Thursday, 30 August 2012

Mockingjay: Readers Report

READER’S REPORT (for publisher)
(Note: I'm experimenting with different styles and this is my version of what I would have said to the publisher, had they given me Mockingjay to critique before publication).

Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games series is set in a post-apocalyptic world, controlled by the iron fist of the Capitol government. Each year, the Capitol takes two children from each District to fight in the ‘Hunger Games’ — a battle to the death where only one child will survive. Mockingjay is the third and final book in the series. It is narrated from the point of view of the heroine, Katniss, and divided in to three parts.

In Mockingjay, the Capitol has led the other districts to believe that District Thirteen has been destroyed. The people of District Thirteen are planning a resistance against the Capitol and Katniss has unwittingly become the voice and image of the resistance. Here she changes from a strong, young woman — determined to look after her family whatever the costs — to a broken shell struggling to cope with daily life.

Collins skilfully creates a world on the brink of cultural and political revolution. Her use of first-person perspective in the present tense pulls the reader straight into the action and is a powerful writing tool for a book of this scope. The persuasive tone of the writing and themes suggests a comparison to cultural and political revolution in our own world.

Mockingjay is aimed at the young-adult fantasy-fiction market. It will sell to teenage and adult fans of the series. It is comparable to the Harry Potter and Twilight series; both of which have had success with the young-adult and the adult market.

Readers of Mockingjay may expect Katniss to build on the strength and leadership she displayed in the first two books of the trilogy. Instead, the story has a thematic shift as Katniss experiences a mental breakdown when she sees the effects of war on her friends and family. She spends part one of the book examining her beliefs and coming to terms with the effects of her actions. 

Katniss is often reactive, letting other characters drive the action. It is frustrating when Katniss, the narrator of the book, is not driving the action. In this case, it slows the pace until part three, where some themes explored in part one and two of Mockingjay are not given space to develop. I suggest having another main character narrate from a different point of view to drive the action and plot forward.

The pace may be improved by restructuring Mockingjay. The rescue of Peta (Katniss’s love interest) occurs in chapter twelve, part two, and the backstories of secondary characters are developed in part one. I suggest beginning the book at chapter twelve, and transposing the backstories of secondary characters to part two. Part three could be better developed, as the ending feels rushed.

There is a disappointing absence of hope in Mockingjay; a theme that was present in the first two books of the series. Mockingjay will sell, based on the success of The Hunger Games, but I doubt readers will be satisfied with Katniss’s development, or the rushed ending.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Kitty Love-struck

 This week I’ve been getting better acquainted with my neighbour Jess’s cat, Skitch. He’s a gorgeous Russian Blue, and one of the most friendly and laid-back cats I’ve met.

I’m allergic to cats, but this kitty doesn’t give me even the smallest of sniffles.  He’s polite to the point of not giving me a reaction.  When dinner time comes around though, wow, this little guy has one loud and demanding meow on him.

One of his favourite games is hiding behind my bedroom door and swiping at my fingers as I poke them through the hinge (holding carefully onto the doorframe). He can do this for ages and I find him so delightful that I’m happy to oblige for a good long while.

He’s not even a bit scared of water (although he doesn’t much like being cold). When it rains I often see him padding through it from my window, happy as the lark or rat he’s planning on catching. If I leave the door ajar to the bathroom when I’m having a shower, he’ll come in and watch the water, holding his paw out to catch it.

If I’m out in the garden he’ll sashay up to me and watch whatever I’m doing. When I water the plants he jumps on the side of the pots to watch the water bubbling up—dipping his paw in every so often. He really is an extraordinary cat.

I recently wrote a short script about a young girl and her cat, called Cat. Skitch was definitely my muse for this creative pursuit. Having a lovely cat like him around gave me a cat-ish personality to work with, for the kitty in my script. He’s been a wonderful study partner, too.

It’s nice to come home to someone who’s really keen to see me (even if he’s also really keen to see the person with the food). Right now he’s sharing the heater with me, and tonight he’ll probably sneak in and share the end of the bed. I think I’m cat-love-struck. If this is what crazy-cat-lady feels like, bring it on! Just, maybe, one cat at a time?

Monday, 2 July 2012

Review: Ted (2012)

A story about a young boy and his talking teddy bear who—as they grow older—develops into a crude, fast-talking Ted with a liking for weed and hookers. Back off Disney—there’s no innocence here.

Ted’s demeanor and his influence on his boyhood friend John, (Mark Wahlberg) poses problems for their long friendship, and John’s relationship with his straight-laced girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis).

Ted could easily have been a cringe-fest, and at times it was no better than a fluffy rom-com, with stock-standard romantic lines and the same tired plot as You, Me and Dupree.

Despite this, the story was enjoyable and the idea of Ted, fresh. I spent pockets of the film in fits of giggles. Seth MacFarlane was brilliant as the voice of Ted and the cause of much laughter on my side of the cinema.

The script was well written, and the romance between John and Lori believable, with well-timed comedic moments between Lori and Rex (Joel McHale), as her sleazy boss’s son. I loved the references to eighties toys and memorabilia throughout the film.

Ted also gives a well-timed nod to Peter Griffin in Family Guy, and the creepy subplot (watch to find out), though indulgent, was good fun.

3.5 stars

Friday, 29 June 2012

Review of Rock of Ages: a musical that could have done without the music

Rock of Ages is a terrible film.

It’s not often that I feel this way about a movie, but I honestly can’t see the motivation for making this mess of lacklustre lyrics, loose story, and indulgent subplots.

The film is marginally redeemed by Tom Cruise (who I don’t even like, but he does the drug-addled, rich-rocker so well), Russell Brand (always amusing, and that accent) and Paul Giamatti (whose sliminess was commendable) with some rousing performances from the rest of the cast, too.

Catherine Zeta Jones’ overacting made me cringe and it’s by far the worst role I’ve seen her cast in—correct me if I’m wrong—but I think she’s classier than Rock of Ages. What was she thinking?

It was slow to start, and the young lovers’ story was tedious, but as soon as the star-studded cast got rolling I actually enjoyed myself.

The whole thing was fairy-floss rubbish, of course, but saved by the strong character acting. All I can say is that it’s a musical that could have done without the music.

2 stars

Review: Snow White & The Huntsman (2012)

Snow White is a childhood favourite and I was excited when I saw the trailer for this epic story twist. Unfortunately Snow White and The Huntsman failed to deliver.

Don’t get me wrong, the performances were solid and convincing—Theron especially—but the plot was disjointed and lacked clarity of purpose. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the movie that Snow White found some direction.

Too many characters, an indulgent script, and a lack of cohesion left this film missing the heart it needed. It’s a shame, because the premise is exciting and much more Grimm's Fairy Tales than Disney. Despite this, I enjoyed it, and the film was funny even when it didn’t mean to be.

There were comedic moments between the eight(?) dwarves, Chris Hemsworth is deliciously hot, and watching Kristen Stewart attempt to act is always a bit of a lark. With foresight, despite its deficiencies, I’d probably choose to see it again.

3 stars

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Rhubarb and apple stew

1 fresh bunch of rhubarb stalks
2 tablespoons of honey
2 fresh apples
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
¼ teaspoon of grated ginger
Water – enough to cover the fruit by three quarters

I love stewed rhubarb with plain yoghurt. Sometimes with a teaspoon of maple syrup on top if I’m feeling wicked. It’s simple to do and the perfect winter recipe.
I tried to grow rhubarb once, but it failed dismally. I think I put it in at the wrong time of year, in the wrong type of soil and then didn’t water it enough. Go figure.
Simply chop the rhubarb into inch sized pieces. Get rid of the poisonous leaves. Try and buy the thin bright red stalks, as they’re sweeter.
Pop this in a saucepan with cored and skinned thick apple pieces. The sweeter the apple, the less honey or sugar you’ll need. I recommend using your old pixie crunch apples with honey, or granny smith apples with sugar (don’t use the fresh pixie crunch apples, because they’re so damn yum you’ll want to eat those before you can pop them in the stew. Just use the ones you may have forgotten about, down the back of the fruit bowl).
Add a quarter of a teaspoon of grated ginger and the lemon juice, to taste.  
Add at least two generous tablespoons of honey. You can increase this as the rhubarb breaks down, if it tastes too tart.
Cover the fruit up to half-way, with water, but not too much because then it will lack texture and become runny.
Bring to the boil, and then set to a simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the rhubarb starts to break down and the apple is soft.
Turn off the heat and serve with a generous dollop of yoghurt. Mmm, yum!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Leave me out of parenthood, thank you very much.

Looking after teenagers is hard. I’ve just spent a week supervising my tenacious fifteen year old sister only to find myself behind in work, and the washing. This is what an accelerated experience of parenthood is like? If so, leave me out of it, thank you very much.

I’ve never been excited about the idea of having children, but this week has hammered home the difficulties of following some of my dreams if I do go down that road. But, if I should choose not to have children, what effect will that have on my life as I age?

For one thing, there will be no one to look after me as I get older.

From a wider perspective, in parts of Asia and Europe, family tend to look after their old-folk as they reach the end of their lifespan. Not so in Australia. We’re such an individualistic society, and rarely do adult-children look after their old-folk full-time, including them in their lives, but rather cart them straight off to an old-persons home.

If my figurative children are going to cart me off to an old persons home, is there even any point having some, bringing them up, paying for their schooling and dealing with their crap when they’re teenagers, just so they can forget about me when I’m old? Surely I’d be better saving the money I would have spent on their education, for my own retirement.

Perhaps this is a cynical view of life, and a narrow view of the enrichment of family. After all, family brings us love, support, affection, life experiences and society. However, it also brings headache, obligation, frustration and Christmas dinner missing a turkey because Uncle so-and-so has run off, drunk, down the road with it.

Parents are flawed, including my own. God knows they did their best, but, like the rest of us, they’re human. Mum is currently struggling with Grandma’s dementia and the family expectations placed on her because of this, and because she’s the eldest and a nurse. Couple this with supervising a disruptive and antagonistic teenager, who refuses to go to school; she’s burning the candle at both ends.

This same teenager has been trying my patience this past week, as I put my oar in to help carry the load. Within the next year or so, grandma will probably end up living in a home. Which is sad, but what about the stress put on my mum, to manage grandma and her own life? Both ends of this stick are hard. I don’t want to end up in a home like grandma might soon, but I wouldn’t want to be in mums position, either.  My mum is one of a kind though, and always puts herself out for others in need.

When the time comes, I’m not going to leave my parents to fend for themselves, but I will struggle to manage my life and theirs. Mum is a strong person, but I don’t know that I could manage my writing, work, teenagers and parents at the same time.

I’m the eldest, and when I was a child I helped bring up my younger siblings. Perhaps this is where my lacklustre impression of parenthood started. For me it still represents a lack of freedom and a hell of a lot of responsibility.

It just seems like there’s a lot to juggle, this should-I-have-children conundrum. Will I manage to bring up a child so they’re a respectful teenager and then adult, or will they turn into a nightmare emo-child from hell?
There’s so much about parenthood that’s unpredictable, and while I like that life throws curve balls, the psychotic teenage-child sort is not my cup of tea.

I’d like to skip the whole thing and go straight to having a relationship with adult-children. Then I can have the experience of family, and maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll have some company in my old age.