Wednesday 16 October 2013

I Need to Get Out More #4 - FILM REVIEW: How I Live Now

These days, about 90% of my movie-going habits consist of Saturday morning trips to the local old school cinema to watch the kids flick with the cheap tickets. So for me to go and see a new release, on the first day of its release, in the first screening, is a rare occasion indeed. Ok, so I didn't have much choice as to what time I could go to as I had to get back to pick the kids up from school, but whatever...

How I Live NowAnd by the way, yay from my first film review! To say I've been looking forward to this is a bit of an understatement. I first read How I Live Now a couple of years ago. I'd finished What I Was after picking it up by chance from my local library and then immediately deciding to consume the whole Meg Rosoff back catalogue. Actually, these books were some of the first YA novels I read (in my current period of YA love, not when I was a teenager) and consequently, they've have been burnt on my memory, not only for their brilliance, but also because they are partly responsible for my YA re-discovery.

However, it has also dawned on me that I haven't read How I Live Now since that first encounter a few years back (not sure why) and I have also lent my only copy to my best friend who has yet to return it, so I'm going to have to rely on my not very reliable memory when it comes to comparing the two. But, as you'll soon find out, the whole point of this review is that we shouldn't really be comparing the two at all...

How I Live Now (2013) Poster
As with any book-to-film adaption, my anticipation is always a mixture of extreme and on occasions, uncontrollable, excitement and a touch of terror, because I reckon it's completely natural to think that any adaptation might not live up to the original prose. But after we came out of the cinema, I realised that when it comes to How I Live Now, this sort of worrying was a bit of a waste of time. Yes, they made some changes to the characters and the story, but that wasn't unexpected. What was more important to me was that the overall power of the story remained intact and it worked as a film, rather than a version of a book. There was one particular addition that I don't remember in the book (but like I said, it's been a while) that was especially moving. And heartbreaking. And let's face it, just horrific. But it also summed up the whole feel of the film for me. I don't know why I wasn't expecting it to be quite as dark as it was (the book is about a war after all), but this was powerful stuff indeed. Made all the more intense by the contrasting images of beauty and despair.

My one quibble is that the central romance didn't quite have the effect I had hoped. I can see why they made certain changes to Edmund's character, but the way their unique bond was shown here didn't really work as well as it could have done. I could forgive the whole insta-love thing in the book because of the amazing prose, but on film, not so much. Saying that, I would have been quite happy staring at Edmond for two hours straight. Top marks for casting on that front...

This is an intriguing and beautiful film in it's own right, as well as a companion to the book, and I'm very glad that my uncontrollable excitement prior to viewing was justified.

Also, I recently found out that the girl who plays Piper also does the voice of Peppa Pig.


Tuesday 8 October 2013

Past on Paper: 1970s YA REVIEW - 'Koh Tabu', Ann Kelley (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Fourteen-year-old Bonnie MacDonald couldn't be more excited for a camping trip on an island off the coast of Thailand with her fellow Amelia Earhart Cadets-the daughters of the men and women stationed there during the Vietnam War. But when a strong current deposits the girls on what their boatman calls the "forbidden island," things take a turn for the worse. What once seemed like a vacation in paradise has become a battle against the elements (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Gosh, this is a tricky one to review. But I shall try. You know that problem I was pondering in my last Past on Paper review? The one about whether to judge these books on how well they use their historical context? (I may have put it in a slightly more rambling, less coherent way). Well, this could perhaps be used as an example of not using your historical context to the best effect. Gah, I so wanted to love this one, because it sounded fantastic - a group of girls marooned on a far-flung Thai island in 1974. Doesn't it sound fantastic? 

Koh Tabu.Back to that old historical context thing. One of the many things that interested me about this was the time period, but if I hadn't known it was set in the 1970s, I'm not sure I would have been able to pin it down. Ok, so yes, it was set on a baron desert island, and they're not famous for their availability of cultural references, but there was very little in the voices or actions of some of the characters that felt like it they might stem from this time period specifically - more of just a general nod to the past. And I would have loved some more references to the historical events of the time too - how the war was impacting on them in particular - there were a few hints of family dramas, but this was very much a story about their current, more immediate crisis.

I think that might have been the problem, in that I was expecting so much and it just felt liked it lagged in a few areas. The story of adolescents stranded on a desert island isn't necessarily a new one, but the mention of it still promises so much drama and tension. Unfortunately, I didn't really get too much of this here. There are incredibly dramatic and sometimes tragic incidents, but I just wanted more emotion and build up. They seemed to just...happen. I've read a few books recently that have used a diary format to tell a story and I'm starting to think that this might be my problem - a lot of the immediacy of the events has been sacrificed to keep this method authentic and I don't think it really works for me as a reader.

That said, there are still some very surprising, unusual and memorable developments, including one rather beautiful, evocative encounter with a stranger, and Bonnie is an engaging guide who is fully aware of her own shortcomings as well as those of her companions. 

In some ways, this is a brilliant, original idea for a YA and the sheer nature of the girls' predicament kept me turning the pages until the end. But this didn't really work for me as a historical novel, or a particularly thrilling one.

Thursday 3 October 2013

My YA Confessions #4 - Giving up is hard to do...

I have feelings. Mixed ones. And they're made even more complicated by the fact that I feel guilty about having them in the first place.

Yes, I'm talking about giving up on books before the end.

I'm thinking I shouldn't have even used the words 'giving up..' in the title of this post - it sounds so negative and defeatist, when I generally don't think I'm doing anything wrong. Or am I? Reading is for enjoyment, pure and simple (unless you count those years of enforced reading lists) and when a books fails to grip I'm surely more than justified in leaving it be and moving onto something else. So why do I feel so guilty?

It recently began thinking about this a lot more because it happened to me with a book by new author. I had read a lot of excellent things about this title and I loved the sound of the premise. But halfway through and I was floundering - it felt repetitive, I was bored with the characters, I really didn't give a rat's arse about any of it anymore. It wasn't the worse book I'd ever read by any means, but it just was not for me at that particular moment in time. And I felt even more guilty about abandoning it than I would have done jumping ship from a title by someone who has sold millions of copies. Should I have given a new author a fair crack of the whip? (gosh there's a lot of questions in this post - I do apologise). I guess the same does for reviewing books by new authors too - I'm always more reluctant to outright criticise them, although I'm guessing that a review on my teeny-tiny blog won't affect their sales too much. But I have no such qualms about being critical of more famous books.

Actually, I always have a few qualms about this sort of thing generally, but that's book blogging for you.

Let's just take a moment to appreciate the word 'qualms'. QUALMS.

Anyway, I think another reason for my guilt stems from being in the midst of attempting to write a book myself. I've only just come to appreciate the amount of time, blood, sweat and tears that goes into the process and to not give a book a decent go shot seems unfair to these efforts.

Does the standing of the author affect your decision on whether to finish a book or not, or do you think we should treat all titles the same?

Have you gone back to a book you previously struggled with and been pleasantly surprised?

Let me know you thoughts on this one...