Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Book Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Apocalyptic style stories are usually quite sudden and dramatic. In The Day of the Triffids, most of the world's population went blind overnight. In The Day After Tomorrow, the climate shift is forecast to happen in 100 years and starts happening within half an hour of the film's opening credits. People rush out and clear shelves in supermarkets, buy guns, start looting - chaos ensues. 

Debut Author Karen Thompson Walker, however, takes a different approach in The Age of Miracles - a book that is hauntingly realistic in its catastrophe because it happens so gradually. One day, there are 24 hours in a day, then suddenly people notice there aren't. The days have slowly been getting longer because, people realise, Earth's rotational pull has been slowing down.

This isn't a terrifying and sudden battle for survival. Nobody knows the effects this 'slowing' is going to have on the planet and governments and the people of Earth try to adapt to the new way of things. There is, after all, nowhere to run to avoid this impending catastrophe. It reaches every corner of the globe.

The Age of Miracles looks at these gradual changes through the eyes of a girl on the cusp of her adolescence, from the moment it was announced to the world. As the world adjusts in whatever ways they can, Julia - our guide - notes what she observes around her while dealing with the awkwardness of talking to boys, buying a bra and the everyday struggle to find happiness. She is as much in the dark as the adults and is learning as she goes, about the slowing and about herself.

The days get longer and so do the nights. Before long, the sun is up for more than 24 hours straight and people are struggling to keep going. New time-keeping measures are put in place which divide communities. Plants begin to die, birds struggle to stay airborne and people struggle to cope with the dramatic shift in their sleeping patterns.

This is certainly a debut worth looking out for. With beautiful flowing prose and not a sentence of preachy, sanctimonous drivel in sight, The Age of Miracles will politely make you think twice about leaving lights on unnecessarily, putting TVs on standby or complaining about a little rain. It will make you appreciate daylight - no matter how cloud-filled the sky may be - and the darkness that comes with the setting sun.

The Age of Miracles is not an action-packed disaster story, rather it looks at Julia and the people around her as they are forced to change what they know; adapt or die. A beautiful, compelling and utterly intoxicating debut.


The Age of Miracles will be published in the UK in June by Simon & Schuster - it is available to pre-order now.

Book to Film: The ‘I’ and The ‘Eye’

Guest Post by Lynn Shepherd

First person narration has always been a tricky beast. Slippery to read, and, believe me, even harder to write. We can all name books that are told to us by one of the main characters, some of whom turn out to be - in that famous phrase – ‘unreliable narrators’. Narrators who don’t tell us everything they know, or withhold key facts only to spring them on us later, or – as in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, one of the most celebrated examples – actually turn out to have been the killer all along.

Of course you can’t do that on film, or not very elegantly, anyway. Having an actor address the audience direct is a rather cumbersome device these days. It worked fine for Shakespeare, but modern viewers tend to find it grating after a while, and rarely suspend their disbelief that all the other actors can’t hear what’s being said as well.

So how does a screenwriter translate a book written from such a personal viewpoint into a viable film, and what do we, as viewers, lose or gain by the exchange?

I’m going to talk a bit about Bleak House here, and in particular that very fine BBC 2005 adaptation. Partly because Bleak House has a distinctive ‘double narrative’ structure which raises its own special challenges for the screen, and partly because I’ve echoed that structure in my own book, Tom-All-Alone’s/The Solitary House.

Bleak House is told by two people. One is a voice that we inevitably assume to be Dickens’ own – it’s written in the present tense and is forceful, energetic, and unflinching in pointing out the social evils of the day. The other voice is Esther Summerson’s, telling us the story of her own life as she looks back on the past. But the very fact that she’s looking back means she’s in possession of the ‘secrets’ of the story before she even starts, but we’re not given that information until it emerges in the course of her tale.

In Bleak House these two stories remain largely separate throughout most of the novel, though some characters do appear in both accounts. It’s not till very late on, as the book reaches its climax, that ‘Esther’s past’ and ‘Dickens’ present’ come together in one narrative. The first task for the screenwriter, then, is to fuse these two stories from the start, so that there’s one driving storyline. But of course there’s a price to be paid for doing that. By imposing the one ‘eye’, you lose the subtleties of the two ‘I’s.

One obvious example would be the death of little Jo, the crossing-sweeper, in the book, where Dickens famously steps back at the end of the scene and addresses the audience with a very typical tirade:

Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, right reverends and wrong reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day.

How do you deal with that on screen? The 2005 adaptation (like others before it) has Mr Jarndyce actually speaking a version of those words, though not directly to camera, more as a voicing of his own private thoughts. That’s undoubtedly quite a tidy and practical solution, though it does come over as a little strained and unnatural. So how else could you do it? There was a very fine version of Tom Jones back in 1997 that had Henry Fielding wander into view every now and again, and talk about what was happening in the plot. That worked particularly well because Fielding is such an interfering narrator on the page, so having him do the same on pixels was a lovely light and witty touch. And they got round the ‘everyone can overhear’ point by freezing the action and having him wander about in a tableau of his own creations. Delightful.

And it has to be admitted that screen versions can do some things no writer ever can. For example, the only way Dickens can convey to us that Allan Woodcourt is attracted to Esther is by having her – in effect – tell us so, but it’s hard to bring that off without making her seem rather winsome and falsely modest. TV, on the other hand, can dramatise all the little nuances of glance and gesture that two people communicate to one another, and allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions. In fact, I think one of the reasons Esther works so much better on screen is the very fact that we don’t have to listen to her repeating all the praise people heap on her – TV shows us her actions and allows us to form our own judgment.

So – in short – there’s no one simple answer (is there ever?). The ‘I’ of a book will always give you the richer and deeper experience of its narrator, if only because you spend so much more time with them that way. But in the hands of a great film-maker, that character can come to life on the screen – can reveal new depths and complexities, and bewitch your watching ‘eye’….

- Lynn Shepherd

Lynn Shepherd’s novel Tom-All-Alone’s is out now in the UK from Corsair, and is published 

in the US and Canada on May 1st under the title The Solitary House


To win your own copy, check back with Film vs. Book next Tuesday 1st May for competition details...

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Lucky One: Book vs Film

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks is the story of Logan Thibault, a marine who has lived through three tours in Afghanistan thanks - he believes - to a photo he found during his first tour. The photo is of a woman he doesn't know and clearly belongs to another marine but after having no success finding the photo's owner he keeps it. His best friend Victor convinces him that the photo is his lucky charm and when he returns home he sets out to find the woman in the photo and thank her.

When he tracks down Beth however, he doesn't know how to explain what's happened and keeps the photo secret, instead taking a job working at Beth's family-run kennel. The longer he stays there, the more time he spends with Beth, her young son Ben and grandma 'Nana'. Though their first meeting is a frosty one, Beth and Logan are both surprised by how quickly they start to care for each other.

Beth and Logan are damaged individuals. Sparks knows how to write flawed people who are surprised when good things come their way, having become accustomed to the bad. It makes the passion of the impending romance all the more powerful and the drama that much more heartbreaking. For Logan, he has fallen out of touch with reality, traumatised by his experiences at war. He has become quiet and introverted, unable to really speak to people and relate to them in any real way. He walks everywhere with only his dog for company. Beth, having married young and divorced soon after is raising her son as a single-mother. Her relationships since her ex-husband have been short lived and she has given up on finding love.

The book is typically Sparks - passionate, all-encompassing and with a beautifully honest and heartbreaking romance at its core. The brilliance of Sparks's books is that, detailed as they are, they are often beautifully simplistic in the fundamentals. The characters have been thought out and the stage set well but the story itself is not altogether complex. Being an easy read does not equate to dumbing down and Sparks recognises this, keeping it to the point and just enough to whet the reader's appetite and keep the reader along for the ride all the way to the end. His stories remain compelling from start to finish and are never patronising. 

The brevity of his books go a long way to explaining why they are so suitable to being adapted, as is evident in the latest in an ever-increasing line of Nicholas Sparks book to film adaptations. Luckily, their brevity also means that we are unlikely to ever get a part one and part two adaptation!

The Lucky One film sees High School Musical star Zac Efron transformed in the role of Logan with relative newcomer Taylor Schilling as Beth and support from Blythe Danner as Nana. The casting first of all was spot-on. Efron has clearly done his research for the film, meeting marines and learning how war has affected them. There is also a notable physical difference to show him as the marine. High School has certainly graduated. Schilling has risen well to the role of leading lady, showing the strong and vulnerable sides to Beth perfectly. 

For me, the book was an ensemble effort. Though the story clearly revolves around Beth and Logan and their impending romance, the book spent a lot of time looking at Clayton - Beth's ex-husband - and allowed Ben and Nana to play important roles. In the film, the romance is the key with the others all taking a side seat to their two leads. Jay R. Ferguson, who plays Clayton, is suitably menacing but never really gets to show off just how nasty he really is, with a lot of his back story and the brilliant opening chapter of the book left out entirely. Logan's best friend Victor also gets a much tinier part and the effect his friendship had on Logan is shown only by Logan carrying his dog-tags with him round his neck. Happily though, Beth's son Ben, who shone for me in the book, is captured brilliantly by newcomer Riley Thomas Stewart. He has all the adorable awkwardness of Ben down perfectly and it's wonderful seeing him come out of his shell with Logan around.

Directed by Scott Hicks, the film has shifted focus slightly, playing up the romance as the only real focus of a beautifully interwoven book plot. The ending, though it kept all the 'important' points, is a little too neat and tidy, leaving absolutely nothing unresolved where the book was brave enough to leave certain elements unknown. However, the stunning setting enhances the beauty of the story and makes it a gorgeous, palatable film with a cast that will keep you hooked throughout in their subtleties and inner turmoil.

A beautiful, dramatic and powerful romance that will easily take even the more cynical reader or viewer along for the ride.

Book - 4
film - 3.5

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

HOT TIP: Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid

The lovely folks over at Penguin UK recently sent me an advanced copy of a young adult/crossover debut from Author Louisa Reid called Black Heart Blue. I was lured in by the beautiful, eery cover and compelling, dark synopsis. So I was excited to read it when it arrived. What I hadn't realised was just how much I would love it - I devoured it in two days, almost missing stops on the tube and staying up into the early hours of the morning, just to see what happened.

The book starts with Rebecca going to her twin Hephzi's funeral and then proceeds to jump between her perspective and that of her sister in the lead up to her death. The truth behind what Hephzi died of is kept hidden for most of the story, but it is clear that Rebecca knows the truth.

The twins have been hidden away for so long, they have no idea about the realities of the world in which they live. So when they are finally allowed to go to a public school in their late teens, both react differently. Rebecca, the twin who survived, has been born with a genetic disorder that has affected the bone structure of her face and left her almost totally deaf. Hephzi, on the other hand has been blessed with a natural beauty. But both girls are stifled under the watchful and abusive eyes of The Mother and The Father, parents who are so devout in their religious beliefs, they believe only in punishment and seclusion, never in compassion or understanding.

Black Heart Blue deals with sibling relationships, domestic abuse, disability and the lengths many go to just to try to fit in through the mystery around Hephzi's death and the will for Rebecca to find the courage to break free of her parents. The book is guaranteed to shock many readers but will keep you hooked throughout as you spur Rebecca to keep going.

'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 available to pre-order now and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a powerful debut and I cannot wait to see what Louisa Reid has in store for the future.

Check out Novelicious this month for a full review and chats with the author.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Jennifer Lawrence on Adapting The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games has been out now for a few weeks and is still doing well, beating off competition from some strong contenders. It did well over Easter and has somehow managed to satisfy fans of the book and those new to the trilogy. The books, written by Suzanne Collins are all set to be made into films and fans of The Hunger Games are hoping that the sequels (three films from two books - Catching Fire and Mockingjay) are as good as the first.

The film's star, Jennifer Lawrence, talked about her apprehension in taking on the role of heroine Katniss Everdeen in a recent interview with Moviefone and how being a fan of the books eventually made up her mind. See the link below for the full interview over at Moviefone.
'There was not one thing that I wasn't blown away by -- that I just loved. I know that's a typical interview answer, but really: what the Capitol looked like, what the train looked like, what an Avox looks like -- they created this world that I couldn't even imagine when I was reading the book. Anything that has changed is for the better -- for making a better movie. I think that's where people go wrong when they're making books into movies. People are disappointed if there's something missing, but you also have to think that you're making a movie. It's the perfect combination; everything that you want in there is in there, but it's also just a great film.' - Jennifer Lawrence on adapting The Hunger Games
Check out all the coverage of The Hunger Games books and film here.

The Hunger Games is in cinemas now.

Source: Moviefone

Friday, 13 April 2012

Publishers Little, Brown Reveal More Information on JK Rowling's First Book Since Harry Potter

Daily Mail
JK Rowling found success as the author and creator of Harry Potter and the wizarding world in which he lived. But now, with a new agent and a new publisher, Rowling is venturing into new territory with her first book for adults.

The book, entitled The Casual Vacancy has been dubbed 'blackly comic' by publishers Little, Brown. It is scheduled for publication in hardback, ebook, unabridged audio download and on CD on Thursday 27th September 2012.

Here is the official blurb:

When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

Source: Little, Brown

Book Giveaway: The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks


Next month, Nicholas Sparks's novel The Lucky One hits cinemas. This powerful love story follows Marine Logan Thibault as he goes in search of the woman whose photo he believes kept him alive at war. But, true to Sparks form, things are never quite that simple.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Little, Brown, you can now win a copy of the book for yourselves in this month's Film vs. Book competition! 

All you have to do is email me at with your name and address and tell me why you think you should be the lucky one to win. Good luck! Look out for a RT to win competition on Twitter this week too (@filmvsbook!)

The competition closes 22 April 2012 and is open to UK residents only.

The Lucky One hits cinemas on 2 May and stars Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling and Blythe Danner. Check out the new TV spot below to find out more.


U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive—a photograph he found of a woman he doesn’t even know. Learning her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling) and where she lives, he shows up at her door, and ends up taking a job at her family-run local kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm.

Keep your eyes peeled for The Lucky One: Book vs Film, coming soon....