over 30,000 visitors a day, and advance tickets can be completely booked up to two months in advance. So, if you want to go to the Eiffel Tower during the day, the suggestion is go early morning or late evening. Also, the line for the elevators will always be busy, so take the stairs if you can. And like with Notre Dame, there are pickpockets and opportunistic thieves around, especially if you have cameras and bags. So just be careful.
We rounded off the day by crossing the Pont d’léna bridge and sat in the Jardins du T10703539_891395670870612_6869505743947458428_nrocadéro, feeling very French and indulging our weary bodies with a very sugary crepe. The Jardins are offer an unrivalled view of the Eiffel Tower, and with little stalls that sell ice-cream and crepes, you get to refuel after a busy day. Venturing up from the Jardins, we had a stroll around the Palais de Chaillot (a very modern looking building that now hosts a variety of museums) before catching metro back. From Trocadéro station back to Jaurès it meant changing from Line 9 to Line 5, and took around 40 minutes.
After this long, and very hot day out, we went down to Le Conservatoire and had very un-French meal of burgers and chips. However, this was the sort of fuel that was needed.
Like all major cities, you underestimate the sheer scale of Paris. I know it’s a lot smaller than some bigger metropolis’ such as London and New York, but to a tourist with very little knowledge about where they are going, getting lost and going back on yourselves makes the journey seem a lot longer. Paris also gets very hot in the summer, so I would definitely recommend stocking up on water and suncream. But on that particular day, taking the route we did, we did see a lot of the sights. The river is such a lovely walk, and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is going and wants to see a lot.

In this next installment, I’ll be describing our visit to Versailles. And what a day that was.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

The Swans of Fifth Avenue – Book Review

Title: The Swans of Fifth Avenue

Author: Melanie Benjamin

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Celebrity, Memoir, Historical Fiction, Women’s Literature, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Fiction


“Babe Paley simply never made an empty gesture, and here she was, assembling a parade of them. But her feet, her hands, her mind, her heart, were all restless. Truman.”

Throughout all my years of being an English student, one author has cropped up time and time again during my studies. His words have always struck a deep emotional chord with me and I would eagerly devour his stories whenever I could. To me, Truman Capote was, and still is, such an enigma in his writing, as he not only invented the idea of the ‘nonfiction novel’, but brought to life the cult favourite of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And it 9780345528698wasn’t just his literary talent that he was praised for, but his flamboyant and very decorated personal life as a social butterfly and celebrity favourite.
So when I was sent The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin to review, I was thrilled.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue focuses on 1950s/60s New York City and author Truman Capote’s life and his relationship with the higher tiers of society. At the peak of the society, women of immense power, money, familial ties and intrigue stand apart from the rest. These are Truman’s ‘swans’, and they represent a world of riches and beauty that Truman desperately wishes to be part of. And at the head of this group, socialite and style icon, Babe Paley is the undisputed queen. Glamourous, elegant and always dressed exquisitely, Babe Paley oozed glamour and sophistication. But beneath the perfect wife and woman façade, Babe Paley is a highly sensitive and passionate individual who craves love and affection that she is not receiving through her perfectly suited, yet loveless marriage. And when Truman Capote sweeps into her life with a larger-than-life personality, he sets Babe’s dull world into glorious Technicolour. And through winning the affection of Babe, Truman is granted unrivaled access into the snake-pit that is New York high society. But is Truman trustworthy? And what do you do when secrets get revealed, and the picture-perfect charade comes crashing down about you?

Now, this story is indeed very glamourous and scandalous. With a fairly fast pace and well-timed flashbacks and forwards, it keeps the reader interested, and allows you to become immersed into a world that seems entirely foreign from the everyday. From wearing Chanel suits to light lunches at the Plaza and into shopping sprees in Tiffany’s, this world seems so entirely rich and vibrant that is feels almost dreamlike. Now, despite the novel having a darker and more real undertone – with the Truman Capote scandal, the hidden lives of the glamourous women (drink, drugs, sex scandals, domestic abuse etc) – this novel isn’t particularly hard-hitting in those senses. To me, these were issues that really could have been explored and in better detail. In my opinion, this novel just wanted to have a halcyon glaze of glamour and beauty.

The ‘Swans’ were really an interesting group of women. They were all beautiful, charming, malicious, and as two-faced as they could come, and they thrived on attention and the scandal that surrounded their lives. With loveless marriages, money issues, drug and drink addiction and cosmetic surgery pressures, these women were constantly scrutinised by their closest friends as well as society, and I found them all to be highly interesting and unique characters. I particularly found Slim Keith and Gloria Vanderbilt to be interesting figures as they stood apart from the rest of the swans, and gave the taste of individuality and strength.

The relationship between Babe and Truman was always one of interest. To me, Benjamin has really written it as a relationship that seems so co-dependent and unhealthy, it borders on obsession. Both with unresolved mother issues, these two lonely hearts were drawn to each other for different reasons. And whilstbabe-paley-wearing-a-creation-of-traina-norell-photographed-by-horst-p-horst-from-american-vogue-in-1946 Truman ultimately sacrifices his relationship for the sake of a quick buck – his infamous short story ‘La Côte Basque 1965’ fictionalises and reveals all of Babe’s secrets, resulting in his Swans cutting him out of New York society – there is a sense that Truman really did care for Babe. And with the latter chapters showing both Babe and Truman’s downward spiral, due to illness and drink and drug dependencies, it is then when the book really does come into its own. After watching interviews and reading books on Capote, I thought that Benjamin really captured his spirit well.

Throughout the novel, I thought Benjamin captured the intimacy and secrecy of this world well. Sometimes it felt very intrusive whilst reading it, as though you, the reader was being allowed into the gilded cage and offered up the secrets.
All in all, I found this novel enjoyable. Yes, it some parts it was too sweet, and skimmed over the darker parts of the novel. But it was a light, and comfortable read. Perfectly suited for travel or a holiday. But don’t expect to be reading hard-hitting literature here. Full of scandal, intrigue and beautiful clothes, this novel transports you away to the cool interiors of Bergdorf’s, St Regis and Tiffany’s.

To buy this book – Amazon/Waterstones

Author’s website – Click Here

My Parisian Adventure – Day 2 (Montmartre, Sacre-Cœur, The Moulin Rouge and the Avenue de l’Opéra)

Second day in Paris, and I was raring to go. After an exhausting day travelling, my mother and I slept well that night. So the next morning we were up and awake for our first proper venture in Paris itself.
My mother had always told me that since I had planned the holiday, it was ‘my holiday’ and we could virtually do whatever I wanted.
So, my itinerary consisted of:
-Montmartre
-Notre-Dame
-Bastille
-Versailles
-Pere-Lachaise Cementary
-The Moulin Rouge
-The Eiffel Tower
-The Catacombs.
-Sacre-Cœur

So, the next morning, we decided that today we would tackle Montmartre, which in turn would tick off three of my places to visit. Montmartre is a hill in the north of Paris. And like many cities, Paris is a bit like a lot of tiny villages all tied together with a metro line running through them.
Montmartre is one of those little villages. And at the very summit of this hill, sits the beautiful Sacre-Cœur – a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica. Constructed from travertine stone, the building is flawlessly white, and sticks out like a sore thumb against the landscape of Paris.
T10710717_896720940338085_7403967391679834447_nhe neighbourhood of Montmartre is also historically significant as being somewhat of a cultural hotspot for artists, singers and dancers – as well as housing the Moulin Rouge.
So, naturally, as a aspiring writer, I was inspired to go to this place of such cultural richness.
So the next morning, we set out. Now, getting from our flat to Montmartre was of course a metro journey. We went from Jaurés to Abbesses – which required a cross from Line 2 to Line 12 at Pigalle, but the journey wasn’t too long. And as I mentioned before, Montmartre is hilly. It takes good calf muscles to trek up those cobbled streets, but as we learnt later there is actually a small railway which carts you up from the bottom of the hill to Sacre-Cœur in under two minutes. So if you’re with elderly people/children and buggies – it may be worth considering.

But mother and I soldiered on. We moved through tiny streets of cobbled beauty, passing delicious smelling bakeries with stunning cakes and delicacies in the windows, and everywhere you looked, there were tiny balconies and filigree window panes, which made you feel that you had been transported away from the 21st century, and back to the period of having Van Gogh and Dai on your doorstep.

And of course, like any major landmarks in any cities, it was covered in tourist booths and shops, but they fit in with the quirky aesthetic that the district seemed to offer. But I was on a mission.

Onwards we soldiered to the very top of the hill, and stood in the shadow of Sacre-Cœur.
By then, we were exhausted and bought a very reasonably priced full tuna baguette from a nearby bakery (the name slips my memory, but rest assured, b10710582_896720747004771_6692114884752344325_nakeries in Paris are all delicious. Heck, even the filled baguettes we got from the local supermarket were outstanding), and we sat in a doorway directly opposite the basilica and had our lunch. Now, to me, that experience becomes one of the memories that you always look back on fondly.

Sacre-Cœur is a beautiful piece of architecture, and anybody who knows me knows that one of my biggest fascination’s in life, is with good architecture, so of course we went inside. It’s beautiful, peaceful and not as big as Notre-Dame, but the mosaic that is depicted within the ceiling of Jesus with a flaming heart is certainly breathtaking.
We lit candles for our relatives, and just took in this spectacle. It was cool, dark and a true sanctuary against the midday sun. And when we exited, we crossed ourselves in Catholic tradition and stood to admire the view of Paris spread beneath us. The view of the city is almost too much. Too much to look out, and too many different things to take in. But I urge anyone to go and stand there and admire the city below. It is so worth it.

After, a short journey down Montmartre led us to w10302243_891401324203380_6280579347706735622_nhere the Moulin Rouge stood, with its giant scarlet windmill alluding back to a different time. We took pictures, and made our way on the metro to the Avenue de l’Opéra, a very beautiful part of the Paris, which to me is the sort of Chelsea/Sloane Square of the entire city. Full of elegant shops, expensive boutiques and once again, beautiful infrastructure, the area just seems to give off the scent of wealth and elegance at its highest. We quickly visited the Fragonard Museum of Perfume on the Rue Scribe, which offers an interesting and rich history over how perfume has changed over the years, and then we sat down at Cafe de l’Olympia, and had our first crepe and hot chocolate of the trip.

There is so much to do in the city, that a simple excursion tired us out. However, the next day, I took mother on a proper walking holiday across the city, and we saw a lot of beautiful sites and got quite sunburnt.