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These Witches Don’t Burn

They say there’s a fine line between love and hate.

Queer teenage witches! And it shows, in this YA, littering the story with some bad decisions and Very Emotional Moments. Because: teenagers.

Main character Hannah is a real witch, living in Salem, and trying to keep her and her family’s magic a secret from those that are ordinary humans. It gets harder when attacks start to happen, her ex-girlfriend attempts to get her back while at the same time moving on with someone else, a cute new girl arrives and her coven puts down the law on magic use. Basically ordinary teenage life, indeed.

It might be testament to Isabel Sterling’s writing that sometimes it’s all very teenager, making everyone and their decisions a bit too annoying and young for this reader. This is balanced out by Hannah’s sweet thoughts and emotions about her sexuality and crush(es), and honestly – hasn’t anyone had their Teenage Moments.

As is my usual complaint; more world building would have been welcome, but for those that are always on the look out for more queer YA: These Witches Don’t Burn is a proper one.

These Witches Don’t Burn, Isabel Sterling, Penguin Random House 2019

Le chant du loup

115 min.

Het was een poos geleden sinds ik laatst een Franse film zag, met Franse televisie niet veel korter daarna. Deze film wordt onder het Engelse The Wolf’s Call in de Nederlandse bioscopen gezet, dus de verwarring was kortstondig tijdens de introductie van de film.

poster le chant du loupDie introductie is ook zo’n beetje het enige moment dat de kijker in deze twee uur rust krijgt, en niet het gevoel dat er ademnood dreigt. De film speelt zich bijna compleet af op een onderzeeër, en ik raad de zeer claustrofobische lezer de film dan ook af.

Tijdens deze thriller wordt een team gevolgd tijdens maritieme acties, met nadruk op de jongeman die met absoluut gehoor de sonar en dreigingen in de gaten moet houden. Hij krijgt een klein beetje invulling naast zijn functie in de onderzeeër, de andere personages moeten het alleen met een naam en functie doen.

Voor een film van twee uur is het knap hoe het tempo wordt vastgehouden: zelfs als er een licht-absurde twist komt opdagen, is er weinig tijd om er te lang bij stil te staan. Door dit jakkerige is het bijna een opluchting wanneer je de aftiteling bereikt: dit heb je toch overleefd.

Mocht je zin hebben in een ‘ouderwetse’ thriller die niet vol CGI, ontploffingen en een luide soundtrack zit, kan je heel goed terecht bij Le chant du loup. Nog eventjes in de bioscoop te vinden.

Le chant du loup, Canal+ 2019

The Goblin Emperor

Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.

I hate to copy someone’s review but yes: if you’re about court stories, intrigue and politics in a fantasy setting, this one will do you real good. No need to call it Game of Thrones but with goblins: there’s not enough mass slaughter and incest for that. It (looks to be) is a stand alone as well, which doesn’t happen to often in fantasy either. And how often do goblins get their chance in the sun?

Well, in this book not all the time either. These are elvish countries after all, and freshly made emperor Maia is …not like the usual people in charge. He’s far from prepared for his new role, and there’s little people eager to help him out.

That’s where politics and intrigue come in. Sometimes there’s so many names and roles that it’s best just to cling to the story line, but it never turns into a list of characters. The glances at the world throughout make you long for more; another main story line about ordinary life in this steam punk-ish world would have been welcome.

All in all, it’s a solid, traditional built and written fantasy with some freshness coming from the steam punk elements (could have been more, but that’s world-building-loving me) and goblins in the spotlight.

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison, Tor 2014

After the Party

When I came out of prison my hair was white.

When we don’t learn from history something something repeat something something. Who would have thought that a book about fascism would be all too relevant again in the twenty-first century? Look, it even has women and children being brainwashed through children and ‘good people’ while parroting that above all “it’s about patriotism!”.

The title can be interpreted in two ways, I realise only now. Protagonist Phyllis returns to England when the second world war is just a spot on the horizon. She joins her sisters in a world of high(er) society, and so what if there’s stories about a very charismatic Leader whose party will take care of making Great Britain greater (I kid you not)? Parallels, anyone?

The time-hopping kind of spoils how Phyllis’ story goes, and I would have appreciated more focus on details about this “patriotic” party and their place in society. Now it’s mostly a slice-of-life look of a certain people and how easily they step into the “we just want the best (for people like us)” trap. A study of humanity – and their refusal to learn from history.

After the Party, Cressida Connolly, Viking Press 2018

Sweet Bean

113 min.

This is such a delicate, kind little movie (I tried hard not to use ‘sweet’ there). I’m sure that Asian entertainment has dumb blockbusters, sappy, clichéd romances and downright disgustingly bad films as well, but those that find their way here, to our cinemas and televisions, have yet to disappoint. Maybe it’s in the cinematography, maybe because the script writers don’t seem to be afraid about keeping things small. Anyway, Sweet Bean.

Sweet bean posterThe movie is about food, but not just about it. How food is betrayed in Asian cinema is another thing that always tickles my fancy, by the way. Those people care. In this case, it’s about a man in a dorayaki (look them up for enjoyable pictures of food) stand, and an old woman that likes to help out. There’s a small plot line about a teenage girl as well, and in some way they’re all brought together by food.

Under that current develops a much harsher story, but the director manages to keep the balance between sweet and melancholic impressively well. This way, it’s not just something you watch and forget, you take it with you as a gathering of soft musings. And possibly with a craving for dorayaki.

Sweet Bean, Aeon Entertainment 2015

Booksmart

102 min.

What a surprise: female teenagers can be shortsighted, crude and bad decision makers as well! With this film coming from the people behind Superbad and similar material, I was honestly a bit surprised that there weren’t more nudity, body-parts, and/or poop related jokes.

Booksmart posterIn Booksmart two very devoted school-going and study-religious female teenagers and best friends are shocked when they discover that you don’t need to deny yourself a life to achieve the best grades and highest accolades. Even students that *party* turn out to have great grades, which means that the two feel like they’ve wasted their high school years and need to correct it before university. Luckily there are plenty end-of-the-year parties, and a party is what will change everything (they’re still teens, after all).

What follows are American Mr. Bean-like situations that sometimes go on too long, but at the very least gives the young women involved (and one man) room to show that they’re people with flaws and ups and downs and that sometimes you have to do something to discover if it’s someone you are/want to be or not.

That’s also what gives the film its charm: stereotypes are (slightly) dismantled and there are enough believable situations and actions that won’t make you wonder how far away writers are distanced from teenagers and high school.

Booksmart, Annapurna Pictures 2019

Ananas

In mijn herinnering ging het als volgt.

Een non-fictie boek over ananas omdat de auteur liefdesverdriet heeft. Het is dat de recensies zo positief waren.

Want wat weet je nu eigenlijk van ananas en wat zou je willen weten? Hoe vul je er een paar honderd pagina’s mee? Vrij eenvoudig, blijkt. Lex Boon besluit door een ananasplant de wereld rond te gaan reizen, en zo leer je niet alleen over de plant maar ook over verschillende culturen en werkomstandigheden.

Daarnaast passeren zijn romantische avonturen, die enigszins het tempo uit zijn reisverhalen halen. Misschien was de auteur te grondig, en heeft hij alles verteld over ananassen dat er te vertellen is. Dit doet hij wel op een aantrekkelijke manier; er is amper het gevoel van ‘studieboek’ dat nog wel eens met non-fictie kan begonnen.

Ik kan me moeilijk voorstellen dat iemand echt heel graag alles wilt weten over ananassen, maar voor hen – zoals ikzelf – die van tijd tot tijd graag een toegankelijk non-fictie boek leest, is Ananas een frisse optie.

Ananas, Lex Boon, Meulenhoff 2019

Aladdin

128 min.

Tsja, Disney lijkt nu helemaal enige originaliteit te hebben opgegeven en is nu gewoon haar eigen animatiefilms op een andere manier aan het aanbieden: ‘live action’. In het geval van Aladdin (vrij veel mensen) is dat nog redelijk makkelijk te accepteren: ik ben benieuwd naar de ‘echte dieren’ van Lion King straks.

Aladdin posterAnyway, wie kent het verhaal niet? Met de remake was er meer discussie over de casting (moest dat compleet Midden-Oosters zijn), de aankleding (een combinatie van Midden-Oosten en Aziatisch, kon dat wel gemixt?), de liedjes (moest dat wel?), Will Smith als Genie (waarom probeerde hij het sowieso?) en simpelweg de luiheid van Disney (in de vorige alinea genoemd). En trouwens, de stoere Guy Ritchie voor het keurslijf van Disney?

Dat is ook wel te merken: zelfs voor een Disney-film is Aladdin wel héél licht en luchtig. De slechterik is geen moment indrukwekkend en/of eng, er is geen ruimte voor zielige momenten, en zelfs de meegalmliedjes worden afgekapt of zijn zo bewerkt dat de kracht er uit is. En de romantiek? Nou ja, omdat we het verhaal kennen dan maar. De drie hoofdrolspelers kloppen wel in deze zachtzoete omgeving, en het is duidelijk dat Will Smith er plezier in heeft. En dat is – met de muziek erbij – toch wel aanstekelijk.

Aladdin, Disney 2019

 

Crosstalk

By the time Briddey pulled into the parking garage at Commspan, there were forty-two text messages on her phone.

“You were so busy discovering if you could, that you didn’t spend time wondering if you should”, to paraphrase a certain fictional character involved with dinosaurs. Another subtitle could have been ‘Communication, are you sure it should be endless?’

And all that while I was recommended this novel as good representation of the romance genre. Maybe I should have known better, this author wrote Doomsday Book.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t any romance (although it’s a spectacular slow burn), it just means it’s surrounded by the scientific element of getting an implant that will make you sensitive to the emotions and moods of your loved ones. Sounds like a bad idea, right?

It turns worse when some things happen that shouldn’t and some shouldn’t that should. Willis spends a lot of time on lore, which a bit too often leads to “I can’t tell you that right now!” cop outs. It’s the only frustrating thing about the novel, and the only thing that brings the tempo down.

Honestly, with certain elements going haywire, you could even use this book as an argument for taking internet- and social media use down a tad. The romance, and the lore, are bonuses.

Crosstalk, Connie Willis, Gollancz 2016

 

Internment

I strain to listen for boots on the pavement.

Looking back after having finished this novel I realise how naive and privileged it is of me to have thought “well sometimes she’s exaggerating a bit”. Something about how we are doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it, etc.

In this case the lesson is ‘Do not imprison innocent people for the sole reason that their religion, skin colour and/or ancestral background is different from yours’. Shown in the Second World War, the States did it with Japanese Americans, and Samira Ahmed does it a few decades later with American Muslims. Because in Internment a president – very alike of the one the USA has right now – comes in power, and he’s much more effective in getting his racist ideas turned into actions. American Muslims are put into camps on American soil.

And just like before, there are plenty euphemisms going around. None can cover up that the camp is surrounded by barb wire, that every guard has a weapon and that any sign or sound of protest is violently taken down. Here comes my conclusion from the first paragraph in: isn’t this put down all a bit too extremely? I should know better. We all should.

It’s good that the novel is less than 300 pages, because there’s no escaping the terror the characters are put through. Not just the mental and physical torture; also the shock of seeing how fast people get used to it. Again, as we should know.

All this makes for a bitter pill that as many as possible of us should swallow.

Internment, Samira Ahmed, Little, Brown & Company 2019