Career of Evil

He had not managed to scrub off all of her blood.

This is going to be a grumpy review, with some (mild) spoilers.

First of all, why did I expect things to be much less misogynistic because of a female author (Galbraith is J.K. Rowling)? Was that a very stupid idea? Don’t we know already from the serial killer’s actions that he really doesn’t like women? And I know she isn’t the most original writer, but really, we had to put rape in a woman’s background?

Okay, to the story. Cormoran Strike is still a big, ungainly, ugly private detective that can barely keep his agency upright. Robin, intelligent, smart, fun and kind of attractive, is still his partner/employee/potential love-interest. This time the case seems to be quite personal, because Robin gets sent a severed leg, at the office! This seems to be the gateway to learning a bit more about her, but sadly there isn’t much cheer to be had about this. And all the while is just misogyny left and right, oh – with some romance sprinkled in.

Because in the previous books, and about the previous books, there had been plenty of comments about how Robin and Cormoran should start something, but Robin’s engagement (to someone without any visible redeeming feature) always kept that off. So when that changes, both people involved seem to fall back to something instinctual that means you suddenly have to get romantic feelings about the people close to you. It feels so shoehorned in that I wonder if Galbraith wasn’t writing some romance on the side and swapped documents from time to time.

There’s plenty of good detectives out there, and J.K. Rowling writes enough if that’s the shot you were looking for. But you can dodge this one.

Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith, Sphere 2015

De witte weg

Ik ben in China.

Hoe kom ik nu weer terecht bij een boek over (de geschiedenis van) porselein? Oh ja, de algemene kennis verbreden, en vast ergens een enthousiaste recensie. Dit is wel non-fictie aan de kant van één hoofdstuk per dag, zeker in het begin en wanneer de auteur erg persoonlijk en/of navelstaarderig wordt.

Wat is er verder? Een reis over drie continenten (Noord Amerika, Europa, Azië) om te bekijken hoe porselein koninklijke huizen en rijkelui helemaal van het padje kunnen krijgen. Leren hoe porselein wordt gemaakt en hoeveel soorten er zijn, en wat voor impact de mijnen en fabrieken op dagelijkse levens heeft.

Op die manier wordt het een geschiedenisboek van/voor de gewone mens, iets waar ik altijd graag over lees. Lees De Waal’s mijmeringen met een half oog en houd de aandacht voor de porseleinen paleizen en Duitse alchemisten.

De witte weg: verslag van een obsessie, Edmund de Waal, De Bezige Bij 2015

Half the World

He hesitated just an instant, but long enough for Thorn to club him in the balls with the rim of her shield.

It’s like a bodice ripper with barbarians. Usually I’m fine with what Joe Abercrombie has on offer; brutish fantasy with some comedic relief. Nothing highbrow or what you have to put your brain to work for but still, entertaining. Not so much this time.

The unlikely hero is a young woman that wants to fight, but she’s a woman so she’s laughed off and despised for being better than most. It is also repeatedly mentioned that she’s ugly and not-feminine. Anyway, she ends up as part of a trip around the world and both she and the (male) people around her learn that there’s more to her anger, violence and unappealing face.

This time even the world building just seems to be filler between the fight scenes and insult filled dialogues. I know that sequels are always viewed as to be a bit more challenging, but this was just a slog. If you want barbarian fantasy, try some of his other series.

Half the World, Joe Abercrombie, HarperCollins 2015

Team Foxcatcher

90 min.

Soms merk ik dat ik liever een documentaire kijk over iets waar ik maar heel weinig van af weet. Ik heb deze documentaire aan mijn Netflix-lijst toegevoegd toen de film Foxcatcher uitkwam, en ik geen zin had in tegen Steve Carrell en Channing Tatum aan te kijken. Zo weet ik dus ook niet of de film dichtbij de realiteit blijft.

Team foxcatcher poster imdbDe realiteit is deze. Multimiljonair John DuPont is een vreemde vogel die op zijn landgoed een wereld creëert waarin atleten – vooral worstelaars – zich helemaal, zorgeloos, op de sport kunnen storten, want de VS is wel vaak genoeg nummer twee geworden. Dat vreemde vogel zijn toont zich eerst nog in redelijk onschuldige dingen, maar eindigt in dodelijke paranoia en jaloezie.

Dit speelt zich grotendeels in de 80s en 90s af en het beeld kan ook niet meer 80s worden. Er werd veel gefilmd bij team Foxcatcher, dus er is eens niet een monopolie van talking heads.

Het is vooral het tempo dat ik bewonderenswaardig vind. Amper interesse in zowel true crime als worstelen, en toch geen moment dat ik de documentaire als een sleur ervoer. Het is een enigszins surrealistische blik achter de schermen die zonder moord misschien nooit gedeeld was. De VS moet winnen tenslotte, en wat daar voor moet gebeuren gaat niemand iets aan.

Team Foxcatcher, Hattasan Productions 2016

Sugar Money

I was tethering the cows out by the pond when a boy came into our pasture saying that Father Cléophas himself want to see me tout suite in the morgue.

And even based on true events, although I have to admit that the note from the editor(s) and shared background information took away from the story, for me anyway. I could have not read them, of course.

The story here is how two slaves on Martinique are sent to another island to bring back the slaves the French Fathers think they own while the island is English now. Sounds like nothing could go wrong, right? Nothing fishy at all at sending two slaves to silently invite slaves to move islands.

Lucien and his brother Emile are the ones that are tasked with this, and Lucien is the one telling the story of these few days. He does so in a mix of English, French and Creole, which works well with their surroundings and situation.

The only gripe I have with the story only being about this one event, is that as the reader you feel slightly dropped into someone’s lives and left behind when you (probably) only want to learn more. Maybe Jane Harris should have gone with a bit more creative freedom there. But what she writes, she writes appealingly.

Sugar Money, Jane Harris, Faber & Faber 2017

The Gracekeepers

The first Callanish knew of the Circus Excalibur was the striped silk of their sails against the grey sky.

Now this is what I call a fairy tale. Remember The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea? Like that, but a book. And maybe a bit more eerie on the side of gruesome, from time to time. And! It has a map that doesn’t just consist out of a large mass in the middle (fantasy pet peeve).

Maybe that’s because in this world, large parts of the planet are under water, only a few islands are left and parts of the human population just permanently live on ships, because there’s not enough land to go around. Some ships are churches, others are circuses, main character North was pretty much born in one, but things are threatening to chance her life on it.

Another character followed is a gracekeeper, some kind of undertaker with a bit of stranger habits than we’re used to. It all adds to the beautiful (and) strange atmosphere. Just wait until you meet the clowns.

The Gracekeepers is there for your mythological, pretty fantasy needs.

The Gracekeepers, Kirsty Logan, Harvill Secker 2015

White Chrysanthemum

It is nearly dawn, and the semi-darkness casts strange shadows along the footpath.

Do you need to use trigger warnings when the trauma shown is part of history? White Chrysanthemum is about (Korean) comfort women, used in the Second World War. If you don’t know what that means, it means rape.

White Chrysanthemums are flowers of mourning (for the Koreans), so don’t expect a clean escape as a reader either. This is a story of one of the many, both of the side of those left behind and those taken.

And yet, or maybe because of that, Mary Lynn Bracht manages to show such an appealing, visually attractive and easily to envision world and surroundings. Maybe to show that through it all, the environment will continue existing. Maybe to show that no matter how ugly the actions of humans, the world will keep turning. Maybe the author is just really good in descriptions.

The stories of Emi and Hana are worth your time. Not just to learn, but maybe also in a way – to mourn. That they were far from the last female victims of war crimes, even if it was less than hundred years ago.

White Chrysanthemum, Mary Lynn Bracht, Chatto & Windus 2018

 

The Locals

They were saying that all appointments were canceled, indefinitely, that it was the end of everything, but why would they assume that?

Last time I read this author I wasn’t quite sure how to recommend the book, and this time it isn’t much different. There’s an appeal to his writing, but the story? Not just a collection of too human people (you start with the honeymoon phase and you end up wanting to throttle them), but mostly not much happens? So why would I still, pretty surely, recommend this novel?

Maybe because it offers an uncensored view of “normal” Americans outside one of the well known states. Small town in Massachusetts in the aftermath of 9/11, but soon moving their attention back to their small town politics and each other. Not even the rich outsider can change that (permanently).

I like family sagas, following the same people through time and (family) issues. Usually I try to pick less familiar surroundings than western society, but these people are so alienating in their paranoid and petty thoughts, that things turn out pretty exotic after all.

The Locals, Jonathan Dee, Random House 2017

What If

98 min.

Also known as The F-Word. Online, anyway. Pretty clear why there was a name change, of course. The movie is based on a play called Toothpaste and Cigars, making this almost an Edge of Tomorrow situation.

what-if-movieIt took me a moment to get used to Daniel Radcliffe not just playing an adult, but also being the love interest. Harry Potter just sticks to someone, I guess. He’s a charming fellow though, even when playing a (bit of a) disgruntled loser. Wallace is a grumpy, single, medical school dropout who meets a great woman but oh no – she’s already got a boyfriend. Chantry tells him so from the start, and from time to time checks in to make sure that this is still all just a friendship. But no, not for Wallace, and what – if anything – should he do about it?

So instead of the super obvious plot line, What If keeps out on you for much longer. And when Wallace and Chantry get a bit dull in their will-they-won’t-they, at least you’ll have Allan and Nichole: Wallace’s best friend and his girlfriend. They’re weird and loud but most of the time more likeable than the main couple.

Situations push the story into a familiar direction, but it’s mostly quirky and light enough that you won’t mind much. It just makes it a romcom like the thousands that are already out there.

What If, Caramel Films 2013

Autoboyography

The end of our final winter break seems almost like the beginning of a victory lap.

Smartest title encountered this year or too thought through? Because y’all, this book is about two young book writers falling in love with each other! I think it’s cute, just as the story.

Tanner is a bisexual male teen that kind of goes back into the closet after his family moves to Utah, specifically a town with a Mormon majority. He’s not even out to his best friend, so how do you handle falling in love with the wonderful, beautiful, very Mormon TA?

It would have been easy to turn this into a pro or con story about religion and Mormons, but both authors stick close to the love story and darn, do they do it sweetly. Just like Tanner and Sebastian can’t seem to think about anything else, it’s sometimes a challenge to not discard the pages without them. Will they? Won’t they? In how many ways will organised religion ruin this?

Characters that aren’t these two sometimes get a bit the short end of the stick, but both secondary characters and surroundings make this a cute high school romance.

Autoboyography, Lauren Billings & Christina Hobbs, Simon & Schuster 2017