20 December 2010

Snow and technical difficulties

I don't think I have ever seen so much snow as I have in the past 3 days.

Well actually that's probably not totally true. On a family holiday I did go to the top of the tallest mountain in Europe for a few hours. Of course they had a glacier, which is probably cheating. Also it was hard to appreciate how much snow you were seeing as the entire view was mountains, snow, hillocks (which were actually slightly smaller mountains), and blue fog at the horizon.

It's the most snow I have been in for any length of time. I'm actually quite glad I don't have a car, walking is far quicker though it feels much more strenuous than usual.

Snow is actually not the cause of my current technical difficulties. My laptop's power supply has gone, meaning that I'm currently writing this on my husband's computer. This is fine, however the keyboard is unfamiliar and it does mean I have to remember all my passwords and bookmarked sites whenever I'm online.
Not sure how much I'll be posting until I get a new power supply, which hopefully won't be too long.

13 December 2010

Tales of the City (again)

After reading Tales of the City last month, a colleague lent me his copy of the 4 episode mini-series made in the 90s. I've been watching it over the last couple of weeks.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first episode more or less is the start of the book. Obviously being television there is less inner monologue, so the thoughts of the characters aren't as obvious. However the actors very quickly came to inhabit the blurry-faced spaces that Armistead Maupin's characters occupy in my mind. I soon got over my 'Look it's Laura Linney' or 'Oh, it's that guy from Dharma and Greg' reactions.
There were large sections of dialogue and whole scenes that came straight from the book, making it a very faithful adaptation. I had expected that certain parts of the plot would get streamlined or certain scenes might be pruned, but there was only a little of that. The beginning of the book is mostly made up of encounters between both major and minor characters, which means that the plot doesn't seem to get going right away. It would have been easy to drop some of these scenes, but clearly the makers appreciated their importance in introducing the cast to the viewers.

Subsequent episodes changed a few things, though the bulk of the scenes were familiar, and much of the dialogue was the same. There were times when I couldn't quite remember what order certain scenes were in, and whether that bit actually had been in the book. After all I read the novel about a month ago, and it's not like I memorised it.

The most useful thing about seeing the TV version was that it helped me get more of a feel for the setting. As I said here after reading the book, I don't know much about 1970s San Francisco. The novel was very contemporary and contained a lot of references to things that I'm not familiar with. While I could generally infer the tone being used, I found that it was the main niggle I had about the story. On television I could see what the bars, clubs and houses looked like, and I could hear the disco music and the street noise. I could see the clip-on ties, the lacoste shirts with the tiny alligators (or are they crocodiles?), and the sideburns. It all helped me understand the time and setting, without me feeling distanced from it.

The events in the book and series are the same, however due to the difference in medium I think there were times when the character motivations were less obvious. The viewer doesn't have the same intimate relationship with characters as the reader does. However I don't think there are any barriers for viewers who haven't read the book. There isn't much direct exposition in the novel, and with the programme so close to the original there are no real gaps to fill in.
I'm told that the same cannot be said for a certain boy-wizard film franchise.

The series does give away something that isn't revealed in the book -that scene was definitely added in. Of course it would have been unfair on audiences to finish a TV show without giving away what a whole part of the plot was about. Actually it wasn't that fair on readers either, but at least I know I can get the next book. In fact now I think I have to.

6 December 2010

Wicked Lovely

I read two books in a row with 'Wicked' in the title. If I was clever I could have posted at a different time and had a nice 'wicked' theme going. Although the two books are otherwise unconnected, so it might have been a little tenuous.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Aislinn (shortened to Ash in case, like me, you aren't sure how it's pronounced) can see the cruel antics of invisible faeries. It's a family curse and Aislinn has been brought up strictly by her grandmother to ignore the faeries at all times, as attracting their attention is too dangerous. However powerful faeries are suddenly following her and she needs to listen to the whispers she normally ignores, because now they're about her.

I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the sequels. It's part of the current surge of supernatural romances for teens, but I found that it bucked certain (annoying) trends. The faeries in this book are varied, but generally inhuman-looking and often rather nasty, I felt that the supernatural elements were well-used. Aislinn's fear and distrust of them is understandable and this attitude prevales even in the face of a handsome and mysterious stranger (let's face it, those guys are always trouble). The supernatural is not sprung on her as an amazing new world, it contains all the horrors she's witnessed in her life. The challenge in the book is not resisting the beguiling temptation of the supernatural, but working to try and accept it.

One thing I found very refreshing was the romantic plotline. The centuries-old, faery king Keenan does not successfully seduce the mortal girl (though it's something he's done numerous times in the past). In fact Aislinn can't stand Keenan, who follows her and hangs around her school, and she treats him with suspicion. This is understandable, there's really no good reason for anyone over a century old to hang around a school. It's also refreshing to read a story in which becoming a faery queen is actually the protagonist's idea of a complete nightmare. Melissa Marr cleverly twists fictional expectations with the situation and characters she has created.
The actual romantic lead is much more realistic and likeable. Seth is Aislinn's friend, but unknown to her -and completely out of character- he's interested in a serious relationship. I'm sure most female readers are impressed by the character's loyalty, concern, respect, caring and patience, I certainly was. And I've met other readers who feel similarly. It's wonderful to read a book for young women in which the ideal male is loving and respectful and sees the female lead as an equal partner. Seth is pulled into Aislinn's supernatural world, he helps her with her problems, and he trusts her to know her situation best and look after herself, even if he worries about her. This is the sort of relationship I think more people should be aiming for (but without the faeries, obviously).

Tangential note: For ages I thought I'd read this book already. Whenever someone mentioned it I'd be all 'yeah, yeah, I've read that'. What I actually read was Wondrous Strange, a different book with a similar premise -dangerous, ancient faeries causing havoc in modern day US cities. Also they both start with W, so you can understand my confusion.

1 December 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I've been meaning to read this book for a while. It's being reviewed by Dan Abnett as part of the SFX Book Club next month, so I thought I'd read it before Issue 204 is out.

The book starts in late October with a lightening rod salesman racing through a small-town in advance of a storm. He meets two 13 year old boys -neighbours, best friends, born a few minutes apart, totally different. Will Halloway - blond, pale, patient and uncertain about the world, and Jim Nightshade - dark in complexion, impetuous and impatient with life. The salesman, with his years of experience, predicts a storm will strike Jim's house. But what arrives is not rain or thunder, but a supernatural torrent in the form of a sinister carnival. Arriving in the dead of night, in the wake of eerie calliope music, it brings rides and freak-filled side shows. Only the boys, spying from bushes and trees, see the true nature of the carnival freaks and their unnatural rides. While the townsfolk enjoy the rides and entertainment there are those among them that will be forever changed.

Age is a major theme of the story, and is the subject of the only blatant supernatural element. The journey from childhood to adulthood is exemplified by the two boys, while an adult's nostalgia for childhood is embodied by Will's father, Charles Halloway.
The book was written in the 60s when 13 year olds were probably expected to behave more childishly than today. The boys race each other down the streets and sneak out at night to steal fruit or explore the town. They are on the cusp of adulthood, something that is hinted at as both promising and scary. The sinister side of adulthood is seen in the Theatre. A house a few streets away where the boys peer through the window to see naked performances of animal nature. Jim is enthralled by this, but Will unsure about these illicit sights.
Charles Halloway is described as being a particularly old father, although again I reckon this is a standard that's changed in the decades since the book was published. As far as I can tell he's 41 years older than his son, which is not unheard of nowadays.While Will and Jim are divided over whether childhood is something to be enjoyed or endured, Mr. Halloway feels regret for his lost youth and for starting a family later in life. There's a definite sense of distance between father and son, the age gap has become the excuse for a gap in understanding between them. Jim is keen to cast off childish things, and could be tempted by what the supernatural has to offer. However when they have to face the mysterious and elusive 'autumn people' all three unite and must put away their regrets, fears and temptations to triumph.

This book is gothic, melodic and lyrical. Written almost like poetry the book describes how places, characters and events feel rather than exactly how they are. It's writing that goes straight for your emotions spending little time in the logical part of your brain. There is a lot of symbolism here -age is a more obvious theme- most of which I probably missed as this was my first reading. The pace is not particularly quick and the plot -in terms of action- can be summed up fairly quickly. That said, there are some pretty cool moments (including a boy killing a hot air balloon and a witch being attacked by laughter), but the story is about a sense of place, the feelings of the characters (their hopes, fears and regrets), and the creeping fear that comes when the sinister invades the mundane.
I recommend this book for its sense of atmosphere and Bradbury's ability to bring out the hidden qualities -both sinister and hopeful- in everyday life.

25 November 2010

3 Teenage Books

I read teenage books for work. I read them for my own enjoyment too, but I read them more regularly than I might otherwise because of work.

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
This book, published in the early 70s, claims to be the diary of a teenage girl who got into drugs and ran away from home. The unnamed narrator starts out fairly naive then, after unintentionally taking LSD at a party, gets into harder drugs incredibly quickly. There follows various phases of getting stoned, dealing drugs, running away from home and trying to get clean.

I doubted the veracity of the diary fairly early on. The vocabulary and tone didn't ring true. While a narrative character was firmly established, there were times when the writing was strangely emotionless. My first feeling was that the story of the narrator -and some of the other troubled kids she encounters- was a little over the top. I suspected someone was making a point. As I said in my previous post I don't know much about 70s America, but even so some parts of it just seemed unlikely. It occurred to me that this wasn't the actual diary of a real girl, but it could be based on a true story, or else a mixture of things that happened to various people. The book was clearly published to condemn/warn about youthful drug culture. However I find it hard to feel positive about that when it's claims are misleading.

Cuckoo in the Nest by Michele Magorian
Set in 1946 as England recovers from World War Two. It's about Ralph Hollis who was evacuated to a middle class family, went to Grammar school and loves the theatre, none of which sits well with his working class father. But Ralph is as stubborn as his dad and he won't abandon his dream of becoming an actor.

I first read this book about 10 years ago when I was a teenager. I was attended a Youth Theatre group and the theatre-based bits stuck in my mind. Rereading I found the whole thing excellent. Michelle Magorian is most famous for Goodnight Mister Tom and this book has the same high-standard of writing. The best part is the characters. It's wonderful that they all have their own views and perspectives, each of which is valid and understandable, even as they come into conflict. As Ralph is the main character the reader generally sympathises with him, even though he can be short-sighted (in an emotional sense -though there's also a minor plot-point involving specs). The subject matter is not as serious as Magorian's most famous book, making it a happier read, but there is plenty of emotion to get stuck into. There are also some wonderful comedic moments, some of which involved the transportation of a large stuffed bear - intrigued now, aren't you?

Magorian is very skilled at showing how the Second World War pulled families apart, and how the subsequent reunions, far from being joyful, could be complicated and difficult for all involved. Her book Back Home is another excellent example of this theme. Cuckoo in the Nest is full of different family relationships; Ralph's crowded family, his wealthy employer's bereaved family and the non-related family of actors and backstage workers that Ralph gradually becomes a part of. I could go on at greater length about the virtues of this book -and why the cover isn't good enough- but I shall restrain myself

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
This recently published book is set in 1940s US and shows a time when America was getting back to normal after WWII. Evie, her mother and her step-father, Joe, go on a spontaneous holiday to Florida. While there they meet Peter, who served with Joe in the army, and Evie falls in love for the first time. However there are secrets and passions bubbling under the surface. Emotions run high and Evie's desire for independence conflicts with her parents' desire to keep her safe.

Told in the first person by Evie, we are initially presented with the viewpoint of a girl who isn't yet an adult. Evie's grows up in stages: at first she's attracted to an older man and wishes to be seen as grown up. She starts to buy into the suddenly-accessible world of adult glamour as exemplified by her mother. Then Evie -and the reader- starts to notice tension and unpleasant undercurrents between the other characters. It's clear that each adult is hiding something, but we are left to speculate until Evie figures things out. By the end of the book Evie must decide what to believe -the whole truth being unknown -and acts way that suggests an adult level of cynicism and practicality. In a way she triumphs, but it's also a shame as the innocent girl we met at the start of the book has gone. The tension build subtly but palpably throughout the book. By skillfully giving small events significance, and twisting character perceptions Judy Blundell has created a gripping read and a solid, low-key thriller that will appeal to young women.

I know it seems very well-timed, but I didn't mean to read 2 postwar books in November, it was a coincidence. I didn't even realise What I Saw and How I Lied was set in the 40s until I started reading, I just liked the title. It was interesting to read two books set in the same period on different sides of the Atlantic. Cuckoo in the Nest was full of rationing, power cuts, awful weather and families of seven crammed in small houses in bombed out streets. Whereas Blundell's book shows the US more or less recovered as businesses flourish, investments are made, and people buy houses, cars and long dresses again. Much of the book takes place in a hotel which is occupied by only a dozen people. There's a sense of space and renewal and aspiration. It's not hard to see why the US was so appealing and why people on both sides of the pond bought into Hollywood's glamour.

23 November 2010

Tales of the City

I've always been a reader. As a teen I used to sit in bookshops just reading blurbs, deciding what to buy. Often I read a blurb a few times before I actually bought the book. Despite being a natural saver (or possibly just really cheap) I used to buy plenty of books. Working in a library really helps bring my spending down. It also means I've read plenty of books I might not have expected to read.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
I read about this on Neil Gaiman's blog. Then a colleague told me about the TV series.
I thought that it was a good story full of interesting and memorable characters. I liked the way that the plot built up through a series of encounters between an expanding cast of characters. My knowledge of San Francisco in the 70s isn't brilliant. There were a lot of contemporary references, but the author's skill meant that I got the context and the tone, even if I didn't always know the specifics.
I expect I'll keep reading the series, but I'll have to wait for the pile of books on my coffee table to go down.

20 November 2010

Pillars of the Earth

I've been watching the television adaption of Ken Follett's brick-sized book for the last 5 weeks. I'm just over half way through and enjoying it.

Confusingly it's both obvious and unpredictable. There are various tropes, which you can see coming from a great distance, and give the show a cheesy feel among all the violence and scheming. It's obvious who's going to murder who and who's going to be a really crappy husband. It's clear which character is particularly significant, we don't need a ghostly dream prophecy to tell us, but we get one anyway.

A present from my mother-in-law
That said, the fortunes of almost all the characters, from builders and whores to Empresses and Kings, see-saw from one episode to the next. You can see why this period of history was called the Anarchy. The plot has taken various turns I didn't expect, and I'm honesty not sure what will happen to the bulk of the characters, or the cathedral.
The only reason I know part of the outcome is history. Medieval history is not my strong-area, so I consulted my History Mug.* As you can see it told me that there is no King Eustace. In fact a fist-shaking King Stephen is succeeded by a lively young Henry II, who apparently enjoys leapfrogging small tables.

I've never read the book, so I don't know how faithful the miniseries is to the source material. Though wikipedia informs me that the incest and suspected witchcraft were added in for television, because who doesn't love watching that? I have vaguely considered reading the book, but there are so many other books to read, and then they put it on TV for me anyway. A similar thing happened with Lord of the Rings.

I thought the setting seemed pretty good. Medieval England is skillfully played by rural Austria and Hungary. There's plenty of dirt and muck, which is what history was like, although certain main characters (especially women) still look a little too clean and glamorous.

* Ok, so it's actually a Kings and Queens of England since 1066 Mug, but that is not as catchy.

17 November 2010

Cowboys & Aliens

My husband just made me watch the trailer for the upcoming Cowboys and Aliens film. He was right to do it.

The trailer looks good. Of course, that's the point of trailers and I've been burned by that before (damn you X3!), but sometimes the promise of a good film is enough.
I don't know what the story is, but there are spaceships and explosions and a magical tech-bracelet. The setting looks pretty good, I don't know that much about the Wild West so historical pedantry won't get in my way. It looked rough and dirty, which is how history should be.

I'm not a western fan, but I thought Firefly was brilliant. Obviously spaceships are what the wild west was missing.
In fact, thinking about it I don't really like war films or TV series, but I loved BSG and am currently being forced to watch enjoying anime series Gundam Seed which is primarily a war story. So clearly the addition of spaceships and lasers is an important factor.

14 November 2010

First Post

I don't expect anyone is reading this at the moment. Mostly because I'm keeping the blog private until I've got things sorted out a bit. However I am a person who likes to provide an introduction -or perhaps an explanation/apology.
Also it's easier to edit the look of the blog if I've actually got at least one post. So...

I'm currently in my mid-twenties, I'm married and work in a library.
My interests include Books, Television, History, Films and Writing. I plan to blog mostly around these subjects, although whether I stick to that plan remains to be seen.

One of my favourite quotes is the last sentence spoken by the Red Queen in the extract below:
Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.  Lewis Carroll

Six is my lucky number and I do enjoy a variety of impossible things. Although I must say, I'm not much use for anything before breakfast.