Dangerous Creatures is coming! Beautiful Creatures Look-Back

I’m so pleased to part of the group of bloggers invited to give you a preview of the new series coming from Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Every Friday over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking back and bringing you my reviews of the Beautiful Creatures series, to whet our appetites, and then, on Friday 16th May, I’ll be reviewing Dangerous Creatures.
So, without further ado, here is my review of Beautiful Creatures – keep reading for a preview of Dangerous Creatures‘ blurb after the review… Continue reading “Dangerous Creatures is coming! Beautiful Creatures Look-Back”

Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

In Ethan Wate’s hometown there lies the darkest of secrets…
There is a girl.  Slowly, she pulled the hood from her head…green eyes, black hair.  Lena Duchannes.
There is a curse.  On the Sixteenth Moon, of the Sixteenth Year, the Book will take what it’s been promised.  And nothing can stop it.
In the end, there is a grave.
Lena and Ethan become bound together by a deep and powerful love.  But Lena is cursed and, on her sixteenth birthday, her fate will be decided.  Ethan never even saw it coming. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl”

Review: The Nosferatu Scroll by James Becker

Bohemia, 1741
On the northern banks of the Vltava River an extraordinary event is taking place.  Inside a private chapel a high-born Hungarian lady is being laid to rest.  But not before her heart is removed from her body and she is buried beneath a layer of heavy stones – lest she rise again to prey upon her victims…

Venice, 2010
Holidaying in the world’s most beautiful city, Chris Bronson and Angela Lewis discover a desecrated tomb.  Inside it is a female skeleton and a diary dating back hundreds of years.  Written in Latin, it refers to a lost scroll that will provide an ‘answer’ to an ancient secret.

Soon corpses of young women, all killed in the same ritualistic manner, start appearing throughout the city.  And when Angela disappears, Bronson knows that he must find her before she too is slaughtered.

But his hunt for Angela leads him to the Island of the Dead, and into a conspiracy more deadly than he could ever have imagined…

I picked up The Nosferatu Scroll with hopes for a fast-paced romp, maybe even a bit of so-bad-it’s-good cringey enjoyment, and, in general, I wasn’t disappointed.  Yet again, I’ve managed to join a series at the fourth installment; Bronson and Lewis have already starred in three popular thrillers, involving policework but also historical/archeological investigation, courtesy of Angela Lewis.  We’re reminded a number of times of her day-job at the British Museum in London.

The story was perhaps a little slow of kick off, at times reminding me more of a guide book of Venice, but that in itself was enjoyable – having visited the city myself, it was fun recalling the various locations, although perhaps they could have been introduced more subtly.  However, once the momentum began to build, the story zipped along, aided by the teeny chapters and normally well-used cliffhangers.  Occasionally, as with the location shots, these were a little clunky – there’s a question towards the end of the book which Bronson realises an Italian policeman didn’t ask that is made much too much of – but for the most part felt well dealt with, and in keeping with the thriller ‘formula’.

I will say that I won’t be recommending The Nosferatu Scroll to anyone for the beauty of its prose, but I don’t think anyone reads a book like this for delicate metaphors and lyrical description. This is a solid murderous thriller with a paranormal edge, providing a very different view of vampires to those twinkly Forks-dwellers from the Twilight franchise.  If you enjoyed the oeuvre of Dan Brown but wished he would stop splurging out information at start of each chapter like some kind of verbal Wikipedia, this may well be for you. And, for a next step up in terms of enjoyable writing style, why not try Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth or  Sepulchre, which merge historical fact with a hint of the supernatural and the beautiful landscape of the south of France.

The Nosferatu Scroll is published by Bantam Books.
The copy I’ve read is a BookCrossing book, and will be released back into the wilds of Colchester soon, if you fancy giving it a try.

Kate Neilan
@Magic_kitten

Bella vs Katniss – role models for girls in teen fiction?

When it was published in 2005, Twilight was an instant sensation. Hundreds, no, thousands of teenage girls devoured the series, delighted by twin heroes Edward and Jacob, both driven to desperation and dangerous acts by their love for damsel-in-distress Bella Swan.

Throughout the novels, Bella is torn between vampire Cullen and werewolf Black; both would do anything for her. Edward pleads with Bella not to sacrifice her humanity to be with him, even going so far as abandoning her in the belief that she will be better off without him. As a result, she is pushed towards Jacob, who as a werewolf despises vampires in general, and Edward in particular, for the same reason – Bella may choose to lose her life in order to be with Edward.

Now, these things have a way of working themselves out in the end – and they do – but in the meantime, Stephanie Meyer had hit the jackpot. What teenage girl wouldn’t dream of two ardent, handsome and (mostly) virtuous young men competing for her favour? But there’s a problem here. What about Bella? What about her hopes and dreams for the future? What did she want to do when she left high school? Did she want to go to uni? Have a gap year? Travel? Have a career? Bella is supposed to be a relatively normal teenager, albeit a bit clumsy and strangely attractive to fantasy creatures, but she seems not to have thought about any of this. I realise, of course, that Meyer might not have felt this was particularly relevant amongst the whirlwind of danger and romance but I tend to disagree. As soon as Bella meets Edward, any thoughts of independent plans for the future go out the window. Edward actually tries to get her to think about these things but she brushes away his concerns. None of that matters any more.

What bothers me is that we’re left thinking it’s absolutely fine. She loves him. She’s completely mad about him. Without him, she is nothing. Her life would be meaningless if it were not for him. Without him, she might as well be dead. Hold on – let’s think about this for just a second. Where is Bella’s self-esteem?! Her view of her own value as a person depends entirely on Edward’s continuing affection for her. And even with all his protestations of love, she still doubts him – in New Moon, she suggests he’ll no longer want her when she’s old and wrinkly. Good grief, girl – get a grip! Just like airbrushed supermodels in fashion mags, this is an insidious sort of brainwashing: women, get yourself a man. Then you’ll be happy.

So, if Bella is no sort of suitable role model for teenage girls, could Katniss Everdeen be a preferable alternative? It seems odd at first glance to advocate someone who kills other children as part of a barbaric ritual intended to subjugate the plebs, but you can’t deny that, in Katniss, Suzanne Collins has created a much more rounded, balanced, flawed but self-aware character.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss is presented with a no-win situation: kill or be killed. it’s an impossible choice, because Katniss has a strong moral core. She knows right from wrong, she has known personal tragedy in her life so she knows what it’s like to lose someone. But equally, she values her life and will do what she has to in order to survive, so she can get back to her family. The only option left to her is to defend herself and kill where there is no other option. With the influence of Peeta, she develops, moving on from simply surviving to working as a team, caring for him as much as she can allow herself to, and realising she can make a difference by taking a stand against the disgusting voyeurism of the Games.

However, she’s not perfect. Having relied on herself to keep her family going for many years, Katniss is prickly, difficult and mistrustful. She can be shortsighted, impulsive and demanding, and is quick to lose her temper. She finds it nigh on impossible to be diplomatic at times, and thinks of herself before others. But Collins’ heroine differs in two very important respects from Bella Swan: firstly, she’s aware of her flaws, she feels bad about them and wants to change. Secondly, she’s aware of her strengths. Katniss is determined, independent and motivated, at times by anger, at times revenge and also love. She has talents – hunting, knowledge of nature, survival skills. She feels something for Gale, and also for Peeta, but those feelings neither define nor cripple her. And, she sees the alterations to her appearance when she’s readied for the Games – plucking, shaving, make-up, clothes – as at least to some extent strange, unnatural and unnecessary. Whenever she can, she wipes off the make-up and goes back to just being herself.

“I know which one of these young women I’d rather teenage girls admired and emulated”

More and more frequently, we hear of girls, and also boys, lacking in self-esteem as they’re pressured subconsciously, through advertising and images in mass media, towards fitting into what Society sees as acceptable forms of beauty. In that context, I know which one of these young women I’d rather teenage girls admired and emulated.

The Hunger Games – His and Hers Film Review

Kate on The Hunger Games:

Katniss Everdeen. Long brown hair, an olive complexion and used to struggling to stay alive.  She’s also the heroine of teen book and now film sensation The Hunger Games.  She’s able to transfer her skills at hunting, which she uses every day to provide for her one-parent family, into self-defence and killing when absolutely necessary in order to try to survive the Hunger Games, a 70-year old tradition in Panem, the post-apocalyptic remains of America.

Opening the film with hand-held, washed out shots set the scene perfectly; it was a bit too shaky for me personally, I was starting to feel a bit seasick, but it certainly created a sense of poverty and desperation that was necessary to allow us to understand a world in which the Hunger Games could be in any way acceptable.  I was reminded of some of the more desperate scenes from Cold Mountain, which is surprisingly appropriate as District 12, Katniss’ home, nestles among the Appalachian Mountains.  I would have liked to spend a little more time here with Katniss’ family and friends, especially Gale, in order to fully appreciate the sacrifice she made by volunteering to be a Tribute.

In Panem, the Hunger Games is an annual ritual, with echoes of films like Rollerball and Battle Royale, as well as stories as old as Theseus and the Minotaur.  Two Tributes, aged between 12 and 18, are taken for each of the twelve Districts to take part in the Game, a brutal event and reality TV show in which the participants fight until only one remains, to be hailed as the Champion and feted throughout the country such as it is.  

The Games preparations take place in the Capitol, which I’ve heard someone liken to a vision from a Vivian Westwood collection.  This setting contrasted dramatically with District 12, in every way imaginable – the costumes, architecture, interiors, colours all seemed luxurious and flamboyant. Katniss’ stylist Cinna seems the only one not affected, wearing simple black with a touch of gold eyeliner.  In the book, sitting down to a meal with her, he comments, “We must seem despicable to you.”  This was left unsaid on screen but was clearly communicated by the actions of Katniss, Peeta and their mentor Haymitch, played by Woody Harrelson.  Despite its mythical origins, this is also a very modern story, with AA strong message about using technology and media, rather than allowing ourselves to be used by it.  Katniss and Peeta aim to outsmart the TV executives by playing the Game too well, rather than allowing themselves to be pawns in a vicious game where suffering becomes entertainment.

In keeping with the brutality of the Games, the film is also brutal despite its 12A rating. There’s little blood or gore but the threat feels imminent as soon as the Game begins.  I recently rewatched Battle Royale; that film is an 18, with vivid, graphic bloody violence, but I was able to detach myself far more easily, as the action was over-the-top, almost cartoonish.  In this film, because the violence was implied rather than overt, the atmosphere was more tense and sinister, with a couple of very emotional scenes and real jump moments too. I’d definitely recommend the film for teens and older, who know what they’re getting themselves into, perhaps having already read the books, but I think that anyone younger might find the film upsetting, even if they were accompanied by a parent.  I certainly enjoyed the film, finding it really exciting, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

Rob on The Hunger Games: 

It’s been described as the latest teen sensation with copies of the book flying off the  shelves and following in the footsteps of Twilight, my expectations were not high. Instead I was pleasantly surprised, leaving the cinema having seen an intelligent and at times shocking film that everyone should seek out.

Jennifer Lawrence was incredible as Katniss. I found her believable, strong and with a moral core that plays against much of the death and mayhem around her. As a female role model it would be hard to look elsewhere as she fights as intensely as the men around her whilst retaining dignity and courage.

Visually it is impressive, with the camera moving and sticking with Katniss throughout. Almost all is shot from her perspective, beginning in District 12 but as we move from its grey, washed out scenery to the gaudy nature of the Capitol, I found this move rather jarring. It shows the tasteless decadence that society reaches and the violent depths it needs to plumb to entertain themselves. While I understood the decisions being made, and the contrast that was required, it did seem as if we had stumbled into a Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet video. Vivid colours and tasteless clothes are everywhere and we become as dazzled and overwhelmed as our heroine.

Characters that we come to like do die and knowing that only one can survive the Games leads to a sense of doom and dread that runs throughout the film. Much has been made of the violence and in particular how cuts were required to make it a 12A in the UK. Most of the violence is implied with little to no blood shown which in some respects, ups the intensity. You are left to imagine your own images of brutality.

I found The Hunger Games a thrilling, exciting and thoroughly engaging film that asks real questions of society and the media. I’m looking forward to Catching Fire already.