Books on Film: Catching Fire

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Catching Fire (Photo: Lionsgate Films)I went to see the second instalment of The Hunger Games series this weekend in IMAX with my dad. First reaction? YES YES YES!

I’m a big Hunger Games fan. They’re the first books I ever bought on my Kindle without any kind of recommendation from a friend or reading a review in the newspaper. Amazon included The Hunger Games in a list of recommended titles for me on my Kindle based on my previous purchases. I was in an airport flying back to Sydney from the Sunshine Coast in July 2011 and thought why not? It was under $10 and looked pretty interesting.

By the time the flight touched down in Sydney an hour later, I was hooked. I was more than hooked. I immediately downloaded Catching Fire and Mockingjay and devoured them on the ferry on my commute to work over the next week. Katniss is one of the best things to happen to girls in teen fiction in a long, long time. She’s smart and sassy and badass. She is sort of like the hunter-gatherer dystopian Veronica Mars without the mystery-solving (no? Is that just me?). I think I might dress up like Katniss for Halloween next year.

I saw the first Hunger Games movie on opening night. As a standalone film, I loved it. I loved Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Actually, the casting is pretty perfect across the board, especially Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland (did you know that I am pretty sure I saw Donald Sutherland at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010? It was either him or just a nice older French man). I loved seeing the Capitol and the arena brought to life. But there were some really important scenes that they either downplayed or that weren’t as important in the movie as in the book. The Katniss/Rue dynamic, for example, was much more moving in the book, and there wasn’t much in the way of backstory in terms of the Everdeen family, etc. There were times where I felt like the movie sacrificed heart and emotion for action. I know I’m not alone in this critique, and so I hoped that for Catching Fire, they were able to find a way to make a movie that was more faithful to the spirit of the book, as well as the events of the book.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Catching Fire is great. Like, really great. There are a few things that go unexplained or are downplayed – the impact of Peeta painting a detailed picture of Rue on the floor during his skills demonstration, for example, never really gets a lot of explanation – but for the most part, it’s very faithful to the book. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair is pretty much perfect, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee was a really excellent surprise. Elizabeth Banks does a nice job of bringing some sympathetic humanity to Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch is even better than he was the first time around.

Catching Fire is one of those infuriating middle child books like Insurgent and the Girl Who Played With Fire, where the story ends on a cliffhanger.  The movie ends with just enough closure that I’ll be able to sleep at night until Mockingjay: Part 1 next November, but only just. If you haven’t seen it, go. Go now.

(Also, make sure you’re there early enough for the previews, because March 2014 is the new Divergent movie and this was my first look at what it’s going to be like. The trailer looks pretty spectacular. Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews? Yes please! But is it just me or does Four look a little older than he was in my mind? At any rate, this might be an outing for my book club in a few months. Divergent was the first book we read together last spring!)

The Husband’s Secret

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The Husband's Secret (Photo credit: Penguin US)At first, I wasn’t sure about The Husband’s Secret, which came into my hands after my mom’s book club read it last month and she passed it on to me.

“What’s the husband’s secret?” asked Matt when he saw it on my coffee table. “I bet he’s having an affair.” That was my exact thought too. Oh no. Not another book where someone has an affair. As you might remember from back when I read Petite Anglaise, affairs – even literary ones – are not cool in my books. I kind of feel like they’ve been done to death (with the notable exception of the affairs in Gillian Flynn’s excellent Gone Girl, which I read at the end of 2012 and I thought was full of fascinating and necessary plot twists, including affairs. It also helped that both of the main characters were so intriguingly repulsive and removed from reality that I didn’t really care what they got up to).

But fortunately, The Husband’s Secret is not that he is having an affair, but a different sort of secret altogether. And while the cover of this book is very floral, its contents are decidedly not. Without spoiling the surprises in the story, I can see why this is such a popular book club pick. There’s a lot going on in The Husband’s Secret, including three very strong female lead characters who have plenty of personality and some great younger girl characters with authentic, individual voices that I liked very much.

I also loved that the majority of this book is set in Sydney’s northern suburbs and beaches, where I lived for close to two years from early 2011 to late 2012. At one point, a couple of characters end up at Dee Why Beach, which is an absolutely lovely place – especially if you like Thai food served family style with oceanfront views (are there any people in the world who do not like this? If so, I don’t really care to meet them).

It’s a pretty quick read (I polished it off in two evenings) and kept my brain ticking the day after I read the last page. All in all, I’d recommend this to anyone who likes a good twisty marriage-related mystery in the style of SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep, fiction set in Australia or a thriller that’s still gentle enough to read at bedtime.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Photo credit: Crown Publishing)Last weekend, I ventured north of Edmonton for the first time ever. Matt lives in a village about four hours north-west of Edmonton, and while I’ve travelled to many parts of the world, I’ve never driven for seven hours straight in my own province before. Or seven hours straight anywhere as the sole occupant of a car before. But Matt is awesome, I have an adventurous spirit and I like driving. So after class on Friday, I packed up my Toyota Yaris with a suitcase, a bag of books and a blueberry pie and hit the road.

This was either going to be the beginning of a very sweet romantic comedy (city girl heads north for rural weekend, brings homemade pie, charms local townsfolk, etc.) or the Worst Horror Film Ever. I must admit that I did have a “What am I getting myself into?” moment when I started seeing the signs for ‘Moose Row’ everywhere. (We actually did see a dead moose up there one day returning from Peace River, so these fears were not completely unfounded.)

But happily, the drive passed without major incident (just minor snow flurries), and for a large portion of it, Mindy Kaling kept me company with the audiobook version of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

I have mixed opinions on audiobooks. On one hand, I love, love, love Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe stories, as well as the podcasts of his wonderful CBC show. It doesn’t hurt that I got to meet him a couple of times when he was a professor at Ryerson University and I was a star-struck first-year student. He was always very kind. But on the other hand, I was given Eckhart Tolle’s audiobook The Power of Now by an Australian acquaintance who thought I looked ‘stressed’ during my last months in Sydney before I returned home to Canada. While it is a very useful book with lots of good ideas in it that did help during my stressful situation, there’s just something about his voice that knocks me out in about ten minutes flat. Seriously. If you can’t sleep, try The Power of Now audiobook. Works like a charm every time for me. So Mindy was a bit of an experiment.

Jen Chaney of The Washington Post describes Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? as “a breezy, intermittently amusing and somewhat unfocused first essay collection.” She’s not wrong. I liked Mindy well enough – and especially more in the second half when she started talking about putting together her play Matt & Ben and writing on The Office – but Tina Fey and Ellen DeGeneres set the standard pretty high when it comes to comedic memoir-style essays.

There were moments where I had to take a break from Mindy to put in a CD for awhile (The Tragically Hip, a live John Mayer album, the latest Serena Ryder and Jake Bugg, if you must know), but there were other times where I did a little fist pump and actually said, out loud, “Yeah, you go Mindy!” Near the end, she has the kind of observations about her friends’ relationships that from time to time, I have about my friends’ relationships (you see this, married and coupled-up friends? I’m observing you. In a completely noncreepy, ethnographic way, of course).

Mindy writes (or says, I guess, because it’s an audiobook): “I don’t want to hear about the endless struggles to keep sex exciting, or the work it takes to plan a date night. I want to hear that you guys watch every episode of The Bachelorette together in secret shame, or that one got the other hooked on Breaking Bad and if either watches it without the other, they’re dead meat. I want to see you guys high-five each other like teammates on a recreational softball team you both do for fun.”

And because I want that too, I gave Mindy Kaling a little air high five in my car. And I’m willing to give audiobooks another try.

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