Friday, 30 March 2012

31 by Calum Kerr

Some of you might have seen my blog post about love triangles and be wondering where it's gone. I wrote it late at night and the next morning realised how ramble-y and nonsensical it was. So I've deleted it. I'll rewrite it when I actually have something worth saying. It might take a while.

But the reason I logged on today was to tell you about a great offer. 31, a book of flashfictions by Calum Kerr, is available to download for free tomorrow (31st March) from Amazon. You really should check it out. There's a Facebook event where you can find out more details, here be the link - https://www.facebook.com/events/345876768782170/

31 was Calum's challenge to himself to write a flashfiction every day for a month. Now he's attempting to write a flashfiction every day for a whole year. You can find out more about that project at the dedicated blog - http://flash365.blogspot.co.uk/

Friday, 23 March 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES


If you've never heard of The Hunger Games, which I genuinely don't think is possible, stop reading now and go order a copy of the book. Seriously, right now. I'll wait.

Done it? No, of course you haven't, but you should.

So, the film. The long-awaited, highly-anticipated film. First, let me just say that I have this slight tendency to get too excited about a film and build it up in my head so that the actual film could never in a million years live up to my expectations. I think that's what happened here.

Don't get me wrong, it's not bad. It's just not as good as I wanted it to be.

Let's focus on the positives. Since the book is entirely written in first-person from Katniss's perspective, and she spends a lot of time alone and therefore thinking rather than talking out loud, I wondered how they would manage to bring this to big screen (I think this is one of the many problems that the Twilight movies had). I was quite impressed with how it was handled here. Because the titular Hunger Games is/are(??) a televised event, it/they has/have (okay, I'm gonna just go with whatever feels right now, 'cause this is stupid) a similar type of coverage to a big sports event - they have commentators. Caesar Flickerman is the master of ceremonies of the Games, and can chime in with a bit of information whenever something needs to be explained to the viewer. It is a tad irritating, but I think it's a very clever solution to a potentially huge problem.

I also liked the scenes they added in, the bits that weren't in the books. Naturally, there are bits missing, occasionally a whole character has been omitted (seriously, fans of the book will be annoyed by a pretty big change within, say, two minutes of the film starting), but the film works without them. You can see why certain things have been cut. It's a long movie, it runs at about 2 hours 15 minutes by my watch, and if they'd included everything it would have been about four hours long. What normally irritates me, though, is when huge things are cut and pointless new scenes are added in. Yes, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the House that Burns Down for No Apparent Reason, I'm looking at you. But in the Hunger Games, I liked the new stuff. They're setting up for the trilogy, quite obviously, and so both President Snow and Seneca Crane have greater presences. You also get to see the Gamemakers at work, which I found really interesting. It's worth remembering that Suzanne Collins is credited as being a co-writer of the script, instead of just coming in every now and then to make comments. Which is what I imagine other authors do.

And there is very little time devoted to lengthy, dull flashbacks. Yay. I'm growing to loathe flashbacks.

The negatives, then. This is going to be hard to do without spoiling it for people who haven't read the books or seen the films yet. Basically, not enough time is devoted to character development, and so I was unaffected by any of the deaths that occur. Any of them. Of course, two of the three people I was watching the film with cried, but I think this says more about them than it does about me. Suffice it to say, the film seems somewhat shallow, because much of the characterisation has been lost. I understand why that is, and I figure it probably would have been a bit boring to have all the characters sitting around and telling you all about themselves, but it has definitely lost something here.

That being said, I love Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. I wish we'd seen more of them. I'm sure we will in the next two films, but it would have been nice in this one.

And as for the ending...well, I think I need to have another read of the last chapter in the book, because I'm not sure they did the ending justice at all, but that could be my faulty memory. I read the books consecutively in a short space of time, so they've all kind of blurred. I'm looking forward to reading them again slowly.

So...yeah, not bad at all, just not as good as I wanted it to be. A solid 8/10, methinks.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Dear Mum...

This year, I wanted to do something special for you, because you're probably one of the best mums in the world (I'd like to say you are the best, but I haven't had time to do the necessary research. Also, I know a bunch of people's parents have gotten them gifts/rewards for 'doing so well' on their FYPs, which is stupid anyway because we don't get the results until July, but I didn't get so much as a 'congratulations,' because you just expect these things of me. And I know I'm better off because you've given me the gift of dragging me up well enough to just get on with stuff and fulfil my responsibilities. Which is great, but a simple 'well done' would've been nice.)

I feel I may be straying off-topic. Where was I? Oh, yeah, you're a pretty good mum. So I wanted to get you something nice, but I had no ideas because I'm just so drained from all the uni projects I've completed recently, so I turned to that trusty thinking-replacement- television. There were bound to be hundreds of adverts claiming their products were perfect for Mother's Day.

There were actually surprisingly few. Apparently Gossip Girl's target demographic are soulless heathens who don't love their mothers and only care about how long their eyelashes are. And I thought that was just the characters. Still, there were a few ads that believed they were the solution to all my problems...

My Week with Marilyn on DVD
Okay, so my major issue with this being billed as the perfect present for Mother's Day was the fact that it wasn't even released until Friday, which meant there was no way you'd have it for Sunday unless I went to an actual shop. And even then, I wouldn't be able to post it to you, I'd have to deliver it in person, and that...well, that would be a delight, naturally. Also, the film stars Eddie Sodding Redmayne. Enough said.

Tickets to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Now, I know a woman who was as keen as I was to see Hugh Jackman fighting robots and Colin Farrell as a sexy vampire wouldn't dream of watching shit like this, but humour me. If I bought you the tickets, you'd feel obliged to take me with you. And then, after I'd made you buy me Minstrels and Coke at the astronomical cinema prices, you wouldn't be able to enjoy the film anyway because I'd be sighing irritably and making snarky comments about my will to live ebbing away throughout.

The M&S Meal for Four for £15
I don't have £15.

Marcus Collins' debut album
(He was on X-Factor, by the way, though the fact that I'm having to make this comment probably goes a long way to explain why I didn't get you this). A woman who has recently been to see Green Day, Panic! at the Disco and Lady Gaga was not gonna appreciate a CD by a guy who wasn't 'good' enough to win the X-Factor. I mean, sure, you like rubbish like Take That as well, but X-Factor rejects are on a whole other level.

A CD entitled Now That's What I Call Running
I'm not dumb enough to buy a CD that's working title was "You need to lose weight but I don't want to tell you so here's a really unsubtle hint." Same goes for all the anti-aging creams I saw advertised. Just which part of "Happy Mother's Day, you look old" do the cosmetics companies think sounds like a good idea? Also, and I probably should have led with this, you don't need either of these things.

Flowers
I'd have to bring them to you myself and I can't stand the smell, so I'd probably end up throwing them out of the window on the M3 before I was even halfway there. And that would negate the whole coming home thing anyway.

Chocolate
Always risky in our family. You usually make some comment about am I trying to make you fat, which puts everyone in a really difficult position, and then get annoyed when we all pinch the chocolates and you end up with just two out of the box. There really is no pleasing you. They're just not worth it. Also, Easter eggs are so much cheaper than boxes of chocolates right now. Just saying.

So really, I was out of options. I was also out of money since I spent it all on tickets to see The Hunger Games (I didn't get you one 'cause I didn't think you'd be interested) but then I remembered that it was the thought that counts, and as you can see, I've given this a whole lot of thought. So I decided to write you a letter about what an amazing mother you are and post it on the internet for everyone to see. You're welcome.

Love Lesley xxx




Wednesday, 7 March 2012

WITHER

Blaaarg. That's my new word for books like Wither by Lauren DeStefano. Books with interesting premises that turn out to be absolutely rubbish. Blaaarg.

Wither is a YA dystopian novel in which a botched attempt to perfect the human race (which is really never dealt with at all, either what precisely they were trying to do or how indeed they made a mess of it) means that girls die at 20 and boys die at 25. 16-year-old Rhine Ellery is kidnapped and sold as a bride to a rich man. She's expected to live in his mansion and bear him children. Except Rhine doesn't want to do that. She wants to escape and get back to her twin brother, Rowan.

If you read my earlier post, which I think is quite unlikely since it only went up a few hours ago and I know how many hits I've had since then, you'll know just how unimpressed I was by this book. It's the first in a trilogy, and not a damn thing happens after the first chapter. Rhine goes to parties and doesn't have sex with her husband and watches one of his other wives have a baby and watches another of them die. Actually, two of his wives die. He's really not very careful, no wonder Rhine wants to get away from him.

This book makes Twilight look eventful. And, if you recall, it takes more than 200 hundred pages for Bella to realise Edward is a vampire. That's how little happens in this novel. It's ridiculous, really. There's some pretty serious sexual tension, though. Mostly because you're waiting to see whether Linden (Rhine's husband) is going to get fed up of waiting and force her to have sex with him. FYI, he does not. Now, I don't want you to think I'm some kind of weirdo who reads books hoping that the protagonist is going to be raped (really, I'm not) but I don't see how you can write a book and set it in a world where young women are sold as brides and forced to bear children and not once in over three hundred and fifty pages so much as use the word rape. Seriously, in all those uneventful pages, there are three different types of women characterised:

- Number one - the wife who doesn't want to have sex with her husband and isn't forced to.

- Number two - the wife who does want to have sex with her husband but only because she's too naive to understand what that means.

- Number three - the wife who used to be a prostitute (although that's another word that isn't used) and has sex with her husband purely so that she can trick him into doing non-sexual things for her.

There is not one healthy, sensible relationship portrayed in this book, and that kind of worries me. But I could overlook it if the story was good (I personally don't buy into all this stuff about Stephenie Meyer trying to force Mormon values onto teenagers - Edward's a vampire, he can't have sex with Bella because he will break her). And it's not. Nothing happens. It's a book that's been written purely to introduce the world and the characters that will feature in the rest of the series, and that's not good enough. For more details on that, see my last post. But for now, all I'll say is that Wither is crap. Don't bother buying it. I've already wasted several hours reading it, there's no need for you to do so as well.

The Three Types of Trilogy

Last night I finished reading Wither by Lauren DeStefano (a review to come at some point in the near future), and it got me thinking about trilogies. Now, I like a good trilogy, there's nothing better than reading an excellent book and then finding out that there are two more that are just as good. Unfortunately, not all trilogies are like that. Here we'll explore the three types, and by "we'll explore," I mean "I'll complain."

Type One - The Standalone Book that Becomes a Trilogy
You love a book. You really, really love it. It's brilliant. But the second one isn't as good. And the third one's downright rubbish. Yes, Hunger Games, I'm talking about you. This happens all the time, and it's easy to see why. The first book is excellent and popular and makes lots of money, so the publishers want more. They want to capitalise on this and make as much money as possible. And who can blame them? Publishers are a business just like any other, and the customer doesn't know the second book's no good until after they've paid for it. Right now, I'm working as an intern for a literary agency, and you wouldn't believe how many queries mention that the book they want us to represent is part of a series or has series potential. But this is what publishers want. Why put money behind a single book when you can put that money behind a trilogy? Even if only half of the people who buy the first book go on to buy the second, you've increased your revenue substantially, without having to spend as much money on promotion, because the second book already has a fan base. It has people waiting to buy it.

Unfortunately, because this is so desirable, and as the saying says you have a lifetime to write your first album but just six months to write your second (I know this is about music not books, but the point still stands), the second book is often disappointing. Let's look at Hunger Games, for example. Fair warning, there will almost definitely be some mild spoilers here, but I'll try to avoid anything too drastic. So, Suzanne Collins has written this great book and the publishers want another. Great, celebrations for Suzanne Collins. But then, "shit, now I need another plot. I know, I'll put them BACK in the arena." Oh, yes, this is actually what happens. But it's excusable, she comes up with a reasonable explanation for why they're going back into the arena. Fine. But then, the publishers, demanding beasts that they are, want a third book. "Shit, now I need yet another plot. I can't put them back in the arena again, my readers will never buy that, they're not stupid. I know, I'll make the Capitol just LIKE the arena." Yeah, that's what she does, and it's one of the dumbest things I've ever read. And I'm a Creative Writing student. I deal with dumb story ideas on a daily basis. I come up with a lot of them myself. I can't help thinking that if Suzanne had been given more time to write the sequels, or maybe had intended to write them to begin with, the second and third books could have been a whole lot better.


Type Two - The Planned Trilogy with an Introductory Book
If you're anything like me, you hate these. You really, really hate them. How many times have you read a book, knowing it was the first in a series or not, and got all the way to the end only to find that absolutely nothing has happened in the book? It's just a really, really long and boring first chapter. As I said at the start, I just finished reading Wither by Lauren DeStefano, which is a prime example of an Introductory book. It's the first instalment in what she is calling the Chemical Garden Trilogy, and the main character Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride in the first chapter. Over the next twenty-six chapters, not a damn thing happens. Sure, she toys with the idea of staying with the man she's been forced to marry. Sure, on of the other brides has a baby and the third bride dies. Sure, she goes to some fancy parties. But none of these things have any bearing on the plot. They're subplots at best. They might build Rhine's character and tell us some things about her, but in three-hundred-and-fifty-eight sodding pages, nothing of any consequence happens after page 4. If you think I'm kidding, get yourself a copy and have a flick through it. Better yet, take my copy. I have no use for it.

I've noticed this happening a lot with books that are billed as a series from the start. Years ago, the first three books in the Spiderwick Chronicles appeared on my bookshelves (I genuinely don't know where they came from). I read the first one, in which nothing happened though lots of ideas and characters and creatures were introduced. I didn't bother reading the second one. You've invested time in a book, you've bothered to read it when you could have read something else entirely. You've, if you're anything like me, gotten all the way to the end because you can't bear to give up on a book. It's insulting to make that effort and then have the writer turn around tell you that if you want the actual story, you have to buy the next book. It's frankly unacceptable. And I won't buy the second book. Just because your book is the first in the series, does not mean it doesn't need a beginning, a middle and an ending. It's just not fair on your readers, and it doesn't have to be this way. Which brings us to...


Type Three - The Planned Trilogy with a Standalone First Instalment
I'm assuming most of you are familiar with the Harry Potter series, yes? (And yes, I am aware that it's not a trilogy, but it proves my point and most people will be familiar enough with the story to understand what I'm about to use it to say). Think back to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first book in the series. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. It works as a standalone book - if J.K. Rowling had never managed to get the rest of the books published, it didn't end on a cliffhanger and it wasn't just the unsatisfying start to a story. It was a standalone novel that also set-up for rest of the series. In terms of setting up for a trilogy/series, it was pretty much perfect. And it's not the only one. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld was a book in its own right, though the last line clearly set up for the next in the series.

I'm sure there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, more. I don't have a whole lot to say about these books, though, because they're exactly what a trilogy should be, and you know how hard it is for me to say nice things. Criticising is so much easier. I just don't see how writers and publishers and whoever makes these decisions think they can get away with releasing Type One or Type Two trilogies. Is it too much to ask for the same amount of care and planning to go into all of the books in a series? I understand that once the first book is released, people will be clamouring for the next (if it's good enough) and you don't want your readers to forget about it in the time it takes for the second instalment to be released. So don't release the first one until you have at least a decent plan for the second and third books. You owe your readers that much at least.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

THE HELP

This post is about the book The Help. You can read my review of the film here: http://liesandothernonsense.blogspot.com/2012/02/help.html

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is another book that I came across thanks to the TV Book Club, and actually, it's another one that I resisted for a long time. I just wasn't really interested in the subject, until I found out about the film, at which point I became fascinated. I don't know why that is, but I bought the book a few months ago and finally got around to reading it this week.

Set in the 1960s, aspiring writer Skeeter decides she wants to write a book about the experiences of black maids who serve white families and raise their children, but aren't even allowed to use their toilets. At first, nobody will talk to her, but finally Aibileen decides to tell her story, and soon everyone wants to be involved.


I know I've lifted that last paragraph directly from my review of the film, but it is still applicable because the film was an incredibly faithful adaptation. Reading the book was like watching the film with a few little bits added in here and there, such as why is Skeeter, whose real name is Eugenia Phelan, called Skeeter? I'll tell you why, when she was born her brother saw her and said "It's not a baby, it's a skeeter!" (as in, a mosquito). It kind of bugged me in the film that the reason everybody called the character Skeeter wasn't explained.

There was a part of the book that I found incredibly irritating, though. It's all told from the perspectives of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny, another one of the maids. It switches from one narrator to the other every two chapters. Except there's one chapter that's told from the perspective of an omniscient third-person narrator. I understand why Stockett's done this - it's a big event, the Jackson Junior League Annual Ball and Benefit, and all of the narrators are there but they witness different events throughout the evening. Instead of walking us through the ball three times to show us everything, Stockett's switched to the omniscient narrator. I completely understand why she's done this, but it's jarring and horrible. I think I would have preferred to see the ball three times over.

Other than that, it is a very good book. It's quite long, but it's an easy enough read, and I found myself completely immersed in it. It's not as funny as the film, I have to say, but maybe that's because I saw the film first and knew all the funny bits. Still, I'd highly recommend both of them, though I'd advise you not to read the afterword by the author - there was something so smug and self-serving about it that it really cheapened the end of the novel in my opinion.