Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

I have shocking news. I have literally no comments to make about this book. No observations, positive or negative. I simply enjoyed reading it. This is a little unnerving for me. Although it is actually really hard to write/type the word Azkaban. Seriously, try it. It's hard. You'll get at least one letter in the wrong place. Well, two. I suppose you can't get one letter in the wrong place unless it's a letter that didn't belong there in the first place. And you put it on the end.

I'm babbling.

This book probably stands out to most people as the only one which doesn't actually involve Voldemort. He doesn't appear in the story and he doesn't really have any bearing on the events. The only link is that Pettigrew escapes, which is fundamental to his return, but that wasn't planned by Voldemort so he doesn't feature here at all. I don't know whether this makes it a better or a worse book, maybe it has no real bearing on it, but I think it's noteworthy. It introduces a lot of characters and ideas that become crucial as we progress through the series, but it doesn't actually advance the overall plot much. By the end of this instalment, very little has actually changed since the start. It's still enjoyable to read - though maybe a part of that comes from following Chamber of Secrets - but in terms of plot, it's kind of a filler book. 400 pages of info-dump. I guess it's a testament to the world Rowling has created that it manages to be entertaining as hell anyway.



Sunday, 24 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Chamber of Secrets has always been my least favourite of the Potter books, but I don't really know why. I still don't, and in fact, I'm starting to think it must be a more recent decision than I thought. I remember standing at the living room window and waiting for the delivery van to arrive with my copy of Prisoner of Azkaban, but I really don't think I would have done that if I'd disliked Chamber of Secrets as much as I do now. I think I actually dislike it rather than simply not liking it. Perhaps because it's my least favourite, my brain has warped it so I see it so much worse than it actually is, I don't know. Perhaps the film has spoilt this one for me (because it is a dreadful film, really). Still, today I have one positive thing to say about this book (shocking, I know) and two negative ones.

1 - I like the Hagrid of the books a lot better than the Hagrid of the films. I know a lot has to be cut from the films, that it simply isn't possible to include everything from the book, but I think Hagrid is one of the characters who suffers the most from this. He is a blundering oaf in the films, and in the books, too, I suppose, but he's also loveable in the books. And funny. Not funny in a cheesy I shouldn't have said that way like in the film, but funny in a more subtle way.

2 - I think I've mentioned this before, but why did Riddle call the Basilisk instead of just killing Harry with his own wand and the Avada Kedavra spell? It was put to me that maybe he wasn't strong enough to actually do any magic and just didn't want Harry to have the wand, but after Harry [spoiler alert] slays the Basilisk, he intends to kill Harry with magic. Why bother with the giant snake? It doesn't make sense to me.

3 - And, speaking of the giant snake, it's got poisonous fangs. It failed to kill anyone by looking at it, which is acceptable if a little heavily reliant on coincidence, but why wouldn't it give them a quick bite to finish the job off? It wouldn't take very long to do and even if it didn't kill the person quickly enough that they couldn't be cured by Snape or Madam Pomfrey, the snake wouldn't know how quickly they would be found. It just seems ridiculous that the Basilisk wouldn't try something else when it failed in its assigned task to kill students.

You may have noticed that I've been illustrating these blog posts with the adult versions of the book covers, which is purely because these are the ones I'm reading this time around. I bought a boxed set of adult paperbacks a while ago when I realised that I didn't have a complete set of my own (we've probably got at least three copies of each book in my household, but I didn't have my own matching set), but it's always seemed odd to me that this book needed different covers for children and adults. I understand that maybe some adults were embarrassed to be seen reading a children's book - some people are strange like that - but  as far as I can tell, I never saw one of these adult covers before the fifth book was released. Which means that obviously adults were reading the books with the children's covers long before the adult ones were available. I actually think these ones are a bit nicer than the originals, but again, that might come back to the fact that the first book had a train on the front cover. A train. I promise I'll stop banging on about that eventually. Up next, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.



Saturday, 23 February 2013

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

(In case you didn't see my last post, I'm re-reading the Harry Potter series for the first time in at least five years and posting my thoughts/observations about the books here. This is not going to be a full review, as I've read the books before and honestly, my feelings about the books are splashed all across the internet anyway)

1 - I'd never realised how short this book is. It's a tiny book and I read 200 pages in one sitting without batting an eyelid. And that was at one o'clock in the morning, when I can usually only manage 20 or so pages before deciding to go to bed. I was worried I wouldn't enjoy the books as much now as I did before, but this is a promising start (although I'm reading the second book now and not really enjoying it all that much. I've never been a fan of the Chamber of Secrets)

2 - The only real observation/criticism/complaint I have to make is a small one, and one that my mother has already tried to explain away, but it's still bugging me. It is strongly implied that Quirrel has already taught at Hogwarts before Harry's first year at the school. Since later in the series we learn that, since Dumbledore refused to hire Tom Riddle as a teacher, no Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher has lasted longer than a year, this bugged me. Quite a bit, in fact.

I've also been thinking about the fact that the name of the book, and subsequently the film, was changed for the US market. Over there, it's known as Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. Now, this bothers me on principle, but I can't help thinking that actually it might have given the books a bigger audience over here to begin with. To the best of my recollection, people didn't start getting really excited about Harry Potter until the third book, and I've wondered whether the fact that the first book had the word philosopher in it had something to do with that. What kid knows what a philosopher is? I didn't, and for years it bothered me that it was never explained in the book why it was called the philosopher's stone (I may not have been the brightest of children, but still.) I was opposed to reading the books for years before I actually caved and did, mostly because there was a picture of a train on the front cover, but I really do think I might have been more inclined to give them a try if it had been called Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. After all, I actually knew what a sorceror was.



Friday, 22 February 2013

Then and Now

So, as of last night, I'm officially re-reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. As opposed to somebody else's Harry Potter series. Since I've read them before, and so as the rest of the world, I probably won't be posting actual reviews, so expect book reviews to be pretty much non-existent for a while. The thing is, I haven't read these books in at least five years and I'm worried I won't enjoy them as much, that I'll spot little things I didn't notice before and which will really bug me (such as the fact that Hermione tore a page out of a library book in Chamber of Secrets, which is so out of character it's ridiculous, and the fact that Rowling jumps from one POV to another during Quidditch matches - thanks to my friend Emily for pointing out that one). So I might post my thoughts here from time to time. Really, I am worried I won't enjoy them like I used to. Since studying Creative Writing, I've found it harder to switch off the analytical side of my brain and just get sucked into a story - be it in a book, a film or on the TV.

So, to kick off the next few weeks (or months) of complete Harry Potter immersion (I wrote this last night, before I actually started reading), I thought I'd take a look at the shiny new cover that has been designed to commemorate it being fifteen years since the first book was published.


Now, I don't really like this cover. It's kind of soulless. There's something about the colours and the font that just looks clinical to me. And I object to the font used for the film adaptations being put on the book, it's just too close to a movie tie-in cover for my liking, and I hate those. Seriously, they're straight from hell. But I have to admit something. For years, I refused to read the first two Potter books because one had a picture of a boy and train on the cover, and the other had a boy and a car. I'm not a transport enthusiast and I point-blank refused to read the books, despite my mum's nagging. (I still read them before 95% of other people did, but that's not the point). With this cover, I would have been far more receptive to the idea of reading the books, and I would have enjoyed the world for that much longer. So no, I don't really like this cover, but, in a way, I do think it's better than the originals. Just look at it. It screams magic and hints at dark things going on. The original? Well, it just looks like a boy standing by a train.



Monday, 18 February 2013

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

Okay, so my intention was to review the film Beautiful Creatures today, but I can't. I saw it on Friday, a few days ago now, and I still can't decide what I think about it.

The film is allegedy based on the book of the same name by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It shares the character names and the general premise, but other than that, it bears little resemblence to the book, and that's why I'm struggling to decide how I feel about it. The thing is, I'm one of those people who doesn't like it when film adaptations have any differences to the book. I understand why it's necessary sometimes, but it bothers me, particularly when a film cuts something which I consider to be crucial and puts in new, pointless scenes (why, yes, I am talking about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, something I probably should have gotten over by now). The exception to this rule is The Hunger Games, where the differences actually made it a better film than it would have been otherwise. In fact, some of my favourite parts involved the gamemakers and Seneca Crane, scenes we wouldn't have had if the film-makers had stuck faithfully to the book.

This film, however, is something entirely different. Honestly, it's so utterly different from the book that it's almost unrecognisable. I had to ask my friend afterwards if I'd completely forgotten the book and she said she'd had the same odd feeling while watching the film. I can see why some things were changed, but I really can't understand why they changed some things so fundamentally. The problem in terms of reviewing the film is that I can't see it as a film in its own right because I've read the book, but it's so different that I can't review in terms of an adaptation either. Hopefully I'll come to some sort of decision about where I land on it, but at the moment, I've got nothing. I'll keep you posted!



Friday, 15 February 2013

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD

So, last night I went to see the new Die Hard movie (perfect Valentines viewing).

Eh.

It is, in my opinion, the worst of the five movies. Actually, I haven't seen the second one, so it's the worst of the four that I have in fact seen. The thing is, it's still pretty watchable, because apparently even the worst Die Hard film is better than most other action films. It's loud and kind of crass, just like the others in the series, but it's not as funny or as clever. That's what I've always liked about the series, that it surprised me. That it kept me guessing. And that it is really very funny. This instalment wasn't.

Another great thing about the series that is kind of lacking here is a strong villain. It felt to me that because they'd moved the action to Russia and the bad guys were all talking in Russian, that the film-makers thought that was menacing enough. In fact, it just made it hard to understand what was going on. I have trouble with subtitles on a cinema-screen (I can't read the words and see the picture at the same time, which I can do fine on a TV-sized screen) and these were particularly bad because they were in a crappy font that also looked kind of fuzzy. The biggest problem, though, was the thick accents and mumbling. Even when the Russians were speaking English, I struggled to understand what was being said. And don't even get me started on what Bruce Willis was saying half the time.

I got the feeling while watching the film that they're setting up for John McClane's son, Jack (played by relative newcomer Jai Courtney), to take over as the star of the series. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more of him (speaking of which, why have a scene where he's changing his shirt and cut to Bruce Willis mumbling at that point? Seriously, whose bright idea was that?), but I don't think the films would work without McClane.

I'm going to shut up soon, I promise, but there's one more thing I have to say before I do. The key line from this film series (by which I mean yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker) is basically missing from this film. It's said quietly and the final part, the fucker part, is completely cut off. Now, I read that they had to botch the end of the line in order to get a 12A rating in the UK, but what was the point? The f-word is used throughout the movie, and cutting it at that point was really jarring and annoying. And for that matter, I don't fully understand why they were so keen to get a 12A rating. Sure, I know it means they're pretty much guaranteed to make more money, but it just seems incongrous for a film series where the previous instalments have been rated 15 (except for the fourth, which was apparently also rated 12, though I think there was a lot more swearing in that one anyway). Really, it just bothered me, but possibly because I knew in advance that the film-makers had chosen to cut things for the lower rating, and that bothers me anyway.

All in all, this film is all right. It's not groundbreaking, it's not even on a par with the first four (okay, three) films in the series, but there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours. In fact, that was one of the bonus points of this film - it's pretty short, only an hour and forty minutes, which is just about the perfect length for an action movie. So at least they got that part right.



Thursday, 14 February 2013

How I Met Some Woman They Cast Because She Looked a Little Bit Like Lyndsy Fonseca

I like How I Met Your Mother. I do. I've seen every single episode, most of them numerous times. Seriously, I could probably recite whole episodes from memory. I prefer it to Friends, despite the fact that, initially, I didn't like it. I watched the first few episodes waaaay back when they were broadcast on BBC2, and though it was utter rubbish. When E4 bought it and I caught a couple of episodes from the middle of season 4 or something, I discovered I actually really liked it. I get actually excited when they reveal tidbits of information about the mother. And then, a few minutes later, I wonder why I care.

You see, there's a fatal flaw to this programme, one which could potentially have been avoided - it doesn't actually matter who the mother is. The whole point of the show is that eventually, Ted will meet his wife and the mother of the kids he's telling the story to. Except, does it really matter who she is? At this point, deep into season 8, we already know pretty much everything about her. In fact, we know basically everything except for her name and what she looks like. And that is it. We even know exactly when and where Ted meets her, so all the mystery is just gone. Honestly, when they reveal the mother, the only thing they'll actually be revealing is which actress they cast to play her. It doesn't matter who she is.

Unless they cheat. The programme makers have stated categorically that the mother is not someone we've met on the show before. If it was someone we'd met, or if that option was still open, then that tension and mystery would still be there - Ted meets her at Barney and Robin's wedding, could it really be Robin somehow? Does Victoria come back again? Is it Zoe or Stella or Bump Girl? All of these would bother me, (except for Bump Girl, who you can find out more about here) because then we've been lied to. And I would feel like the writers painted themselves into a corner and struggled to get out again. And that's cheating and unacceptable.

So it can't be someone we've already met before, meaning ultimately, it doesn't really matter who the mother is. The show has gone on so long and every avenue explored so many times over and so many details revealed that all the mystery has gone. I still watch the show, I still enjoy it and get excited whenever new hints about the mother are dropped, but it's usually followed by disappointment. And I worry that the end of this series will be the biggest anti-climax of recent television history. (I feel compelled to add that I never made it past season 2 of Lost.)



Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Why I Love YA Books

So, recently I've been seeing a lot of blog posts and articles with people defending their choice to read more Young Adult books than anything else, and I want to chip in with my opinion. Because I can.

I'm 22, so I'm not the target demographic for YA books (that's another post in itself, because the term YA annoys me because it refers to teenagers, and the new shiny New Adult label is what I think YA should be, but for now let's say I mean the same thing as the rest of the world does when they refer to YA literature). As a teenager, though, I actually didn't read that much YA. I read Harry Potter, of course, and the Twilight books, but not a whole lot else. I went through a whole stage where I only read classic books - North and South, Dracula, Little Women - and others that are probably considered more worthy literature. Now, though, I read YA almost exclusively. In fact, the adult books I've read recently have been quite disappointing, and I think I know what the problem is.

I need to have strong characters and a strong plot. I hate reading a book that only has one of these - it feels like such a wasted opportunity. And as for books that don't really have either, books that are more about the writing than anything else, I can't bear it. And that's the huge difference between YA and adult books - because of this belief (misconception, in my opinion) that teenagers have really short attention spans, YA books try harder to keep your interest. They have a faster pace and a stronger story, and often stronger characters as well. Normally, trying too hard is a bad thing, but I think in this case, it improves the books. It makes them more to my taste, at least. There are fewer long descriptive passages, for a start. I often feel like the writing of YA books is just tighter than that of books written for adults, that every word serves a purpose and nothing is there without a good reason.

I'm sure lots of people feel that writing in YA books is too stripped down, that good writing has been lost on the way to a good story - and sometimes that's true - but right now I'd rather read a Young Adult book than anything else. I don't necessarily feel like I need to defend this choice, though I often end up doing so, and the quality of YA books varies just as much as books of any other type, but I do think that at this point, YA books just fit the mould of what I want to read better than anything else.

What about? What do you find yourself reading more than anything else these days? Do you ever feel like you have to defend your reading choices? And, actually, if you have a Kindle, are you reading books now that you might have been embarrassed to be seen with a hard copy of, where everyone could see the cover and know what you were reading?



Friday, 8 February 2013

IMMORTAL BELOVED & DARKNESS FALLS

 

Immortal Beloved and Darkness Falls by Cate Tiernan

I'm feeling strangely honest today, so I'll admit that I wanted this book because I saw the word 'immortal' and heard 'vampires'. I was disappointed to discover that it was not actually about vampires. Just immortal people, who turned out to have magic. And I am loathe to read anything about magic because Harry Potter's kind of ruined magic for me. Because I love Harry Potter, and nothing will ever be as good so why bother reading something you know will be inferior? Also, in this book there's a K on the end of magic and that annoys me. For reasons even I don't quite understand.

Okay, now that all of that's out of the way - I really liked both of these books. Nastasya is a 400+ year old who acts like a teenager. A spoiled, rich teenager with no parents. She and her friends have floated through the last century in a drug-enhanced haze of parties and designer clothes, no responsibilities and no consequences. But then Innocencio, Nastasya's best friend, uses his magic to break the spine of a cab driver who says something to upset him and Nastasya starts to see her life for what it really is - a shallow, soulless mess. And she wants something better, she wants something more.

I loved Nastasya. There was just something about her voice that I loved and kept me turning the pages. She entertained the hell out of me, even though she's really a whiny brat who can't see anything without having it spelt out to her. I even came to care about it, which really surprised me (see my previous comment about her being a whiny brat). And actually, this voice is what kept me going because, to my mind at least, the story is seriously lacking in a few departments.

Do you hate it when a plot event or twist is so clearly signposted that you can see it two hundred pages before it happens and long before the character even comes close to figuring it out? Of course you do, it's incredibly frustrating, and that happens in both of these books. Quite a bit, in fact. Now, usually, this would have irritated me to the point of throwing the book at a wall, but it was slightly different here. Because I liked the character so much, it didn't matter to me so much that I could see what was coming, because I was interested to see how she reacted to it. How she dealt with it. Sure, her shock would have resonated more if I'd shared even a fraction of it, but it didn't ruin the book for me. Either book, in fact. And I sense it's something that will continue into the third book, seeing as how I haven't even read a synopsis of it and I'm pretty sure I can guess what's going to happen in it.

I enjoyed most of the minor characters as well, though, so there wasn't that ever so common problem of an excellent main character surrounded by cardboard cut-outs. I mean, sure, it didn't hurt that Reyn is frequently described as looking like a Norse god, which put the image of Chris Hemsworth as Thor into my head, but the unattractive characters are just as interesting to read. If I had to complain (and because I'm me, I do) I'd say that I want to see more of Innocencio. He's a fascinating character, but I feel that a lot of what he does is dismissed as the actions of a lunatic. I think there's more to him than that.

The only other thing I have to say is that I thought these books were YA when I first came across them, but now I'm not so sure. They're not really YA books, but they're not really adult books either. I think the problem is that even though Nastasya and her friends act like teenagers and the point of the story is that she wants to find out who she really is (I read someone saying the other day that that's the true definition of a YA book, though I'm not sure I really agree), she's lived several lives. She's had husbands and children and seen so much more of the world than the usual teenager, and so the YA label doesn't really sit right here. I'd be really interested to see how Cate Tiernan pitched it to agents, and how they pitched it to publishers.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

ARGO

In 1980, the US embassy in Iran was stormed and fifty people held hostage, but six escaped and managed to hide in the Canadian ambassador's home. The CIA and the Canadian government then had to work together to get them home, and had very few viable options. The one that they went with? They pretended to be a Canadian film crew scouting for locations for a sci-fi fantasy film in the Middle East.

Now, normally, I would never have gone to see a film that had the words "based on a true story" anywhere near it. I don't like to watch films or read books that are based on true stories, because I always feel that I can predict the ending, because the story is hampered by the limitations of reality. Sure, you can tell me that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, but I'll just smile and nod and secretly disagree with you on that point. This film, though...well, I was interested in the premise because I thought it was so ridiculous, and then the fact that it's been winning so many awards while being kind of snubbed by the Academy intrigued me further. So I went to see it (and thanks to Vue for bringing it back, although really it's their fault I didn't get to see it the first time around because they kind of buried it in the schedule and then took it off really quickly).

And actually, the fact that it was based on a true story was what created the tension and made it an excellent film to watch. Had it been complete fiction, I would have known what to expect of the ending - that all the hostages would get home safely and live happily ever after. A typical Hollywood ending. But the fact that it was based on a true story meant I really didn't know what would happen. And it was gripping. Truly gripping. The storming of the embassy was beautifully done, and the mixing of original and new footage worked really well. And the ending...well, I won't say any more, I won't spoil it for anyone, but it is tense. Truly tense.

As with any film, there were little things that bothered me, but I don't really want to write about those, because I think that overall the film was excellent. The acting, the writing, the directing, the music, the costumes. There isn't a weak link here, and it fully deserves all of the awards it has received in the last few weeks, though I can't say I hope it wins the Oscar for Best Film. I'm now torn between this film and Silver Linings Playbook.



Monday, 4 February 2013

GONE GIRL

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

On their fifth anniversary, Nick's beautiful wife Amy disappears from their home. There is evidence of a struggle, but some of the details don't quite add up. And Nick is the prime suspect.

Okay, so I don't know what I can actually say about this book without spoiling it for anyone who hasn't read it - except that you should all go and read it now. But first, a warning - I thought the first 250 or so pages were quite dull. The information in those pages is crucial for appreciating the utterly amazing pages that follow them so you really do need to drag your eyes across them, but trust me when I say you will be rewarded. That being said, I wasn't completely satisfied with the ending (I can't explain why that is without giving the story away) but those pages in between were so brilliant that I was able to overlook everything else. And that's not something I do very often. So go and read it. Immediately. And then we'll talk.



Friday, 1 February 2013

Flashfiction Fridays

So, it's February 1st and it's also a Friday, so I should be typing up a flashfiction right about now. Except, Flashfiction Fridays are going to be on hiatus for a while. I know, I know, I haven't technically done one since the end of November (I got a job, and then Christmas, and then January) but I was going to do one today. Promise. Thing is, this morning, I also started writing a new novel. I managed 1600 words, but I already know it's not working. It needs more time to evolve and develop. I need more time to think about it before writing it.

The biggest issue is that I don't know the characters yet. There are a lot of them, more than I usually have to keep track of. So, instead of a weekly flashfiction, this month I'm going to write something in the voice of one of my characters so I can get to know them all a little better. I won't be posting them here, I just thought I ought to address my distinct lack of flashfiction posting in the last two months and the next one. Hopefully, in March (God, March, that sounds so far away) I'll be able to go back to writing flashfictions.