Monday 19 March 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

Released: 23rd March 2012
By: Lionsgate

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games.  A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which "Tributes" must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy.  If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

My review:

I haven't written a film review for this blog before, but I figured The Hunger Games causes enough excitement in the book-reading community to warrant it. I just got back from seeing the movie - one of the benefits of having a journalist in the family is advance press screenings, so I was able to see The Hunger Games a few days before its release.

The good news is, I liked it. It's good and often it's very good. Jennifer Lawrence is awesome; she is an amazing actress and she nailed everything. She had exactly the right chemistry with all the other characters: Prim, Cinna, Rue - and Peeta and Gale. Obviously many things from the book are condensed for the movie, but even though Katniss and Gale only have about five minutes of screen time together, you still got it - that they are best friends, maybe more - and that's entirely due to how much Lawrence can convey with only a few words and gestures. The other actors are fine, but it's difficult to point out anyone else as a standout. It's totally Lawrence's show, and as she's the lead, that's how it should be. There's no doubt that this Katniss can inspire a revolution.

The nature of life in the districts and in the Capitol is very well portrayed; there are lots of 'scene-setting' moments that convey how poverty-stricken and hopeless the people of the districts are and how thoughtlessly hedonistic the Capitol residents are. In establishing the world of The Hunger Games, the film doesn't have the benefit of Katniss' narration explaining everything, so it includes several scenes between President Snow and Seneca Crane, where they discuss things instead. This works well for setting up the later installments. I remember finishing the first book and wondering where the story would go next, but the movie makes it clear right off who the villains are, what their agenda is and why Katniss is a threat to them.

Because I'm one of those annoying people who always say "But the book was better!" I do have some complaints. I know things have to be cut down in a movie, but I still think Katniss and Rue's relationship is totally rushed. However, I looked over at my sister (someone who hasn't read the books) and she was crying, so I guess it does what it's supposed to do - I was just disappointed not to get to see some of their scenes. I really liked the change the film makes to District 11's reaction, though. As I said, the movie does a great job of setting up the whole story.

The other thing is something I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's only the general feeling you get after finally reading or watching something that has been so hyped. Because while The Hunger Games is good, it's not the best movie ever made or anything. And rightly or wrongly, that disappoints me slightly.

Still, I think fans will be pleased and the movie did the books justice. Things have been cut or shortened (the Games only seem to last a few days, instead of weeks) but overall, I think everything important to the trilogy as a whole is there and the relationships feel right. As an adaptation, I think it's a success.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday 18 March 2012

Giveaway: Thoughts At One In The Morning One Year Blogoversary

First of all, I want to say congratulations to Jess on her first blogoversary! Thoughts At One In The Morning is one of my go-to blogs and Jess is one of my favourite people in the blogger community. She's come so far in just one year and she deserves all the best wishes I can send her way.

To celebrate, Jess is hosting an amazing giveaway. There will be TWO prizes and TWO winners.

Prize #1: ONE book of choice under $15 from The Book Depository

Prize #2: Book Swag Pack

Here are the official rules/guidelines for the giveaway:

1). You must be a follower.
2). You must be over 15 years old.
3). This is open to international followers. (Only if The Book Depository will ship to you; please check this link to see if you are eligible.)
4). This contest runs from March 18th to March 31st (two weeks).
5). You can gain extra entries by "liking" my Facebook page, following me on Twitter @Jess_Sankiewicz, commenting on this post, and/or blogging about this giveaway.
6). Winner will be selected at 12:01 a.m. on April 1st via Rafflecopter random selection.

Click here to enter and good luck!

Saturday 17 March 2012

Audiobook Review: Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor

First released: 20th December 2010
By: Brilliance Audio

Audiobook length: 7 hrs and 41 mins
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

A girl who's always been in the shadows finds herself pursued by the unbelievably attractive new boy at school, who may or may not be the death of her. Another girl grows up mute because of a curse placed on her by a vindictive spirit, and later must decide whether to utter her first words to the boy she loves and risk killing everyone who hears her if the curse is real. And a third girl discovers that the real reason for her transient life with her mother has to do with belonging - literally belonging - to another world entirely, full of dreaded creatures who can transform into animals, and whose queen keeps little girls as personal pets until they grow to childbearing age. 

From a writer of unparalleled imagination and emotional insight, three stories about the deliciousness of wanting and waiting for that moment when lips touch.

My review:

Boy, is Laini Taylor's writing gorgeous. Each of the three short stories in Lips Touch: Three Times had something for me to like - either characters, romance or mythology - but what I loved was the beautiful prose throughout.

The first of the three stories, Goblin Fruit, is also the shortest. It has this wonderful opening where Taylor describes the loneliness and longing of the main character, Kizzy and the words quickly enveloped me into the story. Kizzy's teenage desires were easy to recollect and relate to (And it's so cool that she's named Kizzy - Roots shout out!) and the goblin myth was one I hadn't heard before. The best part was hearing about Kizzy's oddball family and I really wanted to see Kizzy battle the goblins, as her feisty grandmother had done decades ago. And if Goblin Fruit were a novel, I guess I would've gotten that, but the short story seems to cut off abruptly, when a lot more of this tale could still be told. This was particularly noticeable on audio, because without being able to see the story end on the page, I was waiting patiently for the narration to continue, only to have the second story start instead. Oh, well - what is there is great and it's a compliment to Taylor's storytelling that I wanted more.

The other two stories are longer and feel complete. It's tough to choose between them, but I think Spicy Little Curses Such as These is my favourite. It's set in India and is a twisted version of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale - a baby girl, Anamique, is cursed with a beautiful voice, that will kill anybody who hears it. Spicy Little Curses has a great cast of characters; with Anamique and her love interest, James (I loved their courtship by letter - so romantic!); the 'Old Bitch' and the demon, Vasudev; and even the god of Hell himself.

The final story is Hatchling and this is where Taylor surpasses herself with her world-building. Her depiction of the Druj - a vampire-like race who kidnap children and keep them as pets - is detailed, strange, atmospheric, terrifying. I was both spellbound and seriously creeped out, much like their child victims.

It's interesting to read Lips Touch: Three Times after loving Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Taylor wrote Lips Touch first and you can definitely see seeds of  ideas that would blossom into Smoke and Bone. From Kizzy's unconventional family in Goblin Fruit, to the human woman working for a demon in Spicy Little Curses to the device of telling the story via flashback in Hatchling. Hatchling and Smoke and Bone also share the same big twist, so I'm glad I read the latter first, so I didn't guess at the truth about Karou.

I thought Cassandra Campbell was a very compelling narrator and sometimes I would stop whatever else I was doing and just listen to her recite Taylor's lovely passages: Campbell's voice and Taylor's words seem to complement each other perfectly. I did much prefer Campbell's voice on the narrative rather than the dialogue, though. The characters in Spicy Little Curses and Hatchling are English, and while Campbell's English accent is fine, it is that very posh, cut-glass type of British accent that isn't how I'd expect a young person to speak. Esme in Hatchling is 14 and it would jar me a bit to hear her speak like the Queen. I'm not sure any non-Brits would notice, though.

Although I'm all "Audiobooks, yay!" right now and Lips Touch: Three Times is fantastic in this format, the hardback version does include these illustrations, which are amazing-looking, so I know I'm going to have to buy a physical copy, too. But I'll be glad to have both, as Lips Touch: Three Times is a keeper, in your ears or on your shelf.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Reading Challenge #4: YA Audiobook Challenge

It's a little late in the year to be taking on new challenges, but in December 2011, I had no idea what a convert I would soon become to audiobooks. In just a couple of weeks, I've taken to them like a duck to water and so I don't think it will be any problem for me to complete the YA Audiobook Challenge hosted by Jen at A Book and A Latte.

The Goal:

Listen and review at least 12 audiobooks (released any year) of the YA genre in 2012.

  • Listen to at least 12 YA audiobooks in between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012
  • Review the audiobooks on either your blog or, and then link them up at A Book and a Latte each month.
    • Reviews should include the length of the audiobook, name of narrator(s), and include your opinion of the narrator(s)/production as well as the novel.
    • There will be a linky open each month to link up your reviews. You don’t have to link a review each month, however to complete the challenge you must link a total of 12 by the end of 2012.
    • Feel free to link more than 12 reviews, as long as they meet the criteria (YA audiobooks).
  • Declare yourself a challenge participant (blog post/facebook/twitter) and sign up here!

I've already gotten a head-start on this challenge and have listened to 3 YA audiobooks so far this year already. My library also has a great selection and I'm currently on a 3 month trial with Audible. With all that in mind and my iPod in my ears, this is the challenge I am most likely to complete!

    Wednesday 14 March 2012

    Book Review: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart

    First published: 13th March 2012
    By: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

    Olivia Bean knows trivia. She watches Jeopardy! every night and usually beats at least one of the contestants. If she were better at geography, she would try out for the show’s kids’ week. Not only could she win bundles of money, she’d get to go to the taping in California, where her dad, who left two years ago and who Olivia misses like crazy, lives with his new family.
    One day Olivia’s friend-turned-nemesis, Tucker, offers to help her bulk up her geography knowledge. Before Olivia knows it, she’s getting help from all sorts of unexpected sources: her almost-stepdad, superannoying Neil; her genius little brother, Charlie; even her stressed-out mom. Soon she has breezed through the audition rounds and is headed for Hollywood! But will the one person she wants to impress more than anyone else show up to support her?

    My review:

    I thought this was a great children's novel. Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen feels like a story its target age group would connect and identify with and there are enough emotional layers to make it worthwhile for an adult reader, too.

    Twelve year-old Olivia is nuts about the gameshow Jeopardy! and never misses an episode. She loves trivia and she also loves the fact that it's something she shares with her dad. Olivia's dad left the family and broke their trust in a really awful way, but of course, Olivia still misses him and wants him back in her life, the way he used to be. The gradual reveal of Olivia's dad as a total scumbag is subtle and well done. Olivia often mentions things her father said and the reader begins to see that he is constantly putting her down, even though Olivia, being a kid who loves her dad, phrases his insults in a way that shows she thinks she is to blame.

    Olivia's dad is a character you want to kick in the groin, repeatedly and a better alternative is her mother's new boyfriend, Neil. I also think this relationship is nicely portrayed and develops realistically. Olivia resents and dislikes Neil at first, but comes to accept him and there's no over-the-top heroic moment where Neil rescues a dog from a burning building or anything - Olivia grows to think of him as her family almost without realising, because he does what fathers are supposed to do: Be there.

    One of the reasons I think Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen is such a nice read is because of its focus on family. The scenes of the family together actually made me miss being that age and living at home. Baby brother Charlie, really reminded me of my own youngest brother, who was also simultaneously annoying and cute. There are also some good messages in this: Olivia does seem younger than twelve, but I was glad to read about a kid who wasn't bratty or spoiled and I like that the novel encourages girls to be smart.

    Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen is a little predictable for adult readers (who have been around the reading block and know that, obviously, Olivia must make it onto Jeopardy! or the novel would stop there) but it's enjoyable nonetheless. And I wholeheartedly recommend it for children with a reading age of 8 and up. I'm keeping it on my Kindle in preparation for any nieces or nephews I may have to entertain.

    Rating: 4 stars

    This book was provided to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Wednesday 7 March 2012

    Waiting on Wednesday #12

    Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

    Changeling by Philippa Gregory

    The first book in the thrilling YA sequence, Order of Darkness.

    The year is 1453, and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old, Luca Vero, is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom, and travel to the very frontier of good and evil. 

    Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by strange visions, walking in their sleep, and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate and all the evidence points to Isolde's criminal guilt. Outside in the yard they are building a pyre to burn her for witchcraft. 

    Forced to face the greatest fears of the dark ages - black magic, werewolves, madness - Luca and Isolde embark on a search for truth, their own destinies, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.

    Published: 24th May 2012

    WoW because: Philippa Gregory is a crazy guilty pleasure of mine - I love her adult historical fiction. Do I suspect she may be drawn to the YA genre for monetary reasons? Yes. Do I care? Not if there's going to be as much scandal and intrigue in her YA novels as there is in her Tudor series. I'm hoping Gregory's style translates well into YA Fantasy, but no matter what, I have to read it and find out.

    Monday 5 March 2012

    Book Review: The Other Countess by Eve Edwards

    First published: 1st July 2010
    By: Razorbill

    England, 1582

    Ellie - Lady Eleanor Rodriguez of San Jaime - is in possession of a gold-seeking father, a worthless title and a feisty spirit that captivates the elite of the Queen's court, and none other than the handsome new Earl of Dorset . . .

    William Lacey has inherited his father's title and his financial ruin. Now the Earl must seek a wealthy heiress and restore his family's fortune. 

    Will's head has been turned by the gorgeous Ellie, yet their union can never be. Will is destined to marry a lady worthy of his status, so the only question is - which one...?

    My review:

    I treated this book embarrassingly badly before reading it. I borrowed it from the library and renewed it for months before I had to return it unread. Then I took it out again and did the same thing all over again! Let me tell you, The Other Countess did not deserve such treatment. It's exactly the kind of book I enjoy: it's frothy and fun, with characters that are easy to like and prose that's easy to keep reading and I was nuts not to read it before now.

    Ellie is the daughter of an alchemist and her father has ruined himself and gone half-mad in his fruitless pursuit of gold. He's also taken others down with him, namely the father of Will Lacey, who dies leaving his family near-bankrupt. Will blames Ellie's father entirely for the mess and The Other Countess begins with a furious Will chasing both dad and daughter off Lacey land.

    Flash forward a few years and Ellie is now a beautiful young woman, attached to a family at Queen Elizabeth's court. Will comes to court to try to do the only things that will help his family: Win the queen's favour and hook himself a rich bride. But guess who he meets...

    It's not difficult to predict what will ultimately happen in this light and charming tale, but what it lacks in surprises, The Other Countess more than makes up for in great characters and a swoon-worthy romance. Ellie is fabulously feisty, but also a very dutiful daughter and you can't help but feel sorry for her, being saddled as she is with a father who is completely oblivious to everything (how much he is mocked and hated, how poor they really are) but his alchemy. Will is very Mr Darcy, in the sense that he starts out as so snooty and mean to Ellie, but just when you are about to write him off as an irredeemable asshat, he comes to his senses and apologises so beautifully and makes it up to Ellie so heroically that...well, that's when the swooning starts.

    The supporting characters are super, too: Will's brothers and their teasing banter-filled relationship, and Lady Jane, the rich girl Will has picked to marry. I liked that, while it at first seems that Jane is going to be the bitch and Ellie's nemesis, Eve Edwards avoids that particular cliché by having Ellie and Jane become friends.

    One thing that actually did surprise me about The Other Countess was the amount of humour in it. Will's siblings are pretty fast with the jokes and Lady Jane has a scheming maid whose sexcapades are played for laughs, but even the serious subplots - which involve the religious complications of Elizabethan England - are lightened up with some funny lines.

    All this adds up to a lighthearted and pleasing read: A 16th century rom-com, you could say. Eve Edwards has written more romances for the Lacey family (the next books are The Queen's Lady and The Rogue's Princess) and I am really looking forward to reading them.

    Rating: 4 stars