Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Book 2)
By Suzanne Collins

Published: 2009

Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the annual competition described in Hunger Games, but the aftermath leaves these victors with no sense of triumph. Instead, they have become the poster children for a rebellion that they never planned to lead. That new, unwanted status puts them in the bull's-eye for merciless revenge by The Capitol...

WARNING: This review will most likely contain spoilers from book one.

So as I mentioned in my review of The Hunger Games I enjoyed this series, and absolutely devoured it. Now I've heard from other people that they think it lost a little steam after the first book, but perhaps because of the familiarity I felt with the first book, I actually really loved this book, perhaps even more than book one.

After book one I had a basic idea of where the next book would head. But book two went in a completely opposite direction than I had ever thought possible. At first everything seems to be OK, Katniss is living in her old home and still hunting, her family no longer has to worry about food or keeping warm, and life seems to be moving on at a more regular pace. Things are awkward (read: non-existent) with Peeta thanks to her admission on the train at the end of book one, and she has the district tours to struggle through, but really, what's there to complain/worry about? Well it seems everything. It appears that the rebellious actions of Peeta and Katniss in the last games have acted as a war cry for people in the Districts to rally behind, and the president has made it very clear that if Katniss can't convince the districts that she loves Peeta and that she's not for a rebellion, then everyone she loves will...disappear.

In the first Hunger Games Suzanne Collins documented an awful aspect of the Panem dystopian society. Horrific as it is for you and me, it was, by all accounts, fairly standard for their games. 24 children fight to the death, all while people watch, cheer, bet, and get sucked up in the excitement of it all. However, in Catching Fire it deviates from the norm. They're not used to this kind of frenzy, or level of admiration or push for a rebellion, and Peeta and Katniss are punished over and over again for their role in it all.

If you had told me that book two would take place, once again, in the Hunger Games arena, I probably would have scrunched up my nose and groaned. But I actually thought the way it was handled, as one of the quarter anniversary twists, and as a way to easily kill off two annoyances, was intriguing and smart. Not only does the president get what he wants, but he firmly demonstrates to the rest of the districts how much power he has, and how stupid it is to act out from what he deems appropriate. It wasn't perfect and I felt like some of the deception and secrets were a little sloppy, but I liked that the games introduced a new group of wiser and less obedient characters and that it acted as a method to inspire more rebellion in the districts.

It was during this book that the love triangle between Gale, Peeta and Katniss was further developed. Personally I found the triangle a little lacking, because Gale truly seemed more like an older brother than a potential lover, but I did enjoy it for a different reason. Gale, to Katniss, has always been a symbol of rebellion. He was the guy who hunted with her illegally and who constantly spoke out against The Capitol. Peeta on the other hand, even if he was a saviour to Katniss early in life, is and will forever be connected to the Hunger Games. In book one he manipulated hundreds and thousands of people by constructing the love interest between him and Katniss, essentially saving their lives, but also acting in a very Capitol way. So the love triangle, to me, is less about which of the two boys is more her type, or more deserving of her love. Instead it's a matter of Katniss choosing the direction of her future, will she comply with the Capitol and be with Peeta, or will she rebel, and perhaps start a better life with Gale?

This book played havoc with my emotions, I was up, down, all over the place! Unlike book one, I had no clear idea where this book was heading, so I was taken on the roller-coaster of emotion and action that Suzanne Collins intended. This book was the perfect book to travel between the youth and naivety of the first book, and the balls to the wall rebellion that will occur in the final instalment. A great follow up.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Links

*Are book stores going anywhere? Hear what BISG and Sallie Butler believe. (via Arts Hub)

*Book art created with surgical tools. (Via Karan Arora's Posterous)

*The 2012 Dundee International book contest is now open! Why not give it a shot? (Via Dundee Book Prize)

*The Booktopia Book Giru interviewed famed Australian author Peter Carey about all kinds of wonderful things. (Via Booktopia)

*Ever wondered what it feels like to an author when their book is turned into a film? Why not find out! (Via The Independent)

*This game is addictive! Proke is a quick word/typing game that'll get your brain working overtime. (Via Kongregate)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Film Reviews: Crestfallen, Contact and Drool.

Short films, like short stories, are infinitely more difficult to create than full length features. When done well,  they result in stories that have had every inch of fat and extraneous detail removed, culminating in films that not only make a firm impact on me, but tend to stand the test of time. Drool, Contact and Crestfallen are three short films directed by Jeremiah Kipp. Because of their lengths, and subject matter, I've decided to review each of them in short reviews only. All three films are visually sensational and rich in symbolism and metaphor, and as such, I don't want to spend too much time on my interpretation, because I'd hate for it to cloud your judgement when/if you decide to view them for yourself. So without further ado....

Drool is a four minute highly experimental film. If you decide to view it, please don't make the same mistake as I and attempt to eat your lunch while you watch it! Featuring two actors, the combination of experimental film techniques with the movements of the actors reminded me greatly of a contemporary dance piece. It's a little gross (take the title literally) but beautifully shot, edited and put together.

Contact depicts the highs and lows of drug experimentation. At eleven minutes this film managed to fit in far more substance than I think some "blockbuster" full-length films have managed. The female lead embarks upon a drug adventure with her boyfriend, and what starts off well soon descends into a violent and turbulent hallucinogenic nightmare. The acting is high quality, and the editing and sound phenomenal, but what makes this film stand out is the unbelievable makeup and special effects. Without destroying the effect for anyone, the mouth tunnel and subsequent tear, (see inserted screenshot) were realistic and horrific and had my heart pounding. An outstanding short film.

At six minutes Crestfallen is perhaps my favourite of the three. The cinematography is beautiful, heart-melting eye-achingly so, and the subject matter, acting and composition complement the visuals perfectly. Taking on the tough subject of suicide, the film focuses on the event itself, while showcasing the protagonist's (played by Deneen Melody) life up to that point, and the cause of her suicide attempt. The film takes on a very voyeuristic appearance, as though we're witnessing her life flash before her eyes in the moments before death. The music swells with the growing emotion of the film, and there is a very religious feel to it. Not in a Christian way, but the lighting of the woman in the bath as she takes her life, reminds me of the lighting used in the renaissance paintings that bathed religious figures in light from the heavens. A stunning film, one that will haunt me for some time.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fanart Friday: Harry Potter edition #4 -Hagrid

Rubeus Hagrid... Need I expand on why this hirsute gentlemen deserves his very own Fanart post? From his first mention in Harry Potter I fell head over heels in love with Hagrid, and not once in seven books did he let me down. He's kind, thoughtful, loving, loyal, funny, protective, strong, intelligent (in his own way) and terrible at keeping secrets. From his hairy suit, to his dustpan sized hands I adore this BF(half)G and am happy to share some of the most remarkable art featuring him on Deviant Art. For the love of Hagrid, be sure to click through the links and check out the rest of the work by these talented HP enthusiasts!

Hagrid and Fluffy by Webmyrcury

Hagrid and Norbert by JamesDu

Hagrid by Deuz (Muenchgesang)

Carry Harry by Lorna

Hagrid's Beardly Bestiary by Miranda

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

By Chuck Palahniuk

Published: 2002

Synopsis: Carl Streader is a reporter investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome for a soft-news feature. After responding to several calls with paramedics, he notices that all the dead children were read the same poem from the same library book the night before they died. It's a "culling song" - an ancient African spell for euthenising sick or old people. Researching it, he meets a woman who killed her own child with it accidentally. He himself accidentally killed his own wife and child with the same poem 20 years earlier. Together, the man and the woman must find and destroy all copies of this book, and try not to kill every rude sonofabitch that gets in their way.

I decided to read this book during the "winter" readathon thinking it was a Chuck Palahniuk book that I hadn't read yet. After the first chapter I recognised that I had at least started it before, and it soon became clear that I had actually finished the book...I just didn't remember reading it. Take that as you will, although you should probably take it to mean that I found this book MEH.

I adore Palahniuk, he has a writing style that is uniquely his, and while this book was definitely a "Palahniuk book" it just didn't hit the same heights as the other books of his I've read. Part of the problem is the synopsis. It's a little misleading, or at least, it was to me. It lead me to believe the story would be more detective-y, and even though they state quite clearly that the cause of the deaths is the culling song, I thought there'd be more of a journey to discover that. Instead the majority of the story follows Carl's cross country trips, accompanied by Helen (the woman mentioned in the synopsis) and their two pseudo-children (Oyster and Mona - Helen's assistant), to find and destroy all the copies of the culling song, and the grimoire that originally held the song. And even this is a small part of the story, the stronger focus is the conflicts between Carl, Helen, Oyster and Mona, all who have very, very different views on the world, and all desire the grimoire for different reasons. Carl just wants to destroy it, Helen wants it so she can restore a life that's lost, while Mona and Oyster want it so they can "better" the world with their various brands of eco-terrorism.

I think the characters were the real problem for me. I just felt like the book rushed from event to event so quickly that I never really got a chance to get to know who they are. Instead they were a series of quirks, habits, or mannerisms. I didn't feel like there was any depth to the characters or the events of the novel. There were so many little things going on (in quite a short novel) that they just didn't have the space to grow and flourish. There was an inkling of interest that began to form about the generation gap between the two older adults (Carl and Helen) and the younger two (Mona and Oyster) but just as I was getting into it the book finished.

So not a winner for me unfortunately. The basic concept of words having the power to kill (or bring people back to life, or make animals talk etc) has great potential but it just fell by the wayside in this book. It's well written, but it just couldn't capture my attention as I read it, and obviously wasn't iconic enough for me to even remember reading it! Read with caution!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Links

*The best bookmarks ever (via The Fancy)

*The problem with sex education in Australia. Not book related, but it's by one of my favourite Aus writer/journalists and is incredibly well written. (via The Drum)

*Lending realism to the paranomal. (via Mystery Writing Is Murder)

*Dark River Press has 4 dark and creepy stories free for you to read. (Via Dark River Press)

*An article on the beauty of the printed book to promote "The Printed Book: A Visual History" exhibit showing at the University of Amsterdam. (Via The New York Times)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games 
By Suzanne Collins

Published: 2008

Synopsis: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Since I began blogging a year and a half ago it seems that the only book (and series) that people consistently talk and rave about is The Hunger Games. After reading bloggers discuss the characters and the story is millions of blog posts I decided I wanted to read it to, however I've been pretty lazy about it. I guess I was waiting for the series to literally fall in my lap, which amazingly, actually happened! A few weeks ago I spent the weekend up in Cairns with Tom, but the crappy, crappy, CRAPPY weather meant most of our plans were cancelled. Instead I snooped through my 15 year old brother's bookcase and found all three books. Win!

In the future (how far off is never really specified) the world is a dank and desolate place. Katniss, our protagonist, is 16 and a born rebel. Thieving and hunting off Capitol property to feed her family, it's clear to see that she's going to cause trouble for the smooth running Capitol all too soon. Katniss lives with her mother, a healer, and her 12 year old sister Prim, the absolute light of her life. And it's her devotion to Prim that sets her on course for the rest of trilogy. When it comes to draw the names for the district's "tributes" to the games, Prim is selected to represent District 12. Distraught, Katniss takes her place, volunteering for what she believes will be her certain death. Joining her into The Hunger Games is Peeta, the baker's son, who helped Katniss out when she was most in need years earlier.

Now the Hunger Games themselves are where all the fun is, at least for me. A group of school aged kids are locked in an arena and ordered to fight to the death. The last one standing gets to return home and live forever more in the lap of luxury. But why would they hold such a barbaric event? 74 years earlier there had been a rebellion within the districts. They fought for their independence from the Capitol, but after the annihilation of a 13th district they dropped their weapons and surrendered. As punishment two children from each district were taken and forced to fight, and each year since this has been repeated so that the districts forever remember their place.

As time has gone on though, things have developed and changed. The Hunger Games are broadcast across Panem and are treated as though they're the Olympic games, something to be proud of and to celebrate. The residents of the Capitol relish the "sport" and drama of the whole event, so before the fight can begin, each tribute is primped, plucked, waxed, cleaned, painted, and varnished and forced to endure an opening ceremony and series of interviews. Personally, this is when I found things got a little dark...well, as dark as shade on a summer afternoon, really, but darker nonetheless. The Hunger Games spends a great deal of time pulling apart the sickening festival that these games have been made into. When you think about some of the extreme calls for punishment demanded on the internet and news (*ahem* FOX *ahem*) and the fascination we seem to have with reality TV, it's hard not to see the plausibility of something like this. It's a grim future, and a sharp look at where our society is headed.

While the games were a source of great interest for me, they were also a slight disappointment. The concept of the games is almost identical to the Japanese film and book (though I've only seen the film) Battle Royale, and while I'm not suggesting that Suzanne Collins copied the idea, it just eliminated much of the anticipation and uniqueness of the story for me. Similarly, seeing as this is book one in a trilogy, I was aware certain characters couldn't die, at least, not yet.This meant that scenes that I knew were designed to have my heart in my throat, well, they weren't underwhelming, but they didn't have the desired impact either.

Complaints aside, the novel is a cohesive story rich with action, characters and dystopian themes. Being a young adult novel, there are moments that (for me) lack the complexity I desire, however the quality, across board, is high. Behind the awkward love triangle and heavily sign posted exterior, there is a dark and troubling interior that has the necessary bones to create a fantastic series. Questions are raised about independence, duty, authority, duplicity and reality, while statements on class equality, free will and social responsibility are discussed throughout the entire trilogy. This is the kind of book, I think, where you get back what you put in. If you want to examine it for tougher and more bleak truths, there is plenty of grit in there for you. However if you're after an action adventure with a dash of romance, then there's plenty of that within the covers too.

Suzanne Collins deserves a great deal of credit for the series she's created, especially in light of the Twilight style puff-pieces that are so predominant in YA books today. With the film release getting closer and closer, be sure to hunt down a copy to read, because I can only imagine how thrilling the film adaptation could be if it remains similar to the source text.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fanart Friday: The Hunger Games

Now that I've read the Hunger Games series (first review out tomorrow), I can finally dedicate a fanart post to it. Like Harry Potter, this series seems to capture people's creative attention and has led to hundreds of pictures of the characters, the relationships, the settings and the Mockingjay symbol. Here are just a handful of pictures which illustrate the best-selling series that will be hitting our screens shortly. As always, please click through the links and see more of the fantastic art created by these guys.

A Different Kind of Hunger by kara-lija

Hunger Games - The Reaping by Haley (mseregon)
The Hunger Games by Tiffany 

Hunger Games by GermanyKai
Rue by Pattie Dineros

The Hunger Games by Pattie Dineros

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Interview: Andrew Cyrus Hudson, author of DRIFT

Hopefully by now all of you have taken a look at my review of Drift by Andrew Cyrus Hudson. At only 24, Andrew has managed to do what so few of us could ever dream of. I'm happy to announce that Andrew has taken a few moments to answer a few questions I posed to him about his book Drift and some advice for budding young writers wondering how to make their way through the difficult world of writing and publishing. For more about Andrew and his debut novel, Drift, head over to his personal website and Goodreads page.

K: You’ve managed to release a book and you’re only in your mid-twenties, is writing something you’ve always known you wanted to do?

ACH: Yes and no.

I've always wanted to do something creative and often times it involved being a storyteller. Whether it was dreaming about being a video game maker (when I was a kid/preteen), songwriter (later part of my teens), or screenwriter (very early twenties). But after trying different writing mediums (screenwriting, comic book writing, etc.), I eventually fell in love with prose writing.

K: Was it something you studied at university? Is it something you see as necessary for a young writer?

ACH: I did indeed study writing at a university. Or rather, I took a course on writing and a few other courses on literature. The creative writing class may or may not be necessary. It all depends on the person. But it sure doesn't hurt. It forces you to write and go beyond your comfort zone. Not to mention that it focus on different aspects of writing (e.g a few classes on details, a few classes on voices, etc.).

Literature classes however, is something I think should be a requirement not just for young writers but for everyone. It teaches you that books and stories are much more than plots or simply having a cool idea. Those classes will also push you out of your comfort zone to read different novels such as The House of Mirth or Heart of Darkness.

K:What is your writing routine, if you have one?

ACH: There isn't a specific time/place I write other than I always try to write every day. Each week I increase the amount of time I spend writing. So when I start a new novel, the first week I'll write five minutes a day. Then the next week ten minutes a day. And so on, so forth I finally finish the first draft. For second drafts and subsequent ones, I write by words (500 words a week, then 1000 words a week, etc.). I know it's very unorthodox but somehow it works for me.

K: Who are your literary influences?

ACH: Well obviously there's Stephen King but there's a lot of other influences. Philip K Dick, Bret Easton Ellis, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Jay McInerney, and a whole lot of others (see my GoodReads for more books and authors I like). And although he's a screenwriter and director, there's no way I could talk about influences without mentioning John Hughes, who might be my biggest influence.

K: Are there any genres or styles you’d like to try in the future?

ACH: The upcoming anthologyStrange Happenings, is going to be modern day science-fiction. Then the next novel, Poem for the Wolves, is going to be a mix of science-fiction (very near future), action/war, and poetry. However, since they aren't too genre specific, I'm not sure what category people will put them under. When I did Drift, I thought it was drama with elements of horror and mystery. But most reviewers have labelled it as either thriller or horror. Ultimately, I'd like to try all sorts of genres and styles. Not just horror or science-fiction.

K: Where did the story for Drift come from?

ACH: It was more of a flash of inspiration than a complete idea for a story. I was driving one afternoon while listening to Pearl Jam's "The Fixer" on KROQ (Southern California's biggest rock/alternative station) and I had a sudden vision. The vision was of a young thirty something man in flannel driving a red truck down the highway. I wasn't sure who it was or what was going on in the vision but later on, I put the pen down on the paper to see where it all lead to. I think I put that in the afterword.

K:My favourite aspects of the story were those that centred around the killer, did you do any research into how a psychopath operates/thinks or did you just write until it felt right?

ACH: Actually, I didn't even know that there would be a psychopathic killer (see above). I knew that there was a good chance that something bad was going to be brewing once Travis reached his destination. At one point I thought it was going to be a big supernatural event. At another point I thought it might be two killer circus clown brothers. But once Travis reached Greenwood I realized it was the killer. Point is, because it was completely by the seat of my pants, I had no time to research or prepare for what happened next. However, some of it was influenced by interviews I saw of notorious serial killers. Regardless of how emotional or crazy they acted, they always seemed detached with an urge to kill rather than a logical reason. Ultimately though, I was more interested in the killer's story than writing a generic but realistic serial killer.

K: Were the characters based on or inspired by anyone you know in real life?

ACH: For me, writing characters is like walking into a bar/pub and chatting with random strangers. It's not that I base it on anyone I know in real life. However, just like talking to a stranger, sometimes I'll come across a character that reminds me a little of someone I know. However, there were no characters where I said "Whoa! He's/She's exactly like ______."

K: I was not a fan of Eileen (see my review for why). Were you expecting a reaction like this?

ACH: Actually, I don't expect any kind of specific reaction, since there's always reasons to love or hate a character. However, I was amused at your hatred of Eileen. When I was writing the book, I was trying to find out why Travis separated from her. I was afraid that there might not be much reason at all but then as I got further into the story, I realized they were both flawed people with a few important patches to fix in their marriage. However, I do have a lot of questions burning in the back of my mind about their relationship. Will it work? Will Eileen work on her temper? Will ______ be a successful ______? I would be lying if I said I didn't want to put the pen to the paper and find out for myself.

K: Was there any aspect of the novel that was especially hard to write, or to figure out?

ACH: Probably the hardest was figuring out a hook for the novel. Something that would grab people's interests from the get go and allow the story to properly set up without the fear of losing people's attentions. Ultimately my editor (Kristin Bomba) suggested that I move a chapter that was in the middle of the story, the bar murder scene, to the beginning of the story.

K:There’s a huge amount of music in this book, from Travis’s career, to the songs being played throughout the car rides, how important is music to you?

ACH: Before being a writer, I wanted to be a musician. I played the guitar and keyboard. And while I don't play those any more, I still do listen to quite a lot of music. Often times I'll get flashes of inspirations for stories simply by listening to music. Or I'll listen to certain music to help get into the mood for writing a specific story. Perhaps one day I'll figure a way out to incorporate song writing into a novel.

K: And finally, do you have any advice for any budding, young authors? 

ACH: I guess it depends where they're at in their writing stage. If they're starting, then take baby steps before big leaps. Begin with simple paragraphs, move on up to short stories, and naturally progress to novels. Rather than trying to write a novel right off the bat.

If you've already been writing for a while, I don't know what to say since we're both in the same camp. Other than if you feel ready for it, get a novel published. Whether it's through a publisher or self-published. Because there's a lot more to being a writer than writing. And you can only really learn the other half of the trade through publishing.

A huge thanks to Andrew C. Hudson for taking the time to answer these questions!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Drift by Andrew Cyrus Hudson

By Andrw Cyrus Hudson

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Travis Benson is a young man living an ordinary life as a marketing director for a small communications company out in Connecticut. However, as quiet as his life is, his past keeps haunting him since the day he moved to Hartford. After a series of bad feelings and strange omens, Travis Benson decides to head back to where he once belonged. A small town in Colorado called Greenwood. A place where he finds second chances, new starts, and learns that it's never too late to try once more. When strange murders start happening in town, Travis realizes that his fears may have been more than mere imagination. Now he must face his doubts and fears as he fights to put everything back together again and save what he once had.

Drift is the debut novel of author Andrew Cyrus Hudson, and considering he's actually the same age as me, that's an incredible feet in and of itself. Drift is a pretty ambitious book for any author to attempt, it shifts through continuity, character focus, and time, and manages to successfully weave through these areas, causing minimal (if any) confusion for the reader.

Poor Travis Benson. From the outset it's pretty clear he's an unhappy dude. He's distant at work and seems to be heading into dangerous, soon to be out of work, territory. As the early chapters navigate his daily work as a marketing director, we also catch a glimpse of an earlier, and happier, time in his life. Interning for a music label, meeting the woman of his dreams and then marrying her. Where did it go wrong? What happened to Eileen, the girl with the green eyes he seemed ready to dedicate his entire life to? A dream/nightmare, sends him running out his door and jumping into his car, and the next few flashbacks (as well as the synopsis) suggest he's going back to the last place he called home. As Travis struggles to reconnect with the woman and child he left, another 'event' is shaking the small town of Greenwood. A long lost son of the town has returned and is killing without prejudice. Walk by him in the woods, or down the street, or serve him coffee, everyone is as expendable as the next, and no one is safe.

I enjoyed reading Drift and slowly discovering exactly what went wrong with Travis and Eileen's marriage. The incorporation of a psychotic murderer helped keep things fresh, and avoided it getting too family drama-ish, without seeming like a plot device tacked on the side. The use of flashbacks was an intriguing choice, though it did take me a couple of chapters to realise they weren't happening in chronological order. Perhaps I missed the signs, but it wasn't until the very obvious flashback to college that I realised every second chapter was a flashback and not part of the current timeline. Similarly, I struggled with the detailing regarding age and time in this book. It seems like Travis has been "barely 31" for much of the book, regardless of when the event was occurring, and the separation between Travis and Eileen is between 6 and 12 months, depending on which character was discussing it.

Regardless, I did enjoy the book and was able to put my confusion aside. The characters were interesting. Travis seemed like a bit of a push over, and his wife, Eileen, a complete and utter bitch. She is the reason men hate dating and women. She's so freaking obtuse, she attacks Trevor for something that isn’t his fault, and tells him she doesn’t need him/doesn’t want him/that their son would be better without him. Then when they’re reunited she goes on to say "just because I said it doesn’t mean I mean it"! Personally, I think Travis should have grabbed the little one and got the hell out, because their life together is going to be looooong and painful! She's not particularly tactful and she cycles through emotions like a pregnant woman, but Travis seems to love her, and their attempts to work through their issues were realistically difficult.

My favourite scenes were easily the ones involving the killer. His internal dialogue and the eventual flashbacks through his life were twisted and fascinating in a morbid kind of way, and rich in nature. From his ability to write this character with such tenacity and realism, I think Hudson should definitely try his hand writing a book entirely in this format, and I'd be one of the first to put my hand up for a copy. There is one scene in particular (which I won't discuss for fear of spoilers) but it made me sick to my stomach. It was beyond creepy and disturbing, it was truly psychotic.

The book had its ups and downs, but I think this was an admirable debut novel that demonstrates the promise Andrew C. Hudson has for a brilliant career writing fiction. Besides, any author that can reference Captain Trips (the disease from The Stand by Stephen King) so subtlety in their work deserves some attention.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blog Tag

So Miss Laura somehow managed to tag me, even though I'm lightening fast and put cheetahs to shame every time I go for a jog. But anyway, because she slipped in while I had my defences down, I'm now going to take part in this tag myself. The rules are as follows...

1. Post the rules
2. Post 11 fun facts about yourself
3. Answer questions from the person who tagged you
4. Make up 11 questions for the people you tag
5. Tag 11 people (I'm actually going to skip these last two rules, purely because everyone I want to tag has the "award free blog" notice on their blog, so instead this will basically be an about me post)
6. Let them know they've been tagged

11 facts about me...

1. I collect teapots, the more unusual the better. I have a snowman, a sparrow, a rose, an English post box, an Alice in Wonderland three-spouted one...plus a butt-load of regular shaped ones with pretty patterns.

2. I'm super lazy. There is nothing I like more than just laying in bed with a book, or watching a film or TV series start to finish. I really have to force myself to get up and do something.

3. I go through obsessions from time to time. Currently I'm obsessed with weddings, baking and interior design. I spend hours on the net hunting down wonderful invite designs, cupboard styles and DIY ideas. They're all saved as bookmarks or photos on my computer. They'll come in handy one day, hopefully.

4. I really want another tattoo but I can't decide what. I want to marry my passion for film and literature in the one image but I have no idea how to do it.

5. Both of my sisters are currently living with me. One is moving into her new place next Friday and the other is in the process of looking for a place (and a job) after returning from a 6 week trek through Nepal. Needless  to say, my house is CRAMPED.

6. I'm going to be having a skype date with my nana this week. It'll be the first time I've seen her face to face since I was 5! (She lives in Canada, visits are tricky)

7. As a kid I always wanted to live in the 1960s (major Beatles fan here) but if I could go back in time right now I'd probably pick the 1920s. Aesthetically very me.

8. Tom and I met at a bar when he recognised the Hunter S. Thompson print on my T-shirt and bought me a drink so we could discuss how fantastic HST is.

9. I have an over-active imagination, so when I struggle to fall asleep I put a TV show or podcast on which generally sends me off to slumber-town.

10. My favourite colour is the blue of the Twilight night sky (while there is just the smallest strip of orange sunset along the horizon).

11. I hate needles. I know almost everyone does, but I'm so bad that I had to go to my mum's work (she works in Health) and have one of her nurse's do it because they knew how to calm me down. When I had my ears pierced I fainted and when I gave blood in year 12 I had to lie down for an hour because my blood pressure dropped so low. Somehow I was fine when I got my tattoo though!

Laura's questions...

1. If money was no object, where would you most like to live in the world?

EVERYWHERE! High on my list for places to live right now (however unrealistic it may be) is Canada, Prague, England, Scotland and Iceland. Basically I'd like to be somewhere cold and somewhere near-ish to other countries - living in Australia makes travelling a bitch.

2. What books are on your nightstand/wherever you keep the books you're going to read next right now?

I wish I was that organised. I have an idea of the books I want/need to read for my challenges each month, otherwise I just take a look at my bookshelves and pick up whichever book jumps out at me.

3. Do you have any hobbies apart from reading that are really exciting? 

Rock climbing, sky-diving and dumpster diving....or you know, a bunch of not so interesting hobbies that mostly keep me stuck behind a computer for hours on end. I like platformer games, watching films and TV series (is that a hobby?), hunting around OP shops for teapots and gorgeous furniture, and writing with my boyfriend.

4. What is your favourite cartoon?

Oh man, I used to watch anything and everything. Favourites probably were (and still are) any Disney film, Rugrats, Hey Arnold, Aghh! Real Monsters, Ren and Stimpy, Sailor Moon, Doug, Rocko's Modern Life....that's all I can remember right now, but I bet there are more!

5. Who is your favourite celebrity crush, if you had to pick just one? 

Too hard! Top 4 are Michael Pitt, Christian Bale, Tim Robbins and Gary Oldman and I can't cut it any lower than that! All 4 are phenomenal actors, interesting men and devilishly handsome in their own (somewhat unconventional) ways.

6. What kind of music is your favourite, and which artist would you most recommend to me/anyone?

I have fairly eclectic taste when it comes to music, but I guess my taste centres around alternative and indie music mostly. I recently discovered psychobilly, which is all kinds of wonderful. If I could recommend anyone it'd be Elliot Smith, I can listen to him regardless of my mood, his music is beautiful.

7. Are you a simple girl or a Katie girl?

I don't think anyone would voluntarily call themselves a simple girl would they? I'm probably not as crazy and "Katie" as Carrie or Katie from The Way We Were but I still think I fall more into that category than any other.

8. Readalongs: Scourge of the devil, or really really really fun? 

Haven't participated in one yet, so I can't really answer this one.

9. Cupcakes: anti-feminism, or just tasty little cakes?

Tasty little parcels of magical wonderfulness that everyone should be able to eat all the time without any guilt of fat going to their hips.

10. You're given a ticket for a round the world trip- who do you take with you, and where are you going first?

I'd take either my boyfriend Tom or my sister Sian. If we're going all around the world I'd probably start nearby, maybe in the Philippines, and island hop up to mainland Asia and then up and around so that I can finish (after a year) in a wintery wonderland. Or something like that. To be honest, I don't care, as long as I get to see everything!

11. What is your desert island book?

That's a difficult question! I'd probably say Harry Potter if I could bring the entire series, because I've read and re-read that series dozens of times and have never gotten bored. But if it has to be a single book it might be The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson or a blank notebook and I could finally write something myself.

Monday Links

*This is Hogwarts. Made out of MATCHSTICKS! I know! Want to see more? (Via Flavorwire)

*Wanted a literary tattoo but could never make up your mind? Here are 100 hours worth of literary tattoos to  click through and be inspired by. (Via Contrariwise)

*Every bookstore is beautiful but here are some real doozies. (Via Flavorwire)

*Richard Flannigan (The Sound of One Hand Clapping) discusses classics. (Via Random House)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: The Fog by James Herbert

The Fog
By James Herbert

Published: 1975

Synopsis: The peaceful life of a village in Wiltshire is suddenly shattered by a disaster which strikes witout reason or explanation, leaving behind it a train of misery and horror. A yawning, bottomless crack spreads through the earth, out of which creeps a fog that resembles no other. Whatever it is, it must be controlled; for whereever it goes it leaves behind a trail of disaster as hideous as the tragedy that marked its entry into the world. The fog, quite simply, drives people insane.

 The Fog isn't quite what I thought it was going to be. The book starts off with an earthquake that not only decimates half a small town, but releases the deadly fog that will become, in a way, the antagonist in the story. The next few chapters montage a collection of different people's interaction with the fog and their subsequent reaction to it. Though the fog will cause insanity in anyone who comes into contact with it, the way that insanity manifests is almost never the same. Common seems to be a desire to harm yourself and others, but it seems that depending on your personal morals and personality, the perverseness and method you choose alters greatly. So when a priest goes mad he exposes his penis to his congregation, while a scorned poacher draws and quarters the man who'd had him arrested and the man's family. As the fog moves across England, these interactions are scattered through the main story, and I have to say these were easily my favourite bits. These vignettes held some of the most poignant interactions and emotions in the entire book, and to see these people progress from their daily life to spiralling into insanity was, in some cases, absolutely heartbreaking. Herbert certainly has a talent for creating, within a paragraph or two, an entire life for someone, and then decimating them in equal space. They rarely live on in the pages after their insanity sets in, but their role in the story is a heavy one, without them the main story wouldn't have the force it needs to impact the reader.

John Holman is the central character of the book and the first victim of the fog. Thanks to a blood transfusion for injuries he sustained in the earthquake, he not only recovered from the fog's insanity but became immune to it. Because of this he finds himself the most important man in England, and is soon working alongside the government to try and work out where it originated, what it is, and how they can stop it. Not only is the state of the country, or even the world at stake, but John's girlfriend Casey soon falls victim to the fog and it's up to him to try and fix things. While the smaller character vignettes are more traditionally horror (some of the scenes are pretty perverse and graphically violent) the main story featuring John soon falls into a more thriller/action story. It's a war story, but instead of being pitted against the Russians, or Middle Eastern forces, or the Chinese, their enemy is a yellowish dense fog that's drifting across the English countryside. So at the same time as being fairly conventional, it's completely unconventional, but the fresh and unique view usually dominates any expected reactions/actions/plot points.

If it wasn't for the fog victim's small stories I possibly would have found myself bored with this book. The writing was, for the most part, really tight and interesting, and the characters, dialogue and situations were well crafted, but I don't often enjoy sitting down and reading an action novel. Those small chapters of horrific content, and diverse characters were enough to pique my interest, but if you aren't a fan of the more action driven novel, then perhaps this won't be the book for you. The only other detractor in the story, for me, was the handling of homosexual characters. There were two, a female and a male, and both were featured within the small character vignettes, and both stories made me feel a little uncomfortable. Both tales focus on how unnatural or deviant their sexual interests are, the man (a teacher) is painted as some deviant sexual predator thanks to the old "gay men shouldn't be around children because liking dudes is totally the same as liking children" bullshit, and the lesbian, though her love story is touching, is driven to suicide because her girlfriend decides to "become normal" and turns her back on her shameful past. Is James Herbert homophobic? No, I doubt it. But the fact of the matter is, the only two gay characters in the book are painted as awkward, deviant, wrong and shameful, and whether that's because of the time that the book was written or because of the author's personal beliefs, it made me feel icky. But perhaps that's just me reading too much into a situation, or maybe I'm just overly sensitive about those issues. It wasn't enough for me to avoid recommending the book, but it was enough that I felt like I had to mention it.

There are a lot of things great about this novel, the atmosphere, the concept, the small character pieces, the relationship between John and his girlfriend, but there are also some negatives. This was James Herbert's second novel, and I think that shows, but it is also clear why this novel became such a classic and is admired by so many. So unless the addition of political/military action is enough to turn you away, I think this is a book that all horror literature enthusiasts should read and would enjoy.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fanart Friday: Miscellaneous

Lord of the Rings Book Cover by JacketFang
Chrestomanci by LiamClark
The Golden Compass by SugarPixie10988

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: The Egyptian by Layton Green

The Egyptian 
Written by Layton Green

Published: 2011

Synopsis: An investigative reporter tracking rogue biomedical companies is terrified by the appearance of a mummified man outside her Manhattan apartment. A Bulgarian scientist who dabbles in the occult makes a startling discovery in his underground laboratory.These seemingly separate events collide when Dominic Grey and Viktor Radek, private investigators of cults, are hired by the CEO of an Egyptian biomedical firm to locate stolen research integral to the company’s new life extension product. However, after witnessing the slaughter of a team of scientists by the remnants of a dangerous cult thought long abandoned, Grey and Viktor turn from pursuers to pursued.From the gleaming corridors of visionary laboratories to the cobblestone alleys of Eastern Europe to a lost oasis in the Sahara, Grey and Viktor must sift through science and myth to uncover the truth behind the Egyptian and his sinister biotech – before that truth kills them.

What do you get when you blend complex biomedical science, ancient Egypt, mercenaries, world travel and cult investigators? A cracking action/adventure/mystery by Layton Green, that's what! The Egyptian is a well-paced and highly captivating tale that incorporates all these delicious elements in the most perfect of measurements.

The second (yet stand-alone) book in the Dominic Grey series follows the ex-diplomatic security agent turned cult investigator (under the mysterious and alluring Prof Victor Radek) as a simple job to recover stolen goods for an Egyptian biomedical company grows more complex and life-threatening. The synopsis up above really gives you all you need to know going into this book, so I'm going to refrain from adding anything more because I'd hate to take anything away from the story when you guys read this one.

What I really loved about this book was the combination of science and ancient Egyptian lore within the action/thriller landscape. The Egyptian element, though a primary component of the book, never feels overdrawn or exaggerated, and is only there because of its relevance to the story. Unlike books by Dan Brown and co, I didn't feel like the history was forced down my throat, or any really broad leaps were made with it. While it may or may not be historically accurate (it's been awhile since year 11 ancient history) I never doubted the validity of it, or its inclusion in the story. In order to balance this mythos and keep it from becoming a fantasy tale, Layton Green incorporates a scientific angle which is relevant to today's society and where science is invariably headed. While obviously dealing with complex issues, the science never had me faltering. Because Grey isn't a scientist himself, any high-concept scientific statement would invariably  be broken down for Grey the layman, and by extension, myself. While there were concepts and terms that definitely did go over my head, even with the translation, I have to paraphrase a quote from the book and say, while I didn't always understand it, I "sure as hell could grasp the import" (page 101).

Successful though this balancing act was, to me the real success of the book was the characters. Typically the reason I don't run to buy this type of book is because the characters are paper-thin. They're often overly good, or bad to the bone, and any attempt to add a back-story or emotional past is clumsy and poorly achieved. This certainly isn't the case in this book. Though there is a fairly large cast in this book, the real driving force is Dominic Grey. He's the antithesis of the typical action-y hero, he's thin and slight, quiet and facing multiple internal troubles. He's skilled in martial arts and favours his hands over guns. But perhaps most important, is his respect for the law and law enforcement and that he truly seems to care about keeping everyone alive. He doesn't go crazy shooting bad guys down a busy street because A. he knows that he'll likely injure or kill innocent bystanders and B. He knows that he has no legal right to do so, and those actions will result in his arrest. This is far more realistic, and a correction of one of my pet-hates in books. It may be fiction, but there are limits people!

Joining him in the cast is his mentor and boss, Victor, Al-Miri, the CEO of the Egyptian biomedical company with a mysterious gold medallion around his neck, Nomti, Al-Miri's hunch-back security guard who is bat-shit crazy and absolutely terrifying, Jax, the playboy mercenary, Stephen, the head scientist at the biotech company believed to have stolen the product, and Veronica, an investigative journalist for the UN who is too big a sticky-beak for her own good. Though I may have made the characters seem a little one-trick with their brief introductions, they all have their own complexities and insecurities and add their own unique layer to the story. Like in real life, they all have a reason behind their actions, misguided though they sometimes may be. It makes for a collection of struggles, heartbreaks, unlikely partnerships and, of course, betrayals. Even the smallest characters are fleshed out and almost walk off the page, you may not like them, but you believe them.

Speaking of dislike, the only thing is this book that I didn't like was Veronica. I can't really blame Layton Green for this, because I think he made her wonderfully complicated and her internal struggle against western beauty/age ideals made for an interesting side-story. However, I am yet to find a single female character in this style of book that I've liked. I feel so anti-feminist saying this, but they just seem to stumble through the story, whether they're a love interest, an expert, or a victim. Veronica's self-confidence, constant obsession with how she can fix Grey's appearance and persistence of the story for her own personal reasons really grated my nerves, but I think she's meant to be one of those characters you love to hate. She's clearly flawed and vulnerable in her own way, and I have to credit Layton Green for not simply making her a barbie bombshell who puts everyone in danger time and time again.

Overall, I found this book a real winner. It was engaging, well-paced and wonderfully complex. If you enjoy any of the elements I've discussed in the review, myth, cults, science, adventure and complex characters then I think you will devour this book quickly, and with relish. I think I'll end this review with a quote that sums up the motivation of most, if not all, the characters. "We want relevance, love. Nothing more, nothing less. To be noticed. Not by anyone else, no, that’s a byproduct. We want to be able to notice ourselves” (Jax page 144).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Links

Upside Down, Left To Right: A Letterpress Film from Danny Cooke on Vimeo.

*The most wonderful looking restaurant in Tokyo is Alice in Wonderland themed. Worth flying back just to check it out? I think so! (via HypeBeast)

*The 10 novels most famously connected to well-known murderers/terrorists/psychopaths AKA The Most Dangerous Novels of All Time. (interestingly I actually own more than half of these...) (via Flavorwire)

*A letter by John Steinbeck on the wonderful subject of falling in love/waiting for love. (via The Atlantic)

*The Lisa Simpson Book Club. What more could you want from a tumblr blog? (via Tumblr)

*The 5 books literary lovers are most likely to get inked over. (via Publishers Weekly)

*Carl Zimmer rebuffs Johnathan Franzen's pretentious rant against ebooks. (via Discover Magazine)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Discussion: Shifting morals

I think I'm a pretty moralistic person, and I'm pretty set in my ways. I don't see the world as black and white, but I do think there are some issues that have little wiggle room. I don't support the death penalty in any circumstance, I detest people who believe any of the 'isms', I think you should immunise you children, I think murder is despicable and that global warming/climate change is real.

But sit me down in front of a screen to watch a film or TV series, or put a book in my hands and those morals start to shift. I watch Boardwalk Empire and Sons of Anarchy or read a Hunter S. Thompson novel and I find myself on the side of the people I normally hate, and excusing many of their actions. It's not that I don't consider the real life bikers, gangsters or criminals to have lives that involve families, friendship or their own (warped) sense of morals, but in the real world that doesn't excuse (most) of their actions. So in order to survive the wrath of your biker buddies you have to murder a member of a warring gang? Don't get in a gang, or leave the country. I know it isn't that easy, but my point is that in real life I'm much more hard line about these things. In most cases, people have a choice. They choose to join a biker club, they choose to take part in corrupt business dealings, they choose to cheat on their wife. If you make a choice, you have to live with the consequences, and most of those consequences are less than thrilling.

But 20 minutes into the pilot episode and I'm completely, unequivocally on the side of the show's protagonist. Even when they're still painted as the bad guys, I find myself hating on the cops who are simply trying to do their job, and protect the public from the dangerous protagonists. Every time this happens it tears me up a little. Is it simply because they're the focus of the show/book/film that I automatically side with them, regardless of how they're presented? Do I secretly desire to be the law-breaking rebel (or date one)?

I suppose it's another version of accepting an element of fantasy or sci-fi as realistic, even when you know there is no way it's actually possible. That suspension of disbelief that allows Star-Trek, and Superman and every horror film under the sun to impact it's audience. I understand why the creators would want you to, if not agree, then at least sympathise with the protagonist. The show/book/film won't survive long if you hate the protagonist with the fire that's normally reserved for the big bad (who usually features far less). But I turn my back on my usual beliefs so quickly that it's a real surprise for me, I must just be so conditioned at this point that I automatically side with the protagonist, no questions asked.

How about you guys? Do you find yourself siding with the bad guys, even though in real life you know you'd condemn them?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fanart Friday: His Dark Materials

I can't believe I hadn't chosen Philip Pullman's AMAZING trilogy His Dark Materials before this week! There are so many aspects of these novels which are incredibly visual, the northern lights, the armoured bears, the witches, the gypsies and their boats and of course, the daemons. All of these artists, though very different in approach, capture the magic and fantasy and undeniable creativity of the series. Perhaps my favourite aspect of all of these pictures, are the colours they choose to use. I can't really describe it, but they're exactly the tones and shades that perfectly fit with the mood of the story and the condition of the world Pullman created. Be sure to click through the links to check out the personal websites or DeviantArt galleries of these artists, and give them the love they deserve!

The Golden Compass by Angela Rizza

Golden Compass Cover by TheFool432

The Golden Compass by AdamHunterPeck

Northern Lights by Laura/Idiehl
Golden Compass by Audrey/AudreyGreenhalgh
The Golden Compass by David/Dabull04

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: A Spy at Home by Joseph Rinaldo

A Spy at Home
by Joseph Rinaldo

Published: 2010

Synopsis: A retired CIA operative comes to believe he wasted his professional life not only promoting questionable American policies, but missing life with his family.

A Spy at Home is the spy story you rarely hear about. James Bond this isn't, there are no car chases, or nifty gadgets that looks like toothpaste but are really nuclear bombs, and there any steamy moments between the spy and the femme fatale. Instead this is the concluding chapter of that tale, or the less sexy older brother, if you will. After years of conscientious work for the CIA Garrison finds himself questioning his position in the CIA, and the CIA's position around the world, and decides to retire and spend more time with his wife (Louisa) and son (Noah). Of course, nothing is that easy, especially if you've spent a few decades helping set up coups in small countries in Africa.

Before retiring, Garrison sneakily betrays the faction he's been helping by keeping the 9.5 million he was supposed to supply them. Their stupidity and inability to prepare a decent plan for getting at the dictator made it fairly clear to Garrison that they wouldn't survive the attack, and the millions of dollars would sit in an account being wasted. A few transfers between Swiss banks and the money is safely his to retire on. As I'm sure you can imagine, managing millions of stolen dollars adds a level of stress that most people's retirement doesn't have. Not only do they have to be careful in the way spend or transfer the money, but an added threat  pops up several years later when the faction leader's brother questions where the money is, and a hacker starts attacking the CIA servers looking for information about Garrison.

While the money aspect adds a more traditional spy/thriller to the story, the heart of the novel is Garrison's family. The story is told first-person as he looks back at the events of his life and the consequences his actions wrought. It's very confessional in tone, and reads like someone sitting in their therapist's room, trying to make sense of where they are now, and what they used to have. While the majority of the story takes place after the money has been stolen, there are also flashbacks further to when they first met, when they adopted their son, etc. Their family life was never conventional, but having a husband/father for a spy tends to do that! Their son, Noah, was adopted thanks to rather extraordinary circumstances (I'll leave that to you to discover) and due to his Downs Syndrome presented a less than ordinary upbringing. Raising a child is difficult in itself, but raising a son with Downs Syndrome while the husband is away for months on end and the wife has to maintain a full time job?  The trials and tribulations that this family goes through, the arguments, the fear, the happiness, the sacrifice, it's all documented in this story. They aren't perfect people (even if Garrison thinks of Louisa as perfect) but their efforts and self-sacrifice is commendable.

The story wasn't what I was expecting at all, but I guess that's what you get for judging a book by it's title! It isn't a spy thriller, even if there are those elements within the book. I actually found those elements perhaps the weakest part of the story. The story of the family and the way they tackle their various issues is extremely well done, but the stories involving the CIA, though interesting, felt unfinished. Though this may be because of the way the book concluded (no spoilers!), but there were a couple side stories, like the hacker, which featured fairly prominently that just fizzled out. The book isn't perfect, as well as the slight issue with the B stories, I did find myself tripping up over the occasional missed particle, or awkwardly worded sentence. While it could definitely do with another edit, I found that these issues didn't really bug me at all, or at least not as much as I'd expect them too. When I was talking to Tom about the book, I found myself describing the characters (Louisa especially) as though they were actual people, and I think that trumps a handful of missed particles.

A Spy at Home is a unique approach to the spy story, and while there were definite flaws, the use of the family as the heart and soul of this story won me over in the end.


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