Her Royal Highness

“There’s a unicorn on this.”

Her Royal Highness, Rachel Hawkins, Penguin Random House 2019

I find some time to read in between the films. Although you don’t need much time for this 200 page YA novel that is a wish-fulfillment fantasy involving Scottish castles, royalty and a Cool Girl. It’s YA, very obviously. That I didn’t pull out any hair in frustration about dumb teenage actions is a compliment to the author.

Millie likes geology and doesn’t care about her looks. Because of Reasons she decides to do her final year of high school in Scotland. There, she becomes the room mate of a princess. A snooty, tiresome princess but oh no – are those feelings?

It all works: the surroundings, the side characters, the absolutely wonderful love interest. While struggling to get through The Shadow King and seemingly to only pick serious films or duds – this was a breath of fresh air.

Und morgen die ganze Welt

111 min.

Dat is two out of two voor Duitstalige films. Deze laat minder vragen achter, meer frustraties. Nee, geweld moet je niet met geweld beantwoorden, maar hoe anders bevecht je Nazi’s en hun gedachtengoed?

Luisa is nieuw bij een antifa-beweging, maar wordt al snel meegesleurd in grotere, aggressievere bewegingen. Waarom wordt nooit heel duidelijk, dat dit niet het gewenste resultaat (van de beweging en van haar) oplevert wel.

In een ruime twee uur zie je dat goede bedoelingen naar hel leiden, bijna iedereen machteloos is en mensen altijd erger kunnen. Daar zit je met je goede gedrag, want Luisa maar ook de andere karakters zijn leeg genoeg om jezelf in hun schoenen te plaatsen.

Joy

109 min.

I challenged myself to watch a film every day in November. Expect a lot of film posts.

A warning beforehand, this film shows animal abuse and let’s you listen to rape. In case you felt like the title would give you a happy story.

Joy leaves you with questions, although you know the answers to most of them. It’s a surprise that nothing sentimental is added for once: no room for sentimentality with illegal Nigerian sex workers in Austria. Especially not when there’s debt involved. Joy’s one nice decision (taking a younger woman under her wing) backfires, showing there’s no room for niceties.

It’s near the ending where the questions are left unanswered: what do these actions stand for? What is she doing? With this, Joy ends (not completes!) an all too familiar story (immigration for the people back home) on an eerie, unfamiliar note.

Mary, Mary

It was a Saturday night and Mary Ryan had a hot date with Mrs. Aucoin.

Mary, Mary, Lesley Crewe, Nimbush Publishing Limited 2016

Meestal houd ik de regel ‘gelezen in Engels = geschreven in Engels” aan, maar dit was zo’n vreemde verzameling van woorden dat het voelt alsof ik mijn verwarring hierover het beste in het Nederlands kan uitdrukken.

In Mary, Mary is de hoofdpersoon eens niet het zwarte schaap maar het witte schaap. Ze is te geduldig, te vriendelijk en haar moeder en grootmoeder maken daar misbruik van. Volgens de blurb ~gebeurt er iets~ waardoor dat allemaal verandert; en daar kijk je ook snel naar uit met die snertkarakters. Fijn zo’n twist, maak het maak naar en miserabel.

Alleen – dat gebeurt maar niet. Situaties veranderen, maar de grote HAPPENING komt maar niet. Het verhaal wordt meer absurd en de tweederangs karakters krijgen meer ruimte, terwijl ons dat helemaal niet boeit want die hebben allang bewezen dat ze dat niet verdienen.

In één ruk las ik de laatste 100 pagina’s: er moet vast iets zijn wat dit allemaal bij elkaar gaat brengen. Neen. Het wiebelt alle kanten op als een slordig geschreven telenovela. Geven we om Mary? Om haar familie die door omgeving en situatie gevormd zijn? Of moeten we het allemaal maar snel vergeten?

Enige zonde vind ik dat ik niet meer kan herinneren waarom dit op mijn TBR lijst stond. Hoe kwam ik er op?

The Hidden Palace

Of all the myriad races of thinking creatures in the world, the two that most delight in telling stories are the flesh-and-blood humans and the long-lived, fiery jinn.

The Hidden Palace, Helene Wecker, HarperCollins 2021

I don’t remember exactly why, but I remember absolutely loving in that swept-away-recommend-everyone way the prequel to this: The Golem and the Jinni. Maybe it’s a sophomore slump or the time between has dropped the rose colour from my glasses, but I didn’t love this one. Sadly.

My biggest complaint is how compartmentalized it felt: there’s never much room given to have the story flow, instead of continuously moving on to another character, another angle, another location. It’s like the notes for a story; not a story.

Of course, it’s still a wonderful look at a young New York city (although not that young anymore, with the first World War around the corner), a broad view at the mythology/-ies of golem and jinns. Some of the new characters add to the stories of the golem and the jinn, others take up too much space and sentimentally planned scenes (assuming, of course) don’t pull at the heart strings at all or only very little.

It’s all too one-dimensional, but there’s rumours there’ll be another book. Maybe the third time is the charm – again.

The Hater

136 min.

Very shortly put you could say this is about a young man being unable to deal with rejection.

Tomasz doesn’t turn to complaining to friends of family – he doesn’t have either. Instead he puts all his energy into his new job: influencing (social) media for the highest bidder.

This gets personal when he can get to those who rejected him. The horrors of successful online hate campaigns follow.

Main actor Maciej Musialowski manages to look the sociopath without laying in on too thick, but more about his (original) motivations would have made all this even more scarier and clean cut. Or maybe I’m just too attached to getting questions answered (theme of the month?). Maybe some people are fueled by revenge and chaos and nothing more, turning The Hater (original title is Polish) into a “humans are the monsters”-thriller.

A Good Liar

109 min.

Zo’n verhaal waarvan je al snel hoopt dat het af gaat lopen zoals je weet dat het af moet lopen, maar stel je voor dat je wel een ouderwets, outdated verhaal hebt gevonden en met de frustraties achterblijft.

Spoiler: gelukkig loopt het ook zo af. Al neemt de film er wel de tijd voor.

Het leeuwendeel van de film is het opzetten en volgen van de relatie tussen Roy en Betty. Twee senioren die toch nog iets moois bij elkaar vinden, al is dat wel nogal ongebalanceerd: Roy weet dat Betty miljonair is, Betty heeft genoeg aan gezelschap.

Als zijplotje wordt gedemonstreerd dat Roy wel vaker weet waar de centjes zitten, maar is hij dan alleen met Betty voor haar geld? Verdulleme.

De film is dan vooral een demonstratie van Mirren en McKellan in dialoog: heel de clue wordt met dik-hout-zaagt-men-planken neergegooid en gaat te lang door. Ja ja jeetje wat erg allemaal, maar eigenlijk te laat om impact te hebben. Ook wraakfilms hebben een goede balans nodig.

The Witch’s Heart

Long ago, when the gods were young and Asgard was new, there came a witch from the edge of the worlds.

The Witch’s Heart, Genevieve Gornichec, Penguin Random House 2021

I love a good retelling. Mythological, it is. Madeleine Miller did it with Greeks, Genevieve Gornichec goes way up North with Loki’s story from one of his wives’ point of view.

Angrboda is much more than Loki’s wife: she’s a powerful witch, a threat to the Norse gods (mostly in their eyes, she just wants to be left alone), and a calm soul. She wants to live her little life, but mythologies aren’t build on that. So there’s an unfamiliar feeling (love) for an unreliable person (Loki), pregnancies, children and terrifying visions about (growing) threats. As it goes.

Gornichec doesn’t attempt an old-timey tone that will assure you this is a myth: she tells it like one. There’s a clear chronology, little side steps, lovely visuals. A novel like a comfortable sweater — if you manage to ignore the several deaths, abuse and apocalypse. It’s still a myth, after all.

A Long Petal of the Sea

The young soldier was part of the “Baby Bottle Conscription,” they boys called up when there were no more men, young or old, to fight the war.

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende, Bloomsbury Publishing 2020

Author Isabel Allende warns that “this is a story of sorrow, displacement and hope” and that’s even a considerate description of it. The characters are fictional, what they go through isn’t and isn’t ancient history either.

It’s humans that live through Franco’s fight(/destruction) for power in Spain, only to go through a very similar thing in Chile (under Pinochet). Twice it’s shown how there is a large divide between class, political sides and ignorance and how this can lead to absolute massacre and destruction. The reader mainly follows Victor and Roser – middle class surviving, but also gets glimpses at the bourgeoisie, fans of waiting every development out so they can continue living as they have always have.

Yet this isn’t a horror story, nor a pamphlet for human monstrosities or a history lesson. Allende puts the people first, showing how life still goes on and can even be beautiful. Descriptions of people, thoughts and countries add such a layer that the story becomes three-dimensional. It makes for an appealing story – while getting your serving of (lesser-)known history.

White Ivy

Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never knew it to look at her.

White Ivy, Susie Yang, Simon & Schuster 2020

White Ivy is all over the place. As the summary and blurbs say it’s coming of age, a (second generation) migrant story, but Ivy manages to elevate (and worsen) all of it.

Because Ivy doesn’t fit into any mold. Maybe she doesn’t even have one. It’s maddening how she sabotages and destroys, but looking at her experiences and upbringing… maybe not that strange. Because how do you handle being left in a country only to meet your parents again after several years? Being the only Asian-Canadian in white surroundings? Having a violent tiger-mother and (mentally-)absent father? Lesser people would have gotten some trauma from that.

Again, sometimes you’re talking to Ivy to just unclench for once, give herself something, let go of all she’s carrying. Please, to give the reader some air to breathe as well.

I won’t share if she does, but it’s been a while since I’ve so rooted for and so disliked one and the same fictional character.