Book Reviews





The fatal flaw

“Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.” 
The Secret History - Donna Tartt

I am FINALLY reading this book, after years of knowing about it and meaning to. So far, it is living up to every expectation.


Book trailers: The new breed

There is a strange thing happening in living rooms and cinemas across the UK... Books are being made into 30 second melodramas to entice you into reading them, and they're going about it in weird and, in some cases, quite creepy ways.

I've only just started really noticing these odd book commercials, but I'm pretty sure they've been about a while. However, they recently seem to be multiplying and spawning new cheese-tastic cliches in the hope of (presumably) attracting their equally cheese obsessed target stereotypes.

Take this one for example:

Now, I work in marketing and even I'm confused about what that ad's trying to do.

My first thought - "Is this on after 9pm? Coz I kinda hope so..."
My second thought - "Hang on, am I watching Dawson's Creek reruns from the 90's?"
My third - "Err, if this is Dawson's creek, is post 9pm really the prime airtime spot?"
And lastly - "Dear god, it's for Starcrossed. And YET AGAIN the promotion does not support the real storyline!"

(See this post for my frustration at the lying antics of it's very own blurb for context.)

Lets not mention the amount of cheese lavished upon this monstrosity of so-called "advertising". Actually, I almost wish I had seen this before I had bought and read Starcrossed myself, because then I definitely wouldn't have bought it, thereby saving myself the mental scarring.

However, today I have had the rare experience of watching a book trailer that wasn't all too bad. It seems to have made the leap from "lets see who we can trick into reading this book" to "lets actually entice paranormal thriller fans with a bit of the book's USP". It's atmospheric, it's well acted, it isn't a cheesed-up chapter of the book. It's its own standalone addition to the brand, and I think that's why it works.

It advertises Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children:

Ahh, much better. If I hadn't read it already, I would actually give this book a chance to lure me in further with it's blurb, reviews etc. If you too would like to give it more chances to lure you, you can read my little review of it here: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

The effect of words

My boyfriend and I often have the discussion of what affects us more in terms of emotional reaction: words or pictures. He works in psychology and I work in marketing, so emotional affiliation with content is something we both find quite intriguing (call us geeks if you will.) What sticks with you? What makes you stop? What haunts the back of your mind after seeing/reading it, only for it to surface as a memory now and then, at opportune or inconvenient moments?

What is particularly interesting to me is the reaction to "controversial" subjects when presented in different forms. For example, it is widely documented by our concerned parenting clubs across the world that people are becoming indifferent to images of violence, due to overexposure through video games, movies and even tv news. But do they feel as emotionally detached when reading the story in a news paper? What if a beloved book character experienced the same traumas?

When these things are read about, do they have the same effect as images used to have? And if so, is this a problem that publishers should consider?

It's a topic that can see us through hours (if a glass of wine weighs in on it too!) and it always gets me thinking about some of the fervent topics in literature and publishing today, especially the question of whether literature should be censored/carry warnings.

It is my opinion that literature has a responsibility: to encourage imagination and inspire, to provide escapism and impossibility, to present new ways of thinking and seeing, to fight causes, to raise hope, to reassure and reassess, to open our eyes to what we cannot see or experience ourselves. We do not have to agree with what we read, but the option to read it for the benefits of insight, education and empathy should always be there, and for these reasons I don't agree with censorship. But I also know that words can be the most shocking, most heartbreaking, most terrifying things in the world.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but how many pictures can a single syllable create? Blue, for example - the sea? The sky? Flowers? Your mum's best dress? Dead bodies...? Sometimes your own imagination is the most dangerous thing to leave unguided. Perhaps we need the finality of an image when it comes to violence? To tell us that it ends here. It goes this far. That even though this is bad, it gets no further than this. It saves our nightmares and daydreams from getting sucked into the infinite options.

My boyfriend is more affected by words than pictures, especially when it comes to violence. I seem to be the opposite. He will read The Happiness Hypothesis while I read Hannibal, and watch Reservoir Dogs as my eyes dart the walls waiting for re-runs of Gossip Girl (because let's face it, who's sticking with season 5?!) I asked him once, from behind a cushion in the midst of a particularly harrowing anime death sequence, "have you read this?"

"No," came the reply, "I don't like reading violent books."

Apparently, when he was a child, he chose a book from a bookshop to read when he went to work with his mum one day. An advanced reader, he found a book with a blurb about adventure and empty houses, topics appealing to an inquisitive young boy. The seller sold his mum the book, knowing it was not for her, and my boyfriend read it. The book was (to the best of his memory) called The Cave, and the scenes of death, violence and "adult content" have stayed with him ever since. He openly admits the book was "disturbing" and that he wishes he hadn't read it - and had the blurb given any hint of the true content, he wouldn't even have chosen it, let alone asked his mum to buy it for him.

I have never been in my boyfriend's position. In fact, I prefer to read any violence that may occur in a story line rather than view it, as I feel the character motives are more clearly defined or explained, there's greater context, and there is no need to "out-do" the competition in a Hollywood effects battle, calling for more gore than necessary. The horror reaction to the event of any violence I have read seems apt because of the story implications, not due to the intensity of the blood flow or the sound of bones snapping. But maybe that's just me.

Everyone reacts to everything differently, it's part of what makes us human. But when books can mean as much to us as films, and evoke the same emotions and reactions, should they carry the same warnings? As I say, personally I am against the idea of censorship, but maybe quick theme overviews are useful? I can see how, in the case of a parent encouraging their child to read by buying them books, this kind of thing can almost become a necessity?

What do you think?

The Harry Potter studio tour

On Saturday, I found myself fidgeting with excitement, on the way to Watford for the Warner Bro's Harry Potter Studio Tour.

I had booked the tickets for this so far in advance that I had almost forgotten I had them as the date approached. (I had also unknowingly chosen the worst weekend for travel. Ever. Don't ever try to get anywhere on the Easter weekend!) As I sat on the train I could hardly believe where I was going. Harry Potter was such a staple book of my "YA" days, as many other people my age can probably agree, and my love for it is something like the love I would have for a close friend...or a family pet ;)

As for the films, I think they are one of the few "successfully" adapted franchises taken from books. They brought a world to life that I had already had the chance to create myself, and showed me a different way to see things. Plus the casting was genius!

The tour started with a short film which was a mixture of nostalgia and awkwardness as Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson told us why the studio was special to them and how it was a home away from home/family during their teenage years. I say awkwardness because their interaction with each other was so weird it was as if they had filmed their parts separately and were superimposed next to each other... very strange. Anyways, from the end of the film the fun really started!

For any fan of Harry Potter, it is hard to describe just how worth it this trip is from this point on. By way of proving awesomeness, your first step into the studio itself is directly into the Great Hall. You are then left to your own devices to explore sets such as Dumbledore's office, The Burrow, Hogwarts dormitories and common rooms, Hagrid's hut, Privet Drive, Godrics hollow and looooads more.

Not only this, but you learn how certain things were filmed (such as Hagrid's height difference) and get an insight into the green screen craziness of Quidditch filming. (Big kids, such as me, also get the opportunity to ride a broom and the Ford Anglia using the technology - yes!)

However, the magic really begins (to steal a term used way too often) when you step outside, sample Butterbeer, and enter the creature studio.

The "animatronics" are amazing. The inventiveness and technology that went into creating Lupin's werewolf and even the scuttering Monster Book of Monsters is such an art. And it's really something to see a giant Aragog strung from the ceiling!

Further into this section you walk through Diagon Alley (childhood dream come true!) and then on to an art gallery of the technical drawing, storyboards and models that went into creating the creatures and sets.

The final section is so unexpected that its effect on encountering it is breathtaking.
*spoiler alert!* In a darkened room under spotlights stands a scaled model of Hogwarts Castle, big enough to cover the floor plan of my house. It's simply beautiful and I spent a good 20 minutes gawping at it from every angle. However that's nothing compared to the amount of work that went into it. The highly detailed replica took a whole 74 years of accumulated artists’ time to create.

I whole-heartedly recommend the tour to anyone who is a fan of Harry Potter. It made me realise how much I miss not having a new Hogwarts adventure to look forward to...
I think a re-reading is called for!

Here are some of my photos from the day (sorry if they take forever to load!):

The Hunger Games - did cinema do it justice?

No doubt about it, for a long time I have been (and still remain) a Hunger Games fan. Yesterday evening, I did what any fan would do, and went to the cinema to see the film adaptation.

I'd heard a lot of good things from friends who had seen it before me (some had read it, some hadn't) and I have to say I was genuinely looking forward to watching it, without the usual feeling of something you love about to be slaughtered. There were a lot of good things about the film, and I feel in terms of adaptation, it was as well adapted as the Harry Potter films were from their originals: not perfect, but enjoyable none the less. I didn't walk away feeling anything had been sacrificed for special effects (something that usually gripes me!) or that the edits were unfounded. In fact, I would probably recommend the film to people.

However, I can't ignore the fact that I have read the book. And on this level, I guess I have been quite substantially disappointed.

I want to do a bit of a "good/bad/ugly" thing here, because there's a lot of good I do want to say about the film (suprisingly!) I just can't ignore a few things I feel the book is worth reading for - even if you have seen the film 4 times and think you know it inside out.

The Good

Jennifer Lawrence. I've no idea what the "community" out there is saying about her (though I've heard some saddening rumours) as I've pretty much avoided all media until being able to see it for myself and form my own opinions, but I thought she was an excellent Katniss. She had a quietness that was perfect, and I believed in her character.

Effie Trinkett. They kept her character spot. on.

District 12. The first 30 minutes of the film were great. Disrict 12 had the ghost-town eerieness it should have had. It was muddy, earthy, wooden and the people were rugged. The city hall was suitably concrete and imposing.

The Games as entertainment. I think this was the most reinforced point of the film, and one that aided in understanding the Capitol where other "traits" were forgotten (see next section).

The Bad

The Capitol. Don't get me wrong, I think the film did a great job of getting across the stark contrast and ridiculousness of the Capitol when compared with 12. But there was no underlying threat to the place. No depravity to Snow and his oppression of other districts. Did that even came across at all?! (it's hard to tell, having info from the book already in your head...) It seemed the Capitol was used as comic relief because the people looked "funny"...

The lack of District-ness. So, we saw Rue's district for all of 30 seconds... but what do we know about them besides that they once started to rebel? why did they rebel? whats wrong with the other districts? 12 looks rough but the Capitol doesn't, aren't any more like that?... (asks an audience, having not read the book)
Plus, the snippet of District 4 looked exactly like District 12. It seems the "industries" of the Districts were bypassed.

Peeta's leg. He still has it. Need I say more?

Cinna (and his designs!) Lenny Kravitz was great, but his character was devoid of any flair. Even his dress designs - a feature of the book - and his so-called "transformation" of Katniss were entirely uncommentable. Yes she wore flames, but why did the cinema audience care? It looked shoe-horned in and gimmicky. I would have cut it...

The Games itself. Biggest disappointment this one. The Capitol went all Star Trek on us with a touch-screen sci-fi spectacular control centre... the introduction of "muttations" was contrived and unexplained. (Apparently the Capitol can create creatures for the Games at whim now?) - It kind of felt like "and now theres some JabberJays coz shes stuck in a tree", "and now theres a Mockingjay because she needs to communicate". Also, the rule changes didn't stem from a Capitol's urgency to retain control over the districts as Katniss defied them, but seemed petty and unreasonable for the wrong reasons.

The Ugly

Just look at it O_O it's not even gold!