Wednesday, 27 March 2013

BUTTER

Butter by Erin Lange

You think I eat a lot now? That's nothing. Tune in December 31st, when I will stream a live webcast of my last meal. Death row inmates get one. Why shouldn't I? I can't take another year in this fat suit, but I can end this year with a bang. If you can stomach it, you're invited to watch ... as I eat myself to death.

This book scared me a little bit. It's not a horror or anything like that, but a lot of the things Butter says about food resonated with me because I feel the same way. And that was scary for me. Like when I read We Need To Talk About Kevin and I found myself agreeing with Kevin, which is really not the point of the book. So, as someone with weight issues myself, this book struck a chord, but I don't necessarily think people who don't have those kind of problems won't enjoy reading it. There were a lot of negatives in that sentence, hold on while I check the grammar. . . . That looks right.

Butter is not a sympathetic character (Butter, by the way, is a nickname that has been bestowed on him, his real name is shrouded in mystery). At times I did find myself thinking I didn't really care whether he lived or died. At one point, I genuinely thought 'I wish he'd get on and kill himself.' Because, despite a powerful opening that really did hit me, this book started to slide downhill. Fast. There isn't a single likeable character here, and really, you're just waiting for the main event. To me, the rest of the plot was meaningless, all I really wanted to see was whether Butter would actually go through with his decision to eat himself to death live on the internet or not. The other stuff - couldn't have cared less. I wanted to know what happened and see the fall out of however things turned out.

Which was another issue for me. What happens after what happens (trying not to spoil anything for anyone who might still want to read this book) didn't sit right with me. I don't know if it's just because certain characters behaved out of character, or there wasn't actually enough fall out for my liking, but something felt off about the way the book ended and I didn't like it.

This is the first book of Erin Lange's that I've ever read - I'm not even sure if there are more, this could well be her debut - but my opinion of how this book ended up won't stop me from reading any more of her books. As I said before, it's got one of the strongest openings I've read in a long time. I think perhaps the concept just wasn't quite enough to sustain a whole novel, perhaps it would have worked better as a novella, I don't know. If the concept of this book intrigues you - and if it doesn't, I really do think there might be something wrong with you, because it is a really interesting idea - you should definitely give it a try. You might even like the ending!

Oh, I almost forgot to say. How cool is that cover? It actually looks like it's been carved out of a block of butter. I love it.



Choosing a New Project

I am currently without a project. A writing project, I mean. The whole improving-myself thing is ongoing. Supposedly. Anyway, I finished writing my most recent manuscript at the very end of December and haven't really written anything since. So, the plan is to start a new manuscript on April 1st.

This decision led to a rather thorny problem, though, because I don't actually have anything that's ready to go. I had a couple of ideas that were too new, that I knew I would never finish if I started them next week because they just weren't ready to go yet. There was an idea that was at the perfect stage of development, but was just too close to the last thing I wrote - the last manuscript was about a teenage girl who sold her soul to the devil, this idea is about a teenage girl who dies as an atheist and has to try and get into heaven. Too much crossover for my liking.

So what did that leave me with? Finishing the last manuscript I abandoned because I started it too soon? No, that wouldn't work because I still haven't figured out the problem that tripped me up last time. I haven't been thinking about it all that hard, but it's been over a year now. It's not a problem that's going away any time soon. Then there was re-writing the damn vampire book that I can't seem to get right and have already re-written three times. I'm starting to think that one will never work and I should stop trying, that I should just let it exist in my head in perfection, because it is just perfect until I try to actually put it into words.

Ultimately, my new project was decided by process of elimination. It was the only one in any real shape that I couldn't find an excuse not to get on with. Sure, it's not quite at the stage of planning I'd like it to be, the main character has a really clever plan that I haven't figured out yet, but it makes sense to write this one. So, for the foreseeable future, my WIP is a book about people who set-up murders and cover them up afterwards.

You know, as you do.



Tuesday, 26 March 2013

SIDE EFFECTS

A young woman starts taking anti-depressants and does something terrible. But is she responsible or was it the drug?

That's about all I can say to describe the plot of this movie without giving anything away. It's not full of twists and there isn't one big thing I could say that would ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but I'd like to be careful, because I like to know very little about films before I see them.

I will say this, though. This isn't the film I thought it was going to be. Even as I was watching it, it changed. I'm not sure exactly what I thought it was going to be about, but during the film I decided it was intended to explore the real essence of culpability - if a person does something while under the influence of a drug, are they responsible or is the drug? Is their psychiatrist responsible because they prescribed the drug? And I think that would be an interesting film. The only trouble is that it isn't this film. This film is something more...melodramatic, shall we say? (I promise I will at some point look up the definition of the word melodramatic because I really don't know if I use it correctly. Mostly because I can't tell you the difference between dramatic and melodramatic.)

Jude Law and Rooney Mara were very good. Channing Tatum's impression of a potato continues to impress me. Catherine Zeta Jones seemed to be in a very different film to the other actors, and that didn't work for me at all.

It wasn't a bad film. I didn't especially like the route it took ultimately, I would have much preferred a film exploring the legal predicament of who really was responsible for what happened (but then, I refuse to miss a single episode of The Good Wife, so I enjoy legal stuff anyway). I will say this, though. At the end, I was waiting for another bit to happen. There were a couple of different things that could have come after the ending, but I didn't like where it stopped. It just didn't feel quite finished to me. Worth a watch, though, I think.



Monday, 25 March 2013

CLOCKWORK PRINCESS

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

Tessa Gray should be happy - aren't all brides happy?
Yet as she prepares for her wedding, a net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute.
A new demon appears, one linked by blood and secrecy to Mortmain, the man who plans to use his army of pitiless automatons, the Infernal Devices, to destroy the Shadowhunters. Mortmain needs only one last item to complete his plan. He needs Tessa. And Jem and Will, the boys who lay equal claim to Tessa's heart, will do anything to save her.

I'm finding it hard to know what to say about this book, the final instalment in Clare's Infernal Devices series. I wasn't a huge fan of the first two, I thought they were pretty poor in comparison to the first part of her other series The Mortal Instruments, but I went out and bought this on the day of release so that it wouldn't be spoilt for me by anyone else. So obviously there's something in this series that I like. Or I'm a crazy person, one of the two.

I could sit here all day trying to figure out what it is about this series I don't like - the characters, the writing, the really inauthentic London setting, the odd amalgamation of modern and old language (it's set in the 1800s) - but I won't. I'll settle for just saying a bit about this book. The description at the top of this review is taken from the back of the book. Now, doesn't it seem like the whole Mortmain having an evil plan plays a big part here? I thought so, but when I was reading the book, it felt like that whole plot line was sidelined in favour of the love triangle, a love triangle that I've never really liked. (My theory is that you have to like at least one of the participants in order to care about a love triangle, and I don't particularly like Tessa, Will or Jem). In terms of pages, it takes up a lot of the novel, but it never really seems important. It's more like set-dressing - you'd notice if it wasn't there, but you're not really paying attention to it. Also, Mortmain's plan is kind of dull, since we've pretty much known it for three books now. Only the final part needed to be revealed, but even that wasn't especially shocking.

The other major issue I had with this book was the ending. If you haven't read the book and plan to, stop here, because there will be spoilers. Basically, we've all known for three books that Tessa is going to have to choose between Jem and Will. Now, this is a risky strategy, because you risk upsetting around half of your fans with whichever choice Clare settles on. So what she's done is create a really false-feeling ending that makes everyone happy. Tessa lives a long and happy life with Will. When he dies, she lives a long and happy life with Jem. Because she's immortal, so she can do shit like that. And it just...it ruined it for me, I think. I didn't care which of the boys Tessa chose, as long as she did actually choose one of them. It was a real cop-out of an ending. I didn't need the epilogue at all. In fact, it reminded me of the pointless epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There was a really good ending, but then the author decided to tag an extra bit on. Sure, it was nice to know that everyone did end up marrying who we thought they would, but I for one didn't need it confirmed. Either in Harry Potter or Clockwork Princess

Like I said before, I've never been a huge fan of this series. It was something I read because I quite liked Clare's other series, and I wasn't even that great a fan of those books (liked the first three, didn't like the next two, although I will have to read the sixth one to find out what happens). Naturally, if you've read the other two books in this series, you'll want to read this one. And from what I can see, it seems to be getting five star reviews across the board, as well as a lot of tears shed over it. So maybe it's just me that didn't really like it and you might love it. Who knows?



Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Well, that's it. The series re-read done and dusted. Honestly, I kind of had to rush the last third of the book to have it done in time to start another book on its release day, which is a real shame, especially as I wouldn't have needed to if I hadn't caught a hideous cold at the end of last week. I still enjoyed it, though. It upset and annoyed me more than it probably should have done. As with every other time I've read it, I cried at several points. And got really angry about some others. Let's focus on the angry-making ones, shall we?

1 - Just a small one to start. Taking Polyjuice Potion is an important aspect of this book, it's used three times, all of them quite important points in the story. Thing is, the characters mention that their stores of the potion are depleted, but it's never mentioned where they got it in the first place, whether they made it or stole it. Where they found the time to make it or where they stole it from.

2 - And now the big one. The wand allegiance stuff. I don't get it, I never have. Now, I'm going to try really hard not to let this turn into a huge rant about why it doesn't work. People have been trying to explain it to me for years and I still can't get my head around it, but if you want to take a shot, that's what the comments section is for. Suffice it to say, I don't get it. I accept that the Elder Wand belongs to Draco. I refuse to accept that it transfers to Harry. Harry didn't even disarm Draco, he just snatched a different wand from his hand. I know there's magic involved, but that's just ridiculous. The thing is, this isn't just some silly thing mentioned in one chapter and of little consequence (like the Polyjuice Potion and other things that annoy me about these books. Okay, all books), this is a huge moment, it's the climax of the series, the climax of seven long books, the way that Harry defeats Voldemort. You could argue that it is the most important moment in the entire series. And I can't find a way to make it work in my head. I just can't. And that drives me insane.

3 - I also really hate the chapter in King's Cross with Dumbledore. It kills all the tension in the end of the book. I hate it possibly as much as I hate the stupid and wholly unnecessary epilogue at the end of the book. I mean, it gives me a chance to dry my tears and recover a little, but that's the only purpose it serves.

I love these books and I've really enjoyed this re-read. It was really nice to just lose myself in that world for a few weeks and to be able to go back to something that I loved and still love it. Since studying Creative Writing, I've found it hard to switch the analytical side of my brain off while reading. I spot things I would never have noticed before, like the fact that Rowling has a tendency to repeat a word several times on one page. And not for effect, because she didn't notice she was doing it. Despite things like that, though, I still enjoyed it and I think that's a testament to the story, the characters and the world that she has created. They all have so much depth, there isn't a one-dimensional moment in the series.

Well, saying that, there is something else I've noticed about the series. Everyone has a different favourite instalment. There doesn't seem to be any one that is unanimously considered better than the others. I think this has something to do with them being planned as a series from the very beginning - every book served a purpose and so they all built on the last rather than any of them feeling like an afterthought. My personal favourite is Half-Blood Prince, but I know others that will say Philosopher's Stone, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix or Deathly Hallows. It is, though, odd that Chamber of Secrets does seem to be most people's least favourite. And not one of them can actually tell you why that is.



Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

1 - Okay, this is extraordinarily picky (even for me) but in Goblet of Fire, Harry worries about spending an hour in the lake because he's never had swimming lessons. I'm sure he was worried about the whole not being able to breathe thing as well, but there was definitely mention of him not being a strong swimmer. And yet, he doesn't hesitate to dive into icy water at the bottom of a cliff - water that is inaccessible by boat because of how dangerous it is. I mean, sure, he probably trusts that Dumbledore won't let him drown, but still.

2 - Can house-elves do laundry? Random question, I know, but it's been kind of niggling at me for a while. I can't imagine the Malfoys having an elf to cook and clean for them, but do their own laundry. And don't say they'd just use magic, because they can use magic for it all, they don't need a house-elf. And it's not like they can have washing machines.

And that's it. That's all I had to say about this one. I love this book, it's my favourite, and not just because it's the one where Dumbledore dies. I couldn't say why it's my favourite, but it is. Oddly, or perhaps not oddly at all, Half-Blood Prince has always been my least favourite of the films. It's the only one that they really butchered, where they cut things I considered crucial to the story and added in completely nonsensical random things - like blowing up the Burrow. I was never a huge fan of any of the films, they've grown on me with time, but this one still really irritates me. Reading the book again has made me realise just how much.



Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Yeeeah, so it only occurred to me yesterday that I hadn't actually gotten around to blogging about this instalment, which I finished several days ago, so you'll be getting two posts tonight instead of one. Unless I get a better offer before I finish the second one.

Again, I have surprisingly few comments to make about this book, which I think is a sign of how much I've been enjoying re-reading them.

1 - Tonks does magic in Privet Drive. A small thing, I know, but it's a covert operation and as we discover (later in this book, I think it is) the Ministry can't tell who performed spells, just where they were performed. They would have known about the magic and done something, just as they did when Dobby performed the Hover Charm, when Harry blew up Aunt Marge, and when he produced a Patronus in front of Dudley. In this book, Harry goes to a full trial for that last one, and so why is the fact that Tonks does magic in Privet Drive between these two events never mentioned?

2 - This book is really important because [SPOILER ALERT] Sirius dies. This is the first time a major character has died. Despite a lot of jeopardy in the books, up until this point, we've only seen Quirrel, Frank Bryce and Cedric Diggory die. And actually, I think Quirrel's death is made really quite ambiguous, it's not until much later that anyone actually says Quirrel was killed (I think, I could be wrong about this, and don't hesitate to shout out with page numbers if I am). So to kill a major character really ups the stakes, for the first time, you realise that actually, your favourite characters might not make it to the end of the series, let alone beyond it. And that's not only quite a brave thing for J.K. Rowling to have done with what is, essentially, a children's book, but it's so important for the readers.

3 - How Harry feels about Dumbledore after Sirius dies - hating his calm knowledge and understanding - is how I feel about him most of the time. I would say all, but there are a couple of specific moments when I feel differently. He just makes me want to throw things. He thinks he knows everything, and maybe he does, but there's a quiet smugness to him. Why should he get to decide when people are ready to know things? This bit of his speech says it all really: "...you are not nearly as angry with me as you ought to be. If you are to attack me, as I know you are close to doing, I would like to have thoroughly earned it." I want to attack him and he didn't even get my godfather killed. I'm amazed Harry didn't leap across the desk and flatten him. I just think that Dumbledore fulfils the role of the Wise Old Wizard - literally, in fact - and that's a character I've always found irritating. I had the same problem with Macon Ravenwood in the Beautiful Creatures series, though I didn't care anywhere as deeply for those books as I do for these, and so it didn't matter so much that one of the characters was such a constant cause of irritation.

Ending on a brighter note - Dumbledore dies at the end of the next book, so he didn't get to irritate me for too much longer.



Sunday, 3 March 2013

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

How boring is that cover? I mean, I know the actual Goblet of Fire is described as being plain, but come on. Some sparkles wouldn't have gone amiss. That aside, this has always been one of my favourite books in the series. For a long time, it was the favourite. Mostly because there were mermaids. I was obsessed with the second task, and the chapter containing it was my favourite chapter of the series for years. (For those of you wondering, it's now a certain chapter towards the end of Deathly Hallows which makes me blubber like a baby every time I read it).

Unlike Prisoner of Azkaban, I have several things I'd like to mention about this book. One of which really, really bugs me. See if you can guess which one it is.

1 - Amos Diggory mentions that the Lovegoods have been at the Quidditch World Cup for a fortnight already by the time he and the Weasleys go, but I can't see the Lovegoods being remotely interested in Quidditch or organised sport on the whole. If they did go, they'd probably forget to go to the match and spend the time chasing bizarre animals through the forest.

2 - When practising Stunning, Ron keeps missing the cushions, so why doesn't he lie down on them for Harry to Stun him? I can't see how it would make any difference - if they're practising doing the spell, then presumably Ron isn't trying to block it, so him lying down would just save him some bruises. I'm amazed Hermione didn't think of this. Unless she was just being mean. She does that sometimes.

3 - The World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament - this entire book in fact - make a huge deal about the fact that there are wizards all around the world, in every country, in significant enough numbers that they have their own magical schools and Ministries of Magic. So why on earth is this never mentioned again? Going after other countries doesn't appear to factor into Voldemort's plan at all, he appears content to just get Britain. Maybe his plan is to go after other countries eventually, so surely the other Ministries would think something along the lines of "Oh, shit, he'll come after us next, maybe we should help Dumbledore stop him." Not only that, but the international wizards don't seem to factor into Dumbledore or the Order's plans at all either. Okay, maybe Voldemort wanted to develop a strong footing in the UK before going after the rest of the world, so why didn't Dumbledore call on the rest of the world to help stop him? Why? Seriously, why? This has always bothered me, but it's never occurred to me before that Goblet of Fire makes a huge point about the internationality of magic. I mean, they actually mention The Department of International Magical Co-operation. I get that maybe bringing in the whole world was a bit beyond the scope of what could be achieved in the novels - I mean, I dread to think how long the books would have been if Rowling did bring all the other countries into it. Actually, I don't dread it, I'd've loved even longer books - but why then use this instalment to make a big fuss about it? If you're going to ignore the rest of the world, don't spend 700 pages talking about them before you gloss over them.

4 - In the graveyard, Voldemort says his Death Eaters knew what steps he took to prevent his death. Not just that he took steps, he specifically says that they know what steps he took. So Snape should have known about the Horcruxes and he should have told Dumbledore so Dumbledore should have known about the Horcruxes instead of just suspecting them so he should have started searching for them earlier so he could have been finished before he died. Sure, this would have made Deathly Hallows a hell of a lot shorter, but Snape knew. And things like that bother me. Precise wording is important.

5 - In the edition I'm reading, the adult cover paperback, it's been changed so that Harry's mother appears from Voldemort's wand first, as opposed to the original editions, when his father appeared first. The fact that it was wrong always bugged me, because it's quite a huge, glaring error, but I'm not sure I like the fact that it's been fixed either. It's jarring. I noticed it. I think maybe they should have just left it alone.

If you guessed number three is the one that annoys me the most, you'd be right. Still, despite all these things, I still love this book, and I actually really enjoyed reading it again. It's strange how quickly it rattles along, given the length of this book. Things like the second task, which I remembered as being a lot longer, is actually really short. It's strange, maybe scenes felt longer to me because I was younger, but at times it almost seems rushed. Which, again, is weird considering this book has 796 pages. The next is the longest, though - and did you know that despite Order of the Phoenix being the longest book with 956 pages, it's actually the shortest of the movies? - and, in my opinion, contains one of the most important moments in the series. Stay tuned to find out what that is.