Category Archives: Reviews

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

I’m not even finished with Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and already I’m gearing myself up to tackle a new series, albeit not a seven volume one

I’ve heard good things about this YA (Young Adult) thriller, mainly from my friends Liz Csukas and Jessica Souders. Now, YA is not normally my thing. Okay, I loved Harry Potter and I’ll not hear a bad word about J.K. Rowling’s writing style. It worked for me and the rest of her trillions of fans. But I couldn’t for the life of me take to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. Too much angst for my taste.

I like the look of The Hunger Games, though. The premise is simple (as all the best ones are). To quote from its back cover blurb:

“In a dark version of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: Kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before For her, survival is second nature.”

One first glance, two similar concepts come to mind: Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s The Running Man (remember the Arnie movie?) and the Japanese film Battle Royale. But I’m hooked nonetheless. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and if The Hunger Games grabs me in the same way The Gunslinger did, I’m in for the long haul. I’ll keep you posted.

The Dark Tower: Vol VII

The Dark Tower Vol VII: The Dark Tower

What would you do if two of your main characters turned up on your doorstep and asked you why you haven’t completed their story? You’d no doubt take a long look at your alcohol and drug habit, thinking it might just be a hallucination.

This is exactly what happened to Stephen King in the/his novel Song of Susannah, the sixth in The Dark Tower series. I had been told that this was the weakest of the saga; the least liked and most hated. I didn’t think that at all. Colour me prejudiced, but I’ve taken to King’s epic like a Jesus to a child. But this was the one where it all went a bit weird.

Characters, like Father Donald Callahan, found out that they, in fact, creations of King’s imagination. But it goes much deeper than that. Because there are an infinite number of multiverses, all centred around the Dark Tower, it makes sense that even universes of the imagination would co-exist along side our own. It’s a concept that takes some getting used to. One has to think so far outside the box that the box doesn’t exist anymore.

Susannah Dean becomes Susannah-Mia, an entity created by a Crimson King-designed pregnancy – a ruse brought about to frustrate and ultimately bring down Roland Deschain’s quest for The Dark Tower.

Our heroes are separated and find themselves in the United States at different times: in 1999 Susannah-Mia are about to give birth; Jake, Father Callahan and Oy set out to save her; in 1977 Roland and Eddie meet their “creator” and somehow convince him to carry on with their story. King writes himself very well. He acknowledges his burgeoning alcoholism as well as the accident that so nearly killed him.

So, by no means is Song of Susannah the weakest link in The Dark Tower chain; it’s a necessary step King took in order to bring about the climax which comes in volume seven. I loved it and will defend it until I reach the path at the end of the clearing.

Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower Vol. VI: Song of Susannah

It was late last night (or early this morning, actually) when I put down Wolves of the Calla, the fifth volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. On first glance it appeared to be “filler” material, a sub-plot taken to its extreme, a ploy to get another book squeezed in there somewhere. My initial impression was that this was a needless side-step from the quest: The Magnificent Seven meets Little House on the Prairie. As usual, I was wrong.

Not only is this volume necessary to the ongoing plot of the series, when you take into account character arcs and development, it’s also a rip-roaring adventure story. The Gunslingers ride into town and save the local townsfolk from marauders. Cue Elmer Bernstein’s theme tune. But it is so much more than that.

As a friend recently pointed out, Wolves is stuffed to the gills with pop-culture references. Vampires are all the rage at the moment, but we tend to forget where they came from. Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, was among the first to put a modern spin on them. He made them terrifying again. One of his characters from that novel, Father Donald Callahan, is a major character in Wolves, and to be honest with you, I wasn’t really sure if that was going to work. Too much postmodernist play-acting. A writer losing control of his focus. Those thoughts were prevalent in my initial reading of Wolves.

Doctor Doom on horseback.

But it all makes wonderful sense. Of course it does – it’s Stephen King, after all. This is his universe; these are his creations. If the author can’t play around with his own characters, who can?

Once again, I’m not going to spoil what happens for those of you who haven’t read the series. You have to experience it for yourself. The one thing I will say is, I got this book. I took every idea, every concept that King created and went with it. It’s a journey I’m very much enjoying. So much so that when I finished Wolves, I immediately headed straight to Song of Susannah. If any of you out there have all seven books, ready and waiting, that’s how I suggest you do it: read one after the other.

How in the hell did his readers wait all that time to finish the series? I know I couldn’t have coped.

Sherlock: The Great Game…and The Cliffhanger from Hell.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as Watson and Holmes.

All good things must come to an end. I think it was my mother who said that when I decided it was time to move out of the family home. I was 33. The less said about that the better.

Last Sunday night was when the final episode of the BBC’s first (but not last) mini-series of Sherlock aired. To say it’s been a critical and rating success is an understatement. In just three episodes, Sherlock’s creators (I don’t mean to dismiss Arthur Conan Doyle – without him we wouldn’t have this brilliant programme) have managed to do what was seemingly impossible: make good, intelligent, well-cast Sunday night television. For crying out loud, even my sister was able to watch it without channel-hopping…and that’s a feat in itself.

So what did the finale have to offer? Well, in the last ten minutes it introduced Sherlock’s nemesis: Jim (not Professor James – just Jim) Moriarty. He was the mastermind behind the previous 80 minutes of the episode. Sherlock underwent three tests of his considerable intellect, tests set by Moriarty himself (though Sherlock wasn’t to know this until the end). Each of these “mini” cases could easily take up an entire episode of any of the C.S.I.s and their clones. Sure, there’s a lot of running around and rapid-fire dialogue, but it’s done in such a masterful fashion that I couldn’t but help get caught up in its slipstream. These little sections, all part of one great whole, were appetisers before the main course.

Moriarty’s appearance surprised me, yet it was entirely logical. He had managed to pull the rug out from underneath Sherlock – and the viewers, too. That is what Moriarty does. He’s a consulting criminal, matched toe-for-toe against the only consulting detective in England.

But, as what always happens with these things, there’s a twist, a cliffhanger that will not be resolved until next year. At 10:30pm last Sunday, I screamed at my TV. NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! How can I wait until 2011? I need to know how Sherlock and John get out of an apparently unwinnable predicament. I need to know NOW!

Anyone got a time machine?

Wolves of the Calla

The Dark Tower Volume V: Wolves of the Calla

The Dark Tower Vol V: Wolves of the Calla

So as I head straight into volume five of Stephen King’s magnum opus, I wish to share some thoughts with you about the previous one, Wizard and Glass. Each volume so far has offered something special to me, the first-time reader.

With The Gunslinger, it was the introduction to a world that was somewhat like ours, but not quite. I still don’t know if there was a nuclear war that destroyed a modern civilisation, and thereby creating a world that Serge Leone would have been proud of. It is, to me, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly…and the Fucked-up. Roland Deschain is an enigmatic a protagonist as you’re ever likely to read in modern fiction.

With The Drawing of the Three, I was captivated by Eddie Dean and the woman who would eventually become Susannah Dean, Odetta Holmes. It also pointed out that our heroes were not guaranteed to come out of any given situation intact. I felt their pain, their joys and their terror. It was the start of what was going to be a long, long journey – a journey that might end in death for each of them.

With The Waste Land, it was the return of Jake Chambers, the introduction of Oy the billy-bumbler, and the enormity of the quest ahead of this disparate group of travellers. It was my favourite of the three book so far. Scenes of intense and horrible violence permeated through each section; scenes that still cause me to sit back and marvel at King’s artistry.

Susan Delgado

Susan Delgado: Loved and Lost.

Wizard and Glass was something else altogether. Contained with its passages of action, heroism, sacrifice and more violence is perhaps the most romantic love story I’ve read since The Prince of Tides. Here Roland told the tale that had haunted him for god knows how many years (time flows differently in Mid-World): how he met – and lost – his one true love, Susan Delgado. The word “heartbreaking” can be overused and indeed, in the wrong hands, one such story can come across as sentimental, irrelevant and trite. One of the reasons it took King so long to write this volume was that he wasn’t sure if his talent could handle romance in its truest form. But the mark of a good writer is when he or she can follow a path, work through their fear and uncertainty, and arrive at their destination having learned a valuable lesson.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy Wizard and Glass. King was sidelining Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy for an extended flashback. But it was a story that needed to be told and I’m very glad that he did. I can say with hand upon heart that I will shiver, as my friend Liz Czukas does, at the mere mention of the phrase “Come, Reap” for many a dark night to come.

But the killer touch comes at the end of this volume; when Roland and his friends take one further journey into the Wizard’s Glass and see…well, if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so now. I’m not going to spoil it for you. I’d be doing the book and its author a disservice.


Wizard and Glass

The Dark Tower Vol IV: Wizard and Glass

I think if we look back on our childhood, we will remember that book. You know the one I mean: a book for kids that frightened the living daylights out of you. It was supposed to be a bright, breezy, carefree sort of book. But you, as a young reader, saw only darkness. What was meant to entertain and make you feel good only served to feed your fears and mess up your sleep for a long time. For me, it was Enid Blyton’s Noddy in Toytown; for Jake in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, it was Charlie the Choo-Choo.

Volume III of the series, The Waste Lands, is my favourite so far. Now, we all know that no one writes horror quite like The King. But what I didn’t know is that he’s more than a dab hand at fantasy, too. The Dark Tower is quickly becoming top of my list of all-time fantasy faves. Why? As I said before, it’s the characters, stupid! We have our good guys – Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy the Bumbler (Ake!Ake!Ake!) – and in The Waste Lands the bad guys showed their cards. There is Gasher, Jake’s abductor; there is the Tick-Tock Man, the leader of the Greys; and at the end The Ageless Stranger puts in an appearance.

But all of these are shadowed by Blaine the Mono: a super-computer who is also a train. He will take the questing party to the Dark Tower (or Topeka) as long as they keep asking them riddles. If he answers each of them correctly, he will self-destruct, taking Roland and his friends with him to his grave. They need to figure out a way to outsmart Blaine. That’s how The Waste Lands ends; and that’s where Wizard and Glass begins. A friend suggested to me not to read the series in one go. It’s too big, he said. Each book is longer than the last. But I don’t see how I can’t not continue. I’m on this quest with Roland and the others, and I have to follow it through right to its end.

Sherlock: The Blind Banker

image courtesy of denofgeeks.com

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

There is danger in reading reviews of your favourite TV shows before you’ve gotten around to seeing them. The Internet is packed to the gills with websites that will give you their opinions on what you’re planning to see. And it’s not just the online community; newspapers, too, throw in their tuppence worth. It’s the job of the critic to evaluate all forms of media, especially entertainment. It’s the job of the viewer to work out whether or not he or she agrees with the critic.

All week I’ve been looking forward the second episode of the BBC’s re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed the first installment so much, I posted a brief blog about it. (I’m not one for spoiling people’s enjoyment, so I won’t go into too much detail regarding tonight’s storyline.) But my anticipation was marred by reading the TV section in today’s Mail on Sunday. I quote:

“When you think about it, Sherlock Homes’ brilliant deductive powers are perfectly compatible with modern technology, so putting him slap-bang in present-day London was inspired – and anyway, deerstalkers are so last century. However, after last week’s cracking opener, this second episode fails to live up to expectations. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are still terrific as Holmes and Watson, of course, but the far-fetched plot (involving the City and a Chinese circus) is stretched rather too thinly over the 90 minutes – a surprise when you consider that this is the second of only three episodes.”

Already, a sense of doom came over me. It would be the difficult “second episode,” I thought. No way will it be as good as the first. I was waiting to have my hopes dashed. Last week would just be a flash-in-the-pan. So I settled down and quietly expected the worst.

But you what? I don’t give a damn what critics think. Within seconds my doubts flew away. The opening scenes – Holmes fending off an attack on his life; Watson remonstrating uselessly with an automated supermarket check-out – reminded me of why I love this programme. It’s the characters, stupid! Plots come and go. But as long as the characters remain true, you’ll follow them through thick and thin.

Writer Stephen Thompson had a touch job. With the characters introduced from last week,  he had to cover the hour and a half with an engaging  story. Basically he had to hit the ground running. There was a lot to like in this episode: the mystery was complex; the interplay was very much on a par with last week, especially when Holmes gatecrashed Watson’s date with a colleague; the supporting characters weren’t just cogs in a machine, but fleshed out individuals in their own right; and the villain was unmasked in a way that made sense.

For me, there was a lot going on in The Blind Banker. There wasn’t a dull moment. The pace was frenetic but there were some quiet scenes that Thomson provided, scenes that made me sit back and wonder about…well…just wonder. The viewer should wonder about what they’re watching, shouldn’t they? It’s like when you’ve read a particular scene in a book, and then you stop for a moment and think. I don’t like to be spoon fed when I watch TV and read books. I ask writers to give me something to chew on, something to sleep on maybe. And in this episode, I got plenty of that.

Reviewers can only offer their own opinion. It’s up to us, as viewers and readers, to make sure those opinions don’t become our own. They don’t always get it right.

Note: even though the Mail‘s critic was hesitant about tonight’s Sherlock, he still gave it four stars. It was, by far, the best thing on TV tonight.