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Book Review: Gidion's Hunt by Bill Blume

Gidion's Hunt by Bill Blume review

Gidion Keep is a teenage vampire hunter upholding a long Keep family tradition of hunting. When Gidion’s mother died at the hands of a vampire, Gidion’s father quit the business and it fell to Gidion’s grandfather to train Gidion in secret and pass on the legacy.

When Gidion saves a woman from a vicious vampire attack, he is stunned when she recognises him. It turns out the secrecy of his craft is the least of his worries for as Gidion closes in on the local vampire coven, he uncovers a deadly plot to kill off a student and a teacher. Worse yet, the vampires know they are being hunted but it may just be that Gidion’s biggest threat lies within his own group of friends at high school.

Gidion’s Hunt is the first novel by Bill Blume and the first in the Gidion Keep, Vampire Hunter series. Originally titled Tales of a 10th Grade Vampire Hunter, Gidion’s Hunt is not just another vampire novel. Blume has written as realistic a novel as possible, focusing not on the vampires themselves but on the type of person that would put themselves in danger in order to hunt and destroy monsters.

The novel is gritty, fast-paced and entertaining. Gidion is a likeable hero and just the right shade of bad boy. Blume pulls no punches and the vampires are pretty nasty at times, reducing their victims to mindless slaves or worse, draining them of blood and killing them.

I really enjoyed the high school dynamics and was reminded of Joss Whedon and the high-school-as-Hell metaphor that we saw in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Just like in high school, loyalties are fickle, only valid for as long as they provide social capital, and Gidion is left wondering who he can trust right until the very last page.

Gidion's HuntGidion’s unconventional relationship with intended vampire victim Tamara is another highlight of the plot. Rather than endless pages of angst and insecurity, they really just get on with it despite their age difference.

Without giving the plot away, the best aspect of the story is the reveal of the Big Bad and the motives driving their actions. In an ultimate display of scorn, insecurity and revenge, the actions and decisions of the Big Bad were realistic and chilling.

Ultimately, Gidion’s Hunt would be a four star book but for one thing: the rampant misogyny of the male characters. You’d expect that a book featuring a male vampire hunter as a protagonist might only be read by boys but you’d be wrong – the primarily readers of young adult fiction are females, of all ages, and we don’t like being referred to as whores and bitches.

I’m glad that Blume has released Gidion’s Blood, the second book in the series, and I’m definitely going to read it but I do hope he tones down the misogyny before he alienates a good part of his readership.

With that in mind, I give Gidion’s Hunt a qualified three out of five stars. I would definitely recommend it to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Teen Wolf and I will be reading the next books in the series.

3 Stars

You can buy Gidion's Hunt at Amazon.co.uk for £1.99 on Kindle or Amazon.com.

 

 

DIOYY Reunite for One Last Gig, Yeah

I’ll never forget the dark day when Does It Offend You, Yeah? announced that they were disbanding. Months after the release of their iconic second album Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You the band announced that it was all over.

Well, there is good news for DIOYY fans: the band is reuniting for one last gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden on 12 December 2015. Naturally I made sure to secure my own tickets before announcing this fact to the world but you’ll be happy to know that there are still DIOYY tickets available on the Electric Ballroom website.

If you don’t live in London and you’d like to go bother the band for a gig in your town, you can do it via Twitter @DIOYY or Facebook. While you’re there, beg them to release another album.

DIOYY 12 December 2015

Film Review: War Book (2015)

War Book

Who wants to play war? During the Cold War, British Civil Servants met on a regular basis to play out scenarios of a nuclear attack. Their war games were deadly serious and they formed the basis of a document setting out government protocol in the event of a nuclear attack. This document became known as the War Book.

What if these war games took place today? Directed by Tom Harper and written by Jack Thorne, War Book takes place over just three days in a nondescript boardroom in the House of Commons. Nine civil servants are presented with a scenario of a nuclear attack in Mumbai by Pakistani government-backed extremists. Tensions are already high in the room before the session begins with old rivalries arising and clear antagonism between several of the participants.

War Book cast

The group moves to focus on the matter at hand and with alarming rapidity the position descends into military readiness, closed borders and the quarantine of returning British citizens. This is only day one and as the more experienced members of the team move through the motions with sharp precision, several of the younger members balk at the enormity of the decisions being made.

And the situation is enormous. The viewer is watching from the safety of their sitting room  while the team battle a fictional scenario from the safety of their boardroom and yet somehow the full weight of their predicament is conveyed on screen. Principles of self-preservation and civil liberties clash as the group struggle to comprehend the full global impact of a nuclear attack on the other side of the world.

Shaun Evans as Tom in War Book

War Book is, in a word, superb. Filmed almost entirely in the boardroom, the strength of the film lies in the performances of the nine actors. Shaun Evans (Endeavour) gives an inspired performance as the troubled and conflicted Tom. With his unwavering focus on the morality of the group’s decisions, Tom paints an increasingly lonely figure as the often sole source of dissent in the room.

Sophie Okonedo War Book

Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) is powerful in her role as Philippa, chair of the proceedings and acting Secretary of State. Philippa is the only real source of authority in the room and is tasked with dampening rising tempers and uniting an increasingly discordant group.

War Book is an evocative film that raises endless questions. Just as the audience feels they have figured it all out, another ethical conundrum is dropped and the deadly consequences of inaction become ever more apparent. Long after the final credits, the viewer is left turning over the inevitability of the chosen course of action in their mind.

The film is a chilling insight into how quickly a situation like this would escalate and how fragile the current world order truly is. I believe that this film would do extremely well on stage and look forward to a theatre adaptation.

I give War Book a superb five out of five stars and would highly recommend that you catch the film when it airs on BBC Four on 11 August 2015 at 10pm

5 Stars

Book Review: Thirteen Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt

Thirteen Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt

There is nothing ordinary about Luke Manchett. Good looking and popular, Luke is on the rugby team, has his eye on the beautiful Holiday Simmon and is not above teasing local outcasts like Elza Moss. The problem with treating people badly, is you never know when you might need their help.

That day arrives when Luke's estranged father dies and bequeaths to him a most unusual inheritance. Lured into signing a document with the promise of untold riches, Luke accepts ownership of the Host, a collection of restless and vengeful spirits. When it becomes clear that Luke has no idea how to control them, the spirits become increasingly belligerent, hell-bent on exacting revenge for being enslaved for so many years.

As Halloween approaches, Luke realises that aside from his deerhound Ham, he has only one ally and everyone he knows and cares for is in danger.

Thirteen Days of Midnight is the stunning debut by author Leo Hunt. Hunt began writing the story in his first year at the University of East Anglia when he was just 19 and he has said that it arose from a desire to write something he would have wanted to read when he was a teenager. In that, he has been more than successful.

Thirteen Days of Midnight is fast-paced, exciting and extremely entertaining. I loved the idea of the Host and especially liked that each of the eight ghosts had a distinct personality and purpose. The Host exceeded my expectations in their capacity for evil and Hunt pulls no punches as the spirits impose their will and run riot across town.

Luke Manchett is a fabulous anti-hero, the popular boy-turned-outcast who gets his comeuppance when all his so-called friends desert him as soon as things get weird. Written in the first person, from Luke’s point of view, Thirteen Days of Midnight sucks the reader into Luke’s impossible predicament from the very first page and doesn’t release them until the nail-biting, breathtaking finale.

If Luke is falling from high school grace, it is the former outcast Elza who proves to be a more than formidable and competent force in the book. Without divulging any spoilers, I will say that I loved that traditional roles were reversed and that true character triumphed over popularity.

My favourite character in the book was Luke’s cowardly deerhound Ham. I haven’t encountered a canine character this well-written since Garth Nix’s Disreputable Dog, star of his novels Lirael and Abhorsen. Hunt is obviously a very observant dog-lover and he has said that he based the character on his deerhound Ruby.

Fans of Thirteen Days of Midnight will be thrilled to know that a sequel is in the works. Leo Hunt has confirmed that he has written a draft of the sequel, to be called Eight Rivers of Shadow, and it will hopefully be released in Summer 2016. I love the title and cannot wait for this release.

Thirteen Days of Midnight is the most entertaining and original fantasy or paranormal young adult novel I’ve read in a long time and has immediately made me a fan of Leo Hunt’s work. I have no hesitation in giving Thirteen Days of Midnight an excellent five out of five stars and would recommend it to all lovers of young adult paranormal fiction. You can buy Thirteen Days of Midnight at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

5 Stars

Film Review: The Third Man (1949) (4K Restoration)

The Third Man courtesy of Studiocanal 06

It’s been hailed as one of the best British films of all time and this summer Carol Reed’s 1949 classic The Third Man is back in theatres following a stunning 4K restoration by Studiocanal and Deluxe Restoration.

Starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles, The Third Man is a story of mystery, betrayal and intrigue set in post-war Vienna. American writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in Vienna only to find that his host and lifelong friend Harry Lime has died under mysterious circumstances. Increasingly suspicious of inconsistencies in the accounts of Lime’s death, Holly begins to conduct an investigation of his own into the demise of his friend.

In his search for the elusive third man known to have been at the scene of Lime’s accident, Holly befriends Lime’s grief-stricken lover Anna (Alida Valli) and the pair soon find themselves on the radar of the British investigating officer Major Calloway (Trevor Howard). With the stakes ever increasing and danger lurking in every shadow, will Holly get to the bottom of the mystery before he is forced to leave Vienna?

The Third Man courtesy of Studiocanal 04

The Third Man is superb in every way. Nearly 70 years after it first captivated audiences, the film remains as suspenseful and artistic as it did back in the days before colour and CGI. This is a film that was crying out for a restoration and it was some years since the film was seen in cinemas.

The film is shot entirely in black and white and much of the action takes place at night yet the clarity of the production is incredible. The story is told as much through the script and dialogue as it is through the use of shadows, lighting and imposing angles. With the aid of the 4K restoration, it felt almost possible at times to know how it must have felt to walk through the destruction and calamity of post-war Vienna with crumbling buildings and danger at every corner.

The script was penned by novelist and scriptwriter Graham Greene, known also for Brighton Rock and The End of the Affair. The script is triumphant in its mastery of suspense and I had no idea of the twists and turns in the story until the last possible moment. What I enjoyed most about the script was that there were no easy solutions and no happy ending to wrap it all up in the end.

The Third Man courtesy of Studiocanal 12

The Third Man is notable for excellent performances from the whole cast. I really enjoyed Joseph Cotten in his role as the determined and tenacious Holly Martins and Alida Valli and the legendary Orson Welles gave fine performances too. It was Trevor Howard in his role as Major Calloway that most caught my eye and I can see why he captivated the hearts and imaginations of bygone generations of film lovers.

A final mention must go to the distinctive theme tune and film soundtrack performed by then-unknown composer Anton Karas. Carol Reed discovered Karas playing in the wine gardens of Vienna and brought him to London for six weeks to record the soundtrack for the film. It would be super to see a corresponding remastered release of the soundtrack to tie in with the film release.

The 4K restoration of The Third Man is out now in selected theatres and is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 20 July 2015. The home entertainment release is packed full of extra features including “Joseph Cotten’s alternative opening voiceover narration” which I actually preferred to Carol Reed’s narration.

The feature “Restoring The Third Man” was especially interesting too in the discussion of the photo chemical restoration of the film and the number of sources that were collected and scanned at 4K. I also enjoyed “The Third Man – A Filmmaker’s Influence” where Martin Scorsese, Ben Wheatley and others discussed the impact that the film made on them as filmmakers.

Other features include audio interviews with Joseph Cotten and Graham Greene, a brand new 4K trailer and the featurette “Shadowing the Third Man”.

I give The Third Man a superb five out of five stars.

5 Stars

The 4K restoration of The Third Man is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20 July 2015 courtesy of Studiocanal. You can buy The Third Man from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

The Third Man courtesy of Studiocanal 01

All images © Studiocanal

Book Review: The Stars Never Rise by Rachel Vincent

The Stars Never Rise Rachel Vincent

Stop me if you've heard this one before. In a not-so-distant future, the human race is under threat and a massive church-like structure has emerged to control the populace and protect them against the threat.

In Rachel Vincent’s The Stars Never Rise, that threat is a shortage of souls and the emergence of soul-devouring demons, and the church-like structure is The Church.

While I'll give credence to the author for the originality of the souls idea, its manifestation as still births and the subsequent attempts of those in authority to control reproduction sound like something straight out of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

Perhaps at this point I should stop to point out that Rachel Vincent is one of my favourite authors and if this book has come out ten years ago, I would probably have loved it. Not only is it fast-paced and entertaining, set in a dystopian nightmare, but it provides a searing critique of right-wing tendencies and the dangers inherent when church and state are too closely aligned.

The problem is that at this point, it is just another dystopian book and as much as I want to love anything that Rachel Vincent pens, I'm overcome with the glaring similarities to other works.

Take Finn for example, a human soul without a body but one that is able to possess other bodies (in a good way, of course). The body-snatchers idea feels like Stephenie Meyer's The Host which in itself was taken from a whole genre of B movies dating back to the dawn of Hollywood. The bodiless soul idea reminded me a a little too much of Gena Showalter's Intertwined and the idea of walled cities and badlands reminded me both of Lauren Oliver's Delirium and Julie Kagawa's Blood of Eden series.

There was also another snag. As much as I love Rachael Vincent, I just couldn't reconcile the notion of finite souls. To me there are both new souls and reincarnation and for some reason I couldn't suspend disbelief enough to consider a finite number of souls (if you can use that term when dealing with the purely esoteric).

The Stars Never Rise Rachel Vincent coverI guess the ultimate measure of young adult book is whether it makes you snort with derision and The Stars Never Rise made me snort. Out loud. It was towards the end and Nina had only just admitted she couldn't make out the colour of a car in the dark when she mentions Finn's bright green eyes. Again. For the 1,000th time. I'm fairly new to this notion of the Young Adult fiction stereotype of green eyes (having green eyes myself and never noticing they were rare or overused) but I can see why readers are becoming so irritated by this particular stereotype.

So how would I rate this book and would I recommend it? I would definitely recommend The Stars Never Rise if you are new to the realm of dystopian fiction or if you're going through that phase where you simply can't get enough of it. You'll love it, it's good and you'll likely finish it in one sitting. But if you're about to pick it up and you're wondering if you have the energy for yet another dystopian young adult adventure? Maybe give it a miss.

With a heavy heart, I give The Stars Never Rise a disappointing 2 out of 5 stars. It feels strange to do so because really, what was I expecting? I doubt I'll read the next in the series and quite frankly, I'd prefer it if Vincent returned to more unusual urban fantasy like we saw in Soul Screamers and the Unbound series.

2 Stars

You can buy The Stars Never Rise at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Ant-Sized Cinema Tickets Hidden Across the UK


To celebrate the release of Marvel's Ant-Man on Friday 17 July, IMAX and Marvel are hiding 100 ant-sized tickets in cities across the UK. 

IMAX and Marvel are putting the British public’s powers of close observation to the test this week in the name of Marvel’s latest superhero adventure.

From Thursday 16 July, one hundred ant-sized IMAX tickets will be hidden around three UK cities – London, Manchester and Birmingham – to celebrate the IMAX® 3D release of Ant-Man in UK cinemas this Friday.

The tiny tickets, each measuring just 5 x 10mm, can be exchanged for tickets to the most epic cinematic experience of Ant-Man at IMAX cinemas across London, Manchester and Birmingham.  

Clues to the locations of the tickets will be posted on IMAX’s twitter page at www.twitter.com/imax beginning today. Those who are successful in their hunt will be encouraged to tweet a selfie with their tiny ticket to @IMAX using the hashtag #IMAXAntMan.

The tickets will be left at various spots around the cities, each accompanied by a magnifying glass to aid the search.

Book Review: Blood & Ink by Stephen Davies

Stephen Davies Blood & Ink review

April 2012. After capturing Kidal and Gao, Islamic militants Defenders of the Faith and Tuareg rebels advance on the historic town of Timbuktu in Mali. As locals scramble to hide their ancient manuscripts, the perimeters of the town are breached and extremists begin their campaign to destroy holy shrines and monuments.

Caught in the middle of this chaos are two teenagers. Ali is a child soldier, plucked from his life as a Fulani herdboy and radicalised into a regime of Islamic extremism. With a Kalashnikov in his hands and religious teachings on his tongue, at 16 years old Ali is willing to die for his cause.

Kadija is the oldest daughter of Guardian Diallo, keeper of the sacred manuscripts of Timbuktu. Curated over thousands of years, these manuscripts record legends dating back to biblical times and one day Kadi will fulfil a lifetime of training and join the Guardians.

When these two teenagers meet in a time of war and destruction, they cannot help but notice each other. Ali is perplexed by Kadi's defiance and strength of spirit and Kadi in turn is intrigued by this pious boy who performs the optional midnight prayers.

Stephen Davies Blood & Ink coverAs the story develops, author Stephen Davies pulls no punches in describing the horror and cruelty of the extremist occupation of Timbuktu. With murders and public lashings, the stakes become ever higher and the time will come when both Ali and Kadi must make a painful choice between loyalty, responsibility and friendship.

Blood & Ink further establishes Stephen Davies as one of the most important young adult authors of our time. This is a remarkable piece of historical fiction which focuses on an area of Africa young people often know little about. As the characters in the book lament, most Westerners haven't even heard of Timbuktu and if they have, they think it is an imaginary place.

With its focus on recent historical events that continue to be relevant today and themes of love, duty, betrayal, morality and religion, the book provides endless topics for dialogue and debate.

Blood & Ink is the fourth book that Stephen Davies has written in the young adult category in addition to several children's books. I reviewed his novel Outlaw in 2011 and gave it a four star review.

I give Blood & Ink by Stephen Davies a superb five out of five stars and and eagerly await Stephen’s next young adult release. I would highly recommend the book to middle graders and adults alike.

5 Stars

Buy Blood & Ink by Stephen Davies from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Horror Film Review: Can't Come Out to Play (2013)

Cant Come Out to Play banner

Small town America. A teenager moves in with her grandparents following the death of her parents. She befriends a bedridden boy and together they begin to explore the world outside his room. What's the worst that can happen? Well, something is seriously amiss in the boy's home and it soon becomes clear that his mother is doing something to him.

Can't Come Out to Play (formerly known as The Harvest) is a chilling psychological thriller starring Natasha Calis (The Possession) as Maryann, Charlie Tahan as Andy and Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon as Andy's parents Katherine and Richard Young. The film is directed by John McNaughton and features acclaimed actor Peter Fonda (Easy Rider) as Maryann's grandfather.

Natasha Calis in Can't Come Out to Play

The tension takes place mostly in Andy's house where Maryann and Andy must steal precious moments together to play ball and be normal teenagers while avoiding the critical eye of Katherine who most definitely doesn't want Andy to have any visitors.

As their friendship begins to evolve, Maryann tries to come to terms with why Andy's mother doesn't like her and doesn't want her there. Still reeling from the loss of her parents, she takes it personally until one day when she is trapped in the house and she discovers the Young's terrible secret.

Can't Come Out to Play is an enjoyable film. Perhaps not as scary as one might expect from the film poster but thrilling nonetheless. Natasha Calis gives a strong performance as Maryann and is certainly a young actor to look out for in the future. In her role as Katherine Young, Samantha Morton provides a disturbing insight into the lengths a mother will go to protect her child. Samantha Morton in Can't Come Out to Play

There was something slightly off about the direction in the film though. As an Oscar nominee, Morton is capable of far more than this script provided and rather than letting the tension play out naturally, certain scenes were definitely over-acted.

Michael Shannon did well to deliver his part as the brooding and conflicted Richard but even he could not mask the clumsy delivery of the reveal and resolution. Nevertheless, I definitely did not expect the twist towards the end of the film and had not guessed the true picture at all.

Charlie Tahan and Michael Shannon in Cant Come Out to Play

Can't Come Out to Play would certainly have benefitted from a more subtle delivery and could have been quite a chilling commentary on the depravity of two parents and the depths to which they descend to dehumanise a child in order to achieve their goals.

Check out the trailer below:

I give Can't Come Out to Play an okay three out of five stars and recommend it for Monday night viewing.

3 Stars

Can't Come Out to Play is out on DVD and digital platforms from 22 June 2015, courtesy of Signature Entertainment. You can buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Blu-ray Review: The Loft (2015)

The Loft

Five married friends and a loft apartment used exclusively for extra-marital affairs - what can possibly go wrong? They think they've been very clever but misogyny comes home to roost in Erik Van Looy's latest thriller The Loft.

Based on Van Looy's own Belgian thriller Loft, the film is set against the backdrop of a gorgeous penthouse apartment and the lives of the rich and very privileged. It features an all-star cast including Karl Urban (Star Trek), James Marsden (X-Men), Wentworth Miller (Prison Break), Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) and Matthias Schoenaerts who starred in the originally Belgian version.

Karl Urban, Eric Stonestreet and Wentworth Miller in The Loft

When real estate agent Luke Seacord (Wentworth Miller) lets himself into the loft apartment he shares with four of his friends, he discovers a most grisly scene. On the bed in the middle of the posh apartment is the body of a woman, murdered and covered in blood. He wastes no time in calling his friends. There are only five keys to the apartment and it becomes increasingly clear that someone has set them up.

Told through a series of flashbacks and police interviews, a tale emerges of a morally bankrupt group of friends who will stop at nothing to feed their desires and take advantage of women. But who cared enough to frame them and how did they choose the victim?

James Marsden in The Loft

I thoroughly enjoyed The Loft and it wasn’t only because I am particularly fond of Wentworth Miller, James Marsden and Karl Urban. The film is visually beautiful with views of the apartment and surrounding city interspersed with high society parties and events. Erik Van Looy does a great job of weaving the tale together and I was certainly not prepared for the twist at the end.

As ringleader of the misogynistic little gang, Karl Urban was pretty convincing as the nasty womaniser Vincent Stevens but it was James Marsden who stole the show as the conflicted rogue-with-a-conscience Chris Vanowen who goes and falls in love with a professional.

In addition to the male leads, The Loft featured some of my favourite female actresses including Elaine Cassidy (Ghost Squad), Rhona Mitra (Strike Back) and Valerie Cruz (Dexter). It was an impressive cast but I would have liked to see more of these actresses – perhaps we can hope for The Loft 2?

I give The Loft an excellent four out of five stars and with the all-star cast would recommend to fans of just about every film and TV series in the last decade. .

4 Stars

The Loft is out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms from 15 June 2015, courtesy of Signature Entertainment. You can buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

 

 

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