Pretend I’m Dead

For months he was just a number to her: she counted his dirties, he dropped them in the bucket, she recorded the number on the clipboard, and he moved down the line.

Some stories aren’t pleasant to read, but so compelling that you don’t want to give up on them ether. Mona isn’t easy to love or follow, even though it could have been with such a mercy- and pity-inducing history.

Mona is a twenty-something with a bad youth and/or possibly some mental illnesses. There are clear symptoms, but there’s also the consideration of how much comes from her background. She cleans houses for a living, even though her aunt and her sort-of-boyfriend tell her that she should change things, start living. Develop.

But that’s not easy, especially when you’re not exactly willing to do so. Mona’s got a lot of thoughts, maybe too many, and the author doesn’t let the reader off easy. This is an annoying, disgusting, frightening protagonist that might make you feel more empathetic to those neurotically atypical, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing annoying either.

Pretend I’m Dead doesn’t give answers, it just shows. I didn’t find the ‘laugh-out-loud funny’ a blurb claims, but I did want to stick around. Maybe in some way, Mona will notice.

Pretend I’m Dead, Jean Beagin, Oneworld 2018

Dora the Explorer and the Lost City of Gold

102 min.

Now why would I go to the Dora the Explorer movie? Because offerings are sparse right now, my theatre pass is unlimited and it kind of looked like a kiddie Indiana Jones, and I enjoy adventure movies that don’t just revolve around white people. That’s why.

Dora the Explorer and the lost city of gold posterI wasn’t wrong about the kiddie Indiana Jones part; there’s just a give-or-take twenty minute long fish-out-of-water introduction before we get there. Dora grew up in the jungle (for those that don’t know the original material), has to move to a big city in the States and adjust to high school before she is catapulted back into the jungle again. Where she can show her worth.

What saves this film from firmly being for age group 9 – 14 only are the winks. Small moments in which the film gets a little bit meta, breaking the fourth wall (except not completely) and second guessing Dora’s behaviour because boy – there’s a lot of chipper energy in there.

All that makes Dora the Explorer and The Last City of Gold a wholesome combination of Mean Girls and Indiana Jones: except with more people of colour. Will it blow you away because of its cinematography, plot and dialogue? Very probably not. Will it entertain you? I believe it might.

Dora the Explorer and the Lost City of Gold,

Normal People

Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.

I should have known that an impatient wait would only lead to disappointment, but I guess such repetitious mistakes make you human. This novel got plenty of accolades, but the summary didn’t particularly appeal me. After one review – one I didn’t even recognise the previous summaries read in – I changed my mind. Blow me away, Rooney.

There was no blowing away, only dragging down and wrestling through (negative) emotions. These two people, the main characters Connell and Marianne, are just …incomplete(?) and manage to simultaneously make it worse and better in the other. So much low self-esteem, depression, (mental) self-harm and words that should be said to improve things, but never are.

I finished this an hour ago and still feel that kind of daze of finishing a story that doesn’t let you come up for air. Of course, no story has to be completely happy, or even have happy moments, but every other word is doubted and dissected. The story involves only a few months, making me wish for these poor people involved for it to be decades because surely everyone deserves to have a mental breather.

And underneath all of it, I couldn’t find anything the author wanted to do with this story. Share suffering? Show us that there is no such thing as normal people? Or that no matter what kind of train wreck, people just can’t look away?

Normal People, Sally Rooney, Alfred A. Knopf 2018

Where the Crawdads Sing

Marsh is not swamp.

Subconsciously I picked out two books about protagonists who are –  by their surroundings – viewed as dangerously different. This one plays out in the (recent) past, but both Kya and Evan suffer from living in a small town.

Kya’s family is very, very poor, living in the marshes (or on the edge of it) and there’s not enough happiness around for anyone. Her family members leave her, and she falls back onto her familiar surroundings instead of the judgmental villagers.

This goes on for years, and might have gone on longer – Kya turning into something of a Tarzan, except with gulls and other birds – if a murder mystery wasn’t added to the equation. And what happens when disaster strikes? People look at the stranger.

This isn’t as greasy and damp as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but Owens does create a colourful, sometimes feverish world in which every human is a misfit – except for Kya. Yes, there could be more background about certain things, and the murder mystery is tied up not completely satisfying, but it’s a book with a feeling. And quite a few ornithology lessons.

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens, G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2018

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

Coco

109 min.

Is de kerstvakantie compleet zonder een animatiefilm? Voor hen die dat ook voelen: Coco nu op Netflix te vinden.

coco_2017The Book of Life deed het al een paar jaar geleden: Dia de Muertos gebruiken. Deze keer komt Miguel in het land der doden terecht omdat hij zijn familie probeert te ontsnappen (zij haten muziek, hij wilt alleen maar muziek maken), en ontdekt daar dingen over zichzelf en zijn familie. Zoals dat gaat.

Het ziet er allemaal weer heel mooi uit (zeker aan de dode kant), en enkele keren lijkt het zelfs meer dan het standaard plastic randje dat elke grote animatiestudio zo graag schijnt te gebruiken. Waarom heb ik alleen weer het gevoel dat Disney waar voor je geld wilt leveren, en de film weer net iets te lang is? Op deze manier wordt het tempo uit het verhaal gehaald, waardoor het meer een gevalletje ‘Oh wat mooi’ wordt in plaats van ‘Oh wat emotioneel/spannend/gaaf’.

Aan de andere kant; ruimte voor een plaspauze – zeker als je het met jongere kinderen en/of veel drankjes kijkt – is nooit weg.

Coco, Disney 2017

 

The Kiss Quotient

“I know you hate surprises, Stella.

A romance involving a poc love interest and a protagonist with Asperger’s; look at the genre entering the twenty-first century!

I know romance is (usually) frowned upon, but looking at it (this and fantasy), it might be the category that gives room most easily to someone other than the white heterosexuals. Good for them, good for us.

Stella is on the spectrum, and after another push of her parents with regards to dating she decides to approach sex and romantic relationships the way she does everything else: fully logical and mathematical. That includes hiring an escort and To Do lists to tick off.

But of course! Lust and love happens, and both are described in delicious ways. The only sour note in the entire story is Michael’s actions near the end of the story; they could have prospered with a better motivation and/or argumentation for accepting it. Don’t let that keep you from a lovely, sexy romance.

The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang, Penguin Random House 2018

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?

And yes, the erotic stories are shared.  Just because of the title, I expected comedy, some coming of age and Learning Life’s Lessons, but I got much more. It’s a credit to Jaswal’s writing that I wasn’t disappointed by that, sooner the opposite.

Yes, there’s definitely comedy, and main character Nikki (Mindi’s sister) needs to discover what she wants to do in live and how she’ll do that without hurting her Punjabi family (and surroundings, in a way). This is definitely a story about the two lives immigrants/children of immigrants live, but it’s never just that. Nikki thinks she’s going to teach the widows Creative Writing, the widows prefer to share their creativity in another way.

Alongside that is a plot line that at first might feel tacked on. Missing girls, bitter feuds, really? But then it all starts to connect and this isn’t just a comedy any more, this is an all too realistic calling card to look at misogyny. Suddenly the tempo is picked up and the reader has to juggle several plot lines colliding.

But as mentioned before, Balli Kaur Jaswal does it well. Making this novel all-round entertaining and informing.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal, Harper Collins 2017

The Painted Boy

The boy had finally fallen asleep.

I’m pretty sure the last time I read a Charles de Lint novel was before I started this blog, but Widdershins impressed me so much that from time to time I’d still check if I could find more of his in my libraries. The Painted Boy is clearly for younger audiences, providing a more accessible but less eerie, dream like and wonderful story (if those aren’t nostalgia goggles).

The Painted Boy from the title is Jay Li, a teenager that has a large dragon on his back (not tattooed) and is sent off to unfamiliar territory to finish his studies. Jay is part dragon, and will have to do something he won’t know until he’ll experience/see/know it.

Good thing (“”) he ends up in a town held hostage by different kinds of gangs. Of course he has to learn to become one with the dragon and his surroundings, but hey, all this was part of the learning curve, after all.

The magical elements add the necessary spice, else it would have been an oatmeal kind of story: okay for everyone, but nobody’s first pick.

The Painted Boy, Charles De Lint, Viking 2010

Trouble is a Friend of Mine

Of course I didn’t like Digby when I first met him.

I never read a Nancy Drew novel (I think), but I’m pretty sure this could be the more reluctant, twenty-first century version of one. Protagonist Zoe mentions it as well, so I’m definitely onto something.

After the divorce of her parents, Zoe moves to a small town where’s she pretty quickly adopted by the town’s outcast, Digby. He wants/needs her for his research regarding missing girls. His lack of metaphorical bed manner doesn’t enthuse Zoe a lot at first, but plenty of shenanigans happen for her to slowly come round to his hypotheses.

He’s a weird but appealing fellow, and it’s not like Zoe is surrounded by new friends and an understanding mother. So instead of a high school story, the reader gets a small town detective with character descriptions that Celeste Ng would appreciate.

It’s a quick, smart read. The only thing I’m still unsure about is the ending; this novel is one of the very few cases in which there could have been a few more chapters to round things up a bit more completely.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Stephanie Tromly, Penguin Random House Company 2015