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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

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The world is burning, civilisation is collapsing and the human race is in danger of being wiped out…a mysterious disease known as Dragonscale is sweeping the planet – nobody knows how it started, but everyone thinks it will end with the destruction of mankind. The disease starts out as swirling patterns on the sufferer’s skin, and eventually those with it burst into fire and are literally burnt to death. It doesn’t take long before vigilantes roam the streets killing those affected in an attempt to rid the world of the disease.

Harper Grayson finds out that she has Dragonscale at roughly the same time as she discovers that she is pregnant. Her husband Jakob abandons her, and in fear of her life, Harper flees to try and find a place of safety. She is taken under the collective wing of a group of fellow sufferers who have set up their own community known as Camp Wyndham, where they believe they have found a way to, if not cure Dragonscale, at least control it and even use it to their advantage. One of the group is John Rookwood, known as The Fireman. Enigmatic and single-minded, John protects the group and has special skills of his own for using Dragonscale to defend his community. But danger and hysteria lurk within the camp…

I had previously only read one book by Joe Hill – Heart Shaped Box – which I thought was okay but not brilliant. I would probably not have bothered with any more of his novels except that dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels always intrigue me, so I gave this one a try. And wow! am I glad that I did!!

It’s a big brick of a book, at just shy of 750 pages. Sometimes I can get a bit impatient with such long books, but I seem to have got lucky with a couple this year (earlier in the year I read Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ which I also loved), including this one. The writing is engaging and there’s always something to tease you into reading just one more chapter, and oh go on there, just one more…

Some scenes were particularly poignant – crazy as it sounds, one of the scenes that sticks in my head is when Harper gets brief access to the internet after weeks of having none. She goes to Google only to find that it is no longer there.

There’s a lot of characters in the book – some I loved, and some I absolutely detested, as I am sure was the intention of the author. Harper was a feisty heroine – the best sort actually, as she only realised her own strength of character when the chips were down.  found her obsession with the film Mary Poppins a bit odd but I’ll let it go!! The Fireman was exasperating and antagonistic, but fiercely protective of those he cared about, and his bravery knew no bounds.

The story seemed to move quite quickly for me – that is there was always something happening and it didn’t lag at all. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I liked it although I know some reviewers were disappointed.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels. It’s well worth your time reading!

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I honestly can’t remember whether I actually read these books – more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland, I guess due to the 1951 Disney film, which is an amalgamation of both of the Alice books – or whether the stories and characters are just so well known that I feel like I’ve read them.

Either way, I recently bought the dark retelling and continuation ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry, and decided to read the originals before reading this newer release. For anyone who has lived under a rock for their whole lives, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tells the story of the strange encounters a young girl called Alice has when she falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland. There she meets such characters as the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through a mirror and ends up in a strange world where she meets the Red Queen and the White Queen, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and many other characters.

I have mixed feelings about these stories. On the one hand, I am not really the target audience anyway and I feel I should take that into account. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Carroll was both imaginative and intelligent. The stories are quite fantastical, and Through the Looking Glass includes several clever verses, one of which is the famous Jabberwocky poem.

For all that though…I can’t say I really enjoyed reading the book (I read one book which contained both stories). I definitely preferred the first one, but I got a little bored with Through the Looking Glass, and consequently took far longer to read it than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because fantasy – which I guess this book probably could be classed as – is not a favourite genre of mine; maybe it’s because as I say, I am not the target audience; maybe it’s just that no book can resonate with every reader.

I would not want to put anyone else off reading the book – it is after all a much-loved classic, so really what does my opinion matter? – but on a personal level, I felt a little disappointed by it. I still look forward to reading the Christina Henry book though!

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This book centres around three women – Alexandra, Sukie and Jane – who live in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick in the early 1970s. They are all divorced and/or widowed, and they all just happen to be witches. Their close friendship is threatened by the arrival in town of the base, bawdy, but hugely charismatic Darryl Van Horne. And…that’s about it. More does happen, but the storyline here is really pretty slow, centering more on the interactions between the main characters.

I must confess that this was not what I expected it to be at all. Having recently watched the film again for the first time in years, I expected the book to be of much the same tone – quirky, funny and colourful. It wasn’t, and while it did eventually draw me in somewhat, quite often I found myself looking for something else to do rather than pick up the book, and certain parts did feel really tedious.

I didn’t find any of the characters believable, although to an extent maybe they weren’t meant to be. Indeed out of the three women, the only vaguely likeable one was Alexandra (until it was revealed that she had used a spell to kill a puppy out of sheer spite; that takes some getting past). The prose was undoubtedly eloquent in places, but I always felt that Updike was inserting descriptions where they weren’t required, and was forever flying off at tangents.

The fact that the three women were witches – and were not the only witches in Eastwick – was not treated as particularly surprising to other members of the community, although it was repulsive to some of them, and some of the things that happened because of their spells (such as unusual items coming out of people’s mouths while they were talking). There was not an awful lot of humour in the story, but a lot of simmering malice. In short, for me this book was something of a let-down. I can sort of see why some people would love it, and there were flashes of great enjoyment sandwiched between the weirdness, but as it turned out I was just relieved to get to the end of this one.

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Three bored friends, widowed Alexandra (Cher), newly divorced uptight musician Jane (Susan Sarandon) and single mother of five Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) all wish that they could meet an interesting man to shake up their lives in the New England town of Eastwick. Enter the devilishly charming Darryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) who not only shakes up their lives, but causes scandal, gossip throughout the neighbourhood, especially upsetting the devoutly religious Felicia, who is the wife of Sukie’s boss.

Darryl seduces all three women and they all stay at his mansion with him, living a life of decadence but when they realise that the town of Eastwick is gossiping about them and calling them all names, they decide that something needs to be done. And then the trouble really starts…

I remember watching this film when it first came out in 1987, and although I had forgotten some of the details, I do recall thinking that it was a lot of fun and visually spectacular, but all kind of fell apart at the end. And this was more or less my feelings on this occasion too, although to say it fell apart is perhaps a bit harsh. The first two thirds of the film are wonderful – the four main members of the cast are superb, especially Jack Nicholson and Cher, and the colour and lavish production are a treat for the eyes. The last third of the film is possibly a bit overblown – I won’t give away what happens in case of spoilers; it may be a fairly old movie by now, but still people will be watching it for the first time – and visual effects seem to take over from the story itself, but it’s still good fun.

Susan Sarandon seems to thoroughly enjoy her role, and the transformation of Jane from a repressed and nervous woman into a sexually adventurous and sensual lady. Michelle Pfeiffer too plays her part as sweet Sukie very well, but it’s Cher as the bohemian, straight talking Alexandra who stood out for me amongst the three female leads. But Jack Nicholson – a man who was probably born for such a part – steals his scenes. Although he is rude and provocative, he does indeed have a lot of charisma and you can see why these women would be attracted to him.

If you like fantasy with your comedy and this one has slipped under your radar, I recommend it – it’s entertaining and amusing, with a great cast.

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Year of release: 1987

Director: George Miller

Writers: John Updike (novel), Michel Cristofer

Main cast: Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, Jack Nicholson, Richard Jenkins, Veronica Cartwright, Carel Struycken

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Londoner Amanda Price is unsatisfied with her current relationship, and finds solace and happiness in reading her favourite book, Pride and Prejudice.  Although she feels as though she knows the characters intimately, she is astounded to find the book’s protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, in her bathroom – and even more surprised when, after stepping through a door in the bathroom, Amanda finds herself in the Bennet household at the turn of the 19th century, right at the beginning of the story of Pride and Prejudice….but without Elizabeth present, the storyline goes awry and despite Amanda’s best efforts to remedy matters, nobody is falling in love with the right people!  Can Amanda ensure that everyone gets their proper happy ever after?  And will she ever make it back to modern day London?

Well!  I can see why some Austen fans did not like this mini-series (four episodes), because it totally plays around with the storyline of one of Britain’s best-loved books.  Although I do love P&P, I did find this series amusing, and thought it was, in the main, cleverly done.  Jemima Rooper plays Amanda, who captured that ‘fish out of water’ feeling very well.  Elliot Cowan certainly looked perfect for Darcy, and portrayed Darcy’s discomfort and awkwardness in social situations.  Morven Christie and Tom Mison played Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley respectively – although in this series, Jane ends up married to the odious Mr Collins (much to Amanda’s – and Jane’s – horror), and both were very much how I imagined the characters to be.  However, the stand-out turns for me were from Alex Kingston, who was brilliant as the fussy, silly Mrs Bennet, and Hugh Bonneville as her long-suffering and infinitely more sensible husband.  Both of these brought a lot of humour to the series, with Kingston stealing most of her scenes.  Gemma Arterton played Lizzie Bennet, but only appeared in two episodes of the series, and in one of those, her appearance was a brief one.  It’s a shame, because I could really see her as Lizzie, and did feel that I would have liked to have seen more of her coping in modern day London – which is where she is while Amanda is at the Bennets’ house – somehow the lack of Lizzie in London feels like a missed opportunity.

Chaos and laughter ensue as Darcy starts to fall for Amanda – as indeed does one other surprising character – and Wickham, far from being the dastardly charmer which he is in Austen’s book, actually seems to be quite a lovely guy (helped by a charming turn from Tom Riley).

I intended to watch one episode per week, but ended up watching the second, third and fourth episodes in one chunk, because I really wanted to see what happened.  My only complaint is with the ending of the series.  I won’t say too much because to do so would be to give away big spoilers, but the final few minutes of the last episode did not turn out the way I either expected or wanted them to.  But apart from that, the series was thoroughly entertaining, sweet, and funny.  I would suggest that it is better to know the basic storyline of P&P before watching, because comparing what is supposed to happen, with what actually does happen, is part of the fun, but I  would still say that it would be enjoyable to anyone who likes a bit of offbeat comedy.

Year of release: 2008

Director: Dan Zeff

Producers: Guy Andrews, Michele Buck, Hugo Heppell, Damien Timmer, Kate McKerrell, Brett Wilson

Writers: Jane Austen (inspired by novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’), Guy Andrews

Main cast: Jemima Rooper, Elliot Cowan, Hugh Bonneville, Florence Hoath, Alex Kingston, Morven Christie, Perdita Weeks, Tom Mison, Ruby Bentall, Christina Cole, Tom Riley, Guy Henry

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Click here for my review of the novel Pride and Prejudice.

Click here for my review of the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Click here for my review of the 1995 mini series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

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This utterly charming and occasionally hilarious film from 1950, stars James Stewart (and really, who can’t be charmed by James Stewart?!) as Eldwood P. Dowd, a genial, mild-mannered man…whose best friend is a giant rabbit named Harvey. Elwood is a great embarassment to his sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and his niece Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), who live with him, due to his insistence on introducing everyone he meets to Harvey!

When Veta attempts to have him placed in a psychiatric institution, a mix-up occurs, and there then follows a comedy of errors, as the doctors try and chase the unwitting Elwood around town. But when they get to know him, they find that Elwood is perhaps not the only person who is charmed by Harvey’s presence…

I liked this film on a couple of levels. It is first and foremost, a gentle comedy, and Elwood is played beautifully by James Stewart. It was impossible not to like the character, and Stewart was an ideal actor for the role. The film also raised the question of whether it is necessary or right to try and cure someone of a condition that makes them happy (for there is no doubt that Elwood enjoyed Harvey’s friendship, whether it was real or not) and does not cause harm to anyone else. By the end of the movie, the viewer questions whether in fact Elwood was the one with the problem at all!

Josephine Hull was great – if a little ‘shrieky – as Veta Simmons, and injected a lot of humour into her role. I found the character of Myrtle Mae a little harder to warm to, but I don’t believe that she was intended to be a sympathetic character.

A lovely film, which will surely make you smile. I definitely recommend this.

Year of release: 1950

Director: Henry Koster

Writers: Mary Chase (play), Oscar Brodney, Myles Connolly

Main cast: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Horne, Jesse White

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This is the story of four archangels, Uriel, Gabriel, Michael and Azrael, who were created by the ‘Old Man’ 2000 years ago, but ended up coming down to earth to search for their four archesses, who could be anywhere at all in the world (and could in fact be anywhen as well).  The story is set in the modern day when Uriel goes by the name of Christopher Daniels and is a well known movie star, Gabriel is a firefighter who lives in Scotland, Michael is a New York City Police Officer and Azrael is a vampire, who performs in a rock band and is known as The Masked One.

When Uriel/Christopher meets Eleanore ‘Ellie’ Grainger, a book store clerk with the power to control the weather and heal people, he instantly realises that she is his archess.  But Ellie has no knowledge of all this, and has always wondered why she has such strange powers.  She finds herself irresistibly drawn to Uriel, but as the two try to form a relationship they are beset by obstacles in the form of Samael – an archangel known as The Fallen One, who was created before the others, but who was thrown over by the Old Man.  He too has come to earth and like the others, has special powers, but unlike the others, he uses his powers for evil.  He is known to the public as media mogul Samuel Lambent – and he is determined to claim Ellie for himself.

Will Uriel and Ellie be able to fulfil their destiny and be together – or will dark forces separate them forever?

This book is the first in ‘The Lost Angels’ series, so I assume that any subsequent books will deal with Michael, Gabriel and Azreal finding their own archesses.  Although fantasy is not a favourite genre of mine, I did enjoy this book.  I felt that the characters who were the best depicted were Uriel, Ellie and Samael.  Samael – despite being the villain of the piece – was certainly very charismatic, but like many great villains, he had his own beliefs and moral codes, which he adhered to.  He was one of the best characters, and I hope that he will be as prominent in subsequent books in the series.

The book does have a couple of sexually explicit scenes, which really wouldn’t be appropriate for younger readers, and some older readers may be put off by them (I wasn’t personally).  The romance story between Ellie and Uriel was believable (in the realms of fantasy fiction), and there was plenty of excitement and lots of obstacles to keep the pace exciting.

There is no religious theme in the book – The Old Man is clearly meant to be God, and Samael is as near to the Devil as a character could be.  However, there is no message here, and clearly no religious agenda of any sort.  What there is, is an exciting paranormal romance story, which I enjoyed more than I expected.

The story did throw up a couple of questions however – if Ellie is only 25 years old, how can she have been created by the Old Man 2000 years ago?  My assumption is that the powers of an archess are passed down in some form of reincarnation, but this is never explained.  That didn’t detract from the storyline however, and only actually occurred to me once I had finished the book.

Overall, it’s a good addition to the fantasy genre, and a book that I would definitely recommend.

(I would like to thank Headline Publishing Group for sending me this book for review.  Headline’s website can be found here.  Heather Killough-Walden’s website can be found here.)

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