The Dark Gifts trilogy

  • Gilded Cage
  • Tarnished City
  • Bright Ruin

For YA, there’s a surprising amount of politics and commentary on political systems. Mostly still on a YA-level – don’t expect deep-going analyses and there’s just a hint of ‘maybe grey is the best possible option in a world of black and white’ but it was a pleasant surprise. It even kept me going through the first book after realising the author was setting up the plainest of romances.

Anyway, there’s magic users in power and not-magic users that have slavedays: ten years of their life have to be devoted to working for the country with nothing in return. Of course there are people who agree with this, who disagree with this, and those that just want to be and/or stay in power.

Two families are followed, on either side. Some are skeptical from the start, some naive, blood flows, death follows, and more and more often reality sinks in.

That sometimes it’s all a bit clunky and certain plot lines aren’t as neatly finished as they could have been might be a sign of its target audience, or just a lack of editing. Either way, it was more fun entertainment than expected. I didn’t even mind it being a trilogy.

Lady in Waiting

One morning at the beginning of 2019, when I was in my London flat, the telephone rang.

Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of The Crown, Anne Glennconner, Hachette Books 2020

If you feel like you need more after watching all of The Crown in one go, are a fan of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ or just want to see how the aristocratic one percent lives – this is your book.

Because Lady in Waiting Anne Glennconner (she’s Princess Margaret’s friend and Lady in Waiting) doesn’t only come from that category – pretty much everyone she knows does. And those that don’t, are celebrities through music, art and film – the only thing missing is the aristocratic element. Those are also the only people that aren’t related to her or her husband in some way — because in England royalty and the level below that — everyone is.

Anne (I honestly don’t know if she should get a title) lives through a large part of the twentieth century and goes through almost the same amount of houses as she goes through years – on many continents. With her anxious, aggressive, loud husband she has five children who provide their own problems, while she has to be head of the household of several households and take care of Princess Margaret in every possible way as soon as she’s around. In a fictional story an editor would have told the author to start culling this huge amount of detail, story lines and disasters 100 pages in. But this is someone’s life.

Mostly it just shows that heritage, money and a network won’t prevent you from suffering trauma, while simultaneously making you see how much of a circus it all is. Honestly, if this is her truth; give me fiction.

Group

The first time I wished for death – like, really wished its bony hand would tap me on the shoulder and say “this way”- two bags from Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetables sat shotgun in my car.

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life, Christie Tate, Avid Reader Press 2020

I guess that mental health is a theme of mine now. With The Midnight Library, Crazy Ex Girlfriend and this one, you could call it a mental-health-trilogy. This one is the only non-fictional one of the three, although Rachel Bloom has admitted to her own issues with mental health inspiring CEG.

In Group, Christie has a collection of them. Issues with relationships, families, romance and food all lead to that first sentence. Therapy isn’t new to her either, but without effect, so why even try the worse option of group therapy?

As someone with little therapy-experience, some of the things her therapist put her through are wild. Some of her reactions to it are even wilder. Is this how (group) therapy works in the USA? There’s a strong truth-is-stranger-than-fiction vibe, but it also shows that when it comes to mental health that desperate measures are the only measures sometimes.

It’s sad and frustrating how stuck Christie is, and impressive how she turned her story into something appealing and entertaining. This isn’t a pamphlet for group therapy or a complaint about society’s ideas about adulthood, relationships and therapy. It’s the story of a group, and it’s a good one.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend

62 x 40 min

Crazy Ex Girlfriend; or how shows sometimes really need to put up a disclaimer with regards to both title and summary: no it’s not what it looks like and maybe take things literally for once.

Because it’s probably widely viewed as crazy to move to the other side of the country for someone you dated a couple of weeks when the both of you were teenagers. And it might not be up everyone’s alley to turn this element into something that needs musical numbers. A lot of them. About all kind of subjects.

Musicals make me itch.

So, I forwarded the few musical numbers, and maybe some of the scenes in which Rebecca was just too much. Awkward, honest, scared, sad – all of them.
But then. Then you may slowly but surely catch up to what’s going on. Recognise that the comedy part of this dramady may be more sour than saccharine and the drama part too hard-hitting to be comfortable. And yet: the balance stays.

Laughing, hurting, crying, cringing: suddenly Crazy Ex Girlfriend turns out to be an intelligent show on mental health and society’s ideas about romance and relationships. With smart, hilarious lyrics when they do add a musical number.

Yes, I was very surprised as well. Now – after having completed it three weeks ago – I miss the show.

Today Will Be Different

Today will be different.

Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple, Little, Brown & Company 2016

Maria Semple did it before: the frazzle, the alien character in a grand, wealthy world. This time it’s not a side-character, but the main. And that gets a bit exhausting after a while.

Because what’s happening, really? Our protagonist tries to be better, for at least one day. It doesn’t work the way she wants to, but only part of that is because of reasons outside of her control.

Unlike with Bernadette (I’m just going to continue comparing here) – there is no direction here, no pay-off, not even a crooked compass. It’s Ducks with better punctuation, but with even less consideration for the person we have to feel something more than annoyance for. There are crumbs of motivation behind her behaviour, but never enough to create even a biscotti from. Instead, you just don’t care about any of the people involved.

Maybe this is Semple’s thing. Maybe I’m not finely-enough-tuned to a traumatised person’s inner-workings, maybe it was the wrong book at the wrong time.

And just like the author of Today Will Be Different I’ll let the reader decide.

CapharnaĆ¼m

124 min.

I watched this entire film with focused energy and still don’t know why this is the title. It’s not the only thing lacking: the summary says this is about a street kid suing his parents for being born. It really is about Zain and his lack of control over things, plus his attempts to change that.

He tries to save his sister, he tries to save a left-behind toddler, he tries to save himself a bit. The streets of Yemen provide little, but Zain tries to take all of it.

It’s hard to believe that this is fiction, that it’s only actors that were put through this. Especially the boy playing Zain pulls story-lines off that would have been scoffed or laughed at with a lesser actor.

After, you’ll be glad that this time it was fiction. It just won’t make it easier to acknowledge that this way of living is reality for plenty of people.

And the court case? Or the title? Meh, I can do without.

Educated

I’m standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn.

Educated, Tara Westover, HarperCollins 2018

“Holy shit” might simultaneously be very fitting and entirely inappropriate for these memoirs from a woman that grows in Mormon surroundings with a family that seems to be a magnet for mental and physical disaster.

Tara’s father is sure that the End of Days is near, Iluminati are real and that the government is out to get you and brainwash you. The children are home-schooled and are expected to devote their entire lives to the family. Some of them do so easier than others, and not everyone has the mental health to do so.

Straighter put: there’s several not-diagnosed issues walking around and as everything is God’s will or a government-threat, there’s no room to change things. Even in cases of life or death.

Through a combination of circumstances and clear decisions; Tara starts to see things differently, starts to develop differently. Educated is the story of where it started, how it went and where it (for now) ended. It’s also a pamphlet for education, mental health care and a supportive society.

Edge of Seventeen

104 min.

I really didn’t expect to like this so much: just another American teen movie about a girl that’s struggling through growing up. Yes, we all did or do, boohoo. Honestly, I was expecting so little that I picked it so I could watch it with one eye on the screen and the other my book/phone/tablet.

Instead, I got a film that hit so close to home that it made me squirm. Good gravy, I was a brat. Good god, and not even an original one, look at Nadine go. Gosh darn, at least she has some solid excuse for this behaviour.

Because she does, partly – and it’s not just ‘puberty’, but I don’t want to spoil things. Hailee Steinfeld pleasantly surprised me again, all characters involved deserved their spot and managed not to be complete stereotypes: I’m still flabbergasted, I think.

So, maybe, only watch this without remembering how I admit to being almost a carbon copy to this main character. Or cut me some slack: you were probably a teen some time during your life as well.

The Animators

Introduction to Sketch was held in Prebble Hall, a building Professor McIntosch called “Ballister’s dirtiest secret” during our first class.

The turn around on this novel is incredibly impressive. It took me three – four chapters to change my mind about abandoning it, it’s incredibly ugly and depressive and scary and I think I’m even angry after(/about?) finishing it. It’s also one of those books you just want to press upon everyone just to see if they had the same experience, if it can touch different people in the same way.

Its ugli- and darkness might be its winning element, it creating a story that dumps you outside of daily life and makes you wonder how you can ever participate again. It isn’t ugly like a Gillian Flynn-creation, no murder here. It’s the way in which women are even less shown in fiction: dark and bitter and scared and a myriad of bad decisions while being bottomless wells of imagination and creativity.

This book isn’t to be summarised; it would fall incredibly short while at the same time preparing you for something it isn’t. To me, it was confrontational about daring to create and to create all – not just the cute stuff. About family and friendship and identity in an USA that made never have felt more filthy.

It’s a blast, it’s a terror. Read it so we can discuss.

The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker, Random House 2016

Queen Sugar

13 x 60 min.

It’s no secret that I enjoy family epics, be they written or on screen. It’s a way in which writers (and actors) can show how much they now about character-creation, and if done well, can shove plot and world-building to the background. In the case of Queen Sugar, that isn’t done exactly – the cinematography of this show alone is making it worthwhile to watch.

queen_sugar_posterIn the beginning everything is clear. Three siblings come together because of a family emergency and disagree with each other on everything. Something happens, and they’re stuck together longer than desired. It’s the acting of everyone involved – down to the young boy – that makes you actively root for them to find each other again, and get what they desire.

Queen Sugar plays out in and around Louisiana, shown in such luscious colours that the few times in and around Los Angeles feel flat and fake. It’s clear that this state is another world, and some siblings fit in better than others.

It’s of little importance if they siblings learn that they work best when together and if they get what they want in the end (although I’ve learned that there’s four seasons, so who knows what will still happen?). Solely the looking and listening might be enough for you to enough this first season – which does fine on its own.

Queen Sugar, OWN 2016