Wednesday 29 August 2012

Book review: Exmortus 2...

Todd Maternowski

Ash is back at Exmortus Abbey, pursued by the White Demon, his only hope the mysterious key that was given unto his protection. Unfortunately he has no idea what the key is for or what he should do next. Steed is badly wounded and the Abbott seems to have gone mad following months of being trapped in the Abbey alone, but Ash knows the Abbott may have the answers he needs and so he has no choice but to try and coax information from the madman.

Old Bill, the trader that Ash met on his journey from Exmortus all those months ago, is alive and well in the Abbey, but he turns out to be more than just a beer and silk merchant. Sooner rather than later his behaviour pushes Ash to the limit of his patience, to detrimental consequence. Things go from bad to worse when a mysterious stranger from Ash’s distant past appears in Exmortus. The odds are rapidly stacking up against our young hero.

With danger so close and his friends missing Ash is left truly alone with no one to watch his back and only his wits to lead him this time. His journey will be bleaker and more difficult than anything he has faced up to this point, and with only his trusty horse, Vex, he sets out to discover the secret of the key and face the demons of his past.

The pace of Exmortus 2 is excellent; the action picks up straight away from where events were left off at the end of book one and doesn’t let up until the end, making this another great page turner in the series. The compromise to this fast pace is that on occasion the story lurches forward in time from scene to scene and it sometimes felt like the jump was a little too fast, the pace being forced onwards perhaps rather than naturally progressing and giving the reader time to come to terms with the conclusion of each chapter before the next crisis began.

The humorous tone of the writing works well again in contrast to the violent and guttural aspects of the narrative, but I did feel that with Steed taking a much lesser part in this book the overall feel was darker and at times I missed the crude banter and witty frustrations that Steed’s character brought to book one. Ash suffers just as much in this story but his lack of steady companions for much of the narrative made his journey seem too arduous to contemplate at times, and it was perhaps harder to root for him when survival seemed so unlikely.

The positive side of this was that Ash’s character was developed even more in this book, and by the end of it the reader had much more of a sense of his self, his desires and his weaknesses rather than just seeing his self-centred attitude. Through this portrayal it becomes evident how much he has grown through the series so far. The continuation of Ash’s internal monologue being available in the narrative works fantastically in illustrating this character development, because the reader is right there in his head throughout the story and is seeing his reactions to events firsthand.

Violent and dark deeds abound in this story and I felt the horror elements were stronger in this book than the first instalment giving it a definite darker tone overall. This series would be enjoyed by readers who like work at the gritty edge of the genre and who aren’t afraid to face the baser aspects of life and human behaviour.

This is a strong follow up and the final instalment looks set to wind up the characters’ journeys as well as giving some more definition and understanding of the relationships between the characters for the reader. Steed and Ash certainly have unresolved business and I look forward to finding out how things will end between them as much as I do the wider story.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 25 August 2012

The Downside of Reviewing...

I read a lot and so being a book reviewer was a natural step for me. What better way to make the most of a skill (if being a passionate and efficient reader is indeed a skill) than to review books? I really enjoy having that outlet to express my thoughts and opinions when I finish a book and it is good feeling that I have done some use for someone else at the same time.

Being reviewer has some real benefits. Sometimes I get the books free in return for reviewing them. Often I read books before they are released which means I don’t have quite so long to wait for a sequel – that can be a real blessing in some cases! It means I am very well read. It broadens my experiences, introduces me to new authors, publishers, trends and so forth. Most of all it gives me more of an excuse to have my head stuck in a book as frequently as I want.

People always see the positives of being a book reviewer but recently it dawned on me just what the worst aspect of it is: reading a book before other people. If you read it before other people then by default there are very few people you can discuss it with and that can border on unbearable at times.

It is so difficult when you’ve read a book and really enjoyed it to not have anyone to share that with. To not be able to quote from it or talk about your favourite parts, what blew you away and what shocked you, or to speculate about what will happen in the next book. Imagine going to the cinema with a friend, watching an amazing film that had a real effect on you and then walking away afterwards without discussing it.

There is a void period between when you’ve read the book and when it actually gets released during which you have to physically concentrate on not gushing over the book or worse not blurting out details that will spoil it for someone else. That’s the downside. Every silver lining has a cloud. Balance restored.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Retail therapy for the soul...

I like to think I am not too materialistic in life and that I do survive very easily without going on regular spending sprees to refresh my wardrobe, music collection, kitchen equipment or whatever the staples of life’s luxuries are considered to be.

But I do sometimes still sink back to that seemingly inbuilt instinct that if I have a bad day, buying something new will make it better. I just did it, just now. I had a long, fairly miserable week feeling under the weather and rewarded myself with a new pair of boots. Yes ok so they were in the sale – student/writer budget still very much in full force – but nonetheless it was a purchase of a pair of new boots that I didn’t *need* but feel better for the having anyway.

Buy why did that make me feel better? What is this need for things that are new that fills our lives so? I’m wondering whether it is a matter of material possessions at all, but rather if it is the holding and seeing of something fresh, something new and shiny in its wrapper, that is the real pleasure in it.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 11 August 2012

Espace Dalí Montmartre…

My recent Paris excursion also took me to Montmatre and to the Salvador Dalí exhibition, which is currently home to more than 300 pieces of his work including paintings, drawings and sculptures.

Clocks and the fluid nature of time were certainly the main focus of the collection and it was fantastic seeing his interpretations of time and the great crafted clocks up close. The image of the melting clock appears in so many forms: stretched over tree branches, dripping from canvas, saddled on a horse. Such a powerful image and idea he explored.

The sculptures really impressed me the most. Such intricate details and beautiful materials have been used to create each one. They were even selling replicas in the shop and it was a struggle not to buy. I think the show stealer has to be the crystal bearing elephant sculpture which towered over my head on delicate legs, though it was a close second with George slaying the Dragon.

Recently I was captivated online by Dalí’s Alice in Wonderland pictures and I was delightfully surprised to discover them housed at this exhibition. The colours were so much more vivid than they look in pictures and I think this may be becoming my most favourite Dalí collection of them all.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday 6 August 2012

Tim Burton: L’exposition…

La Cinémathèque Française in Paris has been housing a Tim Burton exhibition since March, and this week I was lucky enough to visit it myself. Situated in Bercy, Paris, the current home of the exhibition, and the museum of cinema, is a little out of the way, but coupled with a trip to the quirky Bercy Village and a stroll through Bercy park it worked out perfectly.

Pre-booking a ticket online was certainly the right thing to do because on arrival at midday with the temperature already over 25 degrees the queue was humongous, stretching across the park like the Beetlejuice snake. Crammed into a lift bound for the fifth floor, anticipation gave way to sheer excitement as the lift doors closed to reveal a large picture of the Corpse Bride printed on the inside. I was really there.

The exhibition advertisements boasted 700 of Tim Burton’s works and it certainly delivered. The walls were adorned with sketches, doodles, videos, notations, quotes, and so on, all helpfully categorised into sections such as ‘creatures’, ‘clowns’, ‘couples’, etc. then moving on as the exhibition progressed to specific movies, and even his older works were represented, ranging from the original Frankenweenie and Black Cauldron through Beetlejuice, Mars Attacks and Batman, to Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows.

The UV room was particularly stunning. A carousel lit up in UV paints and adorned with very Burton creatures spun to Danny Elfman’s music and craved attention. There was something magically hypnotic about the feature that drew me farther into Burton’s imagination with every turn. The wall was also covered in UV creatures that gave the optical illusion of moving towards you.

My exhibition highlights were seeing Edward Scissorhands’ scissorhands and costume, Batman masks, stop-motion models from Corpse Bride, Vincent and Mars Attacks, sketches and concept art from The Nightmare Before Christmas, the walking staff from Dark Shadows, and the many intricate models of Jack Skellington’s various facial expressions that were needed for the film.

The exhibition certainly felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to obtain a glimpse into the creative practice and inner workings of an artist whose work I greatly admire and it did not disappoint. I cannot profess to love all of his pieces, indeed some of it (and here the baby pincushion springs to mind) is highly disturbing, yet there is something truly captivating about his work, even in the simplest of his doodles scribbled on newspaper or napkins.

Walking through the exhibition and seeing Burton’s art first hand felt like being in the presence of real genius and whether you are a fan like me or whether you perhaps only like one or two of his characters you would be hard pressed not to feel impressed or inspired by this collection. Having seen the concept work and development first hand I will now look forward to watching his films through again with a more familiar eye and falling in love with the details all over again.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises...

For so long it seems I have been speculating about what would happen in the final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and getting over excited about trailers and teasers. Now, finally, I know what happened, and without spoilers here are my immediate reflections on the movie.

When I left the cinema at the end I was tingling with excitement and adrenaline and desperate to go and watch it again, which in fact I did a few days later and had the same reaction the second time. It seems so rare these days that a film leaves you with such a feeling but this one did in abundance. In fact the whole movie was a fairly emotional rollercoaster amidst the action and intrigue and I felt satisfied with the way the story had progressed.

The threat to Gotham was renewed again, with new villain Bane taking centre stage in the plot, although there were far more new characters on the scene than just Bane. I also found myself grinning like a maniac at several points of the film when things just worked perfectly and tied in with the previous films, but I will leave you to discover your own grinning moments.

The complexity of the plot was in keeping with the rest of the series and I know it is one of those films that I will not only enjoy each time I see it, I will spot things I had not noticed before. This is not sugar coated Batman, it is as tragic and tortured as it is powerful, and the conclusion to Nolan’s series, if indeed it is to be a conclusion, certainly worked for me.

Elloise Hopkins.