Sunday, 26 February 2012

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins


When we left Katniss Everdeen at the end of Catching Fire, she had just made it out of her second Hunger Games in two years only to learn that Peeta had been captured and a rebellion had begun against the Capitol. 

Mockingjay picks up with Katniss in a state of mental confusion. She has been so heavily sedated to deal with her breakdown that she struggles to tell the difference between nightmare and reality. The leaders in District 13 are struggling to get her on board as the symbolic image of the rebels' fight and she can barely construct a coherent thought in her head. As she starts to get a grip on reality, the gravity of her absence finally seems to dawn on her and she realises the power she could have in helping the rebels with their cause. But she has her focus on more specific things - finding Peeta and killing President Snow.

Reluctant to be yet another pawn in somebody else's game, Katniss struggles to take orders as her efforts to help those fighting in other districts are recorded and beamed out to the citizens of Panem, showing them and President Snow that she and the rebels are all still fighting. But are the rebels being totally honest with her or just using her for their own gain? Has too much damage been done already for Katniss to ever come back from it? And what are the peacekeepers in the Capitol doing to Peeta?

Where many authors would have picked up this third installment in the trilogy with action and fighting, Suzanne Collins bravely acknowledges the person behind all the action - Katniss Everdeen - and allows her time out of battle to try and deal with what has happened to her. She is filled in on all that she missed while in the arena the second time round and often has relapses into a state of severe agitation and confusion. She is a fighter - there is no question - but in allowing this vulnerability and weakness to shine through, Collins allows the reader time to really embrace Katniss and will her onwards. Then of course, there is the ever confusing love triangle between her and her best friend Gale and fellow victor Peeta. Her worry for Peeta while he is being tortured by the Capitol starts to seem more than just friendly concern and Gale doesn't know how to take it.

Collins kills indiscriminately, much more like Harry Potter author JK Rowling than Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. But she does not kill off her characters lightly. By revealing early on that she is not afraid to kill people off, she keeps the reader guessing. There is no comfort in knowing it will all be alright in the end. You know no such thing. Emotions run high in this final book in the saga and Collins keeps you guessing till the very end as to whether or not it will all have been worth it. Have tissues at the ready for an emotional rollercoaster of a read.

Mockingjay is a gripping and action-packed end to the Hunger Games trilogy fraught with emotion at every stage.


For your chance to win the entire trilogy you have until Wednesday 29th February to enter the competition over at Novelicious.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Are the Oscars® Over Before They've Even Started?

Speculation has begun over which film will take Best Picture at this Sunday's Oscar® ceremony. Here are the nominees:

The Artist
War Horse
Tree of Life
Midnight in Paris
The Help
Extremely Loud
The Descendants

Many people believe that The Artist is the clear frontrunner to win and while it may not be everyone's film of 2011, it's certainly the best film out of that list. What other film has managed to charm both critics and audiences alike? None. All of the films on this year's Best Picture list are adequate - apart from War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - both of which I have heard are horrendous and have no desire to see. They're all perfectly good, watcheable films - if you like that sort of thing. But not one of them blew my socks off. The Artist did.

Yet, having won so many awards already, it seems too easy to give The Artist Best Picture. Because let's face it - people love an underdog. And for a while, The Artist was. It was a little known film with a cast people hadn't seen before, a director whose name people couldn't pronounce and it was all in black and white! In an era of spectacle at the cinema, few would have thought it would do well. Then Harvey Weinstein got his hands on it and BOOM! The Artist became a global sensation.

But if it is time for The Artist to step down as king, who could take its place and grab the gong? Drive? We Need to Talk About Kevin? No - they didn't even make the shortlist. Arguably because of their controversial subject matter but maybe the powers that be just didn't like them.

At the 2011 Academy Awards, the list was a great one. It had a mix of genres, of styles and tastes. And each one offered something great.The films from last year were: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter's Bone. There's something for everyone in that list! There were front runners of course but any one of those films could have taken the crown. This year, it feels more like choosing the best of a bad bunch.

Will the American's love of baseball mean Moneyball takes it? Or perhaps their adoration for Martin Scorsese will persuade them to award Hugo with Best Picture. The cast did a brilliant job in The Help but will it win Best Picture? Unlikely.

Most of the major awards seem to be so unbearably predictable it almost seems unnecessary to have a ceremony at all. It might just be easier to give The Artist and Meryl Streep their awards by post and throw everyone a big party where they can speak for longer than 40 seconds and sob into a glass of wine, not a mini statue. It will most probably offer up something a little more controversial...

Will I still be checking out the highlights when I wake up on Monday morning? Of course I will. I can't wait to see what Billy Crystal has in store and what the ladies behind Bridesmaids make of their chance to present. I just wish the awards themselves got me as excited.

So who do you want to win Best Picture at the 2012 Academy Award Ceremony? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Woman in Black: Book vs Film vs Play

In 1983, The Woman in Black by Susan Hill was first published. The horror fiction novel saw Solicitor Arthur Kipps sent to the northern village of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. The book is Kipps's retelling of this particular story after his step-children ask him to tell them a ghost story. He is overcome with an unbearable feeling of fear and realises that he has surpressed an event in the deep recesses of his mind and never properly dealt with it. He decides to write down his story in order to finally deal with his demons and in doing so, shares his tale with the reader of that trip to Crythin Gifford, the deserted funeral for Mrs Drablow and the creepy goings-on at her estate Eel Marsh House. 

An eerie ghost story with a suitably creepy setting, the book managed to scare readers so much that within six years of its publication it had been adapted into a stage play and a TV movie. The narrative style is incredibly evocative and has very little dialogue, so lending itself to interpretation.

Best of Theatre
The stage play of The Woman in Black moved to London in 1989 and still runs today. It is spectacular in its simplicity, acted entirely by two men. One, Kipps, hires an actor to reenact the account he has written, feeling that if he can get it all spoken out loud, he can finally lay the ghost to rest. There are a few terrifying glimpses of the woman herself but the actress is not even mentioned in the production's programme. 

It also does what only the greatest adaptations do - it makes changes that not only stay faithful to the original story but somehow manage to really hone in what works in the new medium that wouldn't have worked in the original. The brilliant twist in the play only works in the theatre setting and enhances the true horror of the story.

This month saw the release of the new film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe as Kipps. It really makes the most of what the cinematic medium has that stage and literature doesn't - special effects. There is so much silent tension in the film that when she does appear it is horrifying to the point of screaming out in fright. If you like watching horror films that have you cowering in your seat, jumping and screaming in shock and hiding your face behind your hands because you can just sense that something is coming, then this delivers. Radcliffe handles the role brilliantly, looking suitably distraught and sympathetic to the woman's plight. Sadly though, all the elements that made the film brilliant were let down slightly because the filmmakers decided it needed a touch of Hollywood and changed the ending to one that was annoyingly neat and tidy. 

There are a fair few changes made in each adaptation, largely the point at which Kipps starts his story. In the book, he is a widow recently remarried. In the play he has a wife and son at home and in the film his wife died in childbirth so it's just him and his son. The woman in black herself also differs in each. Often she just stands in the distance immobile. But for the rare occasions when she moves, the film and play use it to their full advantage. She also appears much more in the book and is reserved in the film and play for moments of sheer terror. But these are all trivial points and the fundamentals of the story remain intact. 

I saw the play, then the film, then read the book. Whether or not this order affects the way I viewed each version I cannot say. But overall, the play - the first thing I saw - is easily my favourite because the effects of it are still with me today years after seeing it in action. The film turned me into a nervous wreck but lost me with the ending and the book was brilliantly written but over-described everything thanks to its narrative style - to the point of not just calming down its subject, but its reader too. In the book, the fear subsides quickly because Kipps seems to have the ability to talk himself out of being scared. In the film, every time he walked back into Eel Marsh House, I shrunk into my chair a little more. But the play. The play had me screaming in fright in a packed auditorium, paralysed with fear as often as I leapt a clear foot off my seat in shock and shaking with a mixture of awe, terror and excitement when it had finished.

So really, the adaptations are all very well done and suited to their respective mediums. It's just a question of what you like. If you want to read a great ghost story - go for the book. If you want to be scared at the cinema but relaxed by the time you leave - check out the film. But if you enjoy being scared to your very core and frightened to the point of an irrational fear of rocking chairs - then you simply must see the stage production. Just don't say I didn't warn you...

Book - 3.5/5 FOBLES
Film - 3.5/5 FOBLES
Play - 5/5 FOBLES

JK Rowling Makes Her Move Into Adult Fiction

Daily Mail
Being the creator of Harry Potter, arguably the most famous boy in the world, has its ups and downs it seems. Author J K Rowling wanted a change after all her time spent with Christopher Little as her agent and Bloomsbury Books as her publishers.

The Bookseller has today announced that Rowling has now found a new home for her first works post-Potter in Little, Brown. The people who publish Nicholas Sparks, Dorothy Koomson, Alexander McCall Smith and Rosamund Lupton will now be bringing us J K Rowling's first novel for adults.

Bookseller said:
"David Shelley, publisher, Little, Brown, will be Rowling’s editor and will be responsible for publication in the UK with Michael Pietsch, executive vice-president of Little, Brown and Company, responsible for publication in the US. The book will be published by Hachette in Australia and in New Zealand and by Hachette’s companies and normal appointed agents for the English language in other markets."
More information on the novel will be revealed later this year but according to the Bookseller, Rowling has said that it will be "very different" to the Harry Potter series. Rowling also said:
"The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry's success has brought me, and with that new territory it seemed a logical progression to have a new publisher."
Rumour has it that the book will be a crime novel set in Edinburgh but as yet this is unconfirmed.

So what would you love to see Rowling do for her first adult fiction book? Or should she have stuck to writing for children - something which she clearly has a great talent for? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins


In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins created an incredibly strong female lead in Katniss Everdeen. She was a survivor, pushed to the brink and forced to kill in order to survive in a world where the inhabitants live in constant fear of their oppresive and harsh government.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss managed to win the Hunger Games along with fellow District 12 contender Peeta Mellark. When we left them, they had just returned to their district to reap the benefits of their new-found status, wealth and security.

In Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss is still fighting for survival - but in a very different way. Having managed to get out of the games alive - and not alone - Katniss has attracted a lot of unwanted attention. Though hers and Peeta's final act of defiance was played by the Capitol as an act of love, the devilishly sinister President Snow and his fellow officials are unconvinced that the people haven't seen through it. In his attempt to squash any rising rebellion, Snow pays a personal visit to Katniss threatening her with the assassination of everybody she holds dear - her mother, sister and best friend Gale. She soon realises that if she is to protect the people she loves, she must keep up the pretence of her love with Peeta and convince the people of Panem that she is head over heels for him. If she doesn't manage it, it's all over.

It is also the 75th year of the games, meaning that the government are about to pull something spectacular to prove their all-seeing power to the masses and take Katniss down a peg or two. It isn't long before Katniss must decide if she is to fight the system or run from it.

In this sequel, Collins has taken a much deeper look at the world of Panem. The opening celebratory tour takes Katniss and Peeta through each of the districts where they soon realise things are a lot stricter than what they are used to in District 12. The unwanted attention their win has brought on Katniss does not stop with her. More and more peacekeepers are brought into District 12 and public whippings and punishments are reinstated in a district that had, until now, been left largely to its own devices. While The Hunger Games merely hinted at the true horror of Panem, Catching Fire reveals it in all its terrifying glory.

The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale is also looked at much more closely as she starts to realise her true feelings for Gale but is forced to accept a love with Peeta. After spending so much time with him and going through the games together, she begins to realise how good he really is and allows herself to have feelings for him - though Gale is never far from her thoughts.

The action takes a while to get going in Catching Fire but the sinister arrival of President Snow and the forced pretence of the tour more than makes up for its absence. When the action does get going again, just as in The Hunger Games, the book becomes impossible to put down. I devoured it in two days and couldn't rest till I knew how it all ended. And of course all the ending did was make me desperate to read the third and final book in the saga.

The impending release of the first film next month has many people excited but I, for one, am looking ahead to when this book will be made into a film. The incredible Donald Sutherland is cast as President Snow and seeing more of him can only be a good thing along with a whole host of new characters.

5/5 FOBLES - Gripping, fascinating, clever, emotional, action-packed and utterly impossible to put down.

Read my review of the last book in the Hunger Games series - Mockingjay.

Friday, 10 February 2012

2012: The Year of Hemsworth

Courtesy of Crushable - Liam supporting big brother Chris's film Thor

This may come as a surprise to nobody but me - what with their surnames being quite unique and exactly the same - but I've just learned that Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is big brother to rising star Liam Hemsworth whose portrayal of Gale in next month's release of The Hunger Games is sure to send him into stardom.

Liam and other brother Luke were both at one time in hit Australian soap Neighbours while Chris was in Home and Away.

This year, as well as starring in The Hunger Games, Liam Hemsworth will be in The Expendables 2 alongside every action heavyweight in cinema today. Chris will be starring in Snow White and the Huntsman, The Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers.

Not bad for one year - and certainly not at all bad for one family.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Tarantula vs The Skin I Live In: Book vs Film

The Skin I Live in was the latest in a long line of Spanish films from master Director Pedro Almodóvar. The film is a difficult one to explain as most of the plot must be kept entirely secret in order for the audience to experience it for themselves.

The plot, for those who don't know, revolves around a doctor called Robert and the mystery woman Eve he keeps locked away in his house.

The book Tarantula, written by Thierry Jonquet, is incredibly different to the film. The big reveal - for those who have seen the film - remains in tact. It is everything else that changes. The book is in France while the film is in Spain, the maid (no relation in the book) is on holiday throughout and therefore has no involvement whatsoever. The ending, powerful in the film, is utterly different and even more shocking in the book.

But the biggest change is what the doctor does to Eve throughout. In the film, she is kept under lock and key, going slowly mad in her own solitute. In the book, however, Robert pimps her out to the nastiest men he can find and watches through the one-sided mirror, revelling in Eve's pain.

To tell you any of the other plot twists would give too much away. But if you were impressed by the film then the book is certainly worth reading. It's also incredibly short. Just beware of reading it in public as the cover might turn a few heads.

Though there are numerous differences, both book and film standalone as brilliantly complex and dark works. The care Almodóvar took with the film forgives him the alterations.

Book: 4 FOBLES
Film: 3.5 FOBLES

Friday, 3 February 2012

New Cover for Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid

Finding an incredible debut author is like finding a needle in a haystack. Many new authors write great books which are well-received by many. However, there are a select few who come out of nowhere and have one of the most read books of the year. Recently for me this was Rosamund Lupton - whose debut book Sister back in 2010 blew my literary socks off. Her follow up had a lot to live up to but she somehow managed to pull off an incredible second book.

Now it seems that the people at Michael Joseph in Penguin towers may have stumbled across the debut author of 2012 to watch. I haven't had a chance to read this yet but the blurb and cover image are certainly enticing...
'They tried to make me go to my sister's funeral today. In the end I'd had to give in ... I'd been walking in her shadow for sixteen years and I liked its cool darkness. It was a good place to hide.'

How would you feel if your twin sister died suddenly? Particularly if she was the beautiful one and you were horribly disfigured. And how would it feel to be alone now if you and your sister were the only ones to know the truth about what takes place behind closed doors at home?And what would you do if it was your parents who brought danger and terror into your life? Would you dare reveal how your sister died? And would you be brave enough to find an escape of your own?

Black Heart Blue is a powerful novel about the domestic horrors that can unfold within a small community - and one girl's quest to stand up for the truth.
Louisa can be found on Twitter at @Louisareid

Black Heart Blue is out in paperback on 10th May 2012

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Cover for Jodi Picoult's New Book: Lone Wolf

I've had the pleasure of reading this book - which is out at the end of the month - and I have just seen the final cover. Now I know the saying suggests you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but wow. I think it's gorgeous and had to share it...

The book is available to pre-order now and my review will be going up at Novelicious soon.