Girl Runner

This is not the love song of Aganetha Smart.

I can point out the different disappointments in this book clearly: the biggest one being the obvious twists to prevent explaining a plot line. This can happen maybe once or twice and should be done well – not something that basically amounts to ‘BUT FIRST’.

For starters, I’m not too fond of two story lines in different times, especially not when brought together through a seemingly random connection. Jump through time or let people age; it’s not that hard. In this case I accepted it because I was curious about the subject: first long distance female runner at the Olympics. Canadian history. Canadian writer. Bring it.

But it’s Aganetha young and very old, and a story line tacked on that isn’t explained – and just barely – until the last ten pages. With Aganetha not being the most charming protagonist, it doesn’t make caring easier. Give me more about the world she grew up in if you can’t or won’t sell me on your main character.

All this creates the feeling of “this could have been more”, which might be more frustrating than this entire novel is.

Girl Runner, Carrie Snyder, Harper 2015

Year of Yes

When it was first suggested to me that I write about this year, my first instinct was to say no.

Hmmmm…

I kind of feel like I have to approve of this book solely because of the achievements of the person that wrote it. And Shonda Rhimes achieved a lot, and well done to her and I hope she keeps on carrying on.

And maybe I should have been less surprised about the tone of the story with such a title. I mean, this is the second time this year I’ve been cuckolded by a book title. This isn’t completely a memoir, but it comes close it. Combine that with the subject (saying yes to more things, daring to live (a little)), and honestly – I could have seen this coming.

Of course, it’s interesting to learn about how much work Rhimes puts into everything, how determined she is and how she recognises what has to be done to get where she wants to go.

It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing: is she ‘American Dream rah-rah’ because of what she accomplished or did she accomplish what she did because she’s ‘American Dream rah-rah’?

In the end, have I decided to be infected by her yes-saying? Maybe. Temporarily. Mostly I’m still stuck on all the ways in which she describes herself, her thoughts and her actions.

Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes, Simon & Schuster 2015

Spotlight

129 min.

Great fun, a film about child abuse in the catholic church! And it’s based on true facts, yay! It’s a crude introduction to a subject one doesn’t enjoy thinking about, which was precisely the problem in this real life case: too many people shoving it under the carpet.

film poster spotlightEven the Boston Globe, the newspaper that unearths the story and publishes it, isn’t free from blame. The catholic church is a powerful monolith, Boston is a catholic filled city, churches are everywhere. To stick to the theme: Goliath was easily found, but was David even going to show up?

Spotlight isn’t a quick, bright film, it shows how (research) journalism and a newspaper work(/used to work) and how much time such a thing takes. As a retired journalist it was bittersweet to watch, for those that don’t have that connection it might be a look behind the curtains of what so many people already view as history.

I watched it in two parts, you could even watch it in four if your life is so serialised. Either way, it’s a story worth remembering or discovering. Both for the subject and the process.

Spotlight, Anonymous Content 2015

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

Man Up

88 min.

Wat fijn dat beide hoofdpersonen in deze film etters mochten zijn, want anders was het stukken minder leuk geweest. Hij is vervelend, zij is vervelend, en schijnbaar werkt dat toch samen (kom op, ik verklap hier niks mee).

Man Up movie posterBest wel chagrijnige Jack is op een blind date, en door een misverstand denkt hij dat Nancy zijn date is. Om onbekende redenen gaat zij er in mee, en ze hebben een geweldige (af en toe wat vreemde) tijd samen. Maar ja, door een leugen(tje om bestwil), dus hoe dat af te handelen?

Zoals dat hoort, gaat dat eerst slechter voordat het beter gaat. En omdat dat dus zonder censuur en grenzen gaat (het wordt soms zelfs pijnlijk) is dat leuker dan de romcom die super-nauwkeurig het riedeltje volgt. Daarnaast draagt hoofdrolspeelster Lake Bell ook nog het meeste gewicht: Simon Pegg komt maar heel af en toe onder zijn standaard typetje vandaan.

Ben er alleen niet enthousiaster over blind dates van geworden, die blijven duidelijk een risico.

Man Up, Netflix 2015

Legend

122 min.

Natuurlijk is het wel te begrijpen: als regisseur investeer je in een project en je wilt daar alles uithalen wat betreft verhaal, acteurs en omgeving. Misschien legt jouw baas wel op wat er allemaal op het scherm kan komen. Of is de eindredactie gewoon niet streng genoeg? Hoe dan ook, deze film is er weer zo eentje: een te lange.

Legend film posterTerwijl het een onderwerp is waar genoeg van te maken is: real life criminelen, een tweeling, waarvan één mentaal instabiel is (om het netjes te zeggen) en de ander maar een beetje probeert te balanceren tussen legaliteit en illegaliteit. Jaren zestig, Londen, veel herkenbare acteurs – alles zit er in.

Maar waarom dan niet een paar montages om te zien dat dezelfde fouten meerdere keren worden gemaakt? Om aan te tonen dat tijd door blijft gaan, relaties verwelken en mentale instabiliteit steeds erger wordt? Alles wordt uitgekauwd, behalve de teksten van de hoofdpersoon. Tom Hardy toont helaas weer hoe goed hij is in binnensmonds wauwelen, waardoor ondertiteling een must is.

Er is vast wel een boek over deze Kray tweeling te vinden, als je meer van ze wilt weten/een true crime liefhebber bent. Dan kun je tenminste ook zelf inplannen hoeveel tijd je aan hun verhaal kwijt bent.

Legend, Working Title 2015

Dietland

It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be.

Gods, I wish that this would be mandatory reading for male teenagers. Okay, any teenager. Why? Because it hits home with several hammers the fact of diet culture and how women are viewed in society. I know, but so many still don’t, and it’s best to get them as young as possible.

Is this is an activist story? Is showing reality activist? Protagonist Plum is fat, and have been working almost her entire year to not be it. She’s not living, she’s functioning until she can live as a skinny person, a normal person. Things are changed around when someone reaches out to her.

Simultaneously, violence acts against male rapists and abusers happens. People are confused, shocked, motivated, because whenever do men get what’s coming for them? Maybe a few trigger warnings are at place here: Sarai Walker doesn’t avoid descriptions of said acts.

The comedy tag is mostly for the laughing in disbelief you might do. Because yes, they’re right, and yes, it’s really this stupid. Or maybe you just have to laugh to prevent from getting angry for the entire time of reading it. You wouldn’t want to be considered unfuckable, after all.

Dietland, Sarai Walker, Houghton Mifflin Company 2015

Ink and Bone

“Hold still and stop fighting me,” his father said, and slapped him hard enough to leave a mark.

Maybe I’m just a little bit too demanding. There’s little wrong with this story, it ticks plenty of boxes and it’s a fun, light read. It just didn’t sweep me off my feet, being a tad too traditional in tropes and plots. The world-building, though. Libraries!

This is a world in which books and librarians are viewed quite differently from ours. It’s Big Brother through books, originals should only be owned by the Great Library and everyone’s got a journal which is basically your testament (to be added to the same library after your passing). In this world, it’s an honour to be part of the Great Library, so guess where the unlikely (“”) hero shows up.

He’s part of a group of aspirant librarians, but during his time in Alexandria he discovers that not everything is as rosy as it should be. Conspiracies and plots and maybe the good guys are really the bad guys and vice versa, adventure!

With a few twitches, all that could have been less fantasy-by-numbers, but of course there’s a sequel: maybe everything leading up to that will flourish in the second book. If you’re fine with fine, gritty world-building and another male protagonist, this story will do you very well.

Ink and Bone: the Great Library, Rachel Caine, Penguin Group 2015

Salt Creek

Mama often talked of this house when I was a child, and of its squirrels with particular fondness.

For a book of less than 400 pages, this took me quite a long time to finish, mostly because the first 100 – 150 pages are so hard to get into/through. It’s one of those books that are readable when you found the flow of the story, but aren’t particularly called to it, have that feeling that you want to read it whenever you can.

I picked this because it tells about Australian colonists and their relationship to Aboriginals. This – plus the endless, time correct misogyny – makes it often an infuriating story.

The descriptions of life in the Coorong and the backbone of main character Hester balance this out often enough to keep you reading, but it still isn’t an easy, light story. Salt Creek offers a frustrating view on Christian missionaries, traditional ideas that still hurt women and racist views that have never left (since).

View it as an informative slice of life, not as accessible entertainment.

Salt Creek, Lucy Treloar, Picador 2015

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