A book review! I loved it! A Stranger on the Beach is a stormy suspense

A man spends a romantic evening with a beautiful woman, and thinks: “I’ll grab my binoculars and go into protective mode.” She thinks he’s Cape Fear and gets a restraining order.

Or does she?!

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enola holmes tablet

Enola “But Sherlock never had a sister!!!” Holmes. A review.

Everyone loves a famous fictional bloodline. In the 1990s, author Nancy Springer used the beloved Sherlock Holmes canon as a springboard for her young adult (YA) mystery novel series, and the revered detective gained a baby sister.

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Diana Fake News Crown

The Crown season four doesn’t do subtle…

It’s hard to blog about Netflix shows like Stranger Things or The Crown. They’re period pieces, with sky-high production values. They’re well-acted and entertaining. What else is there to say about soothing nostalgia?

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sadie novel on tablet

Courtney Summers’ Sadie raises vital questions

Following the murder of her 13-year-old sister Mattie, Sadie Hunter, 19, vanishes from their Colorado trailer park. Although radio star West McCray questions whether there’s a story in yet another runaway, he’s persuaded to follow the missing girl’s trail by her surrogate grandmother, May Beth.

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When to abandon a book?! Top Ten Tuesday

Whaddya mean it’s Wednesday?!

I rarely give up on a book, so it’s been a challenge to come up with a post for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. I’ve included books I ducked out of before committing, plus those I should have ditched! Just in case you don’t already know, TTT was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June 2010, then moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018.

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Lady in Waiting – a review

The stiff upper lip is as much a part of the British stereotype as our tendency to drink tea and talk about the weather. With the 87-year-old Lady Glenconner’s ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude, her hit memoir is not such a bad book pick during a pandemic.

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Saorise Ronan on movie poster

Film reviews winter 2019-20

As it’s a new year, Slow to the Party would like to swiftly wish everyone a Happy 2020!

The weather is depressing, but I’ve bravely left the safety of my bed to catch up with the sorta-latest flicks!

Here are my smallish reviews. I’m not calling ’em mini reviews anymore.

Charlie’s Angels

After the negative press, I was disappointed NOT to feel bashed over the head with woke, man-hating propaganda courtesy of star/writer/director/terrible publicist for the movie, Elizabeth Banks.

It actually isn’t any worse than anything else I’ve seen. And it’s got Patrick Stewart! The plot is thin, which is frankly a relief in these days of convoluted blockbusters. ⭐⭐⭐ Speaking of…

The Rise of Skywalker

After The Last Jedi undid the thankless groundwork laid by The Force Awakens, now Skywalker returns the favour. Screenshot_2020-01-01-13-57-40-01.jpeg

The Holdo ‘plot hole’ is flung from the franchise, while Finn’s former love interest Rose wilts on the sidelines. Luke returns as a Force ghost, admitting it wasn’t really ‘Luke’ to exile himself on an island, milking sea cows.

Maybe its destiny was always to disappoint. That’s what happens when you have a strict schedule, with no map.

We can expect further, more satisfying revelations in the comics. ⭐⭐⭐

Last Christmas

In a toned-down version of her ear-splitting Me Before You performance, Emilia Clarke is Kate, a wannabe singer/actress slumming around twinkly London in a drunken fug, avoiding her overbearing mother (film co-writer Emma Thompson, inexplicably cast as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia).

A jukebox musical named for the 1984 festive hit by Wham!, one moment it’s a sub-par rom-com, then wham! (no pun) there’s this heinous twist. London’s homeless, played by a cast of twee thespians, provide the ‘heartwarming’ backdrop.⭐⭐

Marriage Story

Charlie (Adam Driver) is a self-made off-Broadway theatre director.  His soon-to-be ex-wife Nicole (Scar Jo) is a showbiz industry brat and former Hollywood It girl.

It’s unclear how calculated Nicole is, uprooting their son Henry to LA to consult with multiple lawyers, but Charlie seems to have the bigger battle – including convincing a judge that they are a New York family.

Nicole is bitter, combative and sulky. Charlie rages that life with was her joyless. She feels overlooked next to his genius, yet she’s the one who pushed for marriage too young.

They remind me of La La Land’s selfish creatives. The only real villains are the lawyers, the victim Henry. It’s a clever, accessible film with high re-watch and debate value. ⭐⭐⭐

Little Women

I thought this looked insufferable. Why can’t they ever cast to the book ages? Why can’t the March girls look like sisters not college roommates?

There was a spot of a backlash when Greta Gerwig was snubbed for best director, followed by another backlash along the lines of: “Well I’m a woman and I didn’t like it!” 

Gerwig’s moves are to highlight the novel’s semi-autobiographical nature, and play with the chronology, switching between 1861 and 1868. She also makes Amy (Florence Pugh) a pragmatic misfit in an unconventional family – a much appreciated new dimension to the character. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari)

Le Mans tells the true(ish) story of how auto designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) teamed up with Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to build a car for Ford to end snooty Ferrari’s dominance at the famous French racing tournament. 

Bale is a British racing car driver with a temper, with Caitriona Balfe as his long-suffering wife. (She wins over the audience with a ‘comic’ scene where she drives at high speed while rowing with her husband.) 

There’s little about the seven-times-married Shelby’s home life.

Far more interesting than the central bromance was the rivalry between the crass, insecure Henry Ford II (veteran character actor Tracy Lett), and old world denizen Enzo Ferrari. Le Mans is a well-engineered, middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser that I couldn’t wait to see over the finish line.⭐⭐⭐

Helen Mirren in Catherine the great Press cuttings

Catherine the Great’s open relationship

In Catherine the Great – HBO and Sky’s new four-parter – the cast talk like they’re in The Crown (Jason Clarke does his own thing – more on him later). Luckily the big fur hats let you know you’re in RUSSIA.

With Helen Mirren playing Catherine, the series aims to provide a balanced image, celebrating her as a socially enlightened female ruler in a man’s world, while not shying away from the fact she ruled with an iron fist.

Politics and empire-building are just a backdrop, though. The true heart of the piece is slowly revealed to be the passionate bond between Catherine and her military leader Potemkin (Clarke), whose existing letters to each other show a loving, open relationship, and an almost modern way of working together.

In the series, Catherine has usurped her husband and their son. Amid tension with her military co-conspirators – including her estranged lover Orlov – she glimpses the swaggering Potemkin. Catherine likes hunky (younger) men, but she’s running a country, so she gets her lady-in-waiting to test his er, political prowess.

By hour two, we’re two years into the Russo-Turkish war. Potemkin has been away covering himself in glory, rising through the ranks. Catherine impulsively orders his return, only to ghost him. They try to make one another jealous, before having an awkward chat about their exes.

It’s true Catherine had multiple lovers, and her sexual liberation gave rise to fake news. Even now, urban legends persist – including the notorious slur involving a horse. Despite the recent press hype, Catherine and Potemkin’s onscreen romance is only steamy in the sense that they (eventually) kiss in a bathhouse.

They settle into domestic bliss, but, rather like the ‘action man’ Prince Phillip portrayed by The Crown, a (literally) thrusting Potemkin becomes petulant and bored. He wants to Make Russia Great, annex the Crimea, and shag half the population while doing so.

As Potemkin, Clarke goes from a clean-cut Aussie Don Cossack, to sounding and looking like the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.

Poor Catherine can’t live with him, can’t live without him. She pines for him and distracts herself with toy boys – some procured by Potemkin, who then has the comical nerve to be jealous.

The script reminds us repeatedly that she’s a brilliant woman, a patron of the arts, but she mostly indulges in sex, paranoia, and bickering with her son and council. It presents a sad case of living long enough to see yourself become the villain, tossing the Voltaire on a bonfire.

Its difficulty is having three decades of history, but only four hours. There needs to be a focus, and the series loses sight of it. Only a pivotal final scene goes a long way to redeeming Catherine the Great as a bittersweet mini-epic about one of history’s greatest love affairs.

scary books movies

Halloween book & movie mash!

At Halloween, a lot of bloggers do horror-themed posts. I’ve always avoided the genre, but something has changed lately, after I binge-watched three seasons of American Horror Story without flinching!

Now that I’m living my best, devil-may-care life, here are the scariest books and films I’ve…encountered recently.

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Lady Bird DVD

Film reviews from the 2018 – 2019 Oscars

I’ve hated most movies lately. Where I used to watch any old thing, I withstood two minutes of the latest Guardians of the Galaxy before switching off. So I decided to ease myself back into film-watching with some of the latest, more highly-acclaimed movies – after all, Oscars are a sure indicator of quality, right?!

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queen of scots book

Film vs book: Mary Queen of Scots

The CW’s Mary Queen of Scots soap opera Reign took an axe to historical accuracy. Yet beneath the fashion and fantasy, the vital beats were there; Adelaide Kane’s Mary married the Dauphin of France, before returning to a turbulent Scotland as a teen widow.

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Childhood favourites – Top Ten Tuesday

Hello all, and a belated happy new month!

It’s Top Ten Tuesday again – it happens every week! Today, it’s Childhood Favourites. Here are mine:

Tim and the Hidden People

by Sheila K McCullagh. Tim finds a magic key which enables him to see the Hidden People. I came across this ancient class reader series in some dusty attic. So began my love of dark fantasy.

The Secret Island

by Enid Blyton. With my first book token I picked this – The Secret Stories – which were a forerunner to the more famous Famous Five series. Three siblings escape cruel relatives to live on a secret island, which is the start of their adventures with Prince Paul (!) of Baronia. I would go on to read a lot of Blyton, but this stayed with me the most.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

by Robert C. O’Brien. Talking animals didn’t interest me. I never liked Beatrix Potter or Wind in the Willows. OK, I liked The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann, but the mystery of the secretive colony of rats at the centre of O’Brien’s Newbury medal-winner captivated me.

Moondial

by Helen Cresswell. When you think of stately homes, what comes to mind? TIME TRAVEL, that’s what. I’d mention A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, and Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce here too.

Five Children and It

by E. Nesbit. The first in a trilogy. Five kids staying at their uncle’s mansion discover a grumpy sand fairy who can grant wishes. Wishes go wrong! I also loved Nesbit’s The Treasure Seekers, featuring the adventurous Bastable children.

The Chrestomanci Series ‘Witch Week’

by Diana Wynne Jones – author of Howl’s Moving Castle. Part of the Chrestomanci series, Witch Week is set in a parallel world, similar to ours, where magic is common! Off the top of my head, Jones’ Archer’s Goon, A Tale of Time City, and The Dalemark Quartet brightened my childhood.

The Chronicles of Narnia

by C.S Lewis. I don’t recall loving Lewis’ writing. Despite that, and my ‘talking animals’ prejudice, there’s no denying the pull that Narnia had on me.

Midnight is a Place

by Joan Aiken. This historical melodrama lays it on a bit thick: wronged orphans, awful guardians, old mansions…I loved it, and also Aiken’s alternate history The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

The Children of the New Forest

by Frederick Marryat. This was my maternal grandfather’s favourite, which he gave to me as a present. Set in Civil War England, the Beverley orphans hide in the forest to escape Cromwell and the Roundheads. Other classics I loved included Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, The Prince and the Pauper by Twain, and the slightly later The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

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The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

by Judith Kerr. WWII historical fiction dominated heavily in my reading. Pink Rabbit was probably my favourite, but I also loved Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, The Cay, by Theodore Taylor, and I am David by Anne Holm, which was set a little later.

Soon I moved on to paranormal romance, but also Brontë, George Elliot, and Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier.

So that’s my 10…OK I cheated a bit! xLx

sally rooney books on white background

Book reviews Sally Rooney – NORMAL PEOPLE are overrated

You’re in so much pain you pass out. Before you collapse, you’re pondering your unearned cultural privilege and reductive iteration of gender theory. Meet Frances: communist, poet, and narrator of Sally Rooney’s coming-of-age debut set in post-crash Dublin.

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books on white background

Adapt this! Page to screen – Top Ten Tuesday

This is my first ever Top Ten Tuesday, a book blog meme created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010, moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018.

“Page to Screen” is this week’s topic. This is a list of books I’ve read, off the top of my head, that I’d like to see adapted/re-adapted, or are being adapted, etc…

Circe by Madeline Miller This current bestseller about Circe, daughter of Helios, Greek god of the sun, has already been optioned for a TV series. May the gods descend from the heavens if they stuff it up!

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson This is one of my favourite novels, with its historical family saga meets Sliding Doors-style alternate timelines. I’d love to experience this atmospheric novel up on screen.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber They did an Amazon pilot on this, starring Rob Stark from Game of Thrones. It’s the most melancholy book I’ve read (FYI Faber’s Under the Skin became a cult classic starring Scarlett Johansson).

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman would make a fine movie if they get the tone right. It’s already been snapped up by Reese Witherspoon…sure. I don’t know why, but I got a slight Mike Leigh/Happy-Go-Lucky vibe.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan This is a YA Star Wars canon novel by Claudia Gray. I think Solo was doomed because fans just didn’t want a movie centered on Han. A series or a movie about a young Leia? A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.

After Mrs Rochester This is actually a play Polly Teale wrote after adapting Jane Eyre for stage. It’s based on the troubled life of Jean Rhys, writer of Wide Sargasso Sea. We’ve had Colette, so why not Rhys?

Gates of Fire Rights to Steven Pressfield’s historical epic about the Battle of Thermopylae were acquired by George Clooney’s production company years ago, before vanishing into antiquity. Here’s a good article about why Gates of Fire never made it to the big screen.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews I did a post about the Jennifer Lawrence movie and the book it was based on. The film..and even the book (first in a trilogy) have a certain ick factor, but there’s still potential for a TV series about spy/ballet dancer Dominika.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook. Only recently done, but attempt #1 was dull, and they could redo in ten years! I know they have to alter things for screen – my only unfulfilled expectation was not to be bored out of my ever-loving skull.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is Kirsten Dunst’s proposed directorial debut. While I’ve great faith in Dunst (who has co-written the script) as an actress, this is a huge challenge!

**Lx**

The Aftermath: Book vs film review

It’s “Stunde Null” – zero hour – for a defeated Germany following WWII. Sadly for audiences of The Aftermath, time stands still.

The screenplay puts us in the picture: more bombs flattened Hamburg in a single weekend than were dropped on London during the entire conflict. Among the scores who died in the firestorm, was the wife of non-Nazi architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård).

Top British officer Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) requisitions Lubert’s palatial home, but being a decent fellow, doesn’t send its owner packing. Joining the mansion share – it could be a reality show – is Morgan’s wife Rachael (Keira Knightley), still grieving the death of their only son Michael in the Blitz.

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If she’s a bit chilly with Lubert and his resentful daughter Freda, things are quite tepid in the Morgan marriage too, with Rachael angry her husband would rather save Germany than confront their loss.

The obvious love triangle relies on the actors’ good looks to sell a shift from mistrust to lust. When Lubert lunges at Knightley it’s only because he resembles Skarsgård that it isn’t terrifying.

(Personally, I find Clarke a far more attractive option.)

Sacrifices have to be made from page to screen, but it’s like the filmmakers dropped a payload on the book, with the final romantic twist axed, and Lewis’s political role reduced to nothing.

The cast try to do justice to the novel’s well-developed characters, and things are picturesque enough to want to Google “houses on the river Elbe”.

🍔🍔 1/2

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

20190323_104422-02.jpegWe first meet Rachael Morgan, muttering to herself on a train, as she travels to Germany with her 11-year-old son Edmund. The death of her older boy Michael has caused her to ‘think with a limp’.

Now her war-weary husband wants her to sleep with the enemy – staying in the home of widowed German architect Stefan Lubert and his teenage daughter Freda.

Rachael’s pretty, but provincial – not a fashion plate. She mixes with the class-conscious army wives, all ‘uncultured cuckoos in the fancy nests of other birds.’

Freda notices how the Englishwoman talks to herself, how her hands shake. But Herr Lubert’s boyish enthusiasm reanimates Rachael, as he talks about his professional ambitions, art, and grief. In this zero hour, they both want a better world, where people talk about their feelings.

It’s a slow burn between two people brought together by loss – compared to the onscreen soap opera, where Keira can’t get her kit off fast enough.

Clueless Lewis belongs to the stiff upper lip brigade, yet when he’s not battling the world over Germany’s fate, he’s drawn to his translator Ursula.

With their parents busy, Freda and Edmund roam. Joining fellow Hamburgers clearing rubble, Freda meets a Nazi youth interested in Chez Lubert’s occupants, while Edmund befriends a feral gang – including the enterprising Ozi – who are in thrall to a sinister older boy.

The Aftermath has a compelling premise. Its subdued emotional heart and historical-political suspense lead to a dramatic finale, unlike the film’s thin action.

🍔🍔🍔1/2

Red Sparrow book vs movie review

Jennifer Lawrence stars in this grisly thriller as Dominika, a Bolshoi prima ballerina whose dance career is kiboshed when her clumsy partner (Sergei Polunin from Orient Express) delivers a gruesome, bone-shattering injury during a live performance.

Dominika’s uncle Vanya doesn’t believe in bad luck. High up in Russian Intelligence, he informs her that her dance partner is shagging her understudy, provoking Dominika to club them with her walking stick.

After forcing her to seduce a gangster in scenes that end in a bloodbath, Vanya recruits his niece for sexpionage, shipping her off to become a ‘Sparrow’. She’s then deployed to Budapest to entrap a CIA agent called..drum roll..”Nate Nash” – yes really – who is handling a Russian mole, code named MARBLE.

Who is MARBLE? I’m not saying, but Nate Nash shares more chemistry with them during a brush-past in a nighttime park than he does in an entire movie with JLaw, who has unfortunate magnetism with Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts).

The comparison was inevitable, but Red Sparrow isn’t a Black Swan-style psychological thriller. It’s also not the action movie you might expect – there aren’t any scenes where Dominika uses her dance skills to shimmy between laser beams or strangle adversaries with her thighs.

Instead it’s a bleak thriller that defines itself with icky, graphic nudity and sadistic violence, all while garroting itself with gibberish like the scene where Dominika alters her appearance with a home hair dye kit, transforming from raven to platinum. If only!

It doesn’t help the authenticity, especially when it’s already a stretch to buy the premise that a limping Moscow ballet star could slip undercover for Mother Russia.

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Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (2013)

Director Francis Lawrence decided against having an actor portray the real-life Russian president in the movie, because he was too scared it would have been a “different movie”! (Like that would have been a bad thing?!)

Putin does get to feature in Jason Matthews’ 2013 novel. The movie had already set the barre (haha) pretty low for me, so I really only expected a trashy airport read. But the author is former CIA, and the novel bristles with tradecraft and insights into modern Russia.

Dominka is born into privilege – her parents a revered former musician and a revered academic – and she’s a child prodigy with the curious gift of synaesthesia.

She studies at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, until a rival ends her promising future. When her father dies, her uncle reels her into his dirty work before offering her a clerical role, which she rejects, demanding entry to the Foreign Intelligence Academy (AVR) – the first woman to be admitted.

Book Dominika is fiercely idealistic and patriotic, wanting to serve her country in an elite job. She finds herself belittled as a female operative and abused and betrayed, before she turns double agent, whereas movie Dominika is more out for herself.

She spars with Nate over politics, but ultimately their romance felt pretty tepid on the page too. Uncle Varya doesn’t look like Matthias Schoenaerts, and there are no incest overtones.

It’s still quite icky, and they torture the shit out of people – the filmmakers didn’t go out on a limb in that regard! But it’s an ambitious thriller that might have been improved with a series.

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Man with pulmonary fibrosis

Bereavement blogging break

The last time I blogged was September 17. The last time I posted on Instagram was September 18. While I was never prolific, 14 weeks is a significant gap, especially as I was almost getting into the swing of things. But after years of making pulmonary fibrosis look like a head cold, my dad suddenly worsened.

We’d had a content, peaceful few months together. We already knew things would never be the same, as our 20-year-old cat was clearly basking in her last summer. Then in the middle of September, dad started to decline. I had to call three ambulances in ten days, and eventually he spent several weeks in hospital before finally leaving us in October.

Obviously this isn’t a very festive post, but today, Boxing Day, was his birthday, and I couldn’t just return to blogging in the New Year without explaining my absence or mentioning that my entire life had changed forever.

I didn’t exactly have a typical relationship with my dad. He was a very popular and funny man – in his final decade he had become something of a local legend/eccentric. But underneath the jokes and the outgoing persona he hid trauma, and grave mental and physical illness.

He was very brave, incredibly tough, and his faith only got stronger.

Having witnessed his determination, held his hand at the end, and barely survived a funeral, I finally think I might want to write again.

I’m very hopeful that I’ll be back in 2019 with my light-hearted reviews. I always did find comfort in books and movies; so far this holiday I’ve watched his favourite movie (Elf) twice.

Perhaps I will have more time and energy and will belatedly gain a new efficiency. (This post alone is a slight leap of faith – far more personal than usual.)

So here’s to 2019. xx