Friday, April 30, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Girl Who Played with Fire'

** This review will contain minor spoilers for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. **

The Book: The Girl Who Played with Fire (book two of the Millennium Trilogy)

The Author: Stieg Larsson

How I Found It: I absolutely loved the first book (see below).

The Review: As promised, I finished by the end of April and what a ride it has been. There is no question in my mind now that buying and reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is going to be one of the first things I do this summer. (It conveniently comes out right as the semester ends. :D)

The book picks up about a year after the events of Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth has been traveling abroad for a year and has cut off all contact with Blomkvist, convinced he loves Erika and she should never have fallen in love with him. She is in Grenada and has set up a new life for herself. She has gotten implants, a lover, and a new problem to work on--solving Fermat's Theorem.

However, as Salander lives out her idyllic life in Grenada, someone is plotting revenge. Bjurman, her guardian, has not forgotten that Lisbeth took her revenge on him and has blackmail hanging over his head. Convinced she needs to be dealt with, he begins an investigation into Lisbeth's past--and finds out that it is more of a secret than he ever imagined. There are other people who want Lisbeth silenced or dead, and Bjurman's more than prepared to work with them.

Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist is rather puzzled. He has not heard from Lisbeth in a long time and the last time he saw her, she deliberately ignored him. He is soon occupied with another issue, as Millennium is presented with an opportunity to run an explosive story. Journalist Dag Svensson and his girlfriend Mia Johansson have extensive research on a sex trafficking operation that reaches far into Sweden's highest-ranked officials. Journalists, police officers, politicians will be exposed if the story is published. Unable to resist the story, Millennium agrees to publish it.

Salander returns to the country as Svensson, Blomkvist, and others begin to dig deep into the story. But all too quickly, Dag and Mia are murdered, and Lisbeth's fingerprints are all over the murder weapon. Blomkvist knows all too well that Lisbeth has a violent side, but he is convinced that she cannot be the killer. As the police, Millennium, and Lisbeth's former coworkers search for the truth, Lisbeth's dark past begins to come to light.

I will admit that I found this book a little bit more confusing than Dragon Tattoo--when you've got three different teams running three different investigations, it gets very difficult to keep track of who is who. Another set of names to keep track of is the list of johns Svensson had, and later a whole host of other names possibly related to the murders. There's also a choice Larsson makes structurally--we do not see Lisbeth for most, if not all, of Part 3. After the murders occur, Lisbeth is offstage while the teams investigate. Then, in Part 4, we rewind to see what Lisbeth has been doing during the same period of time. I understand why Larsson did it, but it was somewhat confusing to sit there and try and remember where the investigation had been at that point.

This is a solid second entry in the trilogy. We see more of Blomkvist as a journalist and investigator--there is hardly any of his family life or womanizing here as compared to the first book, though there is some. It's interesting to see a different side of him. Erika gets a little more screentime and a plot that will be developed in third book. The explanation of her background here helped me understand her more, since now we are given her reasons for the open marriage and a few other things. I liked her more once this explanation was given about how she came to be who she is.

And of course, we get much more insight into Lisbeth Salander, who is becoming one of my most beloved fictional characters. This book directly concerns the mystery of her past and although she is offstage for much of it, her scenes in the book are definitely the most engaging. She and Blomkvist are estranged, but there is some electronic communication that I hope is somehow preserved onscreen. Even with its urgency, there was a sweetness to it and it was a nice reminder of the relationship they had with each other in the first book. Blomkvist and Salander do not team up in the sense they did in Dragon Tattoo, but it doesn't hurt the book all that much. Even if the three investigations were difficult to keep track of, they were all interesting.

I think the book did exactly what a second book in a trilogy should do--developed all the important characters from the first book, picked up the unresolved plotlines, gave us a compelling new mystery, and led us with the force of a sledgehammer into the third one. I'm glad I only have to wait a few more weeks for the third book; I can understand now why people have been importing copies from the UK! The ending is heart-poundingly suspenseful and I had tears in my eyes as I finished. I know I will race through Hornet's Nest with bittersweet feelings--I don't want it to be the end. I hope that someday Larsson's family will allow the fourth book to be completed; the world needs more books like this one. Important issues are exposed in a fascinating way, with characters just as memorable as the story.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In Which Trai Expresses Exictement

Hey, all! I know my posts have been somewhat sparse lately; it's getting to the last three weeks of my semester and I'm getting very busy with finals and such! However, I hope to have some reviews coming up soon, and an exciting opportunity was offered to me as of this morning.

As I stated in my previous review, I'm reading The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. I'm hoping to finish that by the end of April. (Just a few days away. Eek!) Either before or after that, I'm going to review the book Quirk obligingly sent me, Stuff Every Woman Should Know. So hopefully those will be up soon.

As for the exciting opportunity: I received an email this morning from Mags of Austenblog, asking me if I wanted to review the upcoming (May 4th) graphic novel of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for Austenblog! It's being released by Titan Books (who I believe publish novelizations and comics for a favorite show of mine, Supernatural). Titan offered a copy to Austenblog and since I seem to be one of the few Janeites who enjoy the monster mashing, Mags asked me if I wanted to review it. I'm excited to make a real contribution to a site I've followed for at least three years, and I'm very glad Mags was kind enough to think of me. So, I'll probably be either cross-posting the review or linking to it once I review it. Since the book is coming out in a week, I suspect it will be fairly soon. Whoohoo!

So, in short, there'll hopefully be a few more reviews up soon, and probably more regular posting once the semester is over. Keep your eyes open, everyone, and have a nice day!

- Trai

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The Movie'

Late last night, I finally got up to the highlight of my week, seeing the film version of my recently beloved book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I'd heard excellent things from various review sites and I definitely wasn't disappointed. Just as the book was long, the movie is two and a half hours, but it went by so very fast. Some things were omitted and condensed, but it was overall very faithful to the book and definitely captured the right tone.

The movie, to begin with, was excellent. Things were toned down or changed somewhat-- Mikael (Michael Nyquist) is not nearly as much of a ladies' man as he is in the book; his affairs with Erika and Cecilia are omitted, and indeed Erika is barely seen. (This actually disappointed me a little; I did really like her character, and I would have liked to see another female character, but I suppose it was due to screen time and so that Noomi Rapace could be the sole female lead.) Michael Nyquist was very good; I liked watching him and I'm having a difficult time thinking of American male actors who could play the role (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Johnny Depp have all expressed interest; I'd personally vote for Clooney, even though I'm not a fan of his, but he's slightly too old). The woman who plays Lisbeth, Noomi Rapace, is absolutely incredible. She is the Lisbeth I read about, and she plays it to perfection. She captures the intensity, the quiet, the violence, the sheer inscrutability. Carey Mulligan is being rumored for the remake; I think she could do it some justice, but I agree with Roger Ebert-- keep Lisbeth Swedish and just recast Rapace.

The film was paced well, and the few omissions and changes made sense. There were some more explicit references to Lisbeth's past than we get in the book. Since I'm about 1/7ish of the way through The Girl Who Played with Fire, I'm not quite sure myself yet of what that past is, but I'll find out soon enough! I'm pretty sure the second movie is coming out in July and the third will be out in the fall; whatever the case, I'm probably going to be there opening day. (At this point, I'm planning on buying The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest the day it comes out and locking myself in a room with food and water.)

Something I forgot to mention in my last review: the original Swedish title is Män som hatar kvinnor, which translates to Men Who Hate Women. This isn't publicized, as the movie subtitles it as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I hate the feeling that if the original title was kept, many more people would have gone in aware of the subject matter. At the same time, many people might have stayed away.

The movie does not spare the brutality of the book in any way. This is one of the things many people fear will be toned down for the Hollywood remake. My stepfather and I were discussing this today: whether or not the violence needs to be shown for it to be effective. I believe it very much has to be there-- many people call the violence another character in the story, and I agree-- and that it has to be shown. Larsson was criticizing the Swedish system and the abuses it allows, and even if the scenes between Bjurman and Lisbeth were so, so disturbing, they need to be there.

I have to tip my hat to the man who played Bjurman, who IMDb tells me is named Peter Andersson-- he unnerved me far more than the previous top movie-creep I'd ever seen (Benedict Cumberbatch in Atonement). I found it very hard to watch the screen during the two rape scenes; I was digging my nails into my palms and almost hyperventilating. Seeing it on screen is undoubtedly worse than reading it on the page, and as much as it disturbed me, it is just the point of the story that something has to be done about violence against women. Not only in Sweden, but anywhere. My mother expressed the same feelings I did-- seeing Lisbeth take her revenge on Bjurman was incredibly satisfying, and for me, it was the only thing that made reading/seeing those difficult scenes remotely okay. Anyway, the performance is small, but Andersson does an excellent job of capturing Bjurman's slimeballness. The women in back of us were gasping as he asked Lisbeth disturbing personal questions, and they even walked out on the rape scenes, only returning once they were done. It is difficult watching, but it is important.

Some small changes were made, as I said-- Berger is not as much of a presence; Millennium isn't really seen that much. The last 100 pages or so of the book are condensed; it mainly ends after the Harriet mystery is solved, and the resolution of the Wennerstrom affair is heavily condensed for time reasons. I think about half an hour was cut from this theatrical version of the made-for-TV film-- I'm not sure what's in that half an hour, but perhaps it will be restored on the DVD.

(ETA: I just looked it up and found out that 28 minutes or so was not cut from this version-- two separate versions were put together: one for TV and one for theatrical release Stateside. I'm glad to see that the TV version has the excised threads, the Mikael/Erika relationship and the resolution of the Millennium issues in the last 100 pages or so of the book. Sad to see Erika's screentime got cut some, but it's nice to know they didn't neglect it entirely.)

I know a lot of people have issues with subtitles, and it was a tiny bit distracting, but I've dealt with it before and it didn't so much bother me here. Swedish is a hella confusing language to listen to, though, haha. I would hear their voices, look at the subtitles, and think to myself, "THAT'S what they were just saying?" It was interesting, though; I've barely heard Swedish being spoken.

Overall, the movie itself was an excellent and near-faithful adaptation of the book. It was dramatic, horrific, and spellbinding all at once. This is one I dearly wish Hollywood won't touch, when there's a perfect one already, but if it has to be done, I'll watch it if the cast is bearable. Until then, though, Michael Nyquist is Blomkvist to me, and there is no question--Noomi Rapace just is Lisbeth.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

The Book: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (book one in the Millennium Trilogy)

The Author: Stieg Larsson

How I Found It: It popped up in a couple emails I received from Amazon, and I saw the trailer for the movie either shortly before or after reading this review from Smart Bitches.

The Review: I've never been so surprised to love a book before. I'm not really a mystery person, besides the Dexter books, and I'm not quite sure if those can be considered mysteries when pretty much everything is laid out from the start. I'd read some good things about this book, but it didn't sound like my thing. And wow, am I glad I gave it a shot.

The scene is Sweden. We begin by seeing an old man in his office. It is his eighty-second birthday and he has just received something in the mail-- a pressed flower in a frame. He calls his friend, a retired policeman. They speculate about the flower, as it is the forty-fourth flower he has received, like clockwork, on his birthday every year. The old man breaks down in tears.

Next, we meet Mikael Blomkvist. He is a financial journalist for the magazine Millennium, and he has just been convicted of libel and sentenced to three months in prison. He published a story about the corrupt practices of a businessman, Hans Erik Wennerstrom, and popular belief is that he made it all up.

Soon enough, Blomkvist receives a job offer from the man with the flowers, whose name is Henrik Vanger. It turns out that his niece, Harriet Vanger, disappeared over forty years ago in 1966. The first few flowers were her birthday gifts to him. All the rest were mailed every year after she disappeared, seemingly to torment him. The day Harriet disappeared in 1966, an accident left the island inaccessible for twenty-four hours. No one could get on or off. By the next morning, Harriet was gone.

Henrik offers Mikael a job. He is to write a chronicle of the Vanger family, though his real purpose is to investigate Harriet's disappearance, which has tormented him for over forty years. In return, Blomkvist can receive information that could help restore his reputation and take down Wennerstrom. Blomkvist agrees, though he is certain he will not be able to make progress on the case.

Into all this comes Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year-old brilliant hacker with almost no social skills and a very firm moral compass. Declared mentally incompetent by the government, although she is anything but, she is forced to surrender her bank account and her freedom to a legal guardian. Salander has, all her life, been subjected to brutal physical and sexual violence, and the guardianship is no exception. Salander was hired to run a background check on Blomkvist, and eventually their paths collide entirely by accident as Blomkvist is drawn further and further into the mystery surrounding Harriet's disappearance.

I'll start by saying that this is not an easy read. In a way, it is-- it is absolutely compelling and I firmly believe that this is the best, most absorbing book I've read in at least a few years. But emotionally and as a girl, it's very difficult to swallow. This book very much concerns violence against women and the violence is most definitely brutal. I had one of the most intense reactions I've ever had to a book during the most disturbing scene, a brutal rape. I was shaking and felt like crying. I literally felt like I couldn't breathe. In a way, it was so completely satisfying to see Salander's absolutely merciless attitude towards men who abuse women. I luckily have never been the target of sexual violence, but I do know what bullying was like. Salander is almost a stand-in for any woman who has ever felt victimized in any way, and this was why I empathized with her. Maybe that was why I reacted so strongly to the scene. I have never felt so utterly revolted by a character as I have with the men in this book. I have to give Larsson credit for writing a horrifying yet incredibly captivating story.

I found that most of the complaints I'd read about the book didn't apply for me. I'd read about a slow beginning, but I didn't notice, because I read that part of it during a long bus ride when I had little else to do, and lo and behold I was past the section and met Salander, who absolutely fascinates me. She is a fantastic heroine and I'm eager to read the next two books in the trilogy simply to follow her exploits and learn the mysteries of her past. I was really cheering for her through the book, and she is what makes the book so interesting. (She is the girl with the dragon tattoo. The book is right to be named after her.) I will admit some of the details were very repetitive-- I could count on one hand the amount of times a character ate something other than a sandwich-- but the story was good enough that I barely noticed it.

The story was very well put together and definitely took a lot of time and effort on Larsson's part, I'd assumed. I had almost nothing figured out as it went along; the plot twisted enough to keep me guessing, and I was never entirely sure who I suspected in the disappearance of Harriet. It was nicely paced and enough things were left open for the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, which I have already bought. I think at least part of the reason why the book was so absorbing was that it was written (or translated) well. The Smart Bitches review points out inconsistencies in characterization and some clunky writing in relation to the relationships between men and women in the novel, and these things are true, but they didn't distract me much as I read.

The characters themselves are very interesting. Lisbeth I've already mentioned; she is an amazing creation. Blomkvist is an easy enough fellow to spend the majority of the book with; I didn't have any problems with him. Lisbeth is a strong enough female for anyone, but the portrayal of Erika Berger, Blomkvist's best friend and lover, was also a strong point. She is a strong, determined woman and even if I didn't understand how her husband is okay with her and Blomkvist still sleeping together, I liked her character.

Even if the subject matter made the book difficult to read at points, I still found it an amazingly readable mystery and a fascinating look at what Larsson felt was wrong with some Swedish social and governmental systems. If these are the types of things really going on over there, I'd vote for reform in a heartbeat. It's a shame Larsson passed away after delivering the first three manuscripts for the series-- seven more books were planned, and a fourth was mostly written but cannot be finished due to the law over there. I'm going to start The Girl Who Played with Fire right away and buy The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest when it comes out, but I will definitely be saddened when I cannot look forward to the continuing adventures of Lisbeth Salander.

(Note: The three novels were made into a miniseries over in Sweden that is seeing a theatrical release here, or at least the first film has. I will be seeing that this weekend; expect my review on either Saturday or Sunday. I hope the other two films will follow. There's going to be a Hollywood remake in the future, but somehow I feel as though changing the language to English and giving the script over to Hollywood will diminish it. Until then, I'm sticking with Sweden.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Shape of Things: A Play'

Holy late review, Batman! Argh. I started writing this one on Monday but kept getting so unbelievably sidetracked. Here it is, nearly a week late.

The Book: The Shape of Things

The Author: Neil Labute

How I Found It: Seeing a clip of the movie in my theater class reminded me I was interested in this one. I read one of the other plays in the "trilogy", reasons to be pretty, in November; clicking on the drama tag will bring you to my review.

The Review: Adam Sorenson meets Evelyn in a museum. (Yes, you read their names right.) She is staring down a statue with a can of spray paint in her hand, ready to paint genitalia over a statue's modesty plaster. She believes the art isn't "true", since a town council voted to cover up the family jewels when they were deemed too lifelike. Adam, a guard at the museum, is attempting to stop her when instead he is drawn into her web, entranced by her. Before he knows it, he has asked Evelyn out and she is spraying her number into his coat.

When we next see Adam and Evelyn, they have been going out for a few weeks and they are meeting Adam's friends for dinner. Adam has started to do little things, such as lose some weight and keep a journal of his progress, at Evelyn's suggestion. His friends, Philip and Jenny, an engaged couple, notice the slight changes. Jenny in particular is pleasantly surprised-- Adam missed his chance with her a while back, and before long it becomes apparent that both of them regret that. As Evelyn and Adam's relationship builds, Adam's relationship with Philip and Jenny begins to gradually fall apart.

I have to say, I did like this better than reasons to be pretty; the subject matter is more interesting and this one made me think more about the overall impact of the play. As you could probably guess from the names, it's a modern day retelling of the fall of Man. I'm not a religious person, but I found this treatment of the story really interesting.

I have to give major props to whoever has to play Evelyn in a production. That has to be a very, very difficult role. Having seen the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie, I definitely want to see the rest; I know Rachel Weisz is more than capable. Evelyn is the most interesting character and definitely the one who has to be played right for the production to work, I'd say. And geez, is she a powerhouse. The overall effect of the play is really chilling.

I can't say all that much about the play without giving away the ending, which is the point of it all. But it did get me thinking. The subject matter and resolution made it a more uncomfortable read than reasons to be pretty, so this is probably why it had more staying power in my mind. Labute has a really good eye for the obsession with beauty; I'm probably going to check out the last play in the trilogy, Fat Pig, within the next few weeks.

Overall, I feel as though his plays might become somewhat repetitive in the long run, since he tends to explore the same themes (the dynamic between men and women, obsession with beauty, etc.), but I do enjoy his style for now and think he has an interesting take on things. I'm still intrigued by his body of work and after all probably just paid him a royalty last night, when I bought one of my favorite movies (directed and partially written/adapted by him), Possession, on DVD. Heck, he might even get another royalty from me if I go to see the Death at a Funeral remake. So yep, Neil Labute is earning a living off of me, so I guess you could say he must be a pretty good author. :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Last Song: The Movie'

** This review contains spoilers for both the film and the book. **

Sorry I've been scarce this week, everyone. I've been a bit busy. But I finally got to go see The Last Song yesterday and thought I'd post my dissection here. My review of the book can be found here.

Okay, so, basic plot: Ronnie Miller (Miley Cyrus) and her little brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are spending the summer with their father Steve (Greg Kinnear) in Georgia. (In the book, it's Wilmington, NC, which I actually liked a little better because that's where One Tree Hill is filmed, so it was funny to picture the book taking place in Tree Hill. Still, though, the movie was filmed on Tybee Island and the beach is gorgeous.) Ronnie is a talented piano player, but has refused to play since her father left the family.

Ronnie is extremely resentful towards her father and refuses to open the letters he sends her. She blames him for leaving her and Jonah's mother, believing he is the reason the marriage failed. Jonah and Steve bond while Ronnie tries to avoid them. She soon finds one person she can't avoid-- Will Blakelee, a local boy who's determined to win her heart. Ronnie and Will begin a summer romance, and Ronnie gradually begins to open up to her father.

So I don't quite know if one can call The Last Song an adaptation, as Sparks wrote the screenplay first and then the book. I think that was my big problem with it-- the book had a very developed story, and while I was watching the movie, I felt like the book is what the movie could have been. The book seems like he looked at the screenplay and thought, "Oh, I could have done that better; let's try this..."

I was worried about how Miley Cyrus would handle the role of Ronnie, but I have to say she did well. I was pretty unconvinced by her attempt at being snarky and resentful in the beginning, especially to Will, but I enjoyed the one-liners more as time went on. (A personal favorite of mine, because I can relate, is when Will finds her after she has slept outside all night to protect the sea turtle nest. "Did you sleep out here all night?" he asks, and Ronnie snaps, "No, my hair looks like this all by itself!") She came off like a great big sister to Jonah, and she worked well with Greg Kinnear (especially in the more emotional scenes) and Liam Hemsworth (with whom she made a good couple).

Bobby Coleman was great for a child actor, and one of his scenes probably made me cry the most. I saw the movie with my mom, stepdad, and roommate, and my mom and I agreed that the movie wouldn't have worked without Greg Kinnear as Steve. He was perfect as a father who just wants to reconnect with his daughter. My favorite scene of his is when he's watching Ronnie and Will sitting close together as they watch over the loggerhead turtle nest. He comes down, silently moves Will's chair a good few feet away from Ronnie's, draws a line in the sand, and looks at Will. Will replies he understands.

I have to say, the film did end up doing a very good job of carrying the emotions over from page to screen. Spoilers ahead: the reason Dear John and The Last Song both got to me was because they both had fathers who die, like mine did when I was little. So for a good twenty minutes in this one, I was crying. The most painful scene to watch, for me, was when Jonah is trying to finish the stained glass window he and Steve were making by himself, and Ronnie and Will try to comfort him and offer to help. That scene in the book was one of my favorites and one of the most emotional, and it was done very well here; as I said before, props to Bobby Coleman. Miley Cyrus did well with her two crying scenes-- my mom and roommate felt her tears were somewhat forced when she broke down in the hospital room, and that the one where she cries over the piano was more organic. (I told them they couldn't complain; the WORST crying I have seen in recent memory was Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air.)

The problem was, I felt like the book should have been written first and THEN the screenplay should have been written. Things were just more coherent in the book and I felt as though the screenplay would have been less muddled. Certain things were in the movie that could have been left out, and certain things that must have been afterthoughts for the book should have been put in. My major complaints:

- The whole reason-for-the-fire subplot. It didn't need to be in the movie, because Scott's friendship with Will was glossed over. I can't remember exactly, but there was something in the book like Scott hung out with Will because he felt guilty for Will's brother dying, but that wasn't here. So the reason Scott hung out with Will didn't have to be explained, and the reason Will covered Scott's ass about the fire didn't have to be in the movie at all. Scott being involved in the fire really didn't have to be there, period.

- Blaze framing Ronnie for shoplifting. In the book, that's a little bigger and definitely more resolved. Ronnie sees more of Blaze's home life and then there's the whole thing where Blaze gets very, very severely burned and Ronnie and Will save her life, and it makes it easier to believe that Ronnie forgives her because of all of this. The shoplifting thing was never mentioned again in the movie, even though Ronnie has a record and it's a big deal because she could be sent to juvie (or jail; can't remember). I won't say it wasn't necessary to the plot; I think it was, but it needed to be explored further.

- Megan, Will's sister, coming to talk to Ronnie after the wedding. I really wish that scene hadn't been in the book only; I think it's one of those things Sparks realized the potential for afterwards. Megan tells Ronnie how much Will really cares about her, and it gives a little more insight into why Will's parents are the way they are, and makes them marginally more sympathetic. They also should have showed a little more of Mr. Blakelee-- he's a very nice guy in the book; here, he came off as a bit of a clueless Hillbilly.

- My biggest problem: they left out the fact that Ronnie's mother is the one who destroyed the marriage by having an affair with the man who is about to become Ronnie and Jonah's stepdad. I felt like this most definitely had to be in the movie and I was annoyed that it wasn't. It's a huge turning point when Ronnie realizes she's been blaming Steve for something that wasn't his fault. It gets her to realize her mom isn't perfect. It would have helped explained Ronnie's resentment more if they'd worked on expanding the whole divorce backstory.

My main problem with the movie was that so much potential was wasted and that it could have been much tighter if Sparks had written the expansion of the story, the book, first. He could have then picked and chose from those elements what to put in the screenplay earlier, rather than throwing together this jumbled mess of ideas and refining them into a clearer, more well-put together form. I just wish they'd had some kind of editor for the screenplay who could have fixed it (it looks like he did work in collaboration with someone else, or had someone else tighten it for him; Jeff Van Wie is credited alongside him). I liked the movie a whole lot and thought it was good overall; it just could have been much better done.

Overall, it's a pretty decent teen movie and a good tearjerker; I'd recommend it for those crowds. But I'd definitely recommend reading the book to see what the movie could have been.

Monday, April 5, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Personal Demon'

It's my fiftieth post! Yay! When I started this blog way back in September, I wasn't sure if I was going to stick with it, but I have! :)

I'm continuing with my Kelley Armstrong catchup, though I'm taking a break after Personal Demon, at least until The Reckoning comes out (the third in the Darkest Powers series; it comes out tomorrow, but I won't be getting mine until next week as it will ship with Armstrong's Tales of the Otherworld).

The Book: Personal Demon (book eight in the Women of the Otherworld series)

The Author: Kelley Armstrong

How I Found It: As explained before, big fan of the Otherworld books.

The Review: Okay, so I might've said in my other reviews of Armstrong's work that I'm desperately in need of a refresher course in her world, considering I started the series so long ago. (Well, four years isn't that long, but whatever.) Since I only really read Carrie Vaughn in the last couple years, I kept getting the traits her werewolves and Armstrong's confused. Bit of a barrier. But that's my fault, so no big deal. Anyway, what I meant to say: this book was a really good refresher on the aspect of the Otherworld that most confused me at 14, the Cabals.

This book also marked a return of a narrator I really liked when Armstrong introduced her: Hope Adams, from her novella Chaotic. I remember reading the anthology it appeared in when it was first released, gym class be damned. I really liked Hope as a narrator, even if I wasn't quite sold on Karl Marsten yet. I'll have to reread that novella sometime soon; I barely remember it anymore.

ANYWAY. This review is turning into a ramble. The plot: Hope Adams is an Expisco half-demon, one of the rarest kinds in Armstrong's world. While full-fledged demons have certain powers and an innate hunger for chaos, Hope's got the sucky end of the deal: she only gets the hunger for chaos and the ability to sense it, with no nifty powers to defend herself. Her job writing supernatural stories for a tabloid is convenient for her and fun, and it would be all she needs, until she is approached by a Cabal for help.

This relates directly to the situation in Chaotic, which left Hope and werewolf jewel thief Karl Marsten with a favor to repay to the Cortez Cabal. Hope is by herself, Karl having left her with barely an explanation to go to Europe, and Hope is determined to repay the favor by herself. Benicio Cortez, head of the Cabal, asks Hope to infiltrate a gang of young supernaturals who may be plotting against the Cabal. Hope agrees, but very soon finds herself crossing paths again with Karl, who is none too pleased with Benicio's offer, and may want to rekindle things with Hope.

Hope is the primary narrator, but the secondary narrator is Lucas Cortez, Benicio's son and unwilling heir to the Cabal. Lucas and Paige's investigation into the ever-more-complicated situation arising out of Hope's undercover mission supplements the main story, the first time Armstrong did multiple narrators in one book.

The book was a little slow to start for me, but I have to say that I ended up really enjoying it a whole lot. Even if the 22-year age difference between Hope (28) and Karl (50, though he ages slower since he's a werewolf) was a tad squicky, they made such an appealing couple and I really enjoyed reading their scenes. Karl truly grew on me and I think that's a testament to Armstrong's ability as a writer.

I wasn't sure at first how I liked the switching between narrators-- I knew it was mostly a plot device, to show the Cortez side of the story that we wouldn't see if Hope had been the sole narrator. There were also points where, say, Lucas would take over for three or four chapters and I would start to think the balance was uneven. But in the end, I saw that it was necessary to include Lucas' narration-- this is just as much his story as it was Hope's.

Hope's story is largely about coming into her powers and developing the relationship between her and Karl. Since we already saw Lucas' relationship with Paige develop into love and later marriage, a lingering question for him was the leadership of the Cabal. His father has named him heir, even if he's certain he doesn't want the position.

This book was really integral to the future of the series, I think-- Armstrong took some irrevocable steps towards shaping the series' future that really shocked me. I'm sure she has a direction in mind and I'm really curious to see if that's further explored in Book 9 (I know it probably won't be in Book 10, as the focus is on the Pack), or if it'll be left to Savannah's books. Either way, it was nice to see the plot of the series really advance and to see the characters develop in their own rights.

On the whole, despite my initial misgivings, I really enjoyed the book. It was an engaging mystery with some pretty shocking twists, and I can't wait to see how the whole situation will eventually be resolved. I loved reading about Hope and Karl's growing relationship, and the book was just plain fun, even if it has that pinch of horror to it. I wouldn't recommend this one to new readers of the series-- way too much to be known beforehand, IMO-- but readers of the series should definitely read it, even with the lukewarm reviews to be found elsewhere.