Sunday, March 22, 2015

Movie review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Although the essence of the book is there, Insurgent diverges almost completely from the book. 

Disclaimer: This review originally appeared on Women24 as well as Women24's sister site, Channel24

Veronica Roth’s Divergent books is one of my favourite series to date.  Having devoured both the books and the Divergent film adaptation (which I surprisingly really enjoyed), I’ve been looking forward to seeing how the Insurgent movie would play out.

While it isn’t without its flaws, Insurgent is probably one of the better book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen.

I admit this grudgingly because I’m a book purist at heart and, as such, tend to appreciate films that remain as true to the novel as possible.

This is exactly why I spent half my time enjoying the cinematic and visual fest and half my time thinking “this is not how it was in the book.”

With Robert Schwentke in the director’s seat this time around, Insurgent isn’t so much of a direct adaptation as it is an interpretation of the novel.  In fact, Divergent’s film rendition is probably a lot closer to the book than Insurgent is.

The essence of the book is certainly there, and if you’ve read the book, you’ll certainly recognise many of the elements the movie includes.

What changes, however, is the following:

The dialogue and character interaction. 

This didn’t bother me as much as I expected to, but I think that it’s because so many of the actors and actresses I’ve seen in motion picture screenings based on books, fail to accurately capture the tone of the book dialogue (I’m looking at you Fault In Our Stars, which ironically enough, features Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, who are cast in the role of brother and sister in this trilogy).

In fact, I dare say that Tris and Four (Woodley and Theo James) relate a lot better towards each other on-screen than they did in the first movie, where a huge chunk of the novel’s dialogue formed a large part of the film.

I have to go on to add that I was also impressed with Kate Winslet’s performance in the role of the cold and ruthless Jeanine Matthews.  While James and Woodley’s acting is certainly strong, Winslet, for the on-screen time that she gets, certainly adds an extra oomph that I really enjoyed seeing.

Something else that changes in the movie is that the people responsible for killing certain people in the books aren’t the same in the movie.  I’ll leave you to work out who I’m talking about (top tip: you should probably give the book a reread before you watch the movie).

The biggest disappointment for me though, is that with this interpretation of the movie, characters that played huge roles in the book are downplayed and relegated to minor roles, something which I felt, took the whole “team spirit” evident in the books away from the movie. Some of the characters that really made a huge impact in the book, were either not featured or just not given enough face time.

And, big surprise, many of those characters just so happened to be black. Oh, wait, that’s not a surprise at all.

The books clearly show how certain characters from various factions unite and stand together to fight, while in the movies, this is mostly glossed over.

Visually though, the movie was an absolute blast.

With 3D effects, CGI and beautiful and scenic panning, Insurgent certainly is an epic and cinematic  piece of entertainment that should definitely be experienced on the big screen.

If you can look past the niggles, I daresay you’ll probably enjoy it more than Divergent. 

My final take on it is that as a book adaptation it fails, but as an interpretation of the novel (and there IS a difference), it’s a pretty decent effort.

Go out and see the movie. You could do a lot worse

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book review: Unteachable by Leah Reader

What would you do if you discovered that the man you had a one night stand with, is also your new film studies teacher?

This review appeared first on, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

You can purchase a copy of the book via

Unteachable by Leah Raeder(Published by Atria in 2013)
I am not a fan of New Adult fiction.  Really I’m not.  From what I’ve previously experienced, books belonging to this genre have shown itself to be incredibly problematic for so many reasons. 

The main problem for me, is that whenever I’m reading a book that falls within this category, I always feel like I’m reading the same book with just a different cover (although, I should add that even the covers tend to feel the same).

Thus, Leah Reader’s Unteachable is not a concept that hasn’t been done before.

In fact, in almost every genre, you’ll always find that one story that’s littered with some form of illicit romance (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*).

Not everyone gets this right though, and it’s particularly problematic within the new adult fiction market, simply because of how badly the relationship dynamic is portrayed.

When I first picked up Unteachable, I was certainly not expecting to be wowed, and yet, from the moment I started reading, Leah’s beautiful and exquisitely lyrical prose had me floating on a cloud of literary heaven.

I found myself swept up in the drama, (amazingly enough) rooting for this twisted relationship and really having an appreciation for the way that the icky subjects were handled.

In the beginning of the novel, we first meet 18-year old Maise O’ Malley at a carnival. Maise is bold, brash, sexually mature and completely owns her confidence.  She’s the kind of character that not everyone will warm up to at first, simply because she comes across as being incredibly abrasive and sexually aggressive.

Frankly, I found myself really liking her.

So, often when men are portrayed in this manner, they’re labelled as being cocky and confident, and yet, are still seen as likeable; but when the roles are reversed and you come across characters like Maise, who is so self-aware of the power her physical beauty holds over men, then labels like “slutty” and “vain” are quickly thrown around.

To see Leah Raeder tackling this sexist double-standard head on is nothing short of refreshing - and so very welcome.

When Maise meets Evan at the carnival, the attraction is immediate and intense. After hooking up, she’s convinced she’ll never see him again – and usually, that’s something she’d prefer.

Except, this time around, she can’t stop thinking about him.

When she enrolls into film school, she doesn’t expect to see him again, except that when she  finally does, she discovers that he’s her new film studies teacher. 

Of course they do try to stay away from each other, but the chemistry between them proves to be too irresistible; and before long, they find themselves hurtling headlong into a relationship punctuated with secrets, lies and more passion than both of them can handle.

It’s not long before life throws both of them yet another curveball and the two are left to pick up the pieces and examine their own pasts before they can even think of the possibility of having a future together. 

Leah Raeder’s Unteachable is truly an impressive book.  It’s well-written and deals with a variety of hard-hitting topics in a manner that is realistic, touching and daringly honest.

From issues of abandonment and drug abuse, to stalking and capturing the essence of a taboo romance, it is an excellent read.

It’s the kind of book that’s not meant to make you feel comfortable, but rather to reflect on the characters’ actions and how their home life impacts on the decisions that lead them on their way.

I’m not here to say that I was rooting for the student-teacher couple (even though this relationship is very well drawn out); instead I’m here to commend this book for highlighting the messed up dynamics of a story that touches on topics that are often swept under the carpet and diluted with water to make it more palatable.

Give it a read.  I, for one, am glad that I did.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Discussion post + Beastkeeper winner announcement: your favourite fairy tale recommendations

Hello book lovelies

I’m so sorry for only posting this now, but between letting my time run away from me and dealing with an unwelcome stint of flu, I really didn’t have a chance to sit down and write a new blog post.

Thankfully, I’ve got a bit of time right now, so in tonight’s post I’ll be announcing the Beastkeeper winner (yay), and featuring your fantastic recommendations in response to my quest for more retellings and modern adaptations of fairy tales.

I also have to mention that I’ve finally finished reading Beastkeeper (review should be up by end of the week or early next week for the absolute latest) and can tell you that you’re in for an absolute treat.

So without further ado, congratulations AnotherLibrarian – you’re the recipient of a book filled with beautiful and bittersweet prose, twisty, thorny imagery and the story of one brave and resilient young girl who refuses to give up in the face of life and magic’s harshest obstacles.

Please get in touch with me tammybell78(at)gmail(dot)com and provide me with your details so that I can order your copy asap.

You have 48 hours to respond, after which I’ll select another winner should you not have responded by then.

More giveaways will be coming your way shortly, so be on the lookout for that.

In the meantime, I asked you to tell me about your fairy tale favourites/recommendations and here are your awesome responses:

 Winner response: AnotherLibrarian

My favourite fairy tale is the Xhosa story of the Girl and the Mbulu - I heard it at a young age and it always stuck with me as it was so different from the stock European fairy tales I had read up until then.

My favourite retelling is Tinder by Sally Gardner - a retelling of The Tinderbox by H.C. Anderson


My favorite is indeed Beauty and the Beast! It was this realistic (not in the magic sense) story of the unlikely characters ending up together.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and never judge a person by what they look like. It’s such a lesson filled story and it is a very fun creative story too - best of all possible worlds!


My favorite fairy tale is The Town Musicians of Bremen. I loved that it was animal focused and they totally owned those thieves and managed  to live happily ever after. Yay for happily ever after.

Recently I enjoyed a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman - Smoke and Mirrors and it includes a few fairy tale adaptions. My favourites: Snow, Glass Apples (Snow White) and Troll Bridge (Three Billy Goats Gruff).


My favourite fairytale is Rumpelstiltskin. I know he steals kids to eat them and all that, but come on, if you’re gonna make a deal with a little magical being, at least be ready to suffer the consequences. I'm glad the TV series Once upon a Time is showing Rumple in a slightly more improved light.

My favourite retelling is Nameless by Lili St. Crow. I'm also pretty excited to start reading the Grimm Diaries series. Of course, that has to wait until my boyfriend lifts the book buying ban.


If we are broadening the scope to folk tales then, my favourite would be Graeme Base's interpretation of the traditional story 'The Tender-Hearted Aardvark,' but that's probably a little niche.

More broadly speaking I've always loved 'The 12 Dancing Princesses' because it spoke of defiant young women who danced in secret worlds that only the Hero (who is hero more because he follows fairy tale rules and is polite to old women at cross-roads than because of anything innate) could follow them to with the aid of magic.

I liked it because it was so every day, with the magic worked in as the backdrop to a story of a grumpy father with daughters who were growing up beyond his control.

My favourite retellings include the Fables comic book series published by Vertigo, Ella Enchanted (book not movie) by Gail Carson Levine and Watching the Roses by Adele Geras


I love Beauty and the Beast. Some of my favorite YA retellings include Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Beastly by Alex Flynn and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.


My favourite fairy tale is the Little Mermaid, but I don't like the Hans Christian Anderson ending. I prefer the Disney happily ever after ending, the real ending just makes me cry.

I have enjoyed Marissa Meyer's retellings of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. Robyn McKinley, Jackson Pierce and Gregory Maguire are great too with their retellings. I am not sure if Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl counts, but that is my absolute favourite.


The Little Mermaid is my favourite fairy tale hands down - even with the troubling change yourself to get a person message. But the traditional version does do what fairy tales did - before the happy after endings - teach us a lesson. I suppose that's why people enjoy them so much.

I've not really read many retellings 0_o, but my favourite to watch is Disney's Little Mermaid.


My favourite fairytale has always been The Ugly Duckling. Even as a child I couldn't understand why no one could see that the swan baby was beautiful.

As far as fairytale retellings go..... Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is brilliant although I must admit it did make me feel like a horribly inferior being as far as my intelligence goes. Cinder surprised me and though I expected not to, I enjoyed it a lot.

And funny enough I was just thinking last night that as far as fairytale retellings go, the writers behind Once Upon a Time are doing a really imaginative job.

Sometimes I watch that show and I giggle at the poor dialogue or the sometimes poor execution of the whole thing, but I can't fault the storyline. The way they keep managing to thread it all together is actually quite fun and impressive.

So, now that you've shared your fairy tale recs, which retelling/modern adaptation are you really looking forward to reading this year? I'd love to know.