Monday, 30 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Reptile Room, Chapter 1

And we’re onto the first chapter of the second book in the Series of Unfortunate Events, this one is The Reptile Room. I thought I remembered a lot about this series, but the more I read, the more it seems I’ve forgotten.

I’ll be posting the reviews for the first five chapters this week, another five next week and all being well we’ll be moving onto the next book in just over a fortnight. I much prefer posting this way to posting once a week because it means getting through the story so much quicker. I’m also planning to watch the film when I finish the next book as well as then going on to do Chapter-by-Chapter reviews for the Twilight books because I think that will be interesting.

What Happens?

Mr Poe drives the three Baudelaire children to their new guardian, Dr. Montgomery. He informs them that he is a scientist named Montgomery Montgomery and when they arrive at the house they can’t help but notice all the topiary snake hedges around the garden. And then they meet their new guardian.

Thoughts as I read:

As I mentioned before, I love the dedications at the beginning of these books. I recently saw a website which had a list of the top 20-something book dedications (one of which was the dedication at the beginning of my friend Jen’s new book, The Bookshop Book) and each dedication from the Series of Unfortunate Events books was included. Anyway, this one says:

For Beatrice -
My love for you shall live forever.
You, however, did not.

I love how they’re always totally different from what you would usually expect to find at the beginning of a book for children.

Before we actually get to the text we’ve got the first picture of the book. And it’s a lovely one. No kidding, some of these pictures I would love to have blown up and in colour to put up on the wall.

Just in case we weren’t sure if the snake a was a clue at the end of the last book, this picture helps to hammer it home. If Count Olaf had a penchant for eyes in his home decor, then the new Baudelaire guardian is going for a more reptilian theme. There are no less than six snakes in this picture which shows the outside of a large house with snake-shaped bushes. We can see five of these wiggly, twisted bushes and then there’s an extra snake in place of a weathercock. I actually took a strong painkiller about five minutes before sitting down to read and so it took me three attempts to count all the snakes. All six of them. I kept getting to three and getting confused about which ones I’d counted already.

I’ll move on now and try to keep this chapter review coherent! It’s only ten pages long so that shouldn’t be too hard, right?

The book opens the way that the series clearly means to go on:

The stretch of road that leads out of the city, past Hazy Harbor and into the town of Tedia, is perhaps the most unpleasant in the world. It is called Lousy Lane. Lousy Lane runs through fields that are a sickly gray color, in which a handful of scraggly trees produce apples so sour that one only has to look at them to feel ill. Lousy Lane traverses the Grim River, a body of water that is nine-tenths mud and that contains extremely unnerving fish, and it encircles a horseradish factory, so the entire area smells bitter and strong.

There is just so much that I could say about this opening paragraph. There’s three things alone I could waffle about in the first sentence! I won’t. But I will say that I love Tedia as a place name. It sounds like it could actually be a real place, but it also conjures up that sense of boring sameness of ‘tedium’. I love it.

Anway, we rejoin the Baudelaires as they travel alone this very road and it evidently reflects their current mood. Most of page two is given over to recapping the events of the first book. As we’ve just read that (and the painkillers have made my hands feel funny so typing is more of a challenge than usual) I’ll move straight on to page three where the Baudelaires are still having nightmares about Count Olaf. They’re clearly traumatised, not only from losing their parents in such tragic circumstances, but also from their recent time living with the alcoholic, abusive Olaf.

… I must tell you that if you have opened this book in the hope of finding out that the children lived happily ever after, you might as well shut it and read something else.”

Nope, thanks for the offer, but I’m in this for the long haul. Basically everything is going badly for the children and things aren’t going to get better in the future.

Mr Poe is the one who is driving them to their new guardian. Thus far he’s been pretty unhelpful but he’s now selected a new distant relative for them to live with (both distant in terms of where they live as well as genetically). Apparently Poe’s car isn’t very big so he’s not got enough room for their suitcases. This means that they don’t have any of their luggage with them at the moment because he’ll have to come back later with that. I don’t think that’s going to help them particularly because it means they’re going to have to get by with very little and won’t have anything familiar to them in their new home.

I don’t remember if we were told exactly how old the children were in the first book, but we’re told Violet is fourteen. We’re also reminded that she often ties up her hair in order to think about inventions.

Again we’re getting into the repetition that is so familiar in these books. Mr Poe, to his credit, is actually making an effort to talk to the children. Perhaps he’s feeling guilty about what happened with Count Olaf. Klaus takes his turn at responding. We’re told he’s twelve and his mind is currently on books: “Sometimes he read well into the night, and in the morning could be found fast asleep, with a book in his hand and his glasses still on.

Then it’s Sunny’s turn to reply to Mr Poe. Her response is in typical Sunny-speak: “Bax!” I think this might be an attempt at ‘books’ because Mr Poe was talking about Dr. Montgomery telling them stories. We’re reminded that Sunny has four sharp teeth and told that what she was actually saying meant “I’m nervous about meeting a new relative.” That’s fairly understandable seeing as the last one suspended her from the top of a tall tower in a birdcage.

Klaus wisely wants to know how he is related to Dr. Montgomery, presumably to check he’s not Olaf’s brother or something. Dr. M is their “late father’s cousin’s wife’s brother” so I’m guessing related by marriage, not blood, and a rather tenuous relation at that. He’s a scientist, hence the doctor. His name is also Montgomery Montgomery. I always feel sorry for people who have really similar first and last names, it’s like their parents were lacking in imagination or something. Mr Poe warns the children against ridiculing the guy about his dodgy name, which is obviously something that the Baudelaires are civilised enough not to do. But not me apparently.

I love the things that Violet thinks about inventing. This time it’s something to help block out the smell of horseradish. They’re  the sorts of things that children come up with but adults don’t; when I was younger I invented a sort of shoe for gritting pavements, so when people walked around they would be helping to make the ground less icy for the people after them. Violet is keen to know what sort of scientist Montgomery Montgomery is in the hope that he has a laboratory that she can work in.

The house they pull up to is very big and the garden is in good shape. This is already a turn up for the books compared to the last house Mr Poe delivered them to. The greenery in the garden is shaped like snakes, but despite them looking kind of scary we only hope that Mr Poe has actually visited the house before now and subjected Dr. Montgomery to some sort of vetting procedure.

Mr Poe is more concerned about how the children look and behave, wanting Violet to put her hair back up in the ribbon and asking them to make sure Sunny doesn’t bite. When they ring the doorbell there’s an ominous pause after it rings loudly, they have to wait as footsteps approach, the door slowly opens, there’s a carpet, a stained-glass light fitting on the ceiling, a painting of snakes and then Dr. Montgomery steps forward.

And he’s totally different from the way I’ve pictured him. I have Billy Connolly in my mind before of the film, but apparently he’s short, chubby and has a red face. They’re told they can call him Uncle Monty. And he’s just finished making coconut cream cake. Yum! Why am I on a diet?!

Knitting Mojo

I love to knit, I find it really relaxing to just sit and knit while you’re watching TV or reading on the Kindle or something. But recently I kind of lost my knitting mojo.

I couldn’t decide what I wanted to knit. I have about a hundred knitting pattern books and so have somewhere in the region of several thousand options for things that I could potentially knit. And not one of them had anything I actually wanted to knit. Not even Ravelry, with all those millions of patterns, held anything of interest for me.

It wasn’t like I missed it much either. I’d just acquired my Wreck This Journal and Finish This Book as well as my new rat babies, so I had plenty to be occupying myself with. Not to mention the fact that I had the freedom to read whatever I wanted for the first time in quite a while (well, without worrying about falling behind on my coursework). And I’d gotten a brand new phone.

These are all kind of excuses for not feeling like knitting. I think a large part of it is because knitting is such a great tool for procrastination. When I should be studying, knitting is a great alternative because it’s not just like sitting playing on your phone or reading a book; there’s an actual end result, so it doesn’t look or feel like you’re procrastinating.

Except you are. And you know it.

Now I don’t have any coursework to get done by a particular deadline, I’ve got loads of free time to knit and my mojo up and left.

I did a bit of knitting, but my heart wasn’t in it. In the end I decided that it was silly to keep falling over knitting stuff in the bedroom if I wasn’t going to do anything with it. So I sat in bed one night just over a week ago and looked through all my Jean Greenhowe pattern books. Eventually I decided that I wanted to make something from the Knitted Animals booklet through that extremely technical method better known as ‘Eeny Meeny Miny Mo’. Then I passed it to Mr Click to get him to select a pattern.

Duck family from Jean
He chose the knitted duck family. And this is one of my completed ducklings:

The family consists of two ducklings, each wearing a little bobble hat, a baby who is still in its shell, the mum and the dad. Thus far I’m part way through my second duckling and I’m going to have to make some alterations to the parents because I’ve not got very much white yarn left.

I've already finished, but not photographed the girl duckling and at the time of writing this post I'd finished knitting, but not sewing up her hat. These ducklings make for a nice instant gratification project because they're so quick to knit up and look dead cute.

But I’m enjoying being able to knit again and I’m determined not to lose my mojo again. I’ve got lots and lots of yarn to use up!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Weekly Rundown: The Charity Shopping Edition

Remember how last week I mentioned that our car air conditioning was playing up, resulting in me having a rather painful encounter with a bumblebee. Well, no one on the island was able to whatever it was that was needed to get it working again, so we took a trip to the mainland.

Luckily the garage that can recharge car air conditioning thingies is literally the first left turn when you get off the ferry so we left it there and took advantage of the few hours we were waiting for it to take the bus down to Largs. I was on a mission to find a pair of shoes which will go with a dress I’m borrowing from a friend for an event I’ll be going to soon (and have absolutely nothing suitable to wear to it).

But some of the shops there have yielded particularly good knitting pattern finds in the past, not to mention pretty decent clothing (my much-loved Wonder Woman and Animal tops came from charity shops there). Plus they have a wool shop. An actual wool shop which has a little rotating display of Jean Greenhowe pattern books.

Last time I was there was actually about a year ago and Mr Click treated me to the first Jean Greenhowe Christmas pattern book. So after much deliberation I decided to go for the second Christmas pattern book (partly because at some point I’m going to make the Nativity scene from the first one and will want the donkey from the second one to complete the set). Plus the second one has 40 patterns in and was the same price as some of the ones with far fewer patterns so I went with what I thought was best value for money. ;-)

I’ve recently managed to ruin two of my newest pairs of jeans. They have matching stains on the right thigh. An older pair that I wear for dog walking and training classes already has a stain on one leg, and another pair that Tara caught with a claw and put a hole in so I’ve been desperately in need of some new jeans as I only had one pair left that were still wearable in public. Normally it wouldn’t be such a huge problem, except we’re having another month of dress down at work so I’m kind of wearing jeans every day.

So I picked up two new pairs of jeans. One of which fitted fine in the shop but I evidently lost weight on the way home because when I was walking Tara round the garden the first time I wore them the crotch kept on creeping down towards my knees. I don’t have any belts at the moment, but I’ll have to look one out before I can actually wear them again.

The two top finds of the day have to be Knit Your Own Moustache book which I got for a bargain £1.50, and a pair of shoes that go with the aforementioned dress I’ve borrowed. They’re half a size too big for me, but they’re strappy enough that it doesn’t matter. The decoration on them matches the dress perfectly and they only cost me £3 so absolute bargain!

I ended up having another day off on Friday, unlike the Tuesday day off which was kind of short notice, this one’s been booked for ages. After spending weeks making bit plans for the day involving going for walks and all kinds of other fun things. As things happened I ended up having a pyjama day, which was perfect. I did get some things done, like setting up our new shredder and bringing the boys downstairs in the small cage to share my lunch with me (Wicket tucked into some potato and then buried everything else under paper shreddings).

Saturday was rather less relaxed but it improved as the day went on. I wound up spending most of the day knitting, but more on that tomorrow.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Part 3

Here we are at the conclusion of my three-part review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone movie. Next week I'll be moving on to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets... I'm saying that I'll try and keep it short... but I can't guarantee it. We'll see how it goes.

Last week involved Harry getting settled into Hogwarts and starting to make friends. With said friends he became aware of the mystery of the thing that was being hidden in Hogwarts and they began investigating it. This continues in this final part.

63. I love Hermione’s ‘light reading’. At the age of 15 I got The Complete Works of William Shakespeare for my birthday and all of my friends pulled faces like Ron in this scene. They couldn’t believe I’d actually asked for it!

64. Okay, who didn’t see this film and immediately get the strongest urge to adopt a baby dragon? Even though they don’t actually exist. There’s something very cute about him, despite his ability to flambĂ© your face. Also, how sweet is Hagrid with him? He kind of reminds me of Mr Click with our baby rats and Tara!

65. Hehe, Malfoy is smug when he thinks McGonagall has made a mistake in giving him detention with the others. I can’t help but laugh when it gets corrected. He’s just so used to getting everything his way. He’s like what Dudley would’ve been if the Dursley’s lived in the wizarding world! Perhaps that’s a message in these stories, your parents will shape you into the person you become. Scary!

66. Anyway, now the kids are venturing into the forest with Hagrid. I love Ron in this bit. It’s like the very thought of going into the forest is painful to him.

67. I’ve not noticed it since the very beginning of the film when Dumbledore turned out (or pinched) all the lights in Privet Drive, but stuff is happening in the dark here and if I hadn’t seen the film dozens of times before it would make it very hard to follow. At the moment all the stuff taking place in the Forbidden Forest is sort of happening against a backdrop of my living room. I can make out odd people and some tree roots but everything else is mainly sofa, rat cage and labrador!

68. The kids are totally fixated on the idea that it’s Snape who’s after the Stone. He’s not really given them any reason to suspect anyone else and Quirrell’s cover is really good. At least they’re right about someone being after the Stone for Voldemort.

69. And Hermione thinks the exam wasn’t too bad. I used to get told off by my friends for discussing easy bits of exams right after them. I may actually be Hermione!

70. Hagrid is playing the Harry Potter theme music on a little flute. That always makes me smile.

71. Of course Harry will always be safe at Hogwarts as long as Dumbledore is there, so the news that he’s gone away is a little worrying. I also hope that McGonagall is sending a strongly worded owl to Dumbledore to let him know that people know about the Stone. If three eleven-year-olds can figure it out, surely other people can too. Considering how much of the plot has been passed on from Hagrid, I wouldn’t let him in on too many secret plots in future!

72. I love Neville’s pyjamas. They have teddy bears on them. It’s so sweet. I think he should be wearing fluffy bunny slippers as well, just to complete the look.

73. Regarding Ron’s comment about Fluffy having horrible breath, Tara has really good teeth but sometimes her breath is still a bit gross. I’m trying not to imagine that multiplied by three and dialled up to eleven. Especially as I only just finished eating a little while ago.

74. I don’t really have much to say about the journey through the trapdoor, except that I really like Ron and Hermione’s interactions during the Devil’s Snare bit. I also love the fact that Ron gets to be the hero by playing chess. J.K. Rowling, standing up for geeks everywhere! I think the chess game also gives another example of the sort of person Ron is; willing to sacrifice himself for his friends. Oh and that fact that Hermione reacts to this the way she does kind of says something else too. ;-)

75. I’m always really disappointed that we don’t get to see the potion challenge where Hermione uses logic to work out which bottle is the correct one to drink from. I really like that bit in the book. They could’ve done that instead of having Hermione tell Ron he’s got a dirty nose!

76. And shock of shocks! It’s not Snape but Quirrell! And he’s suddenly not stuttering anymore. Knowing the curse on the DADA post, Quirrell must have just started at the school at the same time as Harry, so I guess nobody noticed his change in character (of the fact there was someone’s face growing out of his head!) I’ve never actually considered that much before because Quirrell doesn’t really get much more mention in the rest of the series.

77. The two face thing is really quite creepy, and it must feel really weird for Quirrell. For some reason on this viewing, that idea kind of grosses me out more than it has before. Especially when Harry touches Quirrell and he sort of crumbles away. Honestly, what a way to go! And Harry’s hands are now covered in Quirrell dust. Ew.

78. I love Dumbledore’s visit to Harry in the hospital wing. I realise that an awful lot of these posts is just me listing things that I love. It’s a favourite from the book as well. The quote about what happened in the dungeon being between Harry and Professor Quirrell, so of course the whole school knows, is one of my favourites from the book so I love that it made it into the film. And aw, love saved Harry (which means that’s what killed Quirrell). Also, Dumbledore doesn’t seem too choked up about a colleague dying in the school, is that not a bit weird?

79. I can understand Dumbledore recognising the taste of vomit when he got that flavour in a Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean, but how on earth did he recognise the taste of earwax?!

80. At the end of year feast I think the way Dumbledore says ‘Well done Slytherin, well done Slytherin’ is really weird. Kind of like a record skipping and it bothers me every time I watch it.

81. Dumbledore really should’ve been less obvious with the Gryffindor favouritism here. It’s a bit mean to put up all the Slytherin decorations and then take them away. Also Neville deserves more than 10 points. It takes an awful lot of courage to stand up to people. It’s something else that always bugs me (both here and in the book).

82. I’ve got that family album book that Hagrid gives Harry. It came with the blu-ray/DVD box set we got with all the films in it. It makes me sad that it doesn’t have moving pictures like the real thing.

83. It also makes me smile when I see the end of the film. Not because it’s the end, of course. It’s because of the train and train station. I’ve been there (when I was on holiday in North Yorkshire). I’ve also been in a Harry Potter train and I’ve even got the autograph of the guy who drove the actual Hogwarts Express.

84. And so that’s the end of this, the first Harry Potter film. And I’ve failed at keeping this short. Sorry. It became a tradition to see the Harry Potter films each year as they came out (just as it was to get the books each time a new one came out) and it makes me a little bit sad that I don’t get to experience that new film feeling any more. Soon we’ll even be done with seeing The Hobbit films for the first time. I need more film serials to become obsessed with!

Hopefully I've not bored too many people with my rewatch of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I'm going to go on and watch Chamber of Secrets next. I'm looking forward to splurging all my thoughts as I watch onto my blog but I'm going to try and reign myself in, perhaps we'll get lucky and I'll manage to keep it to just two posts!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Reptile Room

The Reptile Room is the second in the Series of Unfortunate Events series of books. My copy, as with The Bad Beginning is a hardback and the spine colour is green. Again it’s got the thorny vine pattern pattern but this time there’s also a wiggly snake design there as well.

The book itself is about the same thickness as the first book. Like, the Harry Potter books they don’t start becoming doorstoppers until about halfway through the series (and even then never to quite the same degree as the Harry Potter books). Hopefully this means that the chapters will remain around ten to twelve pages so I can read through them relatively quickly.

The picture on the front shows Sunny wrapped in the coils of a large snake. She’s biting his tail and it seems to be ready to bite her back. Meanwhile in the background there’s a red headed man waving his hands. I vaguely remember that bit in the book. I want to say the man in the background is the latest (and as we know from the end of the last book, tragic) Montgomery Montgomery.

What I remember of this book is largely influenced by what I remember of the film adaptation of the first three books in the series. As the three books were squished into one film I’m fairly certain that I’m not remembering very much of this book.

I know that Montgomery Montgomery is a much better guardian than Olaf ever was. He was going to take the children somewhere, but Olaf shows up in disguise. This time around he’s going by the name Stefano (which I spent ages trying to work out if it was an anagram of Olaf somehow the first time I read the story).

I also know that they meet lots of interesting reptiles in this book, including the snake on the cover, obviously.

I remember what happens to the children at the end of this book. But I’m not going to mention that here because I don’t want to make this too spoilery and also as I said above, I think I’ve been influenced a little too much by the movie adaptation (it is wonderful because Billy Connolly is in it).

This is the only post today, just to kick off what I’ll be reading next. I’ll be posting my first chapter review on Monday afternoon and then the next chapters will follow Tuesday afternoon, Thursday afternoon and then a double helping on Friday. Feel free to grab a copy and join in.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 13

And so we’ve reached the end of the first in the Series of Unfortunate Events. Tomorrow I’ll double post again to both introduce what I remember about the next book in the series, The Reptile Room and then on Monday I’ll share my first post on my thoughts of the first Chapter. I’m hoping to continue my afternoon posting schedule through this book so we’ll finish it before the end of July. If I’d stuck to my weekly schedule we’d only just be halfway through The Bad Beginning by now!

What Happens?

Count Olaf reveals that he and Violet are now legally married. Justice Strauss is very upset to learn that she has been tricked. Violet then explains that as she signed the marriage document with her left hand the marriage is actually null and void. Justice Strauss concurs with Violet, so Count Olaf’s plan has failed. Justice Strauss then offers to take on the care of the children. In the following series of unfortunate events Count Olaf and his crew escape and Mr Poe declares that the children must live with a relation, so they are taken away, uncertain of what the future will hold for them.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter opens with a sketch in a circular frame showing a pair of hands holding a bouquet. Although it is not clear whether these hands are left- or right-handed, there is a ring on the ring finger of the left hand so I’m going to assume that they belong to Violet.

We pick up immediately where we left off. Count Olaf totally breaks the fourth wall, turning to the audience to tell them that he is now officially and legally married to Violet. Everyone is suitably shocked by this information. Count Olaf outlines the criteria to be legally married: she said ‘I do’ in front of Justice Strauss, there were witnesses, he was her legal guardian at the time and he gave consent for her to be married.

Olaf has thought this through quite well actually. When Justice Strauss tells him that the document Violet signed is just a prop he reveals that it’s the genuine article. Justice Strauss realises what has happened. The situation is hopeless, as Violet’s husband Olaf now has complete control of Violet’s money.

There’s a brilliant bit here where Mr Poe jumps up to object:

“This is dreadful nonsense.”
"I’m afraid this dreadful nonsense is the law,” Justice Strauss said.

That sentence could be applied to all manner of things relating to the law.

Justice Strauss is upset at having been used, telling the Baudelaires that she never would’ve done anything to hurt the children. Fat lot of use that is now, they did try to warn her not to follow the script exactly.

Then we get a little bit more of the Ew Factor:

“Now, if all of you will excuse me, my bride and I need to go home for our wedding night.”

Just no! That’s totally wrong! Olaf has basically just implied that he needs to consummate his marriage to Violet.

At least Olaf does stick to his word and releases Sunny, thankfully not straight down from the top of the tower. He needs her in one piece to help Klaus complete his chores. It’s going to take a bit longer to get everything done now he’s one child down. Well, that and the fact that despite being happy to announce to everyone that he’s married his underage ward, Olaf isn’t in any hurry to let anyone see him ‘take care of’ the two younger Baudelaires.

Mr Poe, thankfully, takes this new turn of events seriously. He’s not impressed by Olaf’s behaviour, particularly his declaration that the following day he intends to head to the bank and collect the entire Baudelaire fortune.

All hope looks lost until Violet pipes up suggesting that perhaps the marriage isn’t entirely legal. Remember all those little reminders about how Violet was right-handed, and then that little disarming line at the end of Chapter 11 when Violet signed with her left-hand. It’s not a typo at all. She did it on purpose!

It’s clever the way that it all hinges on the wording. Violet had to sign using her ‘own hand’ (I suppose ‘right hand’ would’ve been too obvious). Everyone present saw her signing and so is happy to accept that the terms have been fulfilled, however Violet interprets this as meaning her dominant hand. Olaf claims Violet is lying, but apparently Klaus is reading along with us (or maybe he was narrating the last chapter) because he spotted Violet’s left hand trembling as she signed.

Despite having plenty of witnesses, Olaf isn’t keen to believe what Violet says. First he says she can’t prove what she is claiming, then shooting her down by suggesting that it doesn’t matter which hand she used; the fact is, she signed it and that’s all he needed. It comes down to Justice Strauss to make the final decision. Of course she comes to the conclusion that the marriage is not legal. I can’t help but wonder if this is a valid interpretation of the law wherever this is set, or if she’s just saying that to save Violet.

The narrator takes this opportunity to point out how weird laws can be. Apparently there’s a law in a European country that states all bread must be sold at the same price (way to make competition that little bit harder), an island with a law that says its fruit must not be removed, and another town (which is apparently not far away from where I live) which bans Snicket from going within five miles of its borders. I love these little bits in these books. I’m sure that sometimes they give bits of information that link to future books.

Olaf decides to give up all pretence of being a nice guy putting on an entertaining play. He attempts to threaten Sunny using the walkie-talkie and we hear Sunny saying ‘Neepo!’ (no definition given, but I’m guessing it’s something like ‘I’m here!’) as she heads onto the stage. Luckily she’s been set free. I love that when Violet asks for something for her little sister to eat Sunny says ‘Cake!’ which I think is the second time she’s come out with a relevant word for the situation. Also, if I’d spent the last day dangling in a birdcage from the top of a tall tower I’d want cake too!

Count Olaf decides thinks that despite his behaviour he’s still going to be allowed to remain the guardian of the Baudelaires but thankfully Mr Poe is on the ball this time. Olaf argues that there’s nothing illegal about trying to marry someone (though his behaviour in coercing the girl into marrying him does call this statement into question). Thankfully Justice Strauss steps in to point out that hanging small children out of windows is somewhat illegal (Klaus could also use this as an opportunity to revisit the bruise that Mr Poe ignored last time he brought it up). Justice Strauss also wants to take on responsibility for the children. Aww.

Various people call out from the audience, including some comment about wanting money back because the play wasn’t very good. Hehe. We don’t get to hear any more about this though because Mr Poe decides to engage in a citizen’s arrest.

Everything seems to be looking up at last. Justice Strauss is serious about adopting the children. Klaus asks if they can use the library every day, Violet asks to work in the garden, Sunny calls out ‘Cake!’ which makes everyone laugh. It seems like everything is going to be sunshine and roses from here on out.

But we know that’s not going to be the case.

At this point we get an interjection from the narrator to crush all our hopes, after all, we’ve got another twelve books to go so to give the children a happy ending at this point probably wouldn’t help sales much. The narrator suggests that if you want to believe that the children do in fact live happily ever after, you should stop reading now. But I’m dedicated to this little blog challenge I’ve set myself, so I’m going to keep on going, no matter how depressing things are going to get.

While we’re all distracted, someone has sneaked to the light controls for the theatre and turned them all off. As people are wont to do when all the lights go out, they start screaming and tripping over things. Violet keeps her head and goes to switch the lights back on, but not before being threatened by a sinister voice which presumably belongs to Count Olaf. In the confusion Mr Poe has grabbed his wife, thinking she’s Olaf, inadvertently letting the bad guy get away.

Oh, and along with Olaf, all his henchmen (and women) have gone too. I’m guessing this was a bit of a backup plan for them, so they knew they could escape if everything went pear-shaped. Then again, Olaf’s pretty arrogant and probably didn’t expect his plan to fail so perhaps this just lucky chance, or rather an unfortunate event for the children, which allowed him to get away. Whatever happened, they’ve all gone, and even with the police after them, the kids don’t have much hope for them being caught.

And then things get just a little bit worse.

Justice Strauss isn’t allowed to take the children in because she isn’t a relative. Honestly, Mr Poe is hopeless. Someone is right there, willing to love, care for and support three children who have had a pretty crappy time of things recently, and doesn’t even care about getting her hands on their fortune, but she’s no good because she’s not related to them. Never mind the fact that a) No other relatives have come forward for the children since their parents died, and b) Mr Poe’s first choice for a guardian wasn’t exactly stellar based on his interpretation of the rules for guardianship left by the Baudelaire parents. As a result of this the children are forced to say goodbye to the one person who has actually shown any sign of caring about them in over 160 pages.

I’m slightly irrationally angry about this.

They didn’t understand is, but like so many unfortunate events in life, just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

And so the book ends as the children are whisked away from Justice Strauss, a scene which is pictured in a little sketch on the following page, as they head for some new and unknown future relative. Oh, and the picture includes a little clue to the next book; wrapped around a lamppost is a snake, watching the children leave. Like so much of this series, it’s delightfully random.

The book doesn’t quite end there though. We have the little cryptic biography piece about Lemony Snicket as well as one about illustrator Brett Helquist. Then there’s a page I’d completely forgotten about, until I picked up the book and flicked through the final pages ready to return it to the bookshelf.

The final page is a letter to the editor from Snicket, writing from the ‘London branch of the Herpetological Society’. It provides a little bit more information about what we can expect in the next book, without actually giving anything away, aside from the fact that something tragic will happen to Dr. Montgomery Montgomery while he cares for the Baudelaires.

I remember studying these final bits of the books each time a new one was due to come out (or while I waited for the next unread one to arrive). Obviously, now we know that the next one is going to be The Reptile Room but I can still remember the excitement and anticipation of wondering what was to come next.

Luckily we don’t need to wait long!

Day Zero Project: Use Bookmooch to rehome unloved books

This is a task that I have completely failed at.

I discovered Bookmooch a few years ago and fell in love with the idea of it. Basically you list books that you have that you no longer want, earning 0.1 point for each one you list. Once you’ve listed ten books you can then use the point you have earned to request a book from someone else in your country.

Books from overseas are a little more expensive but by listing and sending books you can earn more points, which can then be used to get yourself more books that you actually want to read. I’m probably making this sound more complicated than it actually is, but it’s really a brilliant idea.

I used to to get rid of quite a few books that I was done with and also acquired a fair few books that I both wanted to read or needed to read for courses.

It’s just a little time consuming to get everything listed as well as packaged up and ready to post. Not to mention our postal service has been giving us a bit of a headache over the last few years (on and off). That coupled with my lack of permanent internet access meant that my challenge to use Bookmooch to rehome my books ended up not really working out for me.

I did keep a box of books which I fully intended to list at some point, but then there was a tabletop sale organised at work and they were a bit low on donations, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I sorted through those boxes and handed over a large number of the books I had intended to list on Bookmooch. It got rid of another box taking up space in the spare bedroom, and put something towards a good cause.

That’s not to say that I might not return to Bookmooch in the future. I fully intend to. But at the moment I’ve not really got any books I’m wanting to get rid of, so I’ll hang onto what I’ve got for a little while longer.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 12

Ooh, we’re nearly at the end of the first book. I’m quite proud of myself for sticking with this and now that the first book is nearly out of the way I’m looking forward to making my way through the others. I’m also looking to the future and thinking about the series of books that I think I’m going to tackle later on, once I complete the Series of Unfortunate Events books.

What Happens?

The children wait backstage until Olaf has them hustled into their costumes. Justice Strauss is revealed to have the genuine wedding ceremony to read during the play, in order to make it ‘realistic’. Violet and Klaus try to convince her to change things around a little but she declines. When they are almost ready to go onstage Mr Poe shows up to wish the children good luck but Olaf shows up before they can tell him what’s going on.

Thoughts as I read:

Chapter Twelve’s picture shows a leg peaking out from behind a curtain. Before you get excited, it’s not a particularly nice leg. It evidently belongs to Count Olaf because at the end of the leg is a bare ankle with an eye tattooed on it (fifty-two). While the leg is the thing you are supposed to be looking at, I think that the shading on the curtain is fantastic.

Violet and Klaus are waiting backstage, still in their night things, watching the preparations for the show to begin. On the one hand they’re feeling slightly doomed, on the other hand they’re quite interested in what is going on around them. If Count Olaf was a different sort of person, i.e. a nice one, they might have had a positive experience with him, perhaps getting involved in his theatre work.

There’s a lot of activity going on around them, people are carrying things, moving things, Olaf is practicing his lines. Despite being interested, the children wish they were somewhere else. It’s at this point that we discover that the play has not only started but we’re already at the end of Act 2. Count Olaf announces his displeasure at the fact that the children are not yet in their costumes.

The two white-faced women force them out of their night clothes and into their costumes. We’ll just move right on past the fact that the children have been unwillingly stripped and go straight onto the fact that their costumes aren’t very nice. Violet’s obviously in an imitation wedding dress, while Klaus is made to wear an itchy sailor suit.

Justice Strauss shows up at this point and she’s enjoying the experience. Klaus notices that she has a small book which is revealed to contain the actual wedding ceremony, the pretext for this being to make the play realistic but obviously the reader and the children know that the real reason for this is because Violet and Olaf are actually supposed to be legally married by the end of it so that Olaf can claim her fortune.

Violet seizes the opportunity to get them out of the situation and suggests that Justice Strauss muddle up the ceremony slightly, Klaus agrees with this, after all, it’s not a real wedding so it doesn’t really matter. Unfortunately Justice Strauss is determined to follow Olaf’s instructions to the letter and at that moment is called away to get her make-up put on, which greatly excites her.

Violet’s dress then gets a flowered headdress, completing her transformation into a not-so blushing bride. She and Klaus try to come up with another way to get out of the play but before they can come up with anything Act Three is announced and the children are rushed out of the dressing room.

Before they step out onto the stage, Olaf’s bald henchman reminds them that if they try anything Olaf will make use of the walkie-talkie to drop Sunny off of the tower. The children are resigned to the fact that there is nothing at all that they can do to escape now.

It’s at this moment that Mr Poe shows up, rather unexpectedly, just as the bald man is telling them ‘You’d better do exactly as planned’. Mr Poe states that he’s sure the Baudelaires will and that he’s brought his wife, Polly, to watch the show. I can’t help but think that Polly Poe is a bit of an unfortunate name (this book series is full of unfortunate events), her maiden name must have been pretty bad for Poe to seem like an acceptable alternative.

Klaus is understandably surprised to see him there. Poe meanwhile is more pleased that the children seem to have adjusted to life with their ‘new father’. Klaus tries to use this opportunity to reveal that everything is about to go terribly wrong but Olaf chooses this moment to appear behind them, brandishing his walkie-talkie. For once Mr Poe isn’t completely useless, but that’s only because he isn’t given the chance to be, Klaus wisely decides to thank Mr Poe for all his help and then watch him leave, after telling them to ‘Break a leg.’

There’s a brilliant bit where Klaus whispers to Violet that he wishes they could actually break a leg and Olaf tells them that this is a distinct possibility. He’s so evil and there’s never anyone around to hear it!

Both children are taken to their positions on the stage, separated from each other so that Klaus can only watch as Violet stands next to Olaf and the play resumes. We are told that the play is really boring and not particularly good, chosen solely for its usefulness in the fact that it features a wedding and so allows him to marry Violet relatively easily.

This whole section is told from Klaus’s point of view as he looks around the stage, at the audience and at Justice Strauss who appears to be quite nervous about her first appearance on stage. At last they actually get to the marriage vows portion of the play. First Olaf says ‘I do’ and then it’s Violet’s turn. There’s a tragic sort of moment when Klaus witnesses Violet shudder as Olaf speaks. How awful to know that in a matter of minutes your fate and that of your family will be sealed and there is no way out. I’m sure I could say something here about the horror of child brides being married unwillingly to older men around the world as well.

Violet has no choice but to say ‘I do’ as well. Klaus watches as Violet is handed the document to sign to make it official. This is it, the moment that their doom is sealed. Klaus is threatened by the bald man, as though there’s anything he might do at the moment, especially with the risk of his action harming Sunny.

Instead Klaus is just made to watch as Violet takes the pen and prepares to sign, her left hand trembles as she holds the pen and writes her name…

Do you see where this is going?

Book 4 of 2014: Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

As I’d fallen a little behind on my reading for my course, I had to read three of my set texts one after another to get caught up for my course work. After Swallows and Amazons I moved straight onto Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.

This is a story about a boy, Tom, who is sent away to stay with his aunt and uncle as his brother has measles during the summer holidays. Forced into quarantine and bored half to death, Tom takes to exploring the large building where he is staying after dark, eventually finding that after midnight the door to the back garden opens into the past. He takes to spending every night there, making friends with Hattie, a young girl who lived in the house before it was divided into flats.

Neither is entirely sure who is the ghost as past, present and future blur together, finally forcing Tom to make a decision about where he really belongs.

As I said last week, it felt like Swallows and Amazons took forever to read, even though it was only about a week. Compared to that this one, which took just over three days, felt like a really quick read. I think I kind of needed that because I had a lot of course work to get through and so a quick read meant that I could get caught up a lot quicker.

Another reason for getting through this book a little bit quicker was because it was just over half the length of Swallows and Amazons, it also helped that it was a book that I’d read before as well. I vividly remember reading it as a child, possibly more than once. I was fascinated with the Victorians as a child so a book which had a child going back to that sort of era obviously appealed to me. That said, despite reading it before, it was a long time since I’d read it so a lot of what I was reading felt new to me, just that I kind of knew what was coming at points.

Actually, that was kind of frustrating, or rather, distracting. I knew that at some point Hattie was going to fall from a tree, I knew she and Tom were going to go ice-skating, I half-remembered vague conversations but although I had these spoilers in the back of my mind, I didn’t know just when they were going to crop up.
I found this really interesting to study, particularly the bit looking at how it was adapted for stage (even though I didn’t use any of that in my assignments). One of the things that worried me when it came to studying Children’s Literature was that writing essays would be hard because I wouldn’t have as much to say about a book by a children’s writer as I had to say about someone like Shakespeare or Webster the previous year. This was obviously an unfounded worry; I found oodles to talk about when I used this book in one of my essays. I got a pretty good mark for that one too.

Obviously this is a children’s book and I think because of the length of the chapters and the way that they’re laid out it’d make a really good story to share with a class or a bedtime story. As an adult reading it, it was a nice read and a good way to escape from pressures of work and other grown-up things. I’m definitely going to have to look out some more of Philippa Pearce’s novels because as far as I’m aware I’ve not read anything else by her.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 11

This week we’re wrapping up The Bad Beginning. I’ve really enjoyed speeding up my reading of this book because it’s stopped me from getting pulled out of the story and saved me time while I’m reading because I don’t have to keep going back to remind myself of what has happened before.

What Happens?

Violet is captured by the hook-handed man who holds her in the room at the top of the tower. She is then locked in with Sunny while the hook-handed man goes to get Klaus. Violet explains to Klaus what happened and they try to figure out how to escape but before they can come up with a plan Count Olaf shows up, separating Klaus and Violet from Sunny in order to get on with the performance. But as they head down the stairs Violet gets the merest hint of an idea.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter’s picture is of a whole bunch of framed pictures of eyes. There’s twenty in total which basically doubles the number we’ve seen so far, taking up us to thirty. I particularly like the Dali-esque one with eyes melting.

Having found herself face-to-face with the hook-handed man. Violet attempts to escape but isn’t quick enough. The guy pulls her into the room and drops the makeshift grappling hook, trapping her in the room with him. The hook-handed man is once again really creepy, talking about how he wanted to see her ‘pretty face’ and ordering her to sit down. I can’t help but constantly be reminded that Violet is a young female and the men around her are all too aware of that too.

The book then goes on to detail how people’s rooms can tell you a lot about them:

“I am certain over the course of your own life, you have noticed that people’s rooms reflect their personalities. In my room, for instance, I have gathered a collection of objects that are important to me, including a dusty accordion on which I can play a few sad songs, a large bundle of notes on the activities of the Baudelaire orphans, and a blurry photograph, taken a very long time ago, of a woman whose name is Beatrice. These are items that are very precious and dear to me.”

I love all these little clues about who the author is and where he has come from. I remember really enjoying them on the first read and trying to piece them all together to figure out where the story is going.

Anyway, the point of this is to help illustrate what sort of a person Count Olaf is. His room is filled with evil plans written in his bad handwriting, the book he took from Klaus, chairs and candles, empty wine bottles (he appears to have a bit of a habit), and lots and lots of pictures of eyes which we saw at the beginning of the chapter but we’ll assume that was just half of them so we’ll add another twenty onto the count. We’re up to fifty now. Plus there’s a really big one on the door handle out of the room. So that’ll make fifty-one.

I like how the book acknowledges how impractical it is for the hook-handed man to have two hooks for hands. He struggles a bit with the walkie-talkie which he uses to communicate with Count Olaf, owing to his hook-hands. Again this kind of complicates the time period this is set in; they have horse-drawn carts and walkie-talkies but I can’t spend too much time focusing on that because I’m fretting about how hookie handles going to the bathroom!

The hook-handed man informs Count Olaf that Violet has just climbed up to the top of the tower. There’s a bit of a discussion about how she managed it but the most disturbing bit is when the hook-handed guy says “Yes, boss, of course I understand she’s yours’.” That makes it sound like even Olaf doesn’t trust his henchmen and knows what’s likely to happen to Violet if he leaves her with him without a warning. *Shudders* Am I really reading this much into a children’s book?!

Violet is then locked in the room with Sunny while the hook-handed man goes to get Klaus to keep the Baudelaire’s together. I can’t help but think that if Olaf wanted to really get to the kids he’d keep them separated. I can’t think of a better way to demoralise them. That’s kind of scary if I’m starting to think of ways to be more evil than Olaf! But when you put them all together they can use their respective skills to tackle their problems; they’re weaker when they’re apart. However, Count Olaf thinks this will keep them out of ‘mischief’.

Violet goes to comfort Sunny but doesn’t dare untie her in case she gets into more trouble. What follows is a brief recap of everything that has happened so far in the book. Just in case you’ve forgotten over the last 127 pages (or have spent a lot of time only reading one chapter a week). This just serves to highlight the Series of Unfortunate Events that the children have encountered.

Klaus is pushed into the room, reuniting the three Baudelaire orphans. Violet then has to fill Klaus in about how they have come to be held hostage at the top of the tower in the middle of the night. Klaus laments the fact that Violet’s invention didn’t work and she is then forced to explain that it did work but that the hook-handed man was waiting for her.

Together Violet and Klaus search the room in the hopes of finding something to help them get out of the tower. Occasionally they try to comfort Sunny. I would think that they could untie her at least, even if they can’t let her out of the cage. I’m sure they would hear someone coming up the stairs to give them enough warning to get her tied up again as though nothing had happened.

Once or twice they make a suggestion which for various reasons won’t work but they’re desperate and clutching at straws for any idea that might give them a way out of their predicament. Violet suggests that they might make Molotov cocktails with all Olaf’s papers, if only they had some kerosene – probably best that they don’t as being trapped in a burning building wouldn’t exactly make things any better for them at this point. Klaus suggests that if they were polygamists then if Olaf married Violet then he would be breaking the law, presumably because in this scenario either she or he would already be married to someone else. Violet suggests they use the bottles as weapons, although she realises that the henchmen would probably be stronger than they were, and I doubt whether they would have any qualms about using them against the children. Klaus points out that Violet could say ‘I don’t’ instead of ‘I do’ but that would probably result in Olaf dropping Sunny off the tower…

And at that moment we realise why my plan to untie Sunny and tie her back up again probably wouldn’t have worked. While the children have been absorbed trying to think of ways to get out of their predicament, Olaf has come up the stairs and entered the room. He agreed with Klaus that to say ‘I don’t’ would mean certain death for poor Sunny.

Olaf leaves the hook-handed man with Sunny in the tower, warning them that if they try anything funny they’ll communicate via the walkie-talkies to exact revenge. Violet and Klaus are then led away to take their places in the performance. But we then get a slight spark of hope as we’re reminded of a particular plot point that’s kept on cropping up since the very first chapter: Violet uses her right hand to grip the bannister as she descends the staircase and the cogs start turning.

This chapter is basically a continuation towards the final climax of the story as we’ve only got another two chapters to go after this. Think it shows a bit of character development on the part of Violet as she tries to help her siblings on her own and then when that first idea doesn’t work out, after a brief period of disenchantment, she beings to formulate a new plan. It also helps to illustrate just how cold-hearted Count Olaf and his henchmen are. Plus it kind of creeped me out.

Rat Tails: Cheap & Easy Rat Toys

The boys have come along in leaps and bounds since we brought them home. We generally get them out in the bathroom where we are able to let them free-range around the floor. For those not in the know, ‘free-ranging’ is the term where you let your rats run around in a room or area outside of their cage.

Rats are smart cookies and they like to explore so this is probably one of the easiest ways to entertain them. Theoretically, it can also be the cheapest. You section off a safe area for your ratties to play in, toss them in, join them, and have fun. It can also be potentially expensive. One of our old rats had a thing for mice. Not the cute little furry things, the ones with a computer that allow you to work your computer! I got through about three, one of which was an awesome bright pink one (coolest thing in the world when you’re twelve).

Our bathroom is the ideal space for the boys to play in. Wicket’s able to jump up onto the side of the bath, though Yoda doesn’t quite have the strength to jump up that high. That hasn’t stopped him from trying either. Both have made it up on top of the toilet brush holder on multiple occasions as well as climbing up the side of the bathroom heater.

The expensive bit has come in the form of a nibbled bathmat. This week Wicket has figured out how to flip up the edge to tunnel under it. He’ll now run around the bathroom for a bit to stretch his legs, then snuggle up under the bathmat. At one point this week I heard a nibbling sound coming from the little lump under the mat. Sure enough, Wicket had decided to airate it. He’s not made it right through to the top side yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

It’s okay, we needed a new one anyway.

Another old favourite toy for my rats (both past and present) is empty toilet roll tubes.

When they’re ickle tiny babies you can just toss them in the cage for them to run through, climb on and tear apart. Once they start to get a little bit on the squishy side you can stuff them full of treats and let them try to get into them. In the past I just used to fold in the ends, scoop up some rat nuggets, pasta, cereal or some other scrummy treat, then fold in the top to make a little parcel (you can see one on the left below).

I recently found a new thing to try with the empty loo rolls. You can find out how to make them here. They only take a couple of minutes (providing you don’t leave them unattended so your labrador can run off with them) and I like to think they give them a little more of a challenge. I tended to make them for the boys before I went to work while they were in the baby cage (it didn’t have much height for hanging things like hammocks) so it could keep them entertained while I was out.

Wicket puzzle ball action shot!
Of course, probably the cheapest toy for ratties is people.

Sitting on the bathroom floor I can be a climbing frame, a ‘hand-rat’ which chases and tickles them, a personal grooming expert, a stepping stone to higher places, a treat dispenser… The list is endless.

The other day I was sitting on the bathroom floor with the boys when I felt a tugging on the drawstring of my pyjama bottoms. It was Wicket. He’d decided that the ribbon looked like a nice toy and was just letting me know. That evening I forgot to take in some string or ribbon for them, so I improvised with a bit of toilet paper. Yoda chased it all of the bathroom like a little maniac.

So sometimes they’ll give you an idea for a toy all by themselves!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Weekly Rundown: The Bumbly-bee Edition

The air conditioning in our car has been playing up so when we were running Tara out to spend the night at our local kennels on Tuesday we ended up driving along with the window wide open. It was gloriously hot and I’d slipped my cardigan off so it was bunched up behind me. It wasn’t very comfortable so I reached round behind myself to toss it onto the back seat.

At that moment my middle finger on my left hand exploded in agony. And something back there wriggled.

Being the mature, dignified, sensible woman that I am, I responded to this in an appropriate way. I started screaming and crying and trying to unbuckle myself and get out of the car. Needless to say, Mr Click who was driving the car along a winding country road at the time was suitably alarmed.

Once the car had stopped and I had hopped out the bee flew away and Mr Click coaxed me back into it, we turned back the way we came and got my finger wrapped up in a bit of kitchen roll soaked in vinegar. I promptly started craving chips.

The second attempt at dropping Tara off was, thankfully, bee-free. However by this point my finger was pretty swollen and I was starting to feel a bit funny. My hands were all shaky and I just felt generally weird. Luckily an antihistamine helped and within an hour I was feeling much better. Another hour after that and I was back to normal apart from the sore stiff finger.

This was my first time getting stung by a bee and I have to say it’s not an experience that I’m in any way keen to repeat soon. Though I am a little bit disappointed that by the next day I didn’t even have a mark left on me. No war wounds to show off at work the next day!

When I’ve not been getting closer to nature this week I’ve been playing with my new Wreck This Journal as well as working my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It’s taken me a little bit longer to get through than I would’ve liked, though once I got to the last quarter I felt like I was able to speed up a bit. Part of that was the fact that I knew I could read late into the night at the weekend without worrying about having to get up early and be sociable the next day.

I managed to finish it yesterday morning after the daylight streaming through our (thick) curtains woke me up. There’s something lovely about lying in bed, reading in that early morning light. I’ve moved on to a book called Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz which is looking at how dogs see the world. My Mum-in-Law let me have it ages ago but I’ve only just got round to reading it. It’s dealing with big scientific concepts but packaged in a nice, easily understandable way so I’m enjoying it.

We’ve also been watching Red Dwarf alongside Criminal Minds. I’m glad that we’ve gone for another comedy following The Ronnies because Criminal Minds can be pretty heavy going at times and it’s nice to go to bed with something a little lighter ringing in your ears. Of course the series of Red Dwarf are just six episodes long so we’ve already made it onto the fourth series. We’ll be finished within the next couple of weeks and then we’ve got Blackadder lined up. It seems apt considering the sad death of Rik Mayall just recently.

I’ve got a trip off the island planned this week so I’m hoping the nice weather lasts for that, as well as a random day off to myself as well. You can bet that none of my plans for the coming week involve spending time with buzzing insects!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Part 2

Last week I started my kinda-live blog of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. As it was running over the 2000 word mark I decided to split it into three to save you from my waffling for another week.

In last week's edition we were introduced to Harry (and a whole hole of other characters), Harry was revealed to be a wizard, met a giant named Hagrid and went on a very unusual shopping trip in London.

27. They seem to be well outside London when Ron comes and asks Harry if he can share his compartment. I’m guessing that for all this time Ron has been fruitlessly walking up and down the train looking for someone who’d give him a seat.

28. Does anyone remember the Harry Potter sweets you used to get? We had a bunch of the selection boxes that were shaped like old fashioned desks. I used to love the liquorice wands. While I’m being nostalgic, Scabbers (in this film) looks just like one of our old rats, Dill. Obviously, as far as I’m aware Dill wasn’t a middle-aged balding guy disguised as a rat… though he did live to a good old age for a rat… Hmm…

29. This film sticks really close to the books in some ways, but then there are bits which I don’t think they really needed to include, like Hermione pointing out that Ron has dirt on his nose. In the book this was funny because his mum had been fussing over the same (and then Hermione did it because they were destined to be together and she cares about him *ahem*). In the film it’s a bit of an orphaned reference because it doesn’t tie into anything. All I can think is that they’d made up Rupert Grint to have a dirty nose for the scene and had to keep the reference in so people didn’t watch the film thinking ‘why does that kid have a dirty nose?’

30. Hogwarts looks beautiful. I want to go there. Why can’t it be real?

31. I’ll probably say this every time Professor McGonagall appears on screen, but I love her. She’s awesome. While we’re discussing people on screen at the moment; Malfoy is a little twit and the kid who plays Seamus Finnegan is really short.

32. The little hats the kids wear in this film are kind of funny. Do we see them again? I think they might crop up again in the next one but I don’t remember them in any of the others.

33. I wish they could’ve found a way to do the Sorting Hat’s thoughts spoken only to the wearer. I don’t like the fact that it shares its thoughts about putting Harry in Slytherin with the whole room. Isn’t there student-hat confidentiality?

34. I think that technology at the time helped to make these films work really well. I don’t think they would’ve looked half as good ten years before they were made. I love the little details like the moving paintings in the background, it just adds to the magic and the world.

35. Snape is such a drama queen! He bursts into the room and then kind of gives this poetic speech. Don’t worry Snape, we know this serious is really all about you. I can’t imagine another actor playing him half as well as Alan Rickman, he just is Snape. Also, in this scene is he seriously pulling up a student for making notes on what he’s saying? Surely a note-taking student is a good student?!

36. From the way the packages and parcels get tossed around by the owls when the mail is delivered, I can’t help but wonder how many students get taken to the hospital wing with concussion. Imagine taking a tin of biscuits to the back of the head!

37. I love the layout of The Daily Prophet. Now we have e-readers please can the press start designing publications like this, please.

38. Is it ever explained why Madame Hooch has yellow eyes?

39. I can’t help but notice how obvious the CGI is when Neville ends up dangling from the tower. I wonder if this was made now it would be a little more seamless.

40. Hermione gets some great lines in this film: “What. An. Idiot.”

41. Professor Quirrell is teaching a lesson whilst holding a large lizard, and I’m fairly certain I heard him mention vampires. I want to know whether the lizard deters the vampires, is a vampire, is a cure for vampirism, or what. It’s kind of bugged me since I first saw this film.

42. I love that one of the names on the Quiddith trophy is McGonagall. I don’t think that’s something that’s ever mentioned in the books, but it’s a lovely little detail and I bet it comes from J.K. Rowling because she has this whole world so well developed.

43. Lesser of two evils: Filch with his weird cat, or a three-headed dog that wants to eat you? Think I’d take the three-headed dog too!

44. I love that on the Hermione Granger Scale of WrongdoingTM getting expelled is actually a fate worse than death. That was actually me at school. I never even had a detention or anything.

45. Quick Quidditch lesson while I ogle Oliver Wood. It’s okay for me to ogle him because he’s actually older than me and has been since this film was made so it’s not really like I’m lusting after a teenage boy.

46. Did anyone else see this film and actually try the whole ‘swish and flick’ wingardium leviosa thing? No, just me then? *ahem* Moving on. Speaking of Charms, why did Flitwick get younger in the other films?

47. Ron, don’t tease Hermione, she’s your future wife and you comments can and will be held against you in future arguments, just saying.

48. Love the look of the Halloween feast. I would love to have a feast like that; I think it’s about 98% sugar! I hope there’s a dentist in Hogsmede.

49. Quirrell demonstrates his credentials as a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher as he runs, screaming about a stray troll, into the Great Hall before fainting. Everyone else screams too, but to be fair they’ve got an average age of about 14 so they’re allowed to. Dumbledore takes charge and we don’t hear him voicing his concerns about his staff evaluation process.

50. CGI Harry gets a little ride on the troll and I don’t think his CGI is as jarring as Neville’s was earlier on. I’m not sure if it’s because the troll is also CGI, or Harry is the title character so they thought people would be paying more attention to him, or because this is one of the big action scenes in the movie so they threw everything they had at it.

51. I do love McGonagall’s reaction to finding the trio beside an unconscious troll. It’s like she doesn’t know whether to congratulate or punish them, so she has to do both!

52. I’ve never realised before but in this film Harry gets his Nimbus 2000 on the day off his first Quidditch match. That doesn’t really give him much time to practice and get a feel for the broom, does it?

53. I like the Quidditch matches and I wish they didn’t cut them out of most of the later films. I could quite happily watch two hours of Quidditch; why can’t they invent actual broomsticks? Actually, I’d be rubbish at playing as I’m scared of heights. Also, advising Slytherin you want a clean game, yeah, good luck with that!

54. I love that for the briefest second, as Harry’s broom goes haywire, when Hermione looks at Snape we can see Quirrell behind him, covering his mouth with his hand. We’re onto you Quirrell.

55. Once again Hagrid is the font of all knowledge, regardless of whether or note it’s information he should be sharing. In this case it’s the origins of Fluffy the three-headed dog. Hagrid tells them Snape isn’t after the thing Fluffy is guarding, but then mentions that it involves someone named ‘Nicholas Flamel’. Poor Hagrid can’t open his mouth without putting his foot in it. Harry would never get to the bottom of this mystery without him!

56. I love wizard chess! There’s got to be an online version somewhere, right?

57. Harry’s excitement at getting Christmas presents is so sweet. Poor deprived kid. Speaking of presents. I love the knitwear in these films. It’s so hard for me to sit and type out what I’m thinking while I’m watching this film because every time I see a hat or scarf or jumper I want to get my knitting needles out and start clicking!

58. An eleven-year-old boy gets a cloak that makes him invisible, does he go to a) the girls’ changing room? b) a toy shop selling the latest gadgets and games? or c) the library?

59. I wonder how Snape explained his threatening of Quirrell to Voldemort, considering Voldemort was right there at the back of Quirrell’s head, so surely he’d know what Snape said and did. Also his Legilimency skills would mean he could just read minds! I’m sure this gets a mention in the book but I can’t remember where. So frustrating. I must get a move on with my reading!

60. The bits with Harry seeing his parents in the Mirror of Erised make me feel all sorts of things. Particularly when his mum puts her hand on his shoulder and he touches it and looks at where her hand should be. Poor kid.

61. It’s funny how much of what Ron sees in the mirror actually has the potential to come true, whereas Harry’s doesn’t. Unless you want to get into Harry being reunited with his parents in some form of afterlife if Voldemort kills him. I wonder what this says about Ron as being a more straightforward sort of person who’s never really had any serious heartache, and Harry, who has. I’ll stop here before I start getting too deep.

62. I like the use of Hedwig to transition this section of the film out of winter and into the new term. It’s nice and neat.

So as we move out of the winter bit of the film and into the spring term I'll come to a stop here too. Next week I'll cover the climax of the film, with the big reveal which isn't such a big reveal when you're watching it for the fiftieth (or close to it) time.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 10

As I mentioned earlier, this is the second posting today of my Chapter-by-Chapter reviews. I’ll be taking a break from posting them over the weekend and returning with an afternoon posting on Monday next week. By this time next week we’ll be all done with the first book in the Series of Unfortunate Events.

What Happens?
That night Violet spends all her time working on an invention to save Sunny. She develops a grappling hook so she can climb to the top of the tower where Sunny is held. Although this plan is successfully executed she gets a nasty surprise when she reaches the room where Sunny is imprisoned.

Thoughts as I read:

The picture at the beginning of this chapter is a bit of spoiler, though maybe you wouldn’t identify it as one on a first read. It’s a sketch of a wonky sort of grappling hook on a rope which is all knotted together. Considering in the last chapter Sunny was being held hostage at the top of a tower, I think it’s safe to say this is likely to be connected.

The two children are clearly depressed at the abduction of their sister, they hardly speak to each other all day, at a time when they need each other most of all.

Violet asked to take Sunny her curtain bedding but is not allowed. While Violet had wanted to do this to offer her sister some comfort it does show the sort of people we’re dealing with. Not only will they happily put a baby in a cage, they won’t even allow her any kind of bedding, this makes it worse somehow. Luckily for Sunny, he sister wasn’t really expecting to be allowed to go and see her sister, but the visit was intended to allow her to ‘case the joint’.

Violet doesn’t have a lot to work with when it comes to making an invention to rescue Sunny. She’s only able to use the items she has in the room that the Baudelaires’ have been sharing. Remember the rocks which the children had been given to play with? Well in the absence of a hammer and any other tools, Violet uses these to modify the curtain rail into the hooked implement that we saw at the beginning of the chapter. The rope for it is made of all the hideous clothes Mrs Poe had bought for the children, Violet knots it together using a knot called ‘The Devil’s Tongue’ – I’m not sure if the name of the knot is important but I’m making a note of it.

As she works Violet remembers something her parents told her, when Sunny was born, about how as the oldest child it is her responsibility to look after her younger siblings. As I’ve mentioned before, Violet has developed some complicated emotional issues, right now she’s blaming herself for Klaus’s bruise and Sunny’s current predicament. It’s not like it’s her fault that they’ve ended up in the care of an awful guardian, but she’s still blaming herself and determined to get them out of the situation. At one point either the narration or Violet recognises that she’s not to blame, but that doesn’t stop the guilt that she feels. I suspect she’ll be in need of a lot of therapy when all this is over.

The book finally identifies the item from the beginning of the chapter as a grappling hook (yay, and I didn’t even read ahead)! Her plan is outlined as follows: she will use the grappling hook to rescue her sister, the hook will latch onto something at the top of the tower and then the rope can be climbed to reach Sunny. It’ll be around a 30 foot climb on a rope made out of old shirts, relying on the strength of a hook fashioned from an old curtain rail, I’m impressed with Violet’s inventing skills but I’m not sure I’d trust it to climb up a tower.

Like Klaus, Violet doesn’t tell her sibling about the plan because she’s concerned about giving him false hope. I really think these two should talk to each other about things more. I realise when they do talk to each other they often end up talking each other out of taking a particular course of action, like telling Justice Strauss about what is going on with them. But surely this is something they should share. What if Klaus wakes up and Violet is gone too?!

Violet realises that the plan is not totally foolproof when she gets outside and starts putting it into practice. Obviously when she throws the hook up the tower it makes a loud noise and fails to hook anything, several times, and so Violet worries that someone will hear and find her there. Despite her fears of being caught she keeps going, throwing and clanging and throwing again until it eventually catches on something and sticks. Luckily for Violet the thing seems to hold and she is able to climb up the tower.

At this point I started wondering what was about to go wrong. Despite reading the series before (more than once) I can’t always remember what is going to come next. This was one of those moments. I knew that there were more events still to come in the books but I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen over the page before the chapter ended, but I knew it wasn’t going to be good.

I was right. Violet reaches the top, climbing thirty feet of rope made out of old shirts to reach the top of a tower making her something of a hero for this five foot two woman who is scared of heights. At last she is level with Sunny, but everything goes wrong. The thing that the hook at hooked onto was none other than the hook-handed man, onto one of his hooks in fact, and now he’s waiting for her at the top of the tower, reaching out his other hook towards her…

Everything is really heating up now for the finale of the book and I’m glad that I’m increasing the frequency of these posts (and as a result the frequency of my actual chapter reading sessions). As I said above, although I remember some parts, I don’t remember everything so it’ll be interesting to see if the next bit plays out in exactly the same way as I think I remember it.

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bag Beginning, Chapter 9

Don’t forget that today you’re getting a double whammy of Chapter-by-Chapter posts. Check back around 4pm for the post for Chapter Ten.

What Happens?
Olaf reveals that he had kidnapped Sunny and is holding her hostage in a cage at the top of the tall tower. Using Sunny as leverage, Olaf bullies Violet into agreeing to marry him during the performance of The Marvelous Marriage the following night. But just as Olaf leaves them Violet seems to get an idea.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter begins with a little picture of what is presumably the Baudelaires’ bedroom with a bed, window and book. There’s also what appears to be a scarf on the floor. There’s not even a sheet on the bed. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it must be to sleep on a bare mattress! I do like the bedframe though.

This chapter picks up exactly where the last one left off. If you remember the last one ended with Olaf looking in on the children, appearing to be generally evil. He’s well aware that Sunny is missing and draws attention to the fact loudly. He ignores Violet’s request for him to tell her what he did with Sunny, instead inviting the remaining Baudelaire children to accompany him outside.

The children head outside and we see a pile of chopped wood which Olaf had made them cut. Apparently he just had them chop it for fun rather than to heat the house or do anything else with. Aside from this the children don’t immediately notice that there’s anything amiss. Until Olaf has them look up, on the way up Violet’s gaze alights on Olaf’s ankle and that tattoo on his ankle (again). We’ve not had one for a while, but that’s us up to fourteen eyes now, so far…

Proving that he is entirely useless as a caregiver, Olaf has revealed that Sunny is up at the top of the tall tower, visible at the window, bound, gagged and imprisoned in a birdcage. In my summary above I described this as a kidnapping, but considering he was granted guardianship of the three children I’m not entirely sure it actually counts as kidnapping. Then again, it’s Olaf, so let’s just go with kidnapping.

Violet begs Olaf to let Sunny go. Olaf points out that were his henchmen to do that then down would come birdcage, baby and all. Klaus quickly stops him from giving the go ahead for this.

At this point there’s a whole page devoted to a picture of Sunny at the top of a frankly unsafe looking tower, with Sunny suspended by the window in a small cage. I’d pictured this taking place during the day but there’s a full moon in the background and bats flying around too.

Violet then says the magic words. She’ll do anything to save her baby sister. Olaf’s eyebrow jumps at this and he echoes her anything. It’s obvious what he’s thinking; she’ll agree to marry him. And that’s exactly what happens.

Poor Violet feels terrified and sick, and who can blame her, this is the man who has been trusted to look after them and act in their best interests, and this is what he’s doing to them. This is where Violet makes a realisation about Olaf ‘He wasn’t merely an unsavoury drunken brute, but an unsavoury, clever drunken brute.’

Olaf might be clever but he still feels the need for a bit of monologuing. He tells the children how he had someone sneak Sunny out of the room. I wonder when this happened exactly. Presumably when Klaus went down to the kitchen to wait for Olaf, otherwise Klaus would almost certainly have seen it happening. In that case, they didn’t have very long to act. Anyway, Sunny is Olaf’s carrot on a stick to tempt Violet and Klaus into doing what he wants. Oh, and Violet looks at Olaf’s tattoo which we know is an eye, so I’m going to count that as number fifteen!

This next bit makes me feel quite creeped out. Olaf asks Violet if she’ll marry him, as she still hasn’t given him an answer. At this point Olaf acts in a kindly way, like that means anything since he’s just been telling them all about how he’s using the threat of harm coming to harm as a way to get them to do whatever he wants. He actually strokes Violet’s hair and asks her if it wouldn’t be too bad being married to him. Then goes on to tell her ‘I wouldn’t dispose of you like your brother and sister.’ Yeah, not creepy at all and what better way to win her over?!

Violet’s mental image here isn’t any less creepy. She imagines sleeping with Olaf. Well, obviously it doesn’t mean sleeping with him, the exact wording is ‘sleeping beside’ him but that basically doesn’t change the fact that they would be sharing a bed and Violet is a minor and Olaf is her guardian and ew ew ew ew EW!

Despite the creepiness factor here being off the chart, Violet agrees to marry Count Olaf, on the condition that he lets Sunny go. Olaf isn’t going to drop his carrot on a stick right away though. He’s going to keep her hostage until after the performance, he’s hanging on to her until Violet has done exactly what he wants her to do. Oh, and he’s prepared for Violet and Klaus trying to rescue her, and he won’t be having any of that.

Klaus tells Olaf that he’s ‘terrible’. Olaf seems to take this as a compliment, pointing out that unlike them he’s managed to find a way to get his hands on their money. The fact that he calls his plan ‘foolproof’ suggests that there is actually going to be a way to get around it. He’s too confident and everyone in fiction knows that’s your downfall!

Olaf demands that Klaus hands over the legal book he borrowed from Justice Strauss and orders the Baudelaires (minus Sunny) to get on with their chores. However Violet does something that we’ve not seen her do for a while, after staring up at Sunny for a minute, she ties her hair up with a ribbon. And if we remember the information from back at the beginning of the book, this was one of the bits of information we were given about Violet. And it means she’s about to start inventing something.

This is just a ten page chapter and it’s another that sort of sets up what is coming in the climax. I like the way that it links back to things we’ve heard before but for a new reader I guess they’re not going to be entirely sure about how this is going to work out for the children.