Blogtober

REVIEW: The Hunger Games (2012)

After revisiting the books for the first time in about a decade it was time to revisit the films – many of which I probably haven’t seen since they were first released.

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games – a fight to the death on live TV until only one victor remains standing. When her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) is chosen, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) as she and her male counterpart, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives.

From the outset it’s clear the difference between the Capitol and the Districts aka the haves and the have-nots. The Hunger Games opens with two men with brightly coloured hair and vibrant clothes talking about the Games and then cuts to District 12 where a woman screams and everything is bleak and grey.

Even before we get into the arena, the camera work is shaky and frantic. While it works in the arena, encompassing the fear and the adrenalin as the tributes fight to survive and quickly moving away from children’s bloody bodies allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps, in Katniss’s day to day life it feels jarring. I’m not one to feel queasy due to shaky cam, especially not when watching a film on my laptop, but some of the sequences in District 12 did make me feel funny and my eyes hurt due to the camera work.

Some of the most interesting moments in The Hunger Games comes from things we’d never have seen in the book as it was all from Katniss’s point of view. In the film, you get to see the Gamemakers, the people pulling the strings behind the scenes on their holographic screens as they set traps for the young competitors. Again, it goes to show that for people in the Capitol this is just entertainment or just a job but for the tributes it’s the worst time of their life.

I feel like there will be more to comment on performance-wise as the films progress but the likes of Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Toby Jones looking like their having a whale of a time. They all play citizens of the Capitol and are used to lives of luxury but Banks manages to ensure that Effie comes across as well-meaning if a bit insensitive as she’s never not on Katniss and Peeta’s side.

Jennifer Lawrence is really does a fantastic job at Katniss. She’s not the most expressive or potentially even likeable character as she’s had to have so much responsibility from a young age but Lawrence makes it work, showing the girl behind Katniss’s stoicism and the moments when she truly lets her emotions out, often when she’s with her sister or Rue (Amandla Stenberg), you truly feel what she’s going through.

Overall, The Hunger Games is a solid, though sometimes a little slow, adaptation and with stellar performances bringing to life such interesting characters it sets the franchise off on a good foot. 4/5.

REVIEW: Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Shortly before Halloween, twelve-year-old Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.

I haven’t read a middle grade or children’s book since I was the intended demographic for such a book, but when I heard about Ghost Squad, I knew I had to check it out and I’m very pleased I did. Yes, the humour is naturally more juvenile than my kind of thing as an adult but there’s still some moments that made me smile to myself and Syd especially had some witty observational one-liners.

I read Ghost Squad in two sittings and it was a great way to spend some time. I got pulled into the story almost immediately and Lucely and Syd’s friendship was so great. I liked both girls a lot and they have a proper ride or die friendship and there’s pretty much nothing they can’t say to one another. I liked that a lot actually, that they weren’t afraid to ask each other tough or potentially personal and uncomfortable questions and the other never getting upset with those questions. Instead, it was a sign of how deep their friendship was as they could be so open with one another even when it was about something that could hurt them.

I really liked how present the adults in Lucely and Syd’s life were. Yes the girls go on a lot of adventures on their own and figure things out together, but it’s nice that when adults are made aware of what’s happening, namely Syd’s grandmother Babette and Lucely’s dad Simon, they’re supportive and help the girls solve the problem. As I said, I haven’t read much middle grade but with YA there’s often a lot of dead, abusive, or emotionally or physically absent parental figures in the main characters lives. This tends to be so the main characters can have their adventure and story without worrying about the pesky adults getting in the way but Ghost Squad shows how your child hero characters can be the heroes of their story but still have love and support from the adults in their lives when they need it.

The ghosts themselves and the monsters they can create were excellent and suitably spooky. The action sequences and the magical items the girls and Babette use to capture and fight the ghosts were fun too. Ghost Squad really captured the sort of childlike wonder of a situation full of ghosts, like the items used to fight ghosts could only be found in a children’s book and it was great.

I found how Ghost Squad delt with death and family really interesting and effective. Lucely can still see pretty much all of her dead family members thanks to their spirits being connected to her home while her dad has lost that power and can only see them as fireflies. So, for Lucely no one is truly dead and gone so when something threatens them, and her grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins start to get almost sick even though they’re already ghosts, it’s a really scary time for her. On the flipside to that, her mother left Lucely and her father and that grief and sadness is there unlike the grief of losing a loved one to death. It’s a really interesting parallel and shows the difference between losing someone due to something out of their control, and losing someone due to their own choices.

I’m really pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Ghost Squad considering middle grade isn’t something I read. I liked the characters, the adventure, the spooky vibes, and that there was a fat cat called Chunk that was more than meets the eye. It’s a fast-paced and fun story that has some depth to it. It’s definitely a book well-suited to Halloween season. 5/5.

BOOK BLOGGER HOP: Have you ever skipped ahead to read the ending?

Book Blogger Hop

I definitely went through a phase of always reading the last sentence on the last page when I was younger. It was fun to see the final moment even though I was far from reaching it. Nowadays if I do read anything on the final pages it’s by accident when I’m flicking through to see how many pages/chapters the book has.

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, my copy arrived while I was at work at my Saturday job. My mum, who had never read a Harry Potter book and had only seen the first two films, decided to read the last few chapters just so she knew how it ended before I did. She didn’t spoil anything for me but it was funny how she just had to know the ending even though she didn’t have any context for the vast majority of characters mentioned.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Favourite Bookshops

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week, as it was National Bookshop Day on 1 October here in the UK, the theme is your favourite bookshops or bookshops you’d love to visit. I’m doing a bit of both with five bookshops I love and five I’d love to visit and have linked to the bookshop’s websites/social media accounts if they have them.

Words on the Water

First are five I love:

Words on the Water, London, UK
A bookshop on a boat! It’s in a lovely spot near King’s Cross and they have a dog – what more can you want? Plus it has a really interesting mix of second-hand books too.

Waterstones, UK
Just about every major town/city in the UK has a Waterstones and this, after WHSmith and a Methvens (RIP), is where I grew up browsing bookshelves. I naturally have a soft spot for the one where I currently live but I will visit any Waterstones and probably be happy.

Daunt Books, Marylebone, UK
This bookshop was honestly a life savour when it came to my Read the World Project as a good chunk of its shelves are divided by country. It’s also a really beautiful bookshop which is always a plus.

Cărturești Carusel Bookstore

Housmans, London, UK
Another bookshop really close to King’s Cross and one that has a great mix of stuff including second hand books and new and it’s a radical bookshop, specialising is all books of radical interest and progressive politics.

Cărturești Carusel Bookstore, Bucharest, Romania
Yes, when I went to Bucharest with friends the only thing, I wanted us to do was to go to this bookstore. Luckily those friends were also readers and it was great exploring a new bookstore with them. It was so bright and airy and had such pretty staircases. I even bought a book – The Fox was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller.

Five bookshops I’d love to visit:

The Strand, New York City, USA
Can’t believe I went to New York (10 years ago now) and never stepped foot in the flagship store. Would love to spend hours in that humongous bookshop.

Hay-on-Wyre, Wales, UK
OK this is a town but it’s a town famous for its bookshops! There are over twenty of them and there’s speciality bookshops and I’d just love to visit the town and spend a long weekend going to cake shops and visiting all the bookshops.

Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht, The Netherlands
A bookshop in a gothic church! It looks absolutely beautiful and this was indeed a place where after I heard of it, I immediately looked how easily I could visit it. Side note: looks like I could get the Eurostar to Amsterdam and then do a day trip to Maastricht during my hypothetical holiday.

Foyles, Charring Cross Road, UK
I have been to the flagship Foyles bookstore once but that was years ago and I’d love to properly revisits and take my time exploring all the floors and probably buying too many books.

La Biblioteca de Babel, Mallorca, Spain
I went to the island Menorca a lot as a child as it was my mum’s favourite place but I’ve never been to the neighbouring island Mallorca. When I heard about this bookstore, that’s almost a hidden bookstore as out front it has tables and chairs like a café, I think I’ll have to try and make the trip sometime. Wine and books – what’s not to like?!

Have you visited any of these bookshops? What are some of your favourite bookshops and ones you’d love to visit?

It’s blogtober time!

It’s that time of year again and as I seem to have gotten into the habit of alternating between blogtober and blogmas every year, this year it’s blogtober’s time to shine. Thought I’d do a little intro post as it gets another day used up which is always handy and I can forewarn you as to what’s likely to end up on here over the next few weeks.

As you may have noticed about the past weekend, I’m planning to post spooky/horror film reviews every Saturday and Sunday. I’m a self-confessed wuss but I do like pushing myself out of my comfort zone a bit with this. I mean, last blogtober I watched some great films like 30 Days of Night and Practical Magic for the first time. I’ve gone through my watchlists of the various streaming platforms I have and have put together a potential watchlist. I think there’s a nice mix of different kinds of horror films, and some are more family-focussed if I do get scared! I will say while I’ve included them, I doubt I’ll watch the Fear Street films as slasher-horror films are probably the kind of horror films I can deal with the least. Creature-horror films like zombies, vampires and werewolves are much easier for me to handle.

London Film Festival is this month and I’m going to spend one day in London to see Call Jane and Till on the big screen and I’m planning on taking full advantage of the films available online on the BFI Player so there may be some reviews for some of those films this month. Also, this month is Cambridge Film Festival which seemed to come out of nowhere – I feel like it’s usually in November? So, to have it this month was a surprise but one I’m going to try and take advantage of as it takes place around the corner from my work so it’d be silly not to. After rereading The Hunger Games trilogy, I rewatched the films so there’s going to be reviews for each of them every Friday this month.

I haven’t really been doing my usual Monday film reviews recently but I’m going to try and get back into that habit and on Thursdays there should still be book reviews even though I’ve now finished my Read the World Project. It’s fun but almost daunting to be able to pick up any book I have on my shelves, it almost feels like too much choice right now. Things like Top Ten Tuesday, Book Blogger Hop, and tags may also help me fill in the gaps.

So yeah, will be a lot busier on this blog this month. As I’m writing and scheduling this post at the end of September, I have 14 posts scheduled (including the two from this past weekend) which I think is pretty good going – especially as I got COVID at the end of September though thankfully I didn’t have it bad at all, was more like a bad cold for three days, and I’m now testing negative.

REVIEW: Sea Fever (2019)

Marine biology student Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) joins a trawler crew to conduct research as part of her studies but things soon go awry as she and the crew, marooned at sea, struggle for their lives against a growing parasite in their water supply.

Written and directed by Neasa Hardiman Sea Fever is one of those more subtle, quietly haunting horror films. It has a great script and cast but one thing I think it really has going in its favour is it doesn’t try and overly explain the creature. You just see glimpses and Siobhán has theories based on science but nothing is ever proven. Sometimes with “creature features” having to have answers for everything leads to plot holes and an unsatisfying threat. Sea Fever embraces the mystery and having the creature, the parasites and how it functions being an unknown quantity means that there’s always a danger to every decision the characters make.

Though there’s hints of more of a gruesome outcome for the crew, the third act focuses in on the horrors of panicking people rather than the horrors of some unknown creature. Siobhán is a scientist first and foremost and believes everyone should quarantine and not get ashore as soon as possible for fear of infecting others, while the rest of the crew just want to get home and be safe, even if they don’t know whether or not they’ve already been infected. Personally, I thought that worked really well as sometimes a group of people are their own worst enemy. Seeing how these characters react in close confinement and when and how they turn on each other was riveting.

Sea Fever is super atmospheric little Irish indie film and one that I’m really glad I watched. The sound design is great too as is the score by Christoffer Franzén. It suits the tone of the film perfectly and never oversells a moment. 4/5.

REVIEW: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a typical popular cheerleader, oblivious to the strange things happening in her town. That is until a strange man called Merrick (Donald Sutherland) enters her life and tells her she’s the chosen one and is destined to battle vampires.

Confession time, I have never watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think I was too young for it when it starting showing in the UK and the few bits I do remember catching on TV scared me as I have always been a wuss. Side note, I remember catching bits of Roswell around the same time and that also freaked me out. Anyway. Though I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer the show, I do know some of the basics thanks to pop culture osmosis, mainly character names, but I’m definitely aware of the show and the phenomenon it was.

So though I’ve never watched the show it was still a bit weird watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie as I’m so used to Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular character and a bunch of other faces/names that don’t appear in this film. There’s still a lot of familiar faces in this film though like Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Thomas Jane and even Ben Affleck is a high school basketball player which was very jarring.

I feel like for a film that has a runtime of less than 90 minutes, the pacing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is somehow simultaneously too fast and too slow. Relationships that you’re clearly supposed to care about like Buffy and Merrick aren’t given enough time to really feel anything for, and the constant back and forth Buffy goes through of being a vampire hunter and wanting to be a normal teenage girl is, while understandable not that interesting after a while. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is written but Joss Whedon, who would go on to create the show, and there’s hints of the kind of humour he’s known for sprinkled throughout the film but the script is never funny enough, tight enough, or dramatic enough to make its big ideas work.

To be honest, it’s as if Whedon didn’t know what he wanted Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be. Sometimes it’s a campy comedy, sometimes it tries to be horror movie, and then it’s also a coming-of-age story and a teen girl trying to find her own path – is it her “destiny” and everything Merrick says, or is it what her friends think she should be interested in? It veers wildly between each tone and none of them work together or separately.

Kristy Swanson is pretty good as Buffy; she’s got the physicality and a charm to her that eventually starts to shine through. Though I wish she and her friends weren’t the typical mean girls. Sure, Buffy goes through a character arc but it is hard to really root for her to begin with when she is so materialistic and is very much a dumb popular blonde stereotype.

Honestly, I think my favourite thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer was Pike (Luke Perry). It’s always fun having a guy as the damsel in distress type role and Pike was great at being a supportive friend to Buffy and just generally rolling with all the weirdness he encounters. He’s not useless but it’s also clear that Buffy is more skilled than him when it comes to fighting the undead which was good.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a great film but I think it’s an interesting jumping off point for what became a hugely successful TV show. 2/5.

Happy Halloween!

And so, another October comes to an end and it’s time for spooky things to happen – though probably a lot of people have already gone full out on the spooky stuff.

I’m probably not going to do anything for Halloween, maybe watch Hocus Pocus because it’d be weird not to (it’s kinda become a tradition to watch it on/close to Halloween) and chill out. I was never a big Halloween person even before we were living through a pandemic where gathering in large groups is a no no.

Anyway, however you decide to mark Halloween I hope you have a great day/night, and if you’re not doing anything – hope you generally have a fab weekend!

Friday 56: The Good Girls by Sara Shepard

The Friday 56 is a weekly feature hosted by Freda’s Voice. The aim is to share a few sentences of a book (whether it’s one you’re currently reading or not) so other people might be enticed to pick it up.

Here’s the rules:
– Turn to page 56 or 56% in your ebook
– Find any sentence – or a few, just don’t spoil it
– Post it
– Add the URL of your post to the Linky on Freda’s most recent post

Julie just nodded, but Parker glared at the woman, puffing up her chest. “Actually, I was planning on setting fire to the house, thanks. And maybe doing heroin in your bathroom. That cool?”

That was from page 56 of the paperback edition of The Good Girls by Sara Shepard which I am currently reading.

The Spooky Books Tag

As blogtober draws to a close, it’s time for one more seasonal tag! The Spooky Book Tag was created by Shelby Masako and I’m going to do my best to not repeat any of my answers from previous tags I’ve done this month.

What goes bump in the night?: Name a book that has legitimately scared you while reading it.
I know I’ve mentioned Lirael in a previous tag for this kind of question but it’s still relevant. Maybe Safe as Houses by Simone van der Vlugt also deserves a mention as that was a different type of scary as it’s about a home invasion.

Jack O’ Lanterns and Classic Costumes: A book you always reach for during Halloween time.
I don’t have a spooky/horror book that I always pick up at this time of year. In fact, I cant remember the last time I reread a book (must be at least four years ago) and that’s something I’d like to rectify soon.

Black Cats and Magic Mirrors: A book you love that is laced with superstition and/or magic.
Again, I think I might’ve mentioned this series in a previous tag but I don’t care – The Magician’s House Quartet by William Corlett. There’s magic and secrets in the house and talking animals and an evil Magician’s assistant.

Witch’s Brew: Favourite witch character in any book/series
It’s easy to say Hermione Granger from Harry Potter but really, I think my favourite witch is Angela from the Inheritance Cycle. My first thought was Hermione because Angela is more than a witch, she’s a healer and maybe a seer and there’s so many layers to her that witch almost seems like a too simple term.

Ghouls and Ghosts: A book that still haunts you to this day (good or bad).
Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Divergent trilogy but the ending of Allegiant sticks with me, mainly because I think it’s an incredibly ballsy move from the author and I kinda liked how things went down – even though I know a lot of people weren’t.

Haunted Graveyard: You’re all alone in a haunted graveyard, you get ONE book to give you comfort, which is it?
Hawkeye vs. Deadpool by Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli. The vast majority of comics featuring Hawkeye (especially the Clint Barton Hawkeye) bring me comfort but Hawkeye vs. Deadpool was just so much fun, it’d hard to be scared when revisiting that book.

The Undead: Favourite supernatural creatures to read about (i.e. vamps, zombies, werewolves, etc).
I don’t often read about supernatural creatures – the Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman has a lot of them in there though. I think my favourites though are vampires, I think they’re the creature that authors can really put their own spin on.

In the dead of night: Pick a book with a black cover.
I feel like I’ve mentioned this book so much on my blog over the past few months, but I’ve got to pick The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag. It has a stunning cover and it’s just the sort of book I should be reading at this time of year as I think there’s magic and witches and mysteries, but I haven’t picked it up yet.