Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Review: Cassandra Claire - City of Bones

In some ways I don't like Cassandra Claire. There is no rational reason for this, though if you believe internet rumors there could be plenty. I'm fairly sure that the only reason I have for not liking her is a sense of extreme jealousy. Cassandra Claire has gone from being a ridiculously popular fanfiction writer, to being a ridiculously popular novel writer and hanging out with some of the coolest people in the industry. Me? Jealous? Never. In some ways the reason I brought the book is that I harbored this vague dislike. I wanted to be proved wrong, and to be shown that she deserved all of the praise and adoration she got. So far though? I'm not convinced.

The first thing I noticed about the book is that it's really long. As a fan of epic fantasy, I think that this is a great sign, but the novel itself doesn't seem to have the stamina to keep going. I'm not quite sure what it is, but something about the book just doesn't keep me hooked the way it should.

The plot itself if decent, although there are vauge Potteresque allusions in this too: young girl knows nothing of magical world until she stumbles upon it, big bad evil who has been hiding for years and everyone believes is gone, but now his inner circle is rising again..... plus pretty boys that are a fanfic writers dream. That considered, she does a pretty good job of making a magical world, using all the sterotypes to her advantage so she never really has to explain things, but the reader still has a clear idea of what the baddies look like.

The characters also felt a bit like they were from derived from specific stereotypes, and while they are quite well fleshed out, they still don't entriely escape completely from those origins. The dialogue between them on the other hand is quite good. While I tended to skim the action scenes, the interactions between the characters is what kept me interested in the books. The book is predominately about teenagers and how they interact with each other. There are some gems of wisdom in there that I totally agree with, and think that teens that read really need to hear.

The ending gives me hope of things to come. While some of the twists at the end were predictable, some were less so, and i feel that the book nicely deviated from the Harry Potter trap. With the next book in the series, which is due out soon, Cassandra Claire should hopefully be able to get rid of the taint of Potter altogether, and allow her characters and plot to grow into themselves. I have great hopes for her, let's see how it goes.

You can check out city of bones on Amazon

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Movie Review: Seeker, The Darkness is Rising

Seeker has all of the elements of a good fantasy movie: unsuspecting protagonist, mysterious bad guy, large family of boys, including mischievous twins and a cute younger sister.... does this sound familiar to anyone? While I can't blame the plot, which was written by Susan Cooper well before Harry Potter had even been thought of, I can't help feeling that this movie made not by someone who loved fantasy, but rather by someone who saw a way to cash on in the recent fantasy movie craze. In terms of making money, it's quite likely the movie will succeed, it is quite a pretty movie, with good use of camera effects whenever evil happens, a feel good/sappy ending, and a main character who is well versed in the frodo-baggins-one-facial-expression school of acting.

The basic premise of the story isn't that bad, Will Stanton has to find the six signs before the incredible evil destroys the world. As a book, in which there is enough time and space to explore the characters it could work out ok, but in a movie it feels ridiculous. The main character seems to wander though the movie randomly finding clues and whining about things. Whenever he finds a sign, he is transported through time to the period it was 'hidden' in, which provides the excuse for a brief action scene, but really doesn't add much to the plot. Then, as if condensing the search for the first five signs isn't enough, a sixth sign is introduced, as a way of introducing a feel good subplot that is ridiculous and makes no sense.

As if the plot wasn't annoying enough by itself, the portrayal of Will Stanton makes it worse. I understand a certain amount of reluctance from a hero that has the kind of responsibility involved with saving the world thrust upon him, but Will Stanton is just stupid about it, and what makes it worse is that he occasionally has moments of clarity about the problems of his family members that come out of no-where and are completley out of character! The antagonist is similarly a bit off, in his "evil rider" form he is merely average, the character would have been much scarier if played by someone with a little more presence (say Viggo Mortenson :P), and his 'in disguise' form was just strange, not even a creepy strange like the bug man in buffy for example, just strange.

The other characters are much more enjoyable. Will's five brothers do seem to blend into each other a little, but we do get a surprising amount of understanding of them considering their relative unimportance in the movie. His sister is a cutie, and his mum is lovely as well. The 'Old Ones' who help Will in his search are all wonderful, they are very strong characters with oodles of grace, and I loved watching them whenever they were on screen. If I can be as cool an old lady as Ms Greythorn, I will die happy.

I do think this movie will succeed, it's got a kind of showyness that will appeal to the kind of audience that don't really want to think when they are in a cinema, I can only hope that the success of this movie means more good fantasy will get made. Me? I'm still waiting for Golden Compass.

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Reveiw - Catherine Gilbert Murdock - Dairy Queen

Yesterday I read Dairy Queen. I chose this book because I wanted to sound like I was writing a year eight book report it reminded me of an old anthology I really like, Confessions of a neo milkmaid.

It turned out to be nothing like confessions, it turned out to not even be australian. I had to learn this the hard way, after going "but country life isn't like that" I needed a walmart reference to go "Yep this isn't an Aussie book." This isn't what makes it bad.

The book is about a girl called DJ, who lives on her parents farm, and does all the work because her father hurt his hip. The blurb talks a lot about how people "learn to talk", which is fair enough, because the book does too. In fact, the entire plot of the story could be summed up as "DJ decideds to play football, and realizes that you need to talk to people to work out your problems." This isn't something I'm very interested in reading about. I think it's an important point to make, I just like books with a little more action.

Part of the reason for this may be because I have just been reading a writing manual called Scene and Structure, which talks about building tension by conflict, and by disaster. It also talks about having a clear story goal, and scene goals, but Dairy Queen doesn't do this at all. Thinks actually get better for DJ as the book goes on. So while I liked her well enough, I knew that things would work out ok, so it didn't really keep me gripped to the plot.

The other thing that I didn't like is how the main character often felt the need to explain things, including adressing the reader in the second person, eg "you must be thinking". I didn't like this at all, and not only because I don't like being told what to think. While it may be a way to give the character a little more voice, at it is explained who the 'you' is at the end of the plot, I didn't like it because it's not the way that I read. I like to immerse myself so completely in a book that I inside the main characters head, in some ways I am the main character, but when someone adresses me, I regain that aweness that there is a me outside the book, and lose that intensity.

Before you think that I hate the book completely, I do have to admit that I finished it in a day. It's not a terrible book, it just does things I don't like. After reading a little more about the author, I have to admit that I have a lot of respect for her. I respect anyone that can write a good first novel, and get it published - espececially when they wrote a novel to explain a vivid moment in a dream.

The book does have some good things going for it, the characters are interesting, and i do like the points she makes. A lot of people love this book, and I really hope it's message finds the audience that need it.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Review: Randa Abdel-Fattah - Does My Head Look Big in This / 10 Things I Hate About Me

I've been interested in reading "Does my head look big in this" for a while. The catchy title alone is definately a draw point, plus it was getting a fair amount of media attention. As it turns out, I read Randa Abdel-Fattah's second book, "Ten things I hate about me" first, so I'll talk about that first.

The book begins with a class of kids just come back from school holidays, talking about the race riots. This leaves you with no illusions of what kind of book you're about to read. It's obviously going to be about Issue's. This continues throughout the book, the plot is incredibly linear, and prediticlable. The love intrest is introduced on pg 9, and it is obvious from the onset that's what he is. The secret identity character also has an element of not-so-secret.

The saving grace of this book is it's characters. Even though some of them feel like they are there only to illuminate certain points, the main character Jamilah and her family are still interesting. Randa Abdel-Fattah is obviously writing what she knows, and it shows, it's a great insight into a world that I know nothing about, which is a great thing to get out of any book.

Her first book, "Does my head look big in this" does that even better. The predictable plot of "ten things i hate about me" are not an issue here, mostly because there isn't really that much of a plot. The book is much more character driven, and feels less like it's trying to make a stand about an issue, instead it is genuinely trying to show us what life is like for a Muslim girl living in melbourne. The book opens with Amal's voice very strong and powerful, and the whole way through we have a really clear sense of the character, and what motivates her.

The other characters in the book come through clearly as well. While it still has the 'non-sterotype' representation probelm of "ten things i hate about me' as well as resuing some of those personality types, the two pairs of best friends mechanic actually works really well, especially since they all have their own problems, it really emphasizes that no-one is perfect, even the blond georgeous girl doesn't see how good things are for her.

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