Tag Archives: fiction

catherine steadman something in the water movie

BOOK REVIEW: Something in the Water….

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, while 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. (Granted, that term gets chucked around a lot.)

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 wedding followed by a honeymoon on Bora Bora, and we’re treated to 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 a gangland legend named 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…”

🌴🌴🌴🌴

13 reasons why book differences

NETFLIX 13 Reasons Why: Book/Show Review

Recently I read the new story collection, “You Think It, I’ll say It”, by Curtis Sittenfeld, 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, based on Jay Asher’s 2007 YA novel about a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves a suicide note blaming her classmates before taking her own life. Her ‘note’ is actually a set of audio tapes, passed between thirteen recipients under threat of being exposed by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen 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 and sweeter than an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, and a whole episode is devoted to that character and about what Hannah says they did wrong, and about everything that was going wrong in their own lives, which, we discover, was a lot…

Because 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 and runs 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, and 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 – and winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. I get that certain aspects – such as the bullying and social pressures – hit home for many young female viewers, but the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving that I don’t get the 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, and 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, and ongoing exposure can be a 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 and avoiding eye contact, but he avoided talking to her partly because of what other kids would say if they knew he liked her. He had no idea who she really was; he just believed what other people said. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age, and I think the message is less about trying to ‘save’ others, as it is to reach out, and be friendly and undaunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe 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.

Book Reviews Blog

Would you rather…

Although I’ve technically had this blog for a few years, I’ve only been well enough to put more time in recently. My goal is to post every week, but I’ve been too weak this, er…week, so I’m rather grateful to Sara @ The Bibilophagist for this open book-related tag!

WOULD YOU RATHER…

1. Rather read only a series or stand-alone books?
Stand-alone books.

2. Rather read a book whose main character is male or female?
I notice that I tend to pick books with a female main character. I seem more likely to gravitate to female-led stories and authors, but I don’t feel I have an active preference, if that makes sense.

3. Rather shop only at Barnes & Noble (or another actual bookstore) or Amazon?
I find buying online is cheaper.

4. Rather all books become movies or tv shows?
The TV show format is clearly more attractive, because you have more time. Especially now where you have streaming shows and you can watch 10 plus hours in one go.

5. Rather read 5 pages per day or read 5 books per week?
I salute bloggers who read 5 books a week! I would love to read 5 books a week, but I give myself a pat on the back if I manage two books a week, max. So I’d have to say 5 pages. 😦

6. Rather be a professional book reviewer or an author?
I want to be an author. I am working on it, and it’s one of the reasons I haven’t blogged as much as I would like, because I just don’t have the strength to focus on my writing projects and my blog. 🤕🤒

7.  Rather only read the same 20 books over and over or get to read a new book every 6 months?
Ugh. Neither. But I’d rather get a new book every 6 months.

8. Rather be a librarian or own a bookstore?
I think I would be best suited to owning my own book shop. It would be very interesting.

9. Rather only read your favourite genre or your favourite author?
My favourite genre for sure. I would be unhappy restricted to one author.

10. Rather only read physical books or eBooks?
I love the feel and the smell of new books. On the other hand, eBooks are instantly available on download, and they make it so much easier to make notes. Sadly, I’d have to choose eBooks.


 My Goodreads| My Twitter| My Instagram|

All seriously neglected, but I’m trying to get into the swing. I follow back all book, movie and writing accounts! Lx

Book Haul! Future adaptations Ophelia & The Lost Wife

Earlier this year I read Lion, about a little Indian boy, Saroo, who gets lost in Kolkata, and survives on the streets before being adopted by an Australian family. As an adult he tracks down his mother and sister in India by using Google Earth.

The incredible true story became a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel. I watched it and couldn’t help but be disappointed – it wasn’t a patch on the book. Yet if I’d seen it in theatres first, I wouldn’t have bothered picking up the memoir.

As a film blogger, I’d already packed my incredibly packed (not really) reading list with some future adaptations and it’s quite a mix – YA, historical, science fiction. I better get cracking before I’m tempted to laze in front of the screen. Here goes the YA/fluffier reading..

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein

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Ophelia by Lisa Klein

Get thee to a nunnery…not as passionate as Juliet, or bold and witty as Beatrice, Ophelia has always seemed a flimsy role.

But Lisa Klein’s re-imagining of Hamlet from his love interest’s perspective has forever banished thoughts of her as a tragic waif.

We meet Ophelia as a motherless girl moving to the court of Danish King Hamlet, with her ambitious father Polonius and callow brother Laertes.

Under Queen Gertrude’s slightly capricious care, Ophelia grows into an exceptionally intelligent woman whom I can see inhabited by Daisy Ridley. She catches the eye of Prince Hamlet, and becomes an expert on botany and herbology, curing the ailments of people at court.

What if she used those skills – and her formidable intelligence – to try to survive the tragedy that engulfs her family and Denmark?

I was a bit doubtful when I read that the characters talk with ‘contemporary language’, but it’s not “Yo Hamlet, your mother’s a total MILF.” (Gertrude will be played by Naomie Watts.) They don’t speak in blank verse, but there is a vivid sense of time and place.

As a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, Klein knows the setting and characters, and the result is a very atmospheric YA novel with a genuinely impressive heroine, although I did find the final quarter heavy-going.

Wrapped back in July after shooting in the Czech Republic, the film will star George MacKay – who was very good in Captain Fantastic – as Hamlet, and Tom ‘Draco Malfoy’ Felton as Laertes.

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman

Daisy Ridley is having a busy year (or two). In this, she is slated to play a young art student in WWII Prague.

Lenka, a young Jewish woman living with her well-heeled family, falls in love with a classmate’s older brother, Josef, who is following his father’s footsteps into medicine. They marry, but when he escapes with his family for the USA, Lenka’s own family are unable to follow, and the couple are torn apart.

This is well-researched (life in Prague before the occupation; the artwork of Jews suffering in the ghetto Terezin; the bravery of a few to produce an underground movement) but I couldn’t take to it.

Richman’s prose is flowing and romantic, but this is no epic, ambitious narrative. I didn’t believe Lenka and Josef were real people, while the secondary characters are very lightly daubed on the page, and their stories end (tragically) when it is clearly very convenient, which undercuts the tragedy.

I also have doubts about Richman’s decision to start the novel with the conclusion.

It’s hard to dismiss this as lightweight when Auschwitz and Mengele – names which strike immediate horror – appear in the text. Lenka’s choices and circumstances are naturally going to be heart-wrenching, but if I wanted to read a deeply affecting account of the Holocaust, there are plenty of books out there.

I suspect Richman just isn’t a writer I could enjoy. It’s far too early to say anything about the movie, but I hope they change it so that the ending….is at the end.

Next week, I review some forthcoming sci-fi adaptations….

The Light Between Oceans is Instagram-worthy, if not awards-worthy

The Light Between Oceans, or as I keep calling it – The Light Between Oscars – was once quite buzzy, tipped to give Alicia Vikander another shot at Best Actress after she lifted the trophy for The Danish Girl in 2016.

Based on a very popular work of historical fiction by M.L Stedman, an Australian serviceman, Tom Sherbourne (Fassy), returns from WWI. He marries Isabel (Vikander), and they go and live in his remote lighthouse.

After Isabel suffers two harrowing miscarriages, a lifeboat with a dead man and a squalling baby washes ashore.

A hesitant Fassy lets his wife keep the baby and raise her as their own. Things then take a Hardyesque twist when Fassy stumbles across Hannah (Rachel Weisz) weeping beautifully beside a memorial at the same church where the Sherbournes are holding their child’s christening.

the-light-between-oceans

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Entertainment One

This is, I think, the first big studio film by Derek Cianfrance, director of the indie hit Blue Valentine (skipped it – Ryan Gosling does my head in).

Light is a melodramatic, sweeping romance but Vikander is so intense, and the premise so far-fetched, that early on I wondered if it would veer off into psychological horror, with the lighthouse and the baby manifestations of the character’s break with reality.

After that early, creepy suspense, it gets really overwrought, with an ending that felt badly rushed.

Rachel Weisz is surprisingly a gentle undercurrent to the lighthouse couple; Fassy gives a very reserved, stoic performance as the traumatized veteran, while the new Lara Croft Vikander is a storm to be reckoned with once again.

As husband and wife, they have an interesting chemistry and are quite contrasting onscreen. Vikander is still such an ingĂŠnue it looks like Fassbender might have plucked a child bride from the sea. He’s a rarefied thespian; she’s raw and tumultuous.

By all means, I think people should see The Light Between Oceans, just for all the talent on board. It is probably the most beautiful film of last year, with the stunning coast and stark lighthouse interiors. You could Instagram the living daylights out of it.

BOOK REVIEW: My Sweet Revenge by Jane Fallon

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.

Mini reviews: Suffragette, Brooklyn, Macbeth

Awards season is over. But before we greet the arrival of 2016’s summer blockbusters, some of the Best Picture nominees are still on the big screen, possibly enjoying a little post-Oscars boost.

There are also got some great recent and recent-ish movie releases available on DVD/Blu-ray and on digital.

March is Women’s History Month, so therefore, I thought I should start with…

Suffragette

The fight for women’s voting rights in the UK is a complicated narrative that began in the nineteenth century and dragged on for years. The campaign took many forms and involved various divisions and splinter groups.

Director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan have set their story just before the outbreak of the First World War, when the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) were intensifying their demonstrations and acts of militancy.

The movie’s focus is not on the famous Pankhurst family or other powerful, real-life figures, but on the fictional character of plain old Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). She’s a London washerwoman who becomes involved in the turmoil when she sees a co-worker lob a brick through a shop window.

Maud has few joys besides her small, sickly son. As she becomes increasingly drawn in to the movement she discovers a different way of looking at life. She takes up the WPSU’s motto: “Deeds not words”. Her new stance brings her into conflict with her husband, her employer and of course, the authorities.

Mulligan is inescapably modern and patrician, no matter ‘ow much she drops ‘er h’s. But her palpable intelligence serves the film well. She throws herself into the role with such furious conviction it’s impossible not to care.

Mulligan’s performance, along with support from Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff (plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Meryl Streep) make this well-made historical drama engrossing and moving.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a wholesome, refreshing drama that casts a spell on the viewer. Based on Colm TĂłibĂ­n’s award-winning 2009 novel (which I haven’t read), it follows a young 1950s Irish woman starting a new life in the titular New York borough.

Eilish (Saoirse Ronan) is from a small town in the Emerald Isle, where her only bonds are her mother and older sister. Eilis’ part-time job comes with a gossipy, bitter boss known as Nettles Kelly (Brid Brennan).

Across the sea in Brooklyn, Eilish lives in a boarding house with other women, attends night classes and meets a charming Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen). Best of all she has Julie Walters as her landlady and a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) to watch over her as she battles homesickness.

Just as Eilish is blossoming, deaths and marriages call her back to Ireland. She meets the reserved Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), the kind of lad who wasn’t around when she left. (Or maybe, her new experiences mean she sees people in a different way.) Ultimately, Eilish has to make a wrenching decision.

It is a beautiful film – lovely and gentle without ever becoming boring or syrupy. .

Macbeth

I won’t be the first to say that this is Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation, where the production values of HBO collide with the Bard’s verse. The playwright based his famous tale of treachery and tyranny on historical accounts of Scottish rulers, while George R.R. Martin’s books are hugely inspired by the country’s history.

Director Justin Kurzel’s re-working of Shakespeare’s classic tale is one of stark landscapes, mud and battle scenes. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran was heavily influenced by Norse clothing and architecture, and there is a distinct Vikings-feel, while Kurzel’s brother Jed composed the breathtaking, hypnotic score.

Out of the cold Scottish mist comes Michael Fassbender as warrior nobleman Macbeth. Fassbender’s Macbeth is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress; he endures flashbacks in slow-mo while soldiers slain in battle haunt him with their thousand-yard stares.

Marion Cotillard is Lady Macbeth, urging her husband to gain the throne from King Duncan (David Thewlis). Cotillard is the first French actress to portray Lady Macbeth on film in an English-language production.

She makes the character more sympathetic than expected – in this version, her scheming is linked to grief and a lost child. She goads Macbeth into his first evil act, which seems to totally unhinge him for good. Cotillard then seems to slink back in terror as Fassbender gets scarier and bloodier.

Mini reviews: Sicario, The Martian, Crimson Peak

It’s February. That means cold, freezing weather.

It is also the culmination of the awards season. Yes, it’s nearly time for the biggest, glitziest celebrity ceremony of the year – The Oscars.

Chilly, horrible weather, and awards season? I think I better start with…

THE MARTIAN

Ridley’s Scott’s latest space offering is set on the red planet, where things get pretty cold. It is nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Actor for Matt Damon, and Best Picture.

In a tale of human strength and the will to survive, NASA botanist Mark Watney (Damon) is abandoned on Mars after being struck by debris. Believed dead by the rest of his team, they blast off and leave him behind ET-style.

Setting the tone for the movie, Watney has to patch himself up after getting harpooned in the gut. It’s realistic and gritty, unlike my beloved Prometheus (also directed by Ridley). It’s clear that Ridley and Watney are going to “science the shit” out of this one.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, it contains laughs – more than in some so-called comedies – even if the Earth scenes get as dry as Martian soil. Luckily, whenever things get a bit boring or lofty at NASA HQ, something goes wrong for Watney and the film becomes engrossing again. (Not that I actively wanted him to suffer or anything.)

The red planet looks like a beautiful destination and the astronauts have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery. Eventually, the lonely Watney almost looks like part of the rocky landscape.

It’s not as good or moving as Gravity, but it’s still a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity. There’s no doubt Matt Damon is the Best Actor on Mars.

CRIMSON PEAK

Before I watch Crimson Peak I have it pegged as a not-very-good Victorian horror.  I know it has a pedigree, with stars like Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, and cult director Guillermo del Toro. Yet Crimson Peak flopped at the box office.

Wasikowska is aspiring writer Edith Cushing, whose genuine sweetness is never overshadowed by the movie’s darkening atmosphere. Edith’s dad is a decent, bearded fellow; her mother is a creepy, inky ghost. Edith also has a suitor in the shape of Charlie Hunnam’s mild-mannered physician Dr Alan McMichael.

Enter Tom Hiddleston as Sir Thomas Sharpe. Sharpe is a British aristocratic with a crumbling estate back home, and he’s seeking investors for his mining inventions. Pa instantly dislikes him – he certainly seems a bit ineffectual, especially next to his Bronte mean girl sister Lucille (Chastain).

Edith marries the brooding Hiddles and returns to England with him to live at said crumbling estate. There’s a gaping hole in the roof and gross red clay oozing through the walls and the floors. The cast and the decomposing goo-mansion seem to breathe and sigh as one soggy, yet determined and talented mess.

Although it is sinister, it doesn’t deliver shocks or scares like the Victorian Gothic The Woman in Black. This is probably because it isn’t intended as a horror/ghost story. It’s a dark costume drama, a weird Tim Burtonish fantasy and a brooding romance – I’m not sure. I wonder if anyone in charge of the marketing knew either.

Kudos to the movie’s strange warmth and passion, and to a great cast and costumes.

SICARIO

There’s horror in Sicario, a fictional war-on-drugs action crime thriller. From the start, it is so brutal I actually had to wonder what I was doing watching it.

Idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is a kidnap response expert who makes a particularly gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), a DoD advisor/CIA- somebody-or-other, and his even shadier partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro).

Blunt is wide-eyed and vulnerable – enough to be affecting, but not so much to be miscast as a door-kicker rolling with Delta Force. If she were named Jennifer Lawrence, she’d have another Oscar nomination in the bag.

There probably isn’t enough there though, for Blunt to have garnered awards consideration. She’s the audience’s proxy, and she doesn’t have many lines or really drive the story forward. She’s along for the ride, just staring in horror at the violence depicted on both sides; in this movie, the good guys have decided to fight very dirty.

Del Toro gives a most enigmatic performance. He actually turns waking up from a nap into compelling onscreen action. Kate can’t tear her eyes off him; neither can the audience.

The two characters have a murky relationship. She appears attracted to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

Sicario is nominated for cinematography, original score and sound editing at the Oscars.

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