Friday, 11 January 2019

What if it's us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera (Book Review)

A fun story of Ben and Arthur, will they, won't they? A classic story of a doomed romance, or is it. Maybe, just maybe this is "the one". The first book in my 52 weeks, 52 books challenge of 2019.

What if it's us charts the adventure of two young men, Arthur who is only in New York for the summer but believes in Broadway miracles and dreams of playing the leading roll in his own fantastical musical in a magical universe of romance. He is a die-hard romantic that believes in "the one". An exciting new universe awaits him.

Ben, a NY native has just broken up with his boyfriend and thinks that very same universe can mind it's own business. Whilst visiting the post office to send a box of stuff back to his ex both he and Ben meet.

They don't exchange address, phone numbers, emails or even names but both want to meet the other again, so, the chase begins. How to connect ... and then after several do-overs can they even make this work.  

What if it's us is written by two fantastic authors, heavyweights in the LGBT young adult fiction genre; 

Becky Albertalli the amazing mind behind Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and sequel Leah on the Off Beat with the massive successful movie Love, Simon being released in 2018. 

And Adam Silvera, author of They Both Die at the End, History is all you Left me, (which got a 10 out of 10 planets review from me) and More Happy than not.

I can imagine it's exciting but difficult to write a book with another person, but these two worked really well together, I presume that each author had a main character each and this works really well, giving a different feel and language to each one. Rather like the other huge success I read a couple of years ago Will Grayson, Will Grayson written by John Green & David Levithan (two other heavyweights in the genre).

The chase is really fun and gives an opportunity to delve into the lives of both characters, we meet their friends and families; their respective friends helping them to connect with each other and support their new found ... perhaps doomed ... relationship. I really liked Ben's story, rocked from a messy break-up with a good friend (never date a friend) their mutual friends are caught in the middle, to make matters worse Ben and his ex are attending summer school together, so they can't get away from each other. Worse still, Ben doesn't tell Arthur he sees his ex every day so this is hanging over his head all the time. Ben's story is very realistic and charts the stormy path one must travel getting over a break-up with a good friend; navigating and defining a new relationship with that friend and other mutual friends. It's a real mess in a real World.    

The other main character Arthur is also interesting, working as a gopher in his mothers law firm for the summer so his future is very uncertain. He won't be staying in New York, so is there any point in even trying to meet someone and build a romance. Most would think it's doomed to fail but not Arthur, he believes in a magical universe of love and romance and the Broadway musical so he is going to create his own musical with himself, of course, being one of the main characters. Whilst a little cliched ... wow the  gay boy loves musicals ... it does allow the reader to enter the mindset of Arthur and hope that maybe there will be a happy ending, just like in Broadway.

As they grow closer, have several do-over first dates after 3 nightmare attempts where everything went wrong both boys start questioning will it work, are they both in the same place, are they even compatible. Ben struggles with school work and Arthur sails through. Ben has no solid plans for university (he probably won't get in anyway) and Arthur has his Ivy League education planned. Ben hasn't got over his break-up and wants to make amends with his friends, Arthur is leaving New York after the summer (which they refuse to discuss) so will all these things making it impossible for Ben and Arthur to have a meaningful romance ... you'll have to read it to find out !!!

With great news that What if it's us will be made into a movie - Read more here - this is bound to be another huge success, although may not reach the heights of Love, Simon which grossed over €40 million. I really liked the book, it's well written by two artists who really understand the lives of young LGBT people and help us struggle with them through their fledgling romance. Neither is the book leaning on common tropes of homophobia, coming-out or a story of young LGBT people not being loved and supported by their family and friends and for this reason alone I love the book. Instead we have a normal teenage rom-com, the only difference being the two characters are gay, otherwise it's normal, well, because it is.

The only negative I can say about the book is the nagging suspicion as you are reading it that there will be a silly superfluous Disney-esque solution to the ending and this clouded my enjoyment of the story. Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil the ending, that's all I'm saying. it's still a good read and I'll give it an 8 out of 10 planets.

John The Captain Ryan.


Saturday, 29 December 2018

Bird Box (movie review)

Netflix scores yet another huge success with Bird Box, with 45 million viewers streaming in the first week from it's release on 14th December 2018. (no spoilers)


The Basics:

Bird Box is a 2018 American post apocalyptic thriller directed by Susanne Bier. The movie is based on a book of the same name by Josh Malerman which I've just bought in my local INDEPENDENT book store (Wexford Book Centre). Check out this great interview from the author here.

The film follows a woman, played by Sandra Bullock, who, along with a pair of children, dubbed Boy and Girl, must make it through a forest and river blindfolded to avoid supernatural entities that take the appearance of their victims' worst fears & regrets that cause them to die by suicide. The only people who do not succumb to these affects are people who are insane. Bird Box starts out like M. Night Shyamalan's 2008 movie The Happening - an unseen entity drives people to take their own lives, plunging society and the World into chaos but the similarities end there. 

We are immediately introduced to Mallory (Sandra Bullock), frankly being a bit of a bitch, she is really mean and stern towards her two children and explaining they will be taking a long, dangerous journey and they must do exactly what she tells them. With half the movie being flashbacks (which get a little jumpy at times) we learn how the World and Bullock got to where it is, that is, a World of cruelness and little love. For me as soon as I learnt:

1. This was a post apocalyptic story and 
2. My all time fave author Stephen King was a huge fan; 

I knew I'd be watching it fairly quickly and it didn't disappoint.The hubby also loved it.

   (source - Stephen King's Twitter)

As the story barrels along with a frightening river raft journey you can't help being reminded of the amazing Meryl Streep movie The River Wild, although it's not quite as manic, making the journey blind folded is still heart stopping at times. Sandra Bullock is brilliant and diverse, just looking at her filmography you immediately are drawn to Gravity, The Heat and The Blindside to mention a few of her recent successes. She is also fantastic in this movie. 

For me the rest of the actors are people I do not know except for B.D. Wong (most would recognise him from his role as Dr. Huang in Law and Order SVU and from Mr. Robot). Wong plays the token gay character in the movie, that, of course, dies quickly; (as we know it's a much abused lazy homophobic movie trope)

Anyway, not to give too much away, for lovers of thrillers, a little bit of horror (but not gory and disgusting), a great story that pulls you and the characters on a great journey (actual and metaphorically speaking), well directed and great acting this is a must see. The ending is great (much better than the Happening) and if you're a fan of indie productions and/or Sandra Bullock you won't be disappointed either.

I give the movie an 8 out of 10 planets (it looses a planet for excessive use of flashbacks and the other for the killing of the gay character in a lazy hollywood trope) but this is my personal opinion and overall shouldn't take away from your enjoyment of the movie.

John The Captain Ryan.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Best Horror Books Ever...


So, to identify the best horror books of all time, I've looked at a selection of websites that have lists of  books and done up my own list. This year I'm going to read (or in some cases re-read) these titles and write a review. (For those who are interested I've listed the websites I used at the end of this blog). The top 13 horror books of all time are:

13 - The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. 

Need I say anything other than:

"Well Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?" and...

"I ate his ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti"

I remember reading this book some years ago and whilst it is was scary, the movie is better. Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter with such brilliant that will never be surpassed,  you cannot read the book without imagining him in the role.

12 - 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King.

This is the Master of Horror's first entry on the list, an awesome book that I read well over 20 years ago. Looking forward to reading it again.

11 - The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I've never read this book so looking forward to it.

10 - Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

I know absolutely nothing about this book so will have to read it and find out what all the bru-ha-ha is all about.

9 - Books of Blood Volumes 1-3 by Clive Barker

I've watched a lot of films based on Clive Barker's work but never read any of his books. This will be interesting.

8 - House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

Yet another book I haven't read but going by other reviews I'm looking forward to reading this also.

7 - Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I couldn't believe I haven't read this book, but, yet it appears on so many best horror lists. I wonder is it because it's one of the first in the genre or if it's actually any good. Only reading it for myself will tell me. Crazy to think this was written over 200 years ago.

6 - The Shining by Stephen King.

King's 2nd entry on the list, one of my all time favourite books and movies. The book is awesome and the movie never delves much into Danny Torrence's special abilities which are truly scary, but them again the movie is so iconic with Nicholson screaming through the door "HERE's JOHNNY" you forget about Danny.

5 - Pet Sematary by Stephen King

And yet another entry by the King of Horror. I haven't read this for probably 25 years so can't remember it. Another book I'm looking forward to.

4 - Dracula by Bram Stoker

Another ground breaking, genre creating title that I haven't read. What a shame. Again, like Frankenstein, I wonder is it on so many lists because of it's genre creating credentials or is it actually any good. Written in 1897, it has spawned such awesomeness like Buffy and Queen of the Damned but also such crud like the Twilight Saga. Oh dear gawd.

3 - It by Stephen King.

Hey Georgie want your boat back. A truly horrifying book and movie. I did a review of the new movie here. Just love the book and movies. Will be strange reading this book again also.

2 - The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Another book on the list I've never read, but I did love the movies and the new series is fantastic.

So, before I unveil the top horror book of all time, here is a summary of all the books so far, how many times they appeared on the top lists used and how many points they accrued:

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Books of Blood Volumes 1-3 by Clive Barker
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Shining by Stephen King
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Dracula by Bram Stoker
It by Stephen King
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
72 drum roll please...The best horror book of all time, FACT! is...

1 - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Another I haven't read so this is going to the top of the pile.

Toodles for now

John The Captain Ryan.

All the book cover images were sources from Amazon.

The different websites used were:

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A dog is for Life but so is Scrabble

Yes, we've heard the slogan a million times but it's so true, a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

If you are thinking of getting a puppy for Christmas, think really hard - yes they are lovely and cute when they jump out of the box but it's a lifelong committment, you need to treat your new puppy as a member of the family, if you can't well don't get one.

If you are thinking of rescuing a dog wait until the new year and go to your local pound or SPCA.  The contact details in Wexford are as follows:

Wexford County Council (Dog Warden & Dog Pound) - HERE

And on Facebook
North Wexford SPCA - HERE

If the new puppy is happening and if you haven't chosen a Vet yet, I couldn't speak highly enough of O'Shea & Bramley Veterinary Hospital in Distillery Road (just past Tesco's).  They also do a huge amount of work for the WSPCA.  You can find there website - HERE and of course they are also on Facebook - HERE

So, I've combined my love of Scrabble and Dogs and compiled the following list of allowed words in Scrabble.  You are free to print it out and share it.  Get the message out...

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas, just like Scrabble

Live Long and Prosper

John the Captain Ryan

Monday, 10 December 2018

Happy Death Day, The First Purge and Doomsday (movie reviews)

How do Happy Death Day (2017), Doomsday (2008) and The First Purge (2018) measure up in the jam-packed horror genre?

The horror genre of today covers a vast array of movies, from the silly teen comedies of scantily clad females running UP the stairs instead of out of the house, to the psychological horrors like The Babadook (review here), the killer clowns (see Terrifier in previous link also) to the hack and slash horrors like (Jig) Saw and gothic horror like The Lodgers - filmed in Wexford of course. Gone are the days of the classic Hitchcock horror, suggesting more than it shows with the likes of The Birds or Psycho. 

Anyway, to get to the reviews, let’s start with Happy Death Day.

The plot is simple and un-original, basically it’s a teen comedy-horror based on the Groundhog Day classic. It follows a college student – played by Jessica Rothe who is murdered on her birthday and begins reliving the day over and over again, at which point she sets out to find the killer and stop her death. It had huge success in movie theatres, so much so a sequel has been announced for February 2019 Happy Death Day 2U.

Whilst unoriginal, it’s still a great premise and the lunacy of trying to avoid the same mistakes brings a laugh each time. The imaginative ways in which Theresa "Tree" Gelbman is killed each time is sometimes gruesome but always entertaining. It’s a well written screenplay that keeps you guessing all the way through. On several occasions we think she has solved the situation to be hurtled back into the scenario again. Eventually she solves who is trying to murder her – or does she???

The comedy is very good making the movie a hit with teens – similar to the style used in the Scream movies, starting all the way back in 1996 – and lightens the mood. An old Shakespearean trick that still works today. The sound track by Bear McCreary is also really good and makes the movie for me. McCreary stated that he wanted "a schizophrenic, dual personality, with light-hearted comedic scoring on one end, and genuinely terrifying soundscapes on the other" and it definitely works. Bear is also the creator of the soundtracks for the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and the Walking Dead.

In summary, it’s a fun horror movie, not too gruesome (e.g. Saw) written well with a good soundtrack. I give Happy Death Day an 8 out of 10 planets.

The First Purge.

I’ve always loved the premise of The Purge movies, a small glimpse into a World without law and order. What would the great U … S … of A be like without civilisation and rule of law? It’s a stark picture we are presented with and from an anthropological point of view an interesting one. There have been many conversations about the premise on line. 

So, the plot. In previous movies The Purge (2013), The Purge Anarchy (2014) & The Purge Election Year (2016) we follow a 12 hour period where all law is suspended and crime up to and including murder is allowed. A huge business has sprung up around Purge Day with, of course, the wealthy being able to afford to barricade their homes and by any means necessary keep their families safe. This has the knock on effect that the poorer neighbourhoods suffer the most, with the most crime, damage to property and horrible acts of violence being experienced by the people in these areas. It’s a different concept of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer except it’s a social experiment of the rich living and the poorer dying.

So, let’s get into the First Purge. We get to see the genesis of this great social experiment. America's third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, comes to power and conducts an experiment: no laws for 12 hours on Staten Island. No one has to stay on the island, but $5,000 is given to anyone who does. So, straight away we see this is aimed at the poorest in society. Help us with our experiment (you might die, be raped, mutilated etc) and we will pay you. The participants are fitted out with cameras and GPS locators.

Different groups band together to help each other. The local drug dealers stay also, some to Purge the competition and others end up helping some of their friends and family in the community. NFFA members Arlo Sabian and Dr. May Updale are heading up the project. Half way through the experiment, the statistics and viewing isn’t going as planned so Sabian orders trained mercenaries (very well equipped) to start killing. Dr. May realises what’s happening and seals her own demise. (thus laying the foundation for the government’s heavy handed involvement in future movies). 

The nitty-gritty! My favourite part about this movie (strangely enough) is the story - how the Purge came into existence so most viewers don’t really care about that. It relies on lots of killing by people wearing masks. Nothing original there. It also employs the cheap tactic of characters jumping out of nowhere but it’s done well enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. The soundtrack is completely forgettable.  The stand out character is Skeletor – a drug crazed lunatic who is interviewed at the start of the experiment and plans on “Purging” his demons. He pays a pivotal role in the story. If you liked the other Purge movies you will like it but I give it a lack lustre 6 out of 10 planets.

Finally, my favourite of all three – an oldie but a goodie – Doomsday (2008) 

Anytime there is a British production of a horror / post-apocalypse / dystopian theme this is enough to get me interested. Think of Children of Men or ITV’s The Last Train (1999) or BBC’s Survivors (2008) and you know what I’m talking about.

Take note - this movie is rated R and it well deserves this label. It’s violent, bloody and gruesome with bad language, torture, cannibalism and sexual content, so it runs the whole gauntlet. Don’t watch it if you’re not into it. Be Warned !!!.

The plot - The film takes place in the future in Scotland, which has been quarantined because of a deadly virus. When the virus is found, 27 years later in London, political leaders send a team led by Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) to Scotland to find a possible cure. This is a great creation both written and directed by Neil Marshall,who has had a massive career directing other great movies like Dog Soldiers and The Descent and to top it all he is also an episodic director for Game of Thrones. Watching Doomsday you get a similar feeling you do watching 28 Days Later – an eeriness in recognising the locations and the feel of a British production but this is no Coronation Street.

The team, instead of finding a cure find a huge gang of cannibals with awesome fighting skills, and a viciousness to match the zombies in Train to Busan. Most of the team are killed with the couple remaining being tortured for information to help the cannibals break the quarantine. The movie then segways into Sol – the leader of the cannibals, played by Craig Conway who was also the main crawler in The Descent, is an extremely violent and hardcore character – changing tack from his information gathering torture to attending a party/BBQ where one of the captured team is the main course. 

This part of the movie is not for that feint-hearted but the music, special effects and visceral displays are fantastic. A much better example of what happens when the rule of law is suspended (Purge take note). The costumes are amazing, the make-up is brilliant and the staging is huge. This isn’t a pretty movie and is unapologetic in it’s mish-mash of genre’s but if you can get over that I think you will enjoy it. “It’s a wild, bloody ride at its core and it’s incredibly easy to enjoy the film” (source).  

The acting is solid (Rhona Mitra, Craig Conway & Andy McDowell take a bow) all the way through and the special effects and especially the car chase at the end is brilliant. As the movie is a little predictable and it’s a bit of a mish-mash, I still give Doomsday a solid 8 out of  10 planets.

Fini For Now.

John The Captain Ryan

What if it's us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera (Book Review)

A fun story of Ben and Arthur, will they, won't they? A classic story of a doomed romance, or is it. Maybe, just maybe this is "th...