Tag Archives: film

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

the bone season samantha shannon“Knowledge is dangerous. Once you know something, you can’t get rid of it. You have to carry it. Always.”
The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

Samantha Shannon’s debut novel The Bone Season has been much hyped and much criticized, as you might expect of any novel written by a 21-year old which sparks a bidding war that results in a six figure publishing deal and 20th century Fox optioning the rights. For every person touting Shannon as the next J.K. Rowling, there is someone keen to call her writing derivative and suggest that her style will improve “after all, she is only 21”.

So which is it? Another talented writer becoming the victim of tall poppy syndrome at the hands of those bitter about her success, or a precocious Oxford undergrad who struck it lucky? I picked up The Bone Season on my way home from shopping, started it on the bus, then took to my bed with the book until I finished it and let me tell you, her success is no fluke, the girl can write up a storm.

Set in 2059, The Bone Season follows Paige Mahoney, a powerful clairvoyant and member of crime syndicate The Seven Seals as she attempts to stay off the radar of Scion, the oppressive anti-clairvoyant system which controls several major world cities. Declaring war on unnaturalness, they have recruited voyants to help identify others of their kind who are then imprisoned, tortured and executed, whether they are aware of their ability to access the spirit realm or not. Of course, it isn’t too long before Paige falls into the hands of Scion, where her problems really begin when she falls into the hand of the Rephaim, rulers of the penal colony Sheol I in the lost city of Oxford.

I find it difficult to express exactly how much I loved this novel and the many reasons why. I really would love those who’ve called it derivative to explain what they think it’s been derived from to me, as I am pretty widely read and thought that it was a fresh, imaginative and punchy. Shannon has developed an entire lexicon, political system and history to fit her dystopian world, which splinters from our own universe in 1859 when the Rephaim first arrive. Her categorisation of the different voyant abilities is complex, with different voyants having varied abilities and degrees of power within these, of course Paige is a rare and powerful form of voyant, but I look forward to seeing the various categories of voyancy being explored later in the novel. I’m also wondering how far the theological allusions will be pursued in the series- are the Rephaim and the Emim more closely related than the voyants have been lead to believe? What’s the significance of Paige’s dreamscape being a field of poppies? Exactly how long can oil and fire mix before oil is burned up or fire extinguished?

The next book in the series, The Mime Order (in which I expect to find out the full extent of how much Paige’s Mime Lord, Jaxon Hall, is a psychopathic, evil, bad ass) is out in October 2014 and I cannot wait. I’ve already recommended it to loads of my friends who’ve enjoyed it as much as I did, and I received this text from my brother who deserves it published online for failing to call me back when he promised to:

Can you try and hook me up with The Bone Season author please? I think I have a crush on her writing ability x

I read the Divergent Trilogy (no spoilers)

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”

This weekend I read the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. Yes, the whole trilogy. I had a seven hour train journey back from Edinburgh to look forward to after a work thing, my brain was a little frazzled and I’d nearly finished A New York’s Winter Tale so I decided to pick up the first book in the series as something “light” for my journey. Something light? Books should carry addiction ratings.

There are plenty of people out there who looked down their noses at the stories and criticized the writer. Yes, there are editing mistakes that you could point out if you were feeling picky- times where Tris’ memories change between books, the whole Jonathan/George Wu name change thing.  And of course, plenty of fans flipped out at the ending. I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I will say that these responses miss the point.

Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant are a brave and powerfully written series of books which hold a mirror up to Roth’s concerns about our society and the way it’s headed. Genetics and science aside, I think that a world where people’s identity is defined by the groups that they belong to, their worth weighed up by how well they fit into those groups and society’s widespread suspicion and prejudice towards those who are other or don’t belong is something that everyone can recognise and would be wise to fear. I think it makes the books highly relevant and worth reading.

The author’s unflinching commitment to the brutality of her storyline is impressive and hammers home the cruelty of society both at the micro and the macro level. All the characters are flawed, all of them are human, most of them think that they are right. I like that Four recognises and admires Tris’ strength. I like that she recognises his. I love that their relationship is based on mutual admiration and that there is so much emphasis placed on the need to respect each other. I like that the novels show that life is about the choices you make, both good and bad, and how identity stems from these and how you move on from them.

Yes, people will dismiss it as “just” YA fiction, but there’s a reason that the books are so addictive. There’s a truth and a power in what Roth writes, and I think that everyone could take something away from these books, regardless of their age or “sophistication”. It’s a strong work of speculative fiction.

Image from Empire of Books

The Book Thief Film Adaptation

the book thief movie posterLast night I went to see the film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and I loved it. Granted it took me about an hour to stop crying, but I really liked it and was impressed at how true to the book it remained. I’m usually the first person to cry foul if someone has messed around with a book I liked, and despite one major niggle I thought it was a fairly faithful adaptation. My thoughts below, but be warned, there are spoilers.

A huge number of film critics have slammed The Book Thief movie, criticising what is seen as mawkish sentimentalism, an insufficiently harrowing representation of the horrors of World War 2, using Death personified as a narrator and criticising the fact that the cast speak with German accents in a mixture of English with the odd bit of German thrown in. To all of which I say, okay, but did you read the book? The New Yorker Review went as far as to cast doubt on the plausability of the street being bombed… to which I refer you to history books about the allied bombings of Stuttgart. Anyone who wishes to try to reduce WW2 to all Germans bad all Allies good may find their efforts hampered by some of the work of bomber command but I leave that up to GCSE History teachers to explain.

It may be fair enough to criticise the film as being Oscar bait, but honestly, considering that it is an adaptation of what is ultimately a book for younger teenagers which found success as a cross over novel, exactly how harrowing do you think it’s appropriate to be? There were some fairly violent scenes depicting Kristallnacht with hauntingly beautiful music sung by a Hitler Youth choir, hauntingly beautiful until you read the translation of the lyrics and realise that it’s another example of Nazi propaganda designed to indoctrinate very young children into striving for the Aryan state from a very young age. I actually found it incredibly effective at looking at the war from a child’s perspective. Liesel (played brilliantly by Sophie Nélisse) is aware that people who are members of groups that Hitler disapproves of disappear. Her communist parents have disappeared one by one, and though she isn’t aware of the horrors of the concentration camps, she loves her friend Max and fears for what has become of him. I thought the scene where a group of Jewish men were being marched through the town and Liesel runs among them looking for Max was actually more convincing in the film than in the book. In the book, she finds Max and they are both beaten. You can imagine that worse might have happened to Max if this really happens. In the film, she doesn’t find Max in the crowd, every man she sees could be him, and she runs through them promising that she will not forget until she is beaten by a Nazi officer. There are critics who have poured scorn on the moderate actions such as these that individual characters take to code that they are “good Germans”, but the film very clearly demonstrates the real world consequences that actions like these would have had at the time- a family on the verge of poverty because the father refuses to become a member of the Nazi party, conscription to the army if you showed sympathy towards the plight of a neighbour considered “undesirable”, the risk that you yourself will be considered undesirable and taken away. It’s easy to say that the characters should have done more, but I wonder if many who watch the film will think the same as I did- would I be brave enough to do that? Do I oppose injustice in my far safer world?

As I mentioned earlier, there is a change from the book that irritated me. When the bombs drop on Himmel Street in the book, Rudy is killed in his sleep and Death’s description of collecting his soul is heartbreaking:

He lay in bed with one of his sisters. She must have kicked him or muscled her way into the majority of the bed space because he was on the very edge with his arm around her. The boy slept. His candlelit hair ignited the bed, and I picked both him and Bettina up with their souls still in the blanket. If nothing else, they died fast and they were warm. The boy from the plane, I thought. The one with the teddy bear. Where was Rudy’s comfort? Where was someone to alleviate this robbery of his life? Who was there to soothe him as life’s rug was snatched from under his sleeping feet.
No one.
There was only me.
And I am not too great at that sort of comforting thing, especially when my hands are cold and the bed is warm. I carried him softly through the broken street, with one salty eye and a heavy, deathly heart. With him, I tried a little harder. I watched the contents of his soul for a moment and saw a black-painted boy calling the name of Jesse Owens as he ran through imaginary tape. I saw him hip-deep in some icy water, chasing a book, and I saw a boy lying in bed, imagining how a kiss would taste from his glorious next-door neighbour. He did something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s only his detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.

The Book Thief- Markus Zusak

In the film adaptation he stays alive long enough to half tell Liesel he loves her before dying in front of her. That annoyed me because it felt like a “film moment”, a betrayal of the book for no real narrative reason. It was a crude attempt to tug the heartstrings and the film would have been better without it. It was like someone had spent a bit too long in the fan fiction forums.

In spite of that, I really think it was a good adaptation of The Book Thief. If you enjoyed the book, I think there’s a very good chance that you will like the film, though it’s not as good (these things rarely are) it’s by far one of the better film to book adaptations I’ve seen and the younger cast member are enchanting.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City Ransom RiggsRetaining the high production values of the first book in the series, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs is a stylish follow-up to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Following on where the first book left off, it sees Jacob Portman and his peculiar friends running for their lives from the wights and hollowgasts that are pursuing them. Their fight for survival becomes a race against time when they realise that their injured headmistress, an ymbryne trapped in bird form, is at risk of losing her humanity for ever unless they can find another ymbryne to save her within two days.

Though it retains the style and charm of the first book in the series, there were times when I became a little frustrated with aspects of the characterisation. Many of the peculiar children have been living the same day since the Second World War, which would easily make them in their 70s, but their emotional responses to many of the situations in the book make them seem like ordinary children. I can appreciate that a lot of the tension derives from this, but at times I felt the children’s emotional vulnerability was played on a little too much. Even if you have grown up in an incredibly sheltered manner, surely you have to some extent grown up?

Either way, it’s a minor criticism and the book should be praised for its originality and flair. There are some brilliant moments where minor characters in the plot of the story like Olive’s friend Jessica, or Sam and Elsa, steal the scene completely. The idea of time travelling within the loops is a great one as well, and the examples of people aging forward are horrible and highly effective. I only wish there’d been a little time to explore the landscapes that the characters travelled to within the loops in a little more detail, as this was a real strength of the first title in the series.

I’ve no idea when the third book is due, but I’m really looking forward to it. I only hope I get to read it before the rumoured Tim Burton film adaptation comes out.

The Fault in Our Stars Trailer…verdict in.

When I heard that the amazing, incredible, laugh-out-loud, heartbreaking The Fault In Our Stars was being turned into a film I hated the idea. Hated it. Why mess with perfection? But do you know what, I just saw the trailer, tears are in my eyes and I think everything is going to be okay…

Gifts for Sherlock Holmes Fans

Other than reading, one of my favourite things to do at Christmas is to curl up on the sofa watching re-runs of old Sherlock Holmes films and adaptations. You’d be surprised how many you can find and in the past my father and I have managed to fill at least three days of viewings with Sherlock Holmes re-runs, much to the consternation of my little sister. I’ve even managed to hook my boyfriend on the stories to the point that we now have quarrels about which of us is Holmes and which of us is Watson. I am clearly Holmes, as you’ll be able to see from the following exchange:

Me: Elementary, Watson.

Boyfriend: You’re Watson, I’m Shakespeare.

Anyway, I digress. If you have a Holmes fan in your life, or want to introduce a loved one to the Sherlock Holmes stories, the following are great gift ideas:

I am a huge fan of the Penguin Clothbound Classics series. They look amazing and if, like me, the reader in your life is constantly berating themselves for having failed to read a particular classic, they’re a great gift. Even if you’re buying for someone whose favourite book is The Hound of The Baskervilles and has read it a thousand times, they’re sure to love this beautiful edition which will be cherished by Holmes veterans and Sherlock newcomers.

 

 

 

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iconIn the unlikely event that, like myself and my boyfriend, you and your loved ones are arguing over which of you is Watson and which of you is Holmes, you can settle things once and for all by treating them to a The Hound of The Baskerville personalised classic which lets you swap the characters’ names for those of your choosing. A word to the wise, my little sister got me an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland personalised classic, and the recipient gets to choose the characters on the internet. If settling disputes like me and the boyfriend, intercept the pack and do this for them then give them the finished book.

 

 

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iconThis working magnifying glass necklace is a great gift for budding detectives or someone who keeps misplacing their reading glasses. Pair it with this cute and quirky knitted deerstalker hat for this season’s take on the consulting detective look.

 

 

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iconIt might come as a surprise to people who haven’t lurked in the darkest corners of Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle internet fandom but the question of what tea Sherlock Holmes drank is a contentious one and causes heated debate among more special interest fans… Adagio tea has responded to this brewing crisis (couldn’t help myself… sorry) by creating this set of teas with an exclusive blend for each of the main characters in the BBC’s adaptation, Sherlock. Don’t worry, favourite characters are also represented.

 

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iconIf you are decorating your study (in Scarlet) or any other room in your house, or know a Sherlock Holmes fan who is, then these art prints may be just the ticket. Being a lady with expensive tastes, I really like this Sherlock Holmes silhouette print which has been carefully constructed from well-chosen quotations for £75.

 

 

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iconHowever, I am also a lady who knows my budget, so this print of Sherlock Holmes keywords is a more affordable compromise at £32.

 

 

 

 

 

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iconIf your Holmes fan is, like me, a big fan of the BBC adaptation Sherlock which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson, then they probably can’t wait for the new series to be released. Help them catch up with this box set of series one and two. It is coming soon, it is, it must be. And I still can’t figure out how he did it.

 

 

If your Holmes fan already has the Sherlock box set, firstly congratulate them on their well-maintained DVD collection, then consider leading them in the direction of the Elementary box set which stars Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson. I know what you’re thinking, I expected to hate it as sacrilege too. But I actually really enjoyed it and will buy pre-ordering for my father and hoping that it comes in time for Christmas. This shopping game is afoot.

Romantic Hero? I’d rather have a cup of tea

I’ll admit that I’m not the most romantic of people. Those marriage proposals with flash mobs and onlookers just make me cringe, and I prefer a cup of tea and biscuit from my boyfriend than the hearts and flowers grand gestures that I’m meant to be conditioned to want having grown up watching Disney. So maybe I’m not the best person to understand the appeal of the romantic hero. Moody, critical and more often than not just a tad misogynistic, these are the five romantic heroes that I just don’t get…

 

Mr Rochester

mr-rochester-jane-eyreI’m starting with Mr Rochester, because I read a blog post explaining how much the blogger needed a man like him in her life and it made me decide to write this post. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jane Eyre well enough, but are you actually serious? I couldn’t go for Rochester as the romantic hero, nor am I sure what on earth would possess any woman in her right mind to. I meant, I’m sure that times were very different back then, but there’s just something about a man who locks his mentally ill wife in an attic and then tries to trick a naive woman into bigamy that’s never really tickled my fancy. Also, the moment when he dressed up as a gypsy fortune-teller in order to manipulate his house guests was just weird. I don’t need that in my life.

 

Mr Darcy

mr darcy colin firth“Mr Darcy!” simper and fawn the women of _______shire, leading to generations of women to believe that single men in possession of a good fortune, especially the arrogant and remote ones, must be good husband material without tasting a drop of Austen’s intended satire. Reader, he may claim to be properly humbled, but given his previous performances, how long would it take Darcy to drop jibes about their disparate social status into domestic arguments.  I can only imagine what Christmas dinner with the Darcy family would be like…sister-in-law Georgina sat opposite Mr Wickham who attempted to seduce her before succeeding in seducing your sister and then being bought off by your husband. A little too Regency Jeremy Kyle/Jerry Springer for my tastes.

 

Romeo

leonardo di caprio romeoRomeo, Romeo, let’s not forget Romeo… this little chap (and let’s remember he would have been little more than a child) is basically a seducer and who likes to make smutty jokes about his well-flowered pump. He goes to Capulet’s party and meets Juliet when he’s been moping about being knocked back by Rosaline who he’s been trying and failing to bed, then proposes to Juliet when she is shocked at his demands for satisfaction…not to mention kind of causes the death of his best friend and wife’s cousin.  Yes, yes, teenaged love is very sweet and all that, but I’m just not sure I’d want to throw my life away after a child who was chasing someone else literally a few hours before.

 

Heathcliff

tom hardy heathcliffOh Heathcliff, he’s Romantic with a capital R… a force of nature, running wild, gnashing his teeth at the world, a rebel at heart… and a cold, manipulative man who abuses his wife, weak adults and any children unfortunate enough to find themselves in his company. While Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship is an amazing work of literature, examining an obsessive love between two truly damaged individuals, I’m not sure that a love affair that ends in corpse exhumation and haunting is really something we should aspire to.

 

Edward Cullen

edward cullen twilight romantic heroFollowing on from Heathcliff (because Stephanie Meyer couldn’t be any more desperate for her readers to pick up on that subtle as a sledgehammer allusion…) creepy Mr Cullen secretly watches his love interest while she’s sleeping, romantic or stalky? I’ll let you decide, but I can’t help wondering whether he couldn’t have done something a little more useful with his time. If a vampire ever decides to waste their time watching me sleep, they should know that my kitchen probably needs cleaning, and I wouldn’t mind if they paint the spare bedroom. If housework isn’t Mr Cullen’s thing, now that he’s mastered the world’s languages and the piano, could he maybe use his scientific knowledge and excess of time to do something useful like cure cancer or develop an antivenom to his vampire venom? Just saying. Nothing attractive about this one.

 

What about you? Is there a character that you were meant to find attractive but just found repulsive?

My Day at The Hunger Games…

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you’ve been volunteered as a tribute in the Hunger Games, but that you haven’t realised until you’re in the middle of a bloodbath at the front of the Cornucopia and it turns out that you’re juuuuust a little bit more Rue than Katniss? And then of course you have the choice, stand and fight or turn and… die. Yeah, that was my day. Hold your fingers up in a three-fingered salute, or two… whatever, just send pictures.

Still, escapism is close at hand, because everyone’s favourite heroine from District 12 will be back on our screens soon and I for one can’t wait. See the trailer below… actual shivers.

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

benedick and beatriceThis week I’ve been spending a lot of time lying on my sofa recovering from my operation and have been too tired to do anything, including read. After dozing through way too much daytime TV my soul was beginning to feel rotten so I decided to see if there were any films I wanted to see via the Virgin Box, and lo and behold, there was Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (my absolute favourite Shakespeare play, seriously, I can recite almost all of it with a bit of prompting) which I’ve been wanting to watch for ages.

I’m a bit of a Whedon geek, though I didn’t realise exactly how much until I watched this film (hello Wesley, hello Fred, hello Agent Coulson) and I was initially concerned that I was too familiar with the actors’ other work with Whedon to really believe in their portrayals of the characters I know and love but my fears proved unfounded and I thought it was amazing.

The first thing that really impressed me was that from the very beginning of the film Whedon did something that most director’s don’t and made the hints that Beatrice gives about her previous romantic relationship with Benedick explicit for the modern audience. For example, the film starts with Benedick sneaking out of bed as Beatrice sleeps, clearly some time in the past, and foreshadows Beatrice’s line “You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old” beautifully. Having said that, portraying it as an overtly sexual relationship makes it harder for the viewer to accept Claudio’s reaction to the “reveal” of Hero’s “disloyalty” later in the film, so this divergent approach is a little problematic but, regardless of that, kudos for highlighting this- it’s something a lot of directors seem to disregard and I think it’s crucial to the audience’s understanding of the root of their “merry war”, which is obviously anything but.

I hate the moment in which Hero is disgraced in Much Ado so much it feels like I’m going to break out in hives, but I admired the way Whedon had Leonarto, played by Agent Coulson Clark Gregg, portray this moments with shades of grey- obvious tenderness for his daughter among the shock and horrific lines that his character speaks. This is a really problematic moment in any modern adaptation of Shakespeare, but I think they handled it as well as they possibly could have done given that it’s a feminist’s nightmare and I like to think that Whedon would have given this due consideration. He is, after all the guy who gave Buffy this kick ass line

In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

I digress. The thing that really gets me through Hero’s first wedding is the character of Dogberry, played to absolute perfection by that creepy priest Caleb Nathan Fillion who absolutely stole the show with his acting. I was really impressed by how convincingly the Watch could be played as a modern American cop drama scenario without it seeming jarring or incredibly anachronistic. In fact, for me, this was the most impressive moment in the film. See a snippet of Dogberry and co. here:

I was surprised when reading the trivia section on IMDB that apart from the abridgments (which sadly saw Beatrice’s line about being “overmaster’d with a piece of valiant dust?” being cut) Joss Whedon had changed only one line in the play which was from “if I do not love her, I am a Jew” to “if I do not love her, I am a fool.” On the one hand, I can completely understand why he did this, but I did think it was strange that he let this line lie but retained Claudio’s “I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.” Shakespeare is full of huge amounts of language and Elizabethan attitudes which are totally appalling to a modern-day audience, but by changing a line to avoid antisemitism, and letting an explicitly racist line lie I think that you create a problematic environment in which you either need to be totally true to the text or clean up the play completely.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes Shakespeare and any Whedon fans who have yet to whole heartedly embrace the bard. The official trailer is below.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

BeforeIGoToSleepI bought Before I Go To Sleep on the recommendation of friend who read it for our workplace reading group. I haven’t joined the reading group (I go to the knitting/crochet/sewing group and prefer to select my books according to my mood) but I’ve had some good recommendations from them and this has to be the best so far.

If you one of the few people left in the world who hasn’t read this book do. Christine wakes up in a strange man’s bed and thinks she must have had a drunken one night stand. Mortified, she goes to the bathroom and sees a stranger’s face staring back at her. Christine learns that she has a very specific form of amnesia following an accident. Whenever she falls asleep, her memory resets itself. But if she can’t remember the people she loves, how can she know who to trust?

This brilliantly written book is a must for anyone who enjoys a thriller. The author’s debut novel it won The Crime Writer’s Association for Best Debut Novel and The Galaxy National Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year. Apparently a film is in the works with such names as Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Anne-Marie Duff but I really recommend you read the book first. You will not be disappointed- I was squeaking in horror and anxiety at times.