Moxie

111 min.

Netflix doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to original films, and I’m old enough to be disgruntled by plenty of YA tropes.

So, I chose to watch a Netflix original based on a YA novel. I’m a logical thinker.

Of course, yes, there could have been easy adjustments made to improve this story about a female teen recognising the stupid rules and habits of a patriarchal system. For starters, shifting the point of view to the black girl.

But I was surprised by how few adjustments I could come up with. Plot? Not always as subtle as it could be, but perfect for the audience. Scrip and lines? Surprisingly without any attempt to be “down with the youths”. Characterisation and love interest? Nice, cute and wholesome.
Honestly, I think I’m still surprised.

Therefore, I’m going to keep it at that. No deeper digging, not reading the original material.

Oh, but the fun we had.

The Immortalists

Varya is thirteen.

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin, G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2018

I was ready to write this one off until the last couple of pages still got me. Which makes me grumpy, because a book shouldn’t score on just a couple of pages.

In The Immortalists four siblings learn their death date. All four lives are followed, as is the impact of this knowledge on them. Around the second sibling it starts to feel a bit cookie-cutter: character aggressively denies this reality, gets destructive, wants to outrun it and [spoiler] doesn’t manage to; one way or the other. But were they running towards what they feared while thinking they were doing everything to escape it? Chloe Benjamin doesn’t give you any hint in that direction, nor room to interpret the characters’ actions like that.

Any thoughts about fate, goals in life, final destination you have to come up with on your own because the novel only provides character sketches of the people suffering.

As said before: except for the last pages, they delivered an emotional sucker punch. Could have done so a tad sooner, to turn this into a recommendation.

The Bestseller

One day God decided he would visit the earth.

The Bestseller, Olivia Goldsmith, Diversion Books 1996

Olivia Goldsmith is also the author of First Wives Club, if you were wondering why the name is vaguely familiar.

With The Bestseller she wrote another ‘The Upper Circles Can Have Issues Too’ and it’s delicious (you know I have a soft spot for that). It also made me never ever want to attempt getting anything remotely related to a novel published. Because oof. And this is publishing in the nineties.

In this novel the reader follows the stories of different authors. New ones, old ones, unwilling ones, suffering ones etc. While you get a slice of their (sad) life, you also get plenty of insight into the publishing business. It’s not good. It’s not about stories, creativity and adding something to culture: it’s about money, the bottom line, and PR.

It’s 1400 pages as an ebook and I flew through it in less than three days (okay, I had days off, but still). It’s entertaining, aggravating dramady in which very few people look good. After a few duds, this was all the fluff I needed.

Made You Look

90 min.

Short documentary – existing almost completely out of talking heads – about an art scam I’ve never heard of before. Yeah, I’ll take it.

Made You Look shows that you don’t need much or a long running time to keep someone’s attention. I wasn’t invested in this story nor its characters and yet (maybe because of that?) I was suddenly down ninety minutes.

Of course, maybe it’s a commentary about inflated worth in the art-world and how some people will believe everything for clout, but I mostly just had fun because of greedy people and stupid decisions.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

Lala comes home and Wilma is waiting, having returned early from visiting Carson at the hospital.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones, Harper Collins 2021

I liked this one, but I didn’t like this one. It’s a story far away from me; both geographically and in experience, so that’s good – that’s a reason I read. But for once I wish that those kind of stories were happier, lighter, more fun.

In How the One-Armed Sister (etc.) there’s not a lot of fun. A line of women view themselves and/or their daughters as cursed and life seems to agree with that view. There’s relational abuse, stealing, death – and very little light at the end of the tunnel. Jones shares beautiful imagery of the island, the houses, the sheds, making the (emotional) violence only starker.

Of course, these stories need to be told, deserve to be told, and so on. To me it sometimes just feels that writing from a woman of colour has to be synonymous to suffering. I know there are romances and fantasy by people of colour, but why are the family sagas so often so tough? Is this the only way of life or the only thing that publishers will support?

Both ideas left me uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that this novel isn’t worth your discomfort.

The Voting Booth

I don’t like it when people make hyperbolic statements, so I really mean it when I say I’ve been waiting for this day my entire life.

The Voting Booth: Make it count, Brandy Colbert, Hyperion 2020

A YA-novel that wants to tackle the American voting system, (and) voter suppression. While adding a budding romance, because would it be YA without a romance?

Brandy Colbert manages to pull it off for her target audience. Older eyes may be rolled because of ‘found-love-in-a-day’, or Marva’s utter devotion to improve the system, but for those of her age it might well be uplifting and motivating. And the novel is almost as run-on as that one sentence.

Yet it never gets overly preachy, nor naive. Marva wants to help someone to vote, and discovers how hard that can be. The person she helps is a cute guy, but that’s only a slightly distracting factor. Something else sabotages her, but the story turns convoluted nowhere.

As a teacher, I’d definitely view this as an option to educate about the (American) voting system, but as a softie for teen romance I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who wants a not-saccharine shot of that.

Hench

When the temp agency called, I was struggling to make the math work.

Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots, Harper Collins 2020

Well, this was much more fun and smarter than expected (I feel like I open a lot of posts with that sentence). The summary didn’t particularly help in telling me what to expect – it skipped on the entire science fiction-element – making me think that the main character was going to do the administration for some kind of mob boss.

Nay, she does so for a super villain, and she’s good at it. Because there’s plenty of math and paper work to be done in a world where superheroes don’t mind collateral damage, human or otherwise.

Shenanigans (violent and otherwise) follow while our protagonist has insights about what’s good, what’s evil and how power should come with responsibility but those in power often neglect that tidbit. It’s also just silly fun about life as a henchperson. I was slightly worried about the ending because both possible routes felt unsatisfactorily, but Walschots pulled that off nicely as well. I love it when it story comes together as neatly as this one.

Over the Moon

100 min.

There could be more to this: why are the majority of the characters male, why is it the female protagonist that has to Learn Things while those around her show little growth and really – a villain because of a love lost?

But: it’s an Asian family without ever turning it into a thing, for once the animation isn’t incredibly ugly (there’s even some that look traditionally drawn), there’s no soundtrack that demands emotions from you (you’ll probably cry anyway) and it’s very colourful, slightly creative and mostly silly fun for different ages.

Anyway, Fei Fei wants to prove to her widowed father that there’s really a woman in the moon to prevent him from marrying someone else. Along the way she Learns Things.

The devil and the dark water

Arent Hayes howled in pain as a rock slammed into his massive back.

The devil and the dark water, Stuart Turton, Sourcebooks 2020

It’s been a day since I finished the book (I had to rush the last 200 pages because of a deadline), and I’ve only become more flabbergasted since. There really was a 410 page build-up for something that was turned around in five pages.

The devil and the dark water goes for the Sherlock Holmes-trope of a gentle, slightly goofy very intelligent small man and a brute of a protector; this time they’re called Sammy and Arent. The location is a WIC-ship and is it a devil or something or somebody else that is causing all of that chaos and mayhem? Dum dum dum, etc.

The other thing that makes this caper less fun (the first thing being “The Twist”) is that it all goes on for too long. The author mentions that he didn’t want to add more characters, but he could have done a character-cut twice more to bring some clarity and add some speed.

In all honesty, I think it would have been a more exciting and original story if he would have started with The Twist and showed those shenanigans in seventeenth-century Europe. But Turton already promised a next book, so who knows.

Probably Sammy and Arent.

Amnesty

All of the coastline of Sri Lanka is indented, mysterious, and beautiful – but not place is more mysterious than Batticaloa.

Amnesty, Aravind Adiga, Picador 2020

I finished this not long after watching White Tiger, the film that’s based on Aravind Adiga’s previous novel. Without much of a plan – it just came together like that.

Amnesty poses the question about how to follow the law when you’re not following it to start with. Sort of. Danny has overstayed his visa in Australia and is viewed as an illegal immigrant, but he also thinks that he knows who the murderer of one of his cleaning clients is. Will his wrong be righted by doing the right thing?

I was embarrassed by the amount of time it took me to recognise that this isn’t a crystal-clear-cut situation. If you’re viewed as illegal, society thinks it owns you nothing and will throw you out as soon as you’re noticed. One good action won’t outbalance the horrible (air quotes) action of you outstaying your welcome. Danny flits through life and always has to wonder where the hits will come from. He’s surviving, not thriving because he’s invisible – not seen by authorities and government, moving below the surface.

You can’t yell at him to stop picking up the phone and go to the police right away: he’s just trying to keep his feet on Australian soil.