The Vicious Deep

I hear the first wave before I see it-

Teenage boys really think about their dicks a lot. Being related to the king of the mermaids isn’t that important, where did his dick go?

But okay, mermaids for once, instead of vampires or werewolves. And no matter how often the main character wishes he would have a more masculine problem (oh, male teenagers), there’s nothing girly or frilly about the world he ends up in.

Tristan has – I assume – plain male teenager problems, until he survives a freak wave, gets sick and starts dreaming of a scary mermaid.

Combine discovering a whole new side of himself and his family with a best friend/love interest and finishing high school, and neither the reader or Tristan get time to take a breather.

The Vicious Deep offers some nice world building and (strange) insight to the teenage boy’s mind. It’s the first book of a series, but can do fine without any sequels.

The Vicious Deep, Zoraida Córdova, Sourcebooks 2012

Prairie Ostrich

Egg Murakami is eight years old and her feet are perfect.

If only Egg and her family’s lives were as close to perfection as her feet were. “Not a happy story” is part of the summary of this novel, and they’re not wrong. I’d tell you not to read it on an already bad day, but I’d tell you to read it for the (possible) unfamiliar point of view.

The point of view of a Canadian-Japanese family in white, small town surroundings. Combine with this a death in the family, an alcohol problem and a closeted sibling and it’s understandable that they mention “not a happy family” in the blurb. Egg tries so hard, but no eight year old can change the world by herself.

It being a short story saves it from being completely and utterly depressing. Try it for the point of view and the small glimmers of hope.

Prairie Ostrich, Tamai Kobayashi, Goose Lane 2014

Undermajordomo Minor

Lucien Minor’s mother had not wept, had not come close to weeping at their parting.

Uh, well, erm, what kind of book was this? Pretty early into it I already tweeted “This book is going to be awesome-weird or how-what-why-frustration-fueled-weird” and it landed largely on the side of the last option.

The blurbs call it darkly comedic, a fairy tale, a commentary. I only recognised the fairy tale part. There’s an unlikely hero (soft on the hero part), a strange village with a stranger castle with even stranger people inhabiting it. Mysteries happen as well, but somehow, along the way, the author seemingly decided to start unveiling them.

This turns things from a-bit-out-there to too neatly wrapped up, and with an unsatisfying end to boot. I don’t know why it was on my To Read list, but I’m not going to pass it on.

Undermajordomo Minor, Patrick DeWitt, Anansi 2015

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine – he could see out, but you couldn’t see in.

No, this isn’t a romance. This is more my kind of non-fiction. A collection of strange characters with a criminal case on top as the whipped cream on a sticky chocolate cake. When truth is stranger than fiction.

New York journalist Berendt finds Savannah (Georgia), and slowly builds a life there. It’s a sheltered, contained community, floating on What Will The Neighbours Think (And Do). He meets plenty of diverse characters, and life seems to be delightful, weird and exciting, until something happens that can’t be swept underneath the carpet: a lethal shooting in one of the grand houses.

After that the story mixes High Society with the court of law, showing that being a known figure can work against you as much as it can for you. It dims the story a little, but from front to back it continues to feel more like a sultry novel than a true story.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, John Berendt, Random House 1994

Allen Klein:

Everyone in the world wants to be a Beatle.

The title is kind of everything you need to know to summarize this book. Sadly, it leaves out all the disappointing filler you have to plow through to get to the cool (music entertainment) tidbits. I won’t bother with biographies for a while, I just don’t care enough about just one person to read a couple of hundred pages about him.

Because Allen Klein gets so much life story that The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Apple and Eric Clapton all turn into third rate side characters. Klein did THAT or didn’t do THAT, Klein was a cheater but refused a divorce, Klein was a bulldog that no-one loved, Klein was a revolutionary, and so on, and so on. I thought that not knowing the main character would make reading easier, but it didn’t. My interest in the (music) entertainment business only became less, not more.

I wouldn’t even know who to recommend this to. Fans of the mentioned bands probably already know about their shared history, and it’s too dense for everyone else. Ignore it, surely there are more accessible books about the music industry out there.

Allen Klein: The man who bailed out The Beatles, made The Stones and transformed rock & roll, Fred Goodman, An Eamon Dolan Book 2015

Guardian of the Dead

I opened my eyes.

Between okay and “why did I put this on my list” non-fiction, I previously had the wonderful Fates and Furies to lift my reading experience up. Now I can add Guardian of the Dead as a delightful breath of fresh air (nothing bad about non-fiction meant, it just has to work harder to blow me away).

This book (a debut novel) did. This isn’t just another YA novel. The usual suspects of love triangle, unknowingly perfect hero(ine) and lack of any friendships/relationships are almost non-existent (the author has a good excuse for the last one). But probably the most exciting thing was the use of Māori mythology. And not in an ‘ Oh, Ah, how exotic and strange’ way, but very much as a part of daily, contemporary life. It shows that there’s more to mythology than another version of Zeus messing up things.

Not that messing up doesn’t happen. Main character Ellie walks into a bite-more-than-you-can-chew situation that might turn into the end of New Zealand as we know it. Throw in frustrations about family, school, and body, add a crush (there is a slightly mysterious love interest), some female friendships and enemies,  some unexpected magic and you get a maelstrom of entertainment.

Read it, love it hopefully as much as I do.

Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey, Hachette Book Company 2010


The Heat

123 min.

Het is toch net een iets ander cliché als het vrouwen zijn. Deze film had net zo makkelijk dertien in een dozijn kunnen zijn met Seth Rogen/James Franco, The Rock/Kevin Hart, of een ander mannelijk koppel uit de Jude Apatow stal. Buddy cop comedy met mannelijke buddies, natuurlijk! Maar deze keer dan dus niet. Met twee vrouwelijke hoofdrolspelers.

the heat posterDie allebei ook twee grote clichés spelen. De ene is uptight, een kenau workaholic waar niemand mee kan/wil samenwerken, de ander is te aggressief, te aso, en niemand wil/kan met haar samenwerken. Dan is er ook nog een plot van “niemand gelooft ons/iedereen werkt ons tegen/alleen wij kunnen dit redden” en de bingokaart van clichés is compleet.

Gelukkig is het grappig, zelfs wanneer het banaal en fout is en iets te lang duurt. Door de clichés waardoor je weet wat je kunt verwachten, maar ook omdat Bullock en McCarthy zo’n lol schijnen te hebben. Het kan dus best wel een keertje, vrouwen in de hoofdrol.

The Heat, Twentieth Century Fox 2013

Beautiful Ruins

The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come in directly – in a boat that motored into the cave, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier.

Wist ik bij Fates and Furies niet hoe ik mijn onder-de-indruk-heid moest overbrengen, weet ik nu niet hoe dit boek als ‘goed maar teleurstellend’ uit te leggen. Het lijkt wel een beroep, dat recenseren.

Beautiful Ruins werkt van veel mysterie (wat zijn de verbanden tussen deze mensen, waarom leven ze (niet) op deze manier, wie is de vader) netjes alle lijntjes af tot alles duidelijk is. Bijna te duidelijk dus, want zo verandert zwoel avontuur in “verkeerde tijd, verkeerde plaats, verkeerde persoon”. Een kater van een boek, verdorie.

Misschien had ik moeten onthouden dat het mij aangeraden was als een ‘summer read’, net meer om het lijf dan de aanraders van Cosmopolitan. Maar het zette zo hoog in!

Beautiful Ruins is dus best te lezen en fijn vermakelijk. Houd de verwachtingen alleen laag.

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, Harper Collings 2012

Coal: A Human History

In the summer of 1306, bishops and barons and knights from all around England left their country manors and villages and journeyed to London.

It wasn’t completely the non-fiction that felt like history/school books, but sometimes it got very close. When it didn’t, it was an interesting and possibly confronting pamphlet about the environment and what humankind does to it. And what a bizarre influence coal had on the development of societies. Who would have known?

From deforesting to coal lobbies getting their American president, for something so mundane, coal left severe traces. Barbara Freese is in environmental law as an assistant attorney general, and doesn’t mince words. Which is -sadly- refreshing, climate change and environmental issues so often being handed with kid gloves instead of reality checks. And she does more than preach doom, she looks at (other) options.

All this means the reader gets a bunch of knowledge directed at them, but always in a considerate, usually light, way. No needs arise to prepare for the test soon, although an environmental-related pub quiz may be aced after reading this.

Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese, Perseus Publications 2003