Tag Archives: Books

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.

But as West investigates, he realizes that he must find Sadie – before it’s too late.

The chapters switch from transcripts of West’s True Crime-style podcasts, to Sadie’s own narration. With their mother consumed by drug addiction, it fell to her to care for Mattie. In her younger sister, she found a place to pour her love; Mattie’s death drives her to take a lonely, dangerous path to revenge.

Courtney Summers has a knack for writing complex, ‘unlikeable’ (British spelling!) female protagonists. On one hand her heroine is easy to root for; on the other, she’s reckless, stubborn and doesn’t make ‘likeable’ choices, rushing headfirst into confrontations with male adversaries.

May Beth urged her to see her mother’s addiction as an illness, but this only triggers feelings of guilt for resenting the mother who neglected her.

The book questions how we respond to girls on the fringes of society; people demand niceness, politeness, even as they struggle profoundly. It’s not enough that Sadie suffers from a profound stutter, is an abuse victim, or is merely a “secondary player” in her own life – she should remember her manners!

It’s also a commentary on our tendency to see violence against girls as entertainment, akin to soaps or reality TV. Although it owes much to the true crime genre, it asks readers to question this fascination.

The identity of the killer is never a mystery. It’s not merely a hunch for Sadie – she just knows. It almost feels like we’re being set up for a revelation, or twist, that doesn’t come.

Summers has written a hard-hitting young adult novel with heavy themes. If readers can stomach that, they may yet feel cheated by the ending. Whether or not it’s designed to reflect the lack of closure of too many missing person cases, it worsens the punch to the gut that the book delivers.

Please drop a comment below with your recommendations for this genre.

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.

Books I simply DNF’d

The President is Missing James Patterson and Bill Clinton wrote this together. Like White House Down as a book…but worse.

First Man  I love Damian Chazelle’s First Man upon repeat watch, but I can’t slog through James R. Hansen’s Neil Armstrong biography. I’d rather read the instruction manual for Apollo 11. Maybe then I’d have shot at getting off this rock.

Books I set aside for another day…(yeah right!)

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is convincing and immersive. I think that’s the problem. Although 2020 may be a bitch, it’s still better than the 16th century. I’ve got the audio book, so I’ll pick it up again. One day.

A Tale of Two Cities It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I refer you all to a Goodreads review that went something along the lines of “Christ on a bike!! I’d forgotten how difficult Dickens is!”

Books I removed from my TBR

Daisy Jones and the Six  I picked Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel up off the shelf at the supermarket, but my companion’s snide remark about wasting money on books made me feel bad about it. 😦 It’s out in paperback now, so I’ll just return it to the TBR…

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. I know from experience that the genre of Holocaust romance, or Holocaust chick lit, sits uneasily with me.

The Goldfinch I dallied with the idea of Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch when it was a forthcoming book to film adaptation, poised to become a critical darling. After the near-universal negative reviews, I lost my enthusiasm.

Becoming I saw the new behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama’s tour for this, her bestselling memoir. Pfff, I’m lazy, and apparently it’s pretty long.

Books I should have DNF’d

Swing Time by Zadie Smith was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. A gruelling read, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so disconnected from a novel.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was not for me. It’s one of the books, along with Alyson Richman’s The Lost Wife, that made me decide to swerve The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and its ilk.

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. The plot is thin, which is frankly more of a relief in these days of convoluted blockbusters. ⭐⭐⭐ Speaking of…

The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve always been a big fan of the Skywalker story and the galaxy far, far away. But The Last Jedi undid the thankless groundwork laid by The Force Awakens. Screenshot_2020-01-01-13-57-40-01.jpeg

Skywalker returns the favour by unpicking Jedi. The Holdo ‘plot hole’ is flung from the future of 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.

As for Rey…I simply don’t care.

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

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

From the trailers 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!” hot takes.

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)

Christian Bale plays Ken Miles, a famed British racing car driver with a temper.

Le Mans ’66 tells the trueish story of how Ken, along with automotive designer Carroll (Matt Damon) Shelby, developed a Ford race car to end snooty Ferrari’s dominance at the annual Le Mans competition.

Caitriona Balfe plays Miles’ long-suffering wife, winning over audiences with a ‘comic’ scene where she drives at high speed while rowing with her husband. There’s little about Shelby’s home life; he was married seven times.

Le Mans a well-engineered, middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser that I couldn’t wait to see over the finish line. 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. ⭐⭐⭐

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.

ELI (Netflix)

Why is it scary? Well, it goes something like this…

Viewer: Oh goody, a standard ‘sick kid in a haunted house’ tale.

Eli: WE’LL SEE WHAT SATAN HAS TO SAY ABOUT THAT!!

A SIMPLE FAVOUR – novel by Darcey Bell

When fashion PR Emily disappears, leaving her British husband Sean and their young son behind, her deluded ‘best friend’ Stephanie sets out to discover the truth.

We get the perspectives of Sean, Emily, and popular mommy blogger Stephanie – via her thoughts and her inane blog. Emily is reckless and predatory; Stephanie is an insecure dolt. (A “fuzzy bath mat pretending to be a person”, according to Emily.)

Implausible twists aside, A Simple Favor is a dark, tongue-in-cheek thriller and cool satire. (Although I’m not so happy about the way she writes about us Brits. I’m not sure what we ever did.)

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018 movie)

Directed by Paul ‘Bridesmaids‘ Feig, the adaptation of Bell’s novel struggles with the tricky balance of black comedy and thriller.

The performances are fun – Lively is perfect as Emily, while Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie isn’t just a bath mat, evolving from timid mom in cat socks to confident crime solver. Emily’s unhinged fashionista boss (Rupert Friend) makes a hilarious cameo. 

Unfortunately Kendrick’s mucky secret doesn’t work on the screen. It’s just plonked in a flashback, when it is way too lurid to pass unexplored or without greater payoff.

THE FORGETTING TIME by Sharon Guskin

Noah, 4, is basically Haley Joel Osment. Booted from preschool for talking about guns and…Harry Potter, he’s scared of water, and wants his ‘other mommy’. When Noey’s (ugh) doctors suggest schizophrenia (!) hysterical ‘mommy-mom’ Janie contacts past life investigator Dr Jerry Anderson. 

There are many ‘encouraging smiles’, and eyes ‘welling with concern’ or ‘shining with sadness’. Janie is too stupid to be an architect (it’s as if Guskin picked it because she wanted her heroine to have a professional career). She’s rude and ungrateful to dementia-stricken Jerry, who is racing to finish his research.

Guskin includes excerpts from work by UVA’s Dr Jim Tucker, who was a loose inspiration for the character. I felt greater investment in Jerry as he ponders his life, while solving the mystery of Noah. The Forgetting Time develops into an intelligent and thoughtful story about three families’ grief.

SERENITY (2019 movie)

Notorious for its very strange twist, it’s one of the biggest box office duds of 2019. But the marketing department hawked it as neo-noir, and I still swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker.

Set on a fictional tropical island, Matthew McConaughey’s washed-up war vet Dill toils as a fisherman/gigolo, obsessed with catching a tuna he’s named Justice. Poor Djimon Hounsou is stranded as first mate and conscience.

Sexy thriller undercurrents arrive with Dill’s femme fatale ex Anne Hathaway. She wants him to have an ‘accident’ at sea with her abusive husband, Jason Clarke – who blames Serenity’s failure on a culture-wide resistance to experimental, ambitious films. I’d say this movie should have been canned.

LULLABY (THE PERFECT NANNY) by Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)

It’s the infamous killer-nanny book that won prestigious awards and was one of the most hyped books of 2018.

I was worried it would be tacky or exploitative, but it’s a darkly literary novel, which explores themes of race, class, motherhood and domesticity. The Moroccan-French Slimani is incredibly clever, and the prose is sublime – but I wasn’t sure the author had a full grasp of her villain.

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.

Now, we have a wannabe serious, grown-up movie, inspired by John Guy’s sympathetic biography – originally published as My Heart is My Own.

We pick up with Mary (Saorise Ronan) washing up on the shores of her native land. She takes one look and retches. Her half-brother James is a bastard (as in Jon Snow), while the country is in thrall to David Tennant’s firebrand Protestant cleric John Knox.

Then there’s her cousin, Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). Screenshot_2019-07-19-09-30-16-01.jpeg

Mary had become Queen of Scots as a baby, but through her grandmother (Henry VIII’s sister) she also had a claim to Elizabeth’s throne.

Having grown up safely in the French court, critics saw Mary as a pampered princess. Guy, however, describes a charismatic, multifaceted diplomat.

The movie shows this by having Elizabeth’s courtiers say, “She’s formidable, Madam!”

At nearly 6ft tall, Mary liked to dress as a man to punk ambassadors. Just don’t expect to see this in the film – she might have been a fun gal by 16th century standards, but in steely Saorise Ronan, Mary is a straightforward, strong heroine.

She marries a vile brat named Darnley, who is murdered by Bothwell (established early as Mary’s sworn defender but absent for most of the movie), who then coerces Mary into marrying him instead.

The film dashes through the sequence of events leading to Mary’s downfall.

Her flight to Elizabeth climaxes in a fictional meeting in a laundry shed. Despite losing her own country, Mary won’t shut up about what a superior Queen she’d be. Facing her young, beautiful ‘rival’, Robbie looks shook. The greatest enemy to her insecure, frail Elizabeth is ageing before modern medicine or Instagram filters.

In Guy’s (well-researched) revisionist account, Mary was Britain’s unluckiest ruler, prey to Elizabeth’s Catholic-hating advisors, the Protestant Reformation, and the factionalism of the Scottish nobility. Tragically trusting of family, Mary – still only in her twenties – had disastrous taste in men.

For Josie Rourke’s film, this is largely simplified to Mary being the victim of gender bias. She’d have been best friends with her cousin-over-the-border if it weren’t for the patriarchy. The fact that one of them chopped the other one’s head off should serve to remind us, the #metoo generation, that men suck.

Sure, it’s just a film. But if you want historical fan fiction about the perils of female leadership in a male world, featuring ‘woke’ royals, you’ll have more fun with Reign over on Netflix.

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.

Frances and BFF Bobbi study at the elite Trinity College. They encounter 30-something photojournalist Melissa, who introduces them to her actor husband Nick and their arty social set.

While Bobbi gets cliquey with Melissa, Frances has a desultory affair with the handsome yet passive Nick, who suffered a breakdown.

Before college, the girls attended high school together, where Bobbi scrawled “fuck the patriarchy” on a wall near an image of a crucifix. (She’s a rich anarchist who browbeats her fellow students with her “remorseless intelligence”.)

When not joining Bobbi in putting the world to rights on everything from gender roles to capitalism and police brutality, Frances self-harms, and mops up after her violent alcoholic dad. Bobbi ‘compliments’ her by saying she doesn’t have a “real personality”.

Frances has insecurities about her looks and working-class background, but consoles herself she’s smarter than other people. “I’m going to become so smart that no one will understand me…” she daydreams, leafing through A Critique of Postcolonial Reason.

It would be OK if Friends were a biting Millennial satire. But it’s as earnest as its characters, and like being battered round the head with that copy of Postcolonial Reason.

I can see why it would appeal to young female readers who identify with Frances’ self-esteem woes. It’s much, much darker though – in terms of mental health – and full of doctorate level gobbledygook. Hardly the witty, sparkling delight people have been cooing over.

Normal People

Normal People’s third person narrative is shared between Marianne and Connell.

Connell’s mother cleans for Marianne’s rich family. At school, he’s a popular soccer player, while Marianne is an outcast. Terrified of what other people think, he ignores her, setting up a tortured on/off romance.

They leave small-town Ireland for Trinity College, where (like Frances and Bobbi) they’re the two smartest people enrolled. Aspiring writer Connell is further alienated by his working-class background, and suffers a breakdown.

Marianne revels in her isolated perch, with the scholarship exams a matter of needing her “superior intellect to be affirmed in public.” In another Friends retread, she’s beaten at home, this time by a brother.

During an on-again phase (and in an echo of Frances and Nick) Marianne (who feels herself “degenerating, moving further and further from wholesomeness, becoming something unrecognisably debased”) asks an uncomfortable Connell to hurt her during sex.

Described as a ‘modern love story’, it puts you through the wringer: depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, abusive boyfriends, death, predatory schoolteachers, BDSM. If this is a modern love story, do count me out.

Rooney again nails Millennial hangups, and doesn’t challenge them. She’s a young voice emerging ahead of the pack, pale and interesting in interviews, so smart you can barely understand her.

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**

Grindelwald dvd on white table

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald – film review

You’d imagine J.K. Rowling had earned enough goodwill that people might give her the benefit of the doubt.

But even before her Fantastic Beasts sequel started filming, there was controversy. Firstly it centered on her support for tabloid-stricken star Johnny Depp, prompting director David Yates to release a statement via his agents Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs…

“Duh, he’s literally playing Wizarding Hitler, like literally,” shrugged Yates. “Let’s hope nobody takes a pop at Eddie Redmayne and accuses him of drop-kicking a Niffler. Now that’d be a real PR nightmare!” he laughed.

Then a scene in the trailer supposedly broke canon, before the release of the official cast list drew fury for messing with timelines established in books/minds.

But J.K writes great mysteries and she doesn’t make it up as she goes along, right?

OK, there are some potential canonical problems here, but it’s only the second film of five. What’s worse is the critical consensus that it’s the worst Potter ever – that it has too many characters and confusing subplots,no clear protagonist, and exists only to set up later chapters.

To be clear, the first Beasts wasn’t fantabulous – my review was basically, “Wow how hot is Colin Farrell?!” However, I could see it was the start of a story that promised to tap into the richer HP mythology.

Crimes opens with an impressive action scene, even if the criminal was actually already free, and just wanted his escape to have a certain degree of flair.

Depp’s take on the character is more Black Mass than Captain Jack, but dark magic must take a toll, as Jamie Campbell Bower’s blond, handsome, spindly young wizard is just a mirage in the Mirror of Erised.

Grindelwald’s crimes include cruelty to cute critters (justice for Antonio!), murder, and nearly destroying Paris. He’s also guilty of making hot Dumbledore lovesick and mopey…after they spent a summer together in their teens, to put this in perspective.

The benignly manipulative Dumbledore has twisted Newt’s arm into protecting Credence – who is trying to discover his origins. And what a persuasive way Dumbledore has – “Hey Newt, you’re not popular, funny, or charming, but you do what’s right!”

So did Rowling have this new sibling twist planned, or did she come up with it between script revisions, à la George Lucas with Luke and Leia?

Well, there was a distinct lack of buildup. Audiences didn’t really finish the first movie speculating about a particular character’s parentage.

Of course Dumbledore always knows more than he lets on. “For the Greater Good” and all that – old ways die hard. Personally, I’ve always suspected he broke his dad out of Azkaban.

🧙🧙1/2

It’s fantastic Rowling is adding to the mythology of her world. I hope she stays true to her vision. Shame she didn’t leave this new franchise simmering in the cauldron for a bit longer.

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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catherine steadman something in the water movie

Something in the Water, future movie, Reese Witherspoon

While scuba diving on your dream honeymoon, you discover something sinister. Do you a) report it to the authorities b) speed away and pretend it didn’t happen, or c) get in way over your head?

Sadly some people – like film school grad Erin and her jobless banker husband Mark – don’t make good choices.

Catherine Steadman’s debut isn’t exactly a hidden gem. In the UK I couldn’t avoid the hype, and across the pond it was a New York Times Bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon book club pick. (Steadman is an accomplished actress herself, with Downton Abbey among her credits.)

With Witherspoon’s new production company Hello Sunshine set to make the Something in the Water movie, normally I would have been all over this like a shark in a feeding frenzy, but it was described as a ‘beach read’, which put me off.

Luckily, I took the plunge when Jonetta @Blue Mood Cafe recommended it!

After a much-admired opening chapter, we head backwards as our narrator Erin plans an exclusive London wedding and a honeymoon on Bora Bora, with sumptuous descriptions of super-first class travel and deluxe wedding menus.

Their showy lifestyle is funded by Mark’s job in investment banking, while Erin has a creative background and is working on a documentary about prisoners on the verge of release.

Her greatest catch is gangland legend Eddie Bishop, who knows a scary amount about Erin. But she has bigger problems; before the honeymoon, Mark lost his job in spectacular, escorted-from-the-building-by-security fashion.

Then they find something in the water that could literally change their fortunes forever – if they’re smart. Ahem.

The narrative is shadowed by the fear and mistrust caused by the financial crash, and the subtleties of the class system. When Erin visits the home of another one of her prisoners, she is paranoid about sounding condescending or bourgeois.

Yet while Mark – used to babysitting wealthy clients – flies First Class like it’s no big deal, Erin is a fish out of water. She quickly learns that having real money isn’t all about buying nice things, so much as it’s about avoiding the rules.

The sickly way Mark talks to Erin – like she needs constant soothing and reassurance – grates, but then she really ramps up the stupid, making rookie criminal mistakes (not that I’m an expert!) and being really, really slow on the uptake, so maybe he was right.

I know some readers expected more confrontation or climax, but the story is less about who the bad guys are and what they want, and more about what greed and dishonesty do to normal people, and how much we ever truly know each other, even that stunning Millennial couple with the perfect life.

“Careful what you wish for…”

🌴🌴🌴🌴

girl dressed as princess margaret

Ma’am Darling – Picasso wanted to marry Princess Margaret!

The Shoebill is a prehistoric-looking bird that exists in the marshes of East Africa. Scientists know that these intensely private creatures rarely raise more than one chick; a second is insurance in case the older one doesn’t make it.

A similar philosophy underlies the dynamic of the royal heir and the spare. While the lionized firstborn is groomed to rule, being second-born can be trickier; modern spares must accept indifference and resentment from the press and public, especially as cute toddlers pile up in the palace nursery.

This was the fate of HRH Princess Margaret Rose, younger sister to Elizabeth II. The Crown renewed interest in the glam yet troubled royal, whose star had faded long before Diana arrived to swipe her tiara. Luckily for Princess Margaret’s new admirers, Craig Brown’s Ma’am Darling was published last year to gushing reviews.

Subtitled “99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret“, he takes a magpie approach. He includes letters, palace statements, interviews, snippets from memoirs penned by creepy footmen, plus anecdotes from VIPs who, er, encountered the queen’s sister.

Having only Vanessa Kirby’s portrayal of Margaret as a spoiled, party-loving Millennial to go on, I didn’t know just how frosty and demeaning she could be.

The princess loved to party, but nobody could break protocol by leaving before her. She was drawn to celebrities, and the feeling was mutual – she was a princess, after all. Girls copied her clothes, while Picasso was among the many men who wanted to marry her.

But celebs and diarists also swapped horror stories. Of all the jaw-dropping anecdotes, it’s hard to top the time she turned to a disabled guest at a party and asked: “Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and seen the way you walk?”

Or when she was opening an old folks’ home and was presented with a specially cooked chicken dish. “That looks like sick.”

While her sister was meeting ambassadors and presidents, birth order discrimination pushed Margaret to the background. She was destined for a lifetime – as Brown puts it – of opening “scout huts and pumping stations.”

Ma’am Darling becomes repetitive with examples of bad behaviour, but Brown throws in some counter-factual flourishes too, such as Queen Margaret delivering a DGAF Christmas speech.

There’s been speculation that Princess Margaret’s life was ruined by the Townsend saga – when she supposedly couldn’t marry her beloved Group Captain without losing her royal status and income. Brown doesn’t seem to buy the fairy tale, and is skeptical of the 16 years older Group Captain.

Princess Margaret eventually married Antony Armstrong-Jones, photographer to the rich and famous. The Snowdons, as they became known, lived a bohemian life, but the marriage was unhappy, with Brown accusing Snowdon of ‘gaslighting’ – that terrifying common tactic of abusers and bullies everywhere.

A whimsical book, I didn’t find Ma’am Darling as hysterically funny as some critics. I got exhausted by all the ‘famous’ names from the mid-century arts world and high society. But Brown looks at Princess Margaret from many angles, you pity her and dislike her at the same time.  

👑👑👑 1/2

 

13 reasons why book differences

Netflix 13 Reasons Why – book vs show

Recently, I read “You Think It, I’ll Say It.” It’s a new book of short fiction by Curtis Sittenfeld, an author whose work often features adult women still seething at the injustices of high school.

It made me want to watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, the show based on Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel. A high school student, Hannah Baker, leaves a suicide note in the form of audio cassettes, accusing thirteen (mostly) classmates of bullying her. The tapes are passed around this baker’s dozen, under threat of exposure by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) listens to the tapes, trying to figure out his place in the story, Hannah’s tale unspools in flashbacks. Played by Katherine Langford, she’s prettier, sweeter than an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, with a whole episode devoted to that character and what Hannah says they did wrong. We also see everything that was going wrong in the accused kids’ lives – which, we discover, was a lot…

‘Cos we move from mean girls and school cliques, to sexual harassment, multiple rapes, victim blaming, abusive parents, fatal car crashes, gun incidents, drug addiction, self-harm and more. It seems like a lot of problems for a dozen or so under-18s, even if the cast do look more like 25.

Netflix even nightmared up a second season/sequel to Asher’s book where Clay – now straight-up cray – develops a saviour complex, running an amateur rehab clinic under his parents’ noses, while Hannah’s absentee parents sue the school whose teachers lazily ignored a brutal culture of bullying and rape.

Supposedly a ‘realistic’ portrayal of teen life, they’re all feverishly conforming to that TV contrivance of ‘protecting’ their parents from reality, of being a ‘good kid’. Oh Netflix! We’re a few weeks into the UK summer vacation, and all I’ve heard are teenagers complaining about boredom and being unable to find any clean underwear!

That’s the immature demographic Netflix are targeting – even winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. Even if the bullying or social pressures hit home for many young female viewers, the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving I can’t appreciate its appeal.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (2007)

After ditching the show before the end of Season 2, I was curious about the novel, so I checked the YA section in my local bookshop. “We’re not allowed to shelve that in YA!” cried 51syyO7qB5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgthe sales assistant, nearly fainting, although he agreed it’s marketed at young people.

It was sold out, anyway.

Asher’s book is both gentler and sadder than the series. Instead of cramming in every social issue, it’s tightly focused on the mind of one suicidal girl, and Clay’s rising horror as he listens to the tapes over a single night.

At times their voices merge confusingly into one, while the premise still feels a touch far-fetched; I think if you have a dozen kids involved, somebody would have confided to a parent.

The school isn’t radioactive, but bullying goes on everywhere, with ongoing exposure a potential factor in suicidal behaviour. The book nails how hurtful gossip and rumours can be, and how one or two malevolent individuals, or pack leaders, can dominate a school or group.

Hannah clearly felt victimized, but as he listens, Clay contradicts her – not because she’s a liar, but because of her mental state. He listens, powerless, as tape Hannah goes down a reckless, self-destructive path. (“You knew it was the worst choice possible….You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible.”)

He remembers Hannah withdrawing, but he didn’t speak to her in case other kids teased him. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age. I think readers are being encouraged to be kinder, to be less daunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe then schools and colleges could be easier for the Hannah Bakers of the world.

The number for the Samaritans in the UK is 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Further international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

Fantastic Beasts: the five crimes of Grindelwald

One of the great mysteries of the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was how a movie that gained rave reviews, crossed the $800 million milestone, and gained an ‘A’ CinemaScore came to be considered ‘lacklustre’.

Still, I doubt the studio are wringing their hands. Twitter and Youtube were buzzing when the teaser trailer for the next movie – The Crimes Of Grindelwald – was released last week.

If he’s going to be sinning against the magical world, what crimes can we expect Gellert Grindelwald to commit?

Escape custody.

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Obviously. We don’t know how much time has passed since Newt managed to outsmart Grindelwald and deliver him to the wands of MACUSA’s Aurors, but judging by his long hair, he’s been captive for a few months at least.

Apparently audiences groaned when Colin Farrell’s disguise shifted into a bloated and bleached Johnny Depp.

Following his rushed reveal, hair and makeup have worked their magic, casting a Revelio charm on Depp’s cheekbones. Grindelwald needs a hell-raising rock star vibe; Johnny Depp fits the bill perfectly.

End Madam Picquery’s incompetent reign of smugness.

“Do you think you can hold me?” Grindelwald asked MACUSA’s useless, smug and incompetent Madam Picquery, giving her a contemptuous stare down.

She refused to accept her city had an Obscurial problem, and didn’t notice her right-hand man was being impersonated by the world’s most wanted wizard – all while lecturing European officials for letting him slip through their fingers.

Picquery ignored Tina’s pleas when she apprehended Newt on his arrival in New York, yet later claimed outrage she didn’t tell her right away. She had them both arrested, before the pair were nearly executed by Graves/Grindelwald.

I’m surprised more fans didn’t pick up on Picquery’s Fudge-like incompetence. She’s definitely arrogant enough to think she could challenge an escaped Grindelwald.

Kick Newt Scamander’s head in. Again.

If I were a bumbling, animal-loving Brit wanting a quiet life – which I am – who had thwarted the evil plans of a deranged dark wizard, I would stay as far away from that individual as possible.

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We adore him: Magical bigwigs are terrified Dumbledore will make his own power play

Except Dumbledore is clearly a hard man to say ‘no’ to. “I can’t move against Grindelwald,” he tells Scamander in the trailer. “It has to be you.”

Last time Newt encountered an enraged Grindelwald, the wild-eyed dark wizard pinned him to a railway track and tortured him with Sith lightening. Newt should have been airlifted by Thestral to New York’s version of St Mungo’s. Instead, in the badly rushed finale, he was fine in seconds.

You had to strain to hear Grindelwald’s parting words to Newt: “Will we die just a little?” It was probably ad-libbed by Depp when he couldn’t remember his lines. He meant to say “You’re going to die, little British Hufflepuff weedling.” Gulp.

Corrupt Credence Bowlcut some more.

While Newt crashed around looking for his missing critters, the international threat of dark magic bubbled away like a cauldron in the background.

A third plot line saw teenage orphan Credence Barebone wreak havoc as an Obscurius. Cowering in fear of his religious, witch-hating adoptive mother, Credence was groomed then brutally rejected by Grindelwald, before the dark wizard realized the boy’s raw destructive power.

Don’t expect Credence to be transfigured into a sunny character any time soon. It’ll take more than a new life with the circus and the motherly(?) attention of a fellow performer to turn that Obscurial frown upside down.

Grindelwald looks like he has his Bellatrix Lestrange – Vinda Rosier (played by Poppy Corby-Tuech), from one of Britain’s ancient and prestigious magical bloodlines.

Will he will try to recruit young Credence again? What side will Credence choose?

Mass slaughter for the greater good.

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Hands off my Niffler!

‘For the greater good’ is Grindelwald’s philosophy and his justification for his actions in the wizarding war. Yet ‘Crimes‘ is only the second movie in a franchise that will span a 19 year timeline, so it’s unlikely we will see Grindelwald do his worst yet.

Potterheads will know most of the main cast are safe. Little is known about Newt’s brother and his enigmatic fiancée, Leta Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz, but it seems unlikely that such promising characters will get bumped off too quickly.

Grindelwald will probably target Muggles, but I’d be worried about the magical creatures themselves.

Newt’s beasts could be in serious peril this time.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out 16 November this year.

Murder on the Orient Express – 2017 millennial version

“Not another remake!” is a familiar online cry, normally accompanied by declarations that Hollywood has run out of ideas.

The word ‘remake’ provokes a knee-jerk hostility. Having just dodged the new, BBC Little Women over Christmas, I was worried I’d caught the same faux fatigue. I’ve seen a stage play of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, while the still-fresh ’94 Winona Ryder film with a young, scene-stealing Kirsten Dunst is in my DVD collection.

I realized my aversion wasn’t because Winona Will Forever Be My Jo March! – it was because it looked genuinely bad. The accents sounded atrocious, and the actresses were more like sorority sisters in 2018 than impoverished, Civil War-era siblings. (Dunst at least was the right age to play Amy.)

Agatha Christie’s ’34 novel Murder on the Orient Express, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, has also been regularly re-crafted for screen. So there was a lot of online negativity around director-star Kenneth Branagh’s new blockbuster version; a perfectly good, Oscar-nominated 1974 Sidney Lumet adaptation already exists, so there was no need…

Au contraire, mon ami! OK, no need maybe, but judging by the box office, people were attracted to this gorgeous new production – which loses a lot of the mystery and suspense of the Lumet version, while upping the action.

David Suchet’s performance in the BBC Poirot is considered closest to Christie’s peculiar, egghead creation. Where Suchet was an odd duck, Branagh’s detective is eccentric by way of a comedy Belgian accent, and an OTT moustache. He certainly knows his own worth, calling himself the “greatest detective in the world”.

We meet him in Jerusalem as he closes a preposterous jewel theft case (easily the dullest bit), and then finally he’s on the Orient thundering west across Europe when an avalanche derails the train. While trapped high in the stunning Alps, a passenger named Ratchett is murdered, making everyone in First Class a suspect.

This brings us to another problem people have with the movie – Ratchett is played by none other than alleged train wreck Johnny Depp.

Depp-boycotters should know that despite starring prominently in the marketing bumf, he plays a) the most hateful character (“I do not like your face,” says Poirot) and b) is swiftly bumped off, with a troupe of Hollywood actors all in the frame for his brutal stabbing. Imagine if they’d cast Harvey Weinstein as a baggage handler.

Was it Judi Dench’s Russian princess? Or could it have been Michelle Pfeiffer’s vampy husband-hunter, or Penélope Cruz’s missionary (reminding me of her early role as a nun in Almodóvar’s All About My Mother)?

There’s an achingly relevant younger cast, including Beauty and the Beast’s Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley (a less grating Keira Knightley), and rising actress Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) as a enigmatic aristocrat. Plus Leslie Odom Jr. (Tony winner for Hamilton) is Dr Arbuthnot – played in ’74 by that old dinosaur Sean Connery.

Although the critics have insisted that it all “offers nothing new,” the contemporary cast open the story up with different races, nationalities and ages – even if everyone only gets a thin slice of screen time. (Michelle Pfeiffer alone is worth seeing.)

Cinema continues to modernize and amaze us, and Orient is an immersive experience, capturing the allure of the golden age of travel. And of course there’s that much-raved about epic five minute 65mm Steadicam closing shot.

Perhaps I liked this film for superficial reasons, but it was surprisingly poignant, presenting a moral conundrum for Poirot – the man who sees everything as right or wrong with no in-between.

Leaving me only to add that I didn’t cry at the end when the Patrick Doyle score was playing. I got some orange juice in my eye, and anyone who says otherwise is 100% lying.

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Like my review? Please consider liking it and following my book, film and lifestyle blog as we go forward into 2018! Happy New Year everyone! 

book adaptation pile

Page to screen book haul! Ophelia, Annihilation, Oasis, The Lost Wife

Earlier this year I read Lion, the true story of a little boy who survives the streets of Kolkata before being adopted by an Australian family. Years later, he tracks down his mother in rural India using Google Earth.

It became a hit movie, which inspired me to get cracking with more novels destined to reach our screens!

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein, finished filming in July after shooting in the Czech Republic, with Daisy Ridley in the title role. 

Lisa Klein’s re-imagining of Hamlet from his love interest’s point of view has forever banished thoughts of Ophelia as a tragic waif. When the story opens she’s a motherless girl moving with her ambitious father Polonius and callow brother Laertes to the court of Danish King Hamlet.

Yet under Queen Gertrude’s capricious care, Ophelia grows into an intelligent woman. She becomes an expert in botany and herbology, learning to cure the ailments of people at court. To escape the tragedy engulfing her country, she uses those skills to feign madness and death.

I was a bit doubtful when I read that the characters talk with ‘contemporary language’, but it’s a far cry from “Yo Hamlet, your mother’s a total MILF.” (Gertrude will be played by Naomi Watts.)

There is a vivid sense of time and place – Klein is a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature. It’s an atmospheric YA novel with an impressive heroine, useful for young readers wanting to gain a better understanding of Shakespeare.

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman: Production status unknown!

Daisy Ridley is having a busy time! In The Lost Wife, she is slated to play Lenka, a young art student living with her well-heeled Jewish family in pre-WWII Prague. She falls in love with a friend’s older brother, Josef, who is following his father’s footsteps into medicine.

While Josef escapes with his family for the USA, Lenka’s own family are sent to the ghetto Terezin, where art became a way to resist the Nazi regime. She joins the underground painters’ movement, who managed to smuggle their work to the outside world. 

Author Richman studied art history, and she’s written a very, glamorous, beautiful novel which is perfect for fans of this genre of Holocaust chick lit. 

There seems to be few updates about the potential movie, but I hope they change it so that the ending….is at the end.

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer, is soon to be released on Netflix in the UK.

Four women are sent by a secret government agency to investigate Area X, a stretch of quarantined coast in the USA. 

The Biologist, the Psychologist, the Surveyor and the Anthropologist (we’re given no names) uncover a terrifying force writing on the walls of an subterranean tower: “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner…”

As if I had breathed in the spores from the cover, the genre-defying Annihilation is immersive and sinister.

It does take the Biologist’s field journal as source material, and while she’s content spending hours observing lifeforms in tidal pools, I’m not! The novel also flashes back to her life with her husband, who volunteered for an earlier, doomed, expedition.

I hope the movie doesn’t end up like Alien Covenant,  with scientists behaving stupidly while trudging through the wilderness. Luckily, it’s directed by Alex Garland, who proved he knows a thing or two about creepy tension with Ex Machina!

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber, which is now an Amazon pilot, renamed Oasis.

From a woman of science to a man of faith – King of the North Richard Madden has gone interstellar, playing a chaplain in budget sci-fi Oasis, which also stars Haley Joel Osment.

The pilot takes as very loose inspiration Michel (Under the Skin) Faber’s melancholy novel The Book of Strange New Things (published in 2014). Chaplain Peter Leigh leaves his beloved wife to work for a shadowy multinational, ministering to the native inhabitants of a distant colonized planet named Oasis.

Peter’s new congregation were introduced to the Bible by his (missing) predecessor. They’ve taken to it enthusiastically, calling themselves Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Two, etc. Their ‘faces’ resemble “a placenta with two foetuses…nestled knee to knee.”

To speak their language, Peter would “need to rip off his own head and gargle through the stump.” (Any linguists want a challenge?!)

A monumental, genre-defying novel about grief, it seems very unlikely that the pilot will go to series. 

Game of Thrones season 7 is short and full of terrors

At the start of season seven I wrote a grumpy post about how much I didn’t love Game of Thrones. Once they used up Grim’s good books (the first three!) from the Ice and Fire series, and then outpaced the novels entirely, the HBO show went downhill.

Of course, I carried on watching for the sheer spectacle. It’s fun to read the theories and get into the post-episode breakdowns. Plus (with a few glaring exceptions) it’s a fine cast, and easy to invest in the characters (knowing full well they’ll get killed off when you do).

I like to muse over which character I’d be if Westeros were real, although I’d probably be stone cold dead. I’d try to live by the sea, eking out my days and avoiding trouble – basically the same as my life here on Earth really.

The Red Priestess gig looks good. They never seem to feel the cold, and Stannis’ erstwhile sorceress possesses the hocus-pocus to look fab at 400 years old.

I’d love to be that arch and dramatic, but I’m more of a Gilly, the girl who thought being a Wildling made her “sound a bit dangerous.” She’s currently in the Citadel with Sam, who has turned out to be a total wildcard.

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Knocking spots off that Targaryen girl: Hannah Murray as the absent Gilly. Credit HBO

Jon, meanwhile, is busy stomping around Dragonstone for his precious obsidian. (He got Davos to make those cave drawings, right?)

I hope Tyrion gets behind Jon, and I hope Jon & Dany don’t happen. Kit needs something to act opposite, and Jon, like Robb, needs to avoid exotic bimbos and marry a nice Westerosi girl. Meera Reed is available…

Because Bran is the Three Eyed Raven now, and people are gunning for Sansa to claim the North. Really? So far, Sansa has excelled at two things: being brutalized and running a castle. She was born to be a good highborn wife and run the domestic sphere – not command men or be a politician.

High on my Thrones wish list is seeing Jaime get together with Brienne, assuming she’ll still have him after he got sucker-punched by an old lady. I suppose the Kingslayer is a catch, although I wouldn’t want Cersei’s cast-offs. Ugh.

I think in the books he was well shot of her by now. Maybe the Drogon near-miss and the dip in a lake will bring him to his senses, finally.

It’s winter for our heroes, but summer for us fans. Years of trudging through the seasons have led to this payoff –  dragons over Westeros, Stark reunions and the unveiling of secret Targaryens.

And yup, we’ve already hit this season’s halfway point, for it is short and full of terrors…(Come back Melisandre!)

girls book on cafe table

The Girls by Emma Cline – a book review

The Girls was one of the biggest, most hyped books of 2016. Debut author Emma Cline’s manuscript sparked a bidding war and was optioned by a powerful Hollywood producer long before it even reached shelves.

Amy Adams-lookalike Cline is young, enigmatic – and like the heroine of her coming-of-age novel – she grew up in sun-kissed California. There the similarity ends, with The Girls set during the late sixties, with a story inspired (rather luridly) by the infamous Manson cult murders.

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The novel focuses on its 14-year-old narrator Evie Boyd. Her parents are newly divorced; her father lives with his young girlfriend in another town, while Evie’s mother is busy dating and following every New Age trend going.

Evie studies the studio portrait of her late maternal grandmother – a famous, beautiful actress. “The realization was bracing” she thinks, “we looked nothing alike.” Evie’s dour best friend dumps her for a new best friend, who throws a drink in Evie’s face.

Bored and crippled by insecurity, Evie’s the kind of girl Russell Hadrick preys on. He’s teaching his followers about a “new kind of society”, that’s “free from racism, free from exclusion, free from hierarchy.” Except it’s not Russell, but his teenage lieutenant Suzanne, who holds a dark pull for Evie.

Some of the girls in thrall to Russell have vague histories of abuse and violence, but Suzanne’s a sly one – her past, motives and feelings for Evie remain obscure. During her long summer at the group’s decrepit ranch, Evie becomes less passive, acquiring coarser edges from Suzanne and co. as they scavenge, steal, and drop acid.

It’s been compared to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, another queasily authentic look at the horrors of being an ordinary, unpopular teenage girl.

Sections with the older, adult Evie aren’t as successful, with Cline struggling to write a character much older then herself. But The Girls is a bleak, woozy, sometimes overwritten debut about the forces that shape and ruin girls’ lives.

My Sweet Revenge by Jane Fallon – book review

In the summer, my cat makes me sit outside where I can’t get any WiFi. Apparently she is too scared to stay in the garden by herself, and just feels safer when I’m there.

I suppose I could spend my enforced no-WiFi time doing Yoga and meditating on how I became so devoted to such a demanding creature, but it’s actually a great chance to catch up on some reading.

My Sweet Revenge was written under the furry supervision of author Jane Fallon’s diva moggy Ollie (she’s a girl) Fallon-Gervais, so it’s only right it should be read while under the paw too.

Ollie has her own Twitter account (37,000 followers) and my familiarity with her social media antics clued me in that I would love Jane’s world. Not that Jane writes Ollie’s Tweets, of course.

So I really have to thank Olls – because this isn’t the kind of book I’d grab off the shelf. I know it’s not necessarily a popular term, but ‘chick lit’ isn’t generally for me. (Fair play to all such writers out there –  I would never have the talent to write it.)

As expected, Jane Fallon’s work has too much drama and deceit to be fluffy or girly. It’s chick lit written by an evil feline genius.

The heroine, Paula, works in a bakery (hence that mouthwatering jacket cover) and her idea of getting back at her (apparently) cheating husband isn’t just to fling a cream pie in his lying face.

(See? That would be the plot of my own romantic revenge novel.)

Paula and her husband Robert met at drama school; his acting career took off, hers didn’t. Robert’s not exactly Benedict Cumberbatch famous, more like second-billed lead on a soap (or ‘long-running drama’) famous, and beloved by the nation’s grannies. The couple’s teenage daughter Georgia is the only celeb sprog on the planet to not be an aspiring actress/photographer/model, and has her heart set on medical school instead.

Their life is shattered when Paula makes a discovery leading her to believe that Robert is having an affair with a gorgeous co-star named Saskia, who is married to a producer on their show Farmer Giles (!). Paula doesn’t confront her husband, deciding instead to execute a scheme for retribution that will make him fall back in love with her, while scuppering any chance he has of happiness with Saskia.

It’s playful, addictive, and about as likely as a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, calorie-free pastry ever tasting good. Paula is a great main character – likeable and with enough gusto to keep the reader engaged. I honestly could not see the twists coming. The book has been an absolute joy and a great vacation read.

Verdict: I haven’t enjoyed a story set in an bakery so much since Pushing Daisies.