Monthly Archives: March 2015
Christopher Nolan’s films always make you think—even the Dark Knight trilogy was much smarter than superhero movies usually are. You’re guaranteed to leave the cinema looking at something differently or wondering if something impossible might actually be possible. Memento did it. Inception did it (and messed with you head at the same time) and I think it’s safe to say Interstellar did it, too.
Interstellar is the kind of movie that makes you look at things in a whole other way once you’ve seen it. But I think calling it a movie is an understatement. It’s more of an experience. And a crazy, mind-boggling one.
At almost three hours, Interstellar is long, but it didn’t feel that way watching it. I wasn’t all that conscious of how much time was passing, because the film pulls you in in the first few minutes. Nolan spends long enough developing the characters before the action kicks in and things move to space—and beyond. For a film that is asking the audience to accept and figure out some wild theories, it’s surprisingly believable. The technology of the spaceships and the alien planets etc. are all realistic. Nolan’s trademark sweeping shots of impressive landscapes are present here, and despite how bleak this film is, it’s never anything less than compelling. Maybe Nolan could have included some more diverse planets, where there would have been some great opportunities to explore crazy worlds like Pandora. But this movie isn’t meant to be Avatar. Maybe Nolan wasn’t even trying to make a blockbuster. This film is more subtle than that. There are some gripping action set pieces—a huge tidal wave makes for a white-knuckle sequence—but it’s not an action movie.
Sometimes the science-speak might confuse people—It did me a few times—but co-writers Johnathan and Chris Nolan make sure it’s understandable enough that you’re not scratching your head the whole time. There are some surprising and smart twists in the plot, even if not all the questions set up here are answered. But that only makes you think about the movie more when it’s over. I’m still thinking about it, probably will be for the rest of the week, maybe even longer.
Mcconaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain are on top form throughout and the rest of the pretty small cast also deliver fine performances. Mackenzie Foy gives a great performance as the young version of Jessica Chastain’s Murphy. Hans Zimmer’s score is stirring and epic, perfectly suited to the scope of this movie, as it is for pretty much every movie he scores.
Overall, this is a damn impressive film that doesn’t shy away from asking tough questions, but never bewilders enough that it pulls you out of the experience. It makes you think about something other than Earth and what might be out there.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt,” says Mcconaughey’s character Cooper. It couldn’t be more true after watching this movie.
Highly, highly recommended.
What did everyone else think of Interstellar, and what other movies have made you think or see something differently?
Movies and TV shows that should be books…
People talk about books they wish were movies and TV shows. But what about movies and TV shows that you wish were books? I’m looking up books that are similar to this TV show or that movie all the time. And it’s hard to find them. I don’t mean novelizations which tend to be short and direct copies of the movie/TV show. I mean books that are really similar, or that came before the movie/TV show. A few of the movies and TV shows I wish were books are below…
24 is one of my favourite shows of all time. Each season unfolds over a single day, each episode a single hour as Jack Bauer tries to stop a terrorist plot or some other threat against his country. The action and twists would make a great book. The fact that everything takes place in a single day would mean a fast pace. And Bauer would make a great main character, the kind you could look up to, even if his morals are a little off kilter.
Lee Child could probably write a great 24 book.
I’m a pretty recent fan of Supernatural. I thought it was a show for fans of Buffy. Man, was I wrong. Each season has a gripping arc, great characters and plenty of pace that would translate well to a series of books. Sam and Dean are solid main characters, guys I could imagine being friends with—even if Sam does seem to whine all the time. Castiel and Crowley offer some laugh out loud moments, so all in all, Supernatural would make a great long-running series of books.
Derek Landy, author of the Skuldggery Pleasant series blends horror, action and humor, so I think he’d be a good choice for a Supernatural book series.
Fringe is my second favourite show of all time (behind LOST—which doesn’t make this list because how can you translate LOST to books?). That’s in large part to Walter, who is one of the funniest characters ever created for TV. It’s impossible to pick out one of his lines and not laugh. The continuing arcs involving the parallel universe, the observers etc, as well as the stand alone crime cases would be great for a trilogy or procedural series.
Choosing a writer for a Fringe book is tough. But Stephen King could do it justice.
Person of Interest
This is another one of my favourite shows. The characters are one of the best aspects, as well as the central idea of a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. Reese is a cross between Bauer and Bond, and is another character you can look up to. The rest of the cast would translate well to books, as would the plot arcs of the series. This show has action in every episode and plenty of twists that would make an awesome series of books. I’ve hunted many times for a book that resembles this show, but I can’t seem to find one. If anyone has any ideas, please drop a comment below.
Choosing an author for this is pretty tough, too. But possibly JJ Abrams (the show’s executive producer who recently co wrote the weird, but good book, S) or Rick Riordan– he knows how to write action.
The Marvel movies
I’m a big Marvel (and most superhero movies) fan, and finding a solid, action-packed superhero book is pretty hard. Vicious by Victora Schwab is probably the best I’ve read so far, but it didn’t deliver that constant action I was looking for. I’m halfway through Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson and it’s delivering some quality action and crazy superpowers. But nothing’s come close to what a Marvel movie delivers. I know there are comic books, but I’m not a comic fan. If anyone knows of any books that are similar to a Marvel movie, or have superheroes, again drop a comment below. The Avengers would make great characters in a book and the constant action would make for a fast-paced read—even if the plots are getting a little formulaic.
Again, I think Rick Riordan could pull a Marvel book off, as could Derek Landy.
I like books with twists, the more unexpected the better. And complex plots that make you think are great too, so Chris Nolan’s Inception would make an awesome book. The plot works well for book too, with plenty of pace, action and suspense. The narrative and action might be hard to translate to word, but if someone could make it work, I’d buy it.
This is a tough film to translate to book, so maybe Chris Nolan would be the only one who knows the plot well enough to do it justice.
There are plenty more movies and TV shows that should be books, but the above are the ones I’d most want to read. If you have any suggestions for books similar to anything above, please let me know. And if there are any movies or TV shows you wish were books feel free to leave a comment below.
Books That You Live…
Some books are entertaining, fast-paced and have gripping plots and solid characters. You read them and you enjoy them. You might forget what happened in them after a couple weeks, or even a couple of days. People might ask you if you’d recommend them, and you’d tell them, sure, it was a good, entertaining book, check it out. But you wouldn’t urge them to read it.
Then there are books that are entertaining, fast-paced, have gripping plots and solid characters, that you read and enjoy and that you do remember for years, and that you do urge your mates to read. But it’s more than that. These books stick with you long after you’ve finished them. And while you’re reading them you live them—you’re there with the characters in the world, getting beaten up or shot at, or charging into battle.
Some of the books I’ve ‘lived’ are below.
The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
There’s no doubt Potter makes the list of books you live. I grew up with these books, looked forward to buying the latest one every year, seeing the movies every year. I think it’s Rowling’s world-building and characters that pull you into these books more than the writing does. The Wizarding World is believable despite its un-believability. Who didn’t want to go to Hogwarts or be mates with Harry, Ron and Hermione—maybe not Harry, seen as a lot of his mates (spoiler if you’re one of the few who haven’t read the series) fall victim to Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Each book, Rowling manages to put you in the halls of Hogwarts, in Gryffindor common room or the Great Hall. You’re there, with the characters. It’s crazy how easy Rowling pulls you into the Wizarding World.
The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
This series is the best high fantasy I’ve ever read, and probably always will be. Abercrombie manages to grip from the first couple pages and pull you into his gritty world. It’s exactly the kind of world I like to read about in a book. Cold, harsh, brutal. There’s no room for the squeamish here. And the characters are just like the world, cold, harsh and brutal for the most part. Yet somehow they’re likeable and finishing the book feels like you’re leaving mates behind. The second instalment, Half a War, pulled me in to the point that I forgot I was actually reading. You’re there, in the mud and the fire, hearing swords clang and blood splatter.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
This trilogy defines intense and gripping. I wasn’t keen on the descriptions and pages of clothing and makeovers that Katniss goes through in the first book, but once the Games kicked in it’s easy to forget this is fiction, too. Collins is one of the few writers who manage to paint a scene or sequence without endless description.
She uses a few words and somehow manages to make everything clear. These books are brutal and action-packed, and the world-building is solid. There’s no heavy exposition or info-dumping, but Panem feels real. And the first person, present tense narrative makes sure you’re living the Games alongside Katniss.
The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Anyone who has read several blog posts here will know I’m a big Lee Child fan. His writing style is sharp and addictive. Reacher is a great protagonist who you can look up to, and his adventures are always gripping. It may be unbelievable how much bad look Reacher has, but he’s a believable character and Child knows how to write fight and action sequences like nobody else. You finish a Reacher book with white knuckles, and I’m always eager to reach for the next one—despite the fact that there are twenty so far, with no signs of waning quality.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
This book is pretty different to all the others on this list, but Watership Down is a crazy-gripping read, despite the fact that it’s about rabbits. I went in expecting a book for young children, but a chapter in and I knew I was wrong. This book is brutal and action-packed, as fast paced as a thriller, with a surprising amount of tension. It’s easy to forget the characters are rabbits. Richard Adams makes each one distinct and getting caught up in their adventure is easy.
His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
Until Pullman went off on a bit of a religious tangent with the third book, this series had some solid, epic world building and some great characters. Lyra is a tough protagonist for the most part and there are plenty of thrilling adventures and gripping set pieces to be had. The world is cold and rich and vast—clearly Pullman spent a lot of time coming up with the various people and places because the world-building is almost as detailed as Rowling’s.
Stephen King (Every book of his I’ve read)
Stephen King is a master storyteller and writer. No question. Most of his books take place in the real world, but he makes it just crazy enough that it could be a whole different world. Despite their most-often vast lengths, King’s books are always gripping to the end. His characters are some of the strongest, if not the strongest, I’ve ever read, and are never anything less than completely believable. By the time I finished Under the Dome, the real world seemed the fictional place. King draws you into his books, makes you live through them alongside the characters.
The John Cleaver series by Dan Wells
It’s the suspense and characters that pull you into this series. Both are solidly developed. Wells is a great tension writer and it builds rapidly, making each book more gripping than the last.
There are a dozen or more other books that make this list. The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig, The Legend trilogy by Marie Lu, I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey… But which books have you lived? Feel free to drop a comment below.
I Am Not a Serial Killer, the first book in the John Cleaver series (which has recently been extended to 6 books) was one of the best books I read last year. The sequel, Mr Monster, wasn’t as good as its predecessor, but it was still crazily paced, with plenty of tension and Cleaver’s witty, crazy first person narration. The second book suffered from being similar to the first, and not really developing in terms of plot or character.
The third book manages to be just as good as the first, and delivers an ending that promises to change the rest of the series completely.
This time around, John knows there’s a demon coming for him, and he plans on getting to it before it can hurt anyone else—him included. But things don’t go to plan and he ends up hunting two killers. This time around, the book is a cross between the TV show Grimm and Dexter. And it’s as cool as that sounds.
Wells gets into John’s head like in the last two books, but John’s psychosis takes a bit of a back seat this time to the investigation and the crazy amount of tension Wells builds up. The plot is tight and races along and is never anything less than gripping. There’s a slight jar in pace three quarters of the way through, but it’s not major enough to detract anything from the rating.
Well’s writing is sharp and there’s no excess description to slow the pace. John is a believable, likeable narrator despite the fact that he’s obsessed with killing people. Some readers might find it hard to identify with some of the things John thinks about. And there’s a rare moment when some of John’s sociopathic problems don’t ring true—maybe there’s a little too much telling, not enough showing for it to be always believable. But Well’s makes up for some minor character problems with enough tension to make this a read-in-one-sitting book. There’s rarely a moment where you’re not waiting for something bad to happen or a page where your knuckles aren’t white around the pages.
The ending is what ensures this book gets full marks. Wells could have ended it like he did the first and second book, but he defies any readers’ expectations and delivers a punch in the gut instead. It’s a gripping, unexpected ending to a wholly unpredictable book. What it means for the rest of the series is a massive change—to John and the plot.
When the first book introduced the supernatural elements, I wasn’t fully sold. But then the second book changed my mind. Now the third solidifies the fact that this series works well with the supernatural elements and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.
If Dan Wells has ARC copies available, I’d face off with a demon myself for one.
Overall, this is massively entertaining, tautly paced, filled with suspense and ensures that there is definitely still life in this series.
Highly, highly recommended.
A blend of LOST, Fringe, and half a dozen King and Crichton novels, The Three is a tough book to review. I read it pretty fast, would have read it faster if I didn’t have writing and Uni work to do, but I’m still not sure about it. It was addictive, despite the disjointed format the story is told in.
The book this can be compared to in terms of format is World War Z—The Three is told through interviews, chat room discussions, newspaper articles, all compiled as a fictional non-fiction book charting the events that surrounded the three child survivors of four simultaneous plane crashes.
Some criticized this book for its format, for the lack of character development and rambling plot. They’re all right. And this book is like marmite. You’ll either enjoy the format, or hate it. I’m still not sure whether I’d say the former or latter.
The story itself is very compelling as we gradually see the survivors are not… who they were before the crash. There are strong echoes of Crichton and King throughout the story and the same creepy, believable stuff as from both the authors’ many novels. I thought the style would make this a slow read, but if anything, it was addictive and I could have read this book in a single sitting.
Maybe that was because of my desperation for answers. Because the mystery hooks you. I wanted to know who the survivors were, or what they were, why they alone had survived. Lotz delivers plenty of creepy set-pieces. It’s just a shame they’re buried in a plot that doesn’t really go anywhere, and a lot of pages that were completely unnecessary. Chopped in half, with a few more answers to the many questions the chilling climax left, and this could have been a near perfect book.
As it is, the plot isn’t tight enough, the answers too few, to achieve five stars. At some points I wasn’t sure what was going on—but I guess that added to the addictiveness. But I think a four star rating is justified. Lotz ramps up the tension towards the end until I was turning the pages before I’d even finished reading them. And there’s plenty of creepy, gripping moments before that. Despite this being written as almost entirely interviews and statements from the survivor’s family, some of the character development is pretty damn good. Lotz makes you hate the characters that need to be hated.
Overall, this is a tense, addictive read with a finale that gives some answers, but not enough—the sequel Day Four will likely wrap things up—and there is some long, unnecessary passages.
If you can get past the format, this is good, Stephen King-akin stuff. It comes complete with weird kids, robots, ghosts, haunted forests, crazy preachers, to name a few.
Highly recommended. I’ll be checking out the sequel.
The most important part of a story…
It’s something I’m constantly trying to figure out while I’m reading a book or writing one. Would this story work with a slower pace, or a more twist-filled plot? Would it benefit from deeper, funnier, more evil characters? What if this character was actually a villain, this other one a hero? What if there was more action and less focus on romance?
It’s hard to say what is the most important aspect of a story, but I’m going to try to figure it out anyway. I probably won’t, so if you’ve got any ideas, it’d be great to hear them—stick them in a comment at the end of the post.
Obviously every book needs a plot or some semblance of a plot at least. Characters need something to do, some goal to reach for. A plot is the structure, the bones of a story; it supports everything else and holds everything together. There are weak plots and there are strong plots. A weak plot is one that doesn’t seem to have any order and instead has characters wandering about, not doing much. A strong plot gives its characters something to do, and this helps in developing characters. Having a character face and handle a plot twist is a great way to develop a character. So without a plot, the characters don’t have a whole lot to do.
A plot also gives the reader something to do. Not all, but most readers appreciate a solid plot that they can follow and watch unfold. In crime a good plot is particularly important: a detective or an ordinary citizen uncovers clues to catch a killer or criminal. But the reader is also along for the ride, solving the plot turns along with a protagonist or set of characters.
A plot gives a book order, sense and purpose. Middle, beginning, end and twists.
An example of a well-plotted book is Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (one of my favourite books. Top ten of all time). Here, King weaves together several plots: a race to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy, falling in love with a girl, trying not to alter the course of the future. The plot is tight, despite the book’s sprawling length. Another writer, though not one of my favourites, who delivers tight plots is James Patterson. The plots are largely well-thought out, and have a clear, tight structure. True his characters and writing are not on a par with King or many other writers, but Patterson (and his many co-authors) know how to deliver solid plots. Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games trilogy is another fine example of a plot arc well-handled. Whilst book’s one and two are similar, there is definite movement towards the final take down of the capitol in the third and final book. The HG’s books are solid in structure, and I never got the impression Collin’s didn’t know where she was going.
Many people focus on characters above everything else. And that is understandable. The characters are the aspect of the story we have to identify with or sympathise with, or hate, or love. Without characters, a story wouldn’t work, there’s no doubt about it. Watching a character develop is a great part of reading a book, and is what some reader’s most enjoy. Character development didn’t used to bother me. I’ve read and enjoyed many books (mostly fast-paced thrillers) where there is little to no character development. The characters in these cases are just people to follow from one set piece or plot twist to the next. But over the past couple of years, I’ve come to appreciate solid, identifiable characters. I think I’ve got better at developing characters in my own writing too, by reading great characters in books. A real character is hard to pull off. A character who could be a friend or enemy or family member is a special thing.
Some of the best character’s I’ve read come from J K Rowling, Stephen King and Joe Abercrombie. Rowling created a vast cast of characters in the Potter books, and each one felt real, and unique. The main trio, Harry, Ron and Hermione came to be like mates, family even, and you live each book with them. King writes the most diverse and believable characters I’ve ever read. And that’s saying something, because most of his characters are bat-shit crazy. Annie Wilkes (Misery), Big Jim (Under the Dome), Jack Torrance (The Shining). Abercrombie writes rich, twisted characters that are as unrelenting as his plots and writing. Similarly, Mark Lawrence writes one of the best, if not the best, anti-hero I’ve ever read in his fantasy novel Prince of Thorns.
Pace is determined by plot, the two are linked, much like plot and characters are linked. Sometimes a slow pace works for a novel. In Stephen King’s most recent novel, Revival, the plot burns slowly up until the fast, furious ending. And it works, for me it did anyway. The slow pace through the beginning and middle allowed King to develop character and build a rich plot. A fast pace from the outset would not have worked for Revival. Similarly, in James Patterson novels, there is rarely anything but a fast pace, because his plots generally have some huge threat looming or some killer on the run who needs to be caught. The Hunger Games, too, have frantic plots, which reflect the desperation of the Games. If the Hunger Games had been slowly plotted, they would be very different books.
A story needs some sort of conflict to be interesting. If everything is nice and happy, a story generally doesn’t have meaning or pace. There needs to be some threat or argument, some rift between characters, to give the story a purpose, to give the reader something to invest in. Good vs Evil is the most common source of conflict, and J K Rowling and Suzanne Collins adopt it pretty well. We all want to know if Harry will defeat Voldemort or Katniss will take down President Snow. It’s the conflict that keeps us interested and invested. Without it, there wouldn’t be a meaning, or point to the story.
Action used to be what I looked for in a book, and it still is, but now along with other things. Action could be considered pace, but I think the two are different things. A fast pace does not mean there is one action sequence after another. Under the Dome by Stephen King is a fast paced novel, but there is little action; in Under the Dome’s case, the pace is generated through a sense of urgency and peril, and the desperation of the characters and the reader for an explanation for the dome.
When I’m talking about action, I’m not just talking about literal action. Chase sequences, scaling buildings, battles, fights etc. Many novels use the aforementioned action tropes, but action can come in many forms. A character solving a murder is action. The character is doing something that generates pace and movement. Action is an integral part of the story, where pace provides structure, action provides movement. Action and pace, again, are connected. The Jack Reacher novels are full of great action set pieces, and the stories are largely structured around Reacher moving from to another. This is no bad thing, the Reacher novels are some of my favourite books, and Lee Child one of my favourite authors.
Action is linked with all other parts of a story, it propels plot and characters forward, and determines pace.
A writer can write a book, but a reader makes it real. Up until the moment it gets into someone else’s hands, the writer is the only one to have imagined the world and characters. The only one to have made that world and those characters real. But then a reader gets a hold of a story, and it comes to life in their heads’. They fill in the blanks an author leaves for them to fill, they love or hate or laugh at characters, they get caught up in plot and pace and action. Without a reader, a story is just words on a page.
Like I predicted, I haven’t answered my question. I think it’s impossible to answer definitely. Because one aspect influences another or several others. Perhaps they all influence each other. Without one another or three or four other aspects wouldn’t work. What do you think? What is the most important part of a story?
A young prince, who fled his privileged life, returns to his kingdom after years away seeking revenge on the murderous count who robbed him of his mother and brother. Now he’s intent on reclaiming his throne. But the kingdom and life he knew have changed and he has a fight on his hands if he wants to win back his place as heir to the throne.
This book’s cast is made up almost entirely of bad guys (see villain gifs below). If you want to read about a protagonist who doesn’t kill people for looking at him the wrong way… buck up and read this anyway. Trust me. This is awesome fantasy writing.
Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy (which will conclude with Half a War in July) makes pretty much all other fantasy, not just high and YA seem average. It’s hard to decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. Good because The Shattered Sea trilogy is awesome (read it if you haven’t), bad because everything else I read doesn’t seem as good. But Prince of Thorns managed to get very, very close to being as great as Abercrombie’s series.
My brief synopsis doesn’t do Prince of Thorns justice. It gives a decent idea of the plot, but it’s the characters that carry this novel. Despite the fact that almost—no every character is an a-hole (putting it mildly) the novel is carried by the characters. Jorg is only thirteen but he’s the biggest anti-hero I’ve ever read, and probably anyone has ever read. He’s not good, or just or moral—he’s exactly the opposite. And so is every other character in Prince of Thorns. Not that anyone could blame Jorg for being the SOB he is. He saw his mother and brother tortured and killed while he was tangled in a thorn bush that filled him with poison and almost killed him. There is rarely a page goes by without one character, or several, being in pain or getting killed or otherwise grievously injured. If you not a fan of violence, either buck up again, or skip this book.
It’s this childhood event that fuels Jorg’s story. He wants revenge on the man responsible. And along with a band of murderers, bandits, rapists and all-round low life’s, he leaves his home to seek revenge. His journey leads him home. And he wants his birth right back, his place as heir to the throne. But his estranged father sets him a seemingly impossible task—and it’s this that forms the basis of the rest of the story.
The plot is full of twists and moves at a cracking pace. Narrated by Jorg, there is never a dull moment and I can’t remember a single page where I was bored. There’s barely a moment to rest as Jorg moves from one fight to the next, from one danger to the next. And Mark Lawrence’s writing only makes the pace even swifter. Every line has been carefully crafted. Sometimes high fantasy can be plodding and packed with detailed description. But like Abercrombie, Lawrence knows what needs to make the final cut and what doesn’t. Jorg might be a douche, but there’s no denying his narration is sometimes laugh out loud funny and compelling. At times the writing could be described as stunning—and I don’t use that word lightly. Some of the description is vivid enough that you’re there in this fantasy world. And yet Lawrence never rambles. The style is sharp and witty and crafted. No excess. Nothing that isn’t needed.
The action comes thick and fast and in every chapter—more than several times in every chapter. Save an odd shift in genre/tone, when sci-fi elements bleed through, this is a perfect book. The sci-fi aspect will probably be expanded on, but it jarred after so long assuming this was a pure high fantasy novel. I’d also like to see some more world-building, but this is the first book in a trilogy and I’m guessing, hoping, we’ll see more of Jorg’s world in the two sequels.
Overall, this is hugely impressive fantasy. Not quite on a par with Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, but it’d have to be damn good for that to be the case. But this is as good as YA high fantasy gets. Gritty, unrelenting, with a protagonist you’ll cheer on and hate in the space of a single sentence, Prince of Thorns is as close to perfect as a book gets.
Highly, highly recommended.