The Marrow Thieves

Mitch was smiling so big his back teeth shone in the soft light of the solar-powered lamp we’d scavenged from someone’s shed.

I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories; they make me very nervous. With the way the people in power are ignoring environmental and societal issues, it’s – for me – not that hard to believe that sooner than later we’ll be scavenging food and fighting for survival. It’s not something I enjoy thinking about, so why did I still start The Marrow Thieves?

Because of the author and the point of the view of the story: indigenous people. I always try to read more by indigenous writers, books using indigenous stories (although that’s a whole other (potentially sticky) kettle of fish), and this one made it sound more sci-fi-ish than “the world has gone to the crapper and humans are terrible”. We all make mistakes, sometimes.

Cherie Dimaline keeping the story short (less than 200 pages) and the characters very recognisable and deserving of your support prevents you from leaving this story feeling absolute despair. Yes, humans are terrible. Also yes: humans have family, hope and determination.

I still hope we don’t need those in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline, Cormorant Books 2017

Ask Again, Yes

Francis Gleeson, tall and thin in his powder blue policeman’s uniform, stepped out of the sun and into the shadow of the stocky stone building that was the station house of the Forty-First Precinct.

I enjoy family stories. I’m quite the sucker for generational stories that sometimes are big and grand enough to be called family epics. It’s character based, sometimes with time and surroundings being an extra character, but simply about all the people involved (or some of them).

Ask Again, Yes shouldn’t be called epic. Maybe not even a family story. It somehow feels like it has picked the least exciting characters to hang the story up on, and then seems to just shrug about how they can’t carry whatever plot (points) they pass. Why not more information about the previous generation, their immigration, the world they moved into? Instead the reader gets childish stubbornness that never really gives any reason to warm up to it.

So, if you want the story of a family, and all of it, go for The Woo-Woo, or Run, Hide, Repeat or The Locals. They’ll give you something more enticing.

Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Scribner 2019

Paradise Lodge

The job at Paradise Lodge was Miranda Longlady’s idea.

‘Teenager in seventies’ England gets a job at a seniors home and learns things about life, herself and others’ must have been a curious plot to pitch, but Nina Stibbe manages to land it with a homely, gentle feeling to the story and everyone involved. Even Matron.

Lizzie Vogel is a bit of an onion; she’s got layers. Starting off this job with ‘better shampoo’ as a personal motivation, she quickly starts to see that both seniors and the people providing for them as individuals as well. Her work at the home is more exciting and interesting than school, there’s a cute guy who’s someone else’s boyfriend, and her mother isn’t all that stable through all this; all of which causes issues in a domino kind of cascade.

That might make Paradise Lodge sound severe and dire, but even though there are deaths, it’s all on the lighter side of things. Teenage problems, without being teenage disasters. Lizzie really is an onion: she goes with many things.

Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe, Penguin Books 2017

The Boat People

Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes.

This isn’t a particularly uplifting story. Reading is escapism, isn’t it? Unless you never have any media-intake that won’t be the case with this novel. The subject is a three-step ladder of contemporary news: racism in politics, war zones and (boat) refugees.

These three angles are showcased through the points of view of different people: a refugee, the people helping them, and those that need to make sure that no refugee brings danger into the country (Canada, in this case). It’s easy to view the latter as the villains of this piece: they start out with a negative angle and won’t be swayed. But in today’s society it would be naive to act like that negative angle hasn’t landed on fertile land, and what does that say about us?

The same can be said from the ‘good’ immigrants that lament these refugees for not doing immigration “the right way”. We all need thoughts to comfort us, so who’s to blame for acting upon them?

Of course, nothing happening in this novel will make you think: yes, let’s deny every refugee asylum, yay! but it very much shows the booby-trapped labyrinth immigration and asylum (laws) have become. With an all too human face to it, on all sides.

The Boat People, Sharon Bala, McClelland & Stewart 2018

The Letdown

13 x 30 minutes

For someone who doesn’t have children, nor wants them, The Letdown has plenty recognisable situations that make you think that mothers aren’t a completely different species (yes, I know!).

The Letdown posterIn this Australian show the viewer follows around different (new) mums from different backgrounds and in different surroundings. But even though they are introduced through a mum-related event, the show doesn’t turn them solely into ‘mothers’. Children have upended the lives of these women (and their partners), and that’s where the relatable part comes in.

Even when these women are in different times in their lives, they all struggle (more or less) with romance, health, personal time, family etc. It’s small things, frustrating things, and sometimes so secondhand embarrassing that it’s hard not to look away. Please, just admit that you were wrong, right or uncomfortable, aren’t you too old for such behaviour come on.

I guess not, and that’s also what elicits chuckles besides rolling eyes. Good thing you can’t blame children or partners on bad decisions, no matter how old you are. There’s plenty of us that do so, and it’s nice to see that.

The Letdown, Netflix 2017

 

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 GoldĀ 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,

These Witches Don’t Burn

They say there’s a fine line between love and hate.

Queer teenage witches! And it shows, in this YA, littering the story with some bad decisions and Very Emotional Moments. Because: teenagers.

Main character Hannah is a real witch, living in Salem, and trying to keep her and her family’s magic a secret from those that are ordinary humans. It gets harder when attacks start to happen, her ex-girlfriend attempts to get her back while at the same time moving on with someone else, a cute new girl arrives and her coven puts down the law on magic use. Basically ordinary teenage life, indeed.

It might be testament to Isabel Sterling’s writing that sometimes it’s all very teenager, making everyone and their decisions a bit too annoying and young for this reader. This is balanced out by Hannah’s sweet thoughts and emotions about her sexuality and crush(es), and honestly – hasn’t anyone had their Teenage Moments.

As is my usual complaint; more world building would have been welcome, but for those that are always on the look out for more queer YA: These Witches Don’t Burn is a proper one.

These Witches Don’t Burn, Isabel Sterling, Penguin Random House 2019

Crosstalk

By the time Briddey pulled into the parking garage at Commspan, there were forty-two text messages on her phone.

“You were so busy discovering if you could, that you didn’t spend time wondering if you should”, to paraphrase a certain fictional character involved with dinosaurs. Another subtitle could have been ‘Communication, are you sure it should be endless?’

And all that while I was recommended this novel as good representation of the romance genre. Maybe I should have known better, this author wrote Doomsday Book.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t any romance (although it’s a spectacular slow burn), it just means it’s surrounded by the scientific element of getting an implant that will make you sensitive to the emotions and moods of your loved ones. Sounds like a bad idea, right?

It turns worse when some things happen that shouldn’t and some shouldn’t that should. Willis spends a lot of time on lore, which a bit too often leads to “I can’t tell you that right now!” cop outs. It’s the only frustrating thing about the novel, and the only thing that brings the tempo down.

Honestly, with certain elements going haywire, you could even use this book as an argument for taking internet- and social media use down a tad. The romance, and the lore, are bonuses.

Crosstalk, Connie Willis, Gollancz 2016

 

The Woo-Woo

“Miss Wong, you’re seriously ill,” the neurologist in a midtown office said, preparing to offer me a sympathy tissue.

Has it been more since a month since my last use of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’? Because Lindsay Wong’s truth is far stranger than fiction. A Chinese-Canadian woman that grows up in a family that is rife with mental illnesses and superstition, but completely refuses to acknowledge the first one and follows the second one in (self)destructive ways.

It’s always interesting to have a look behind someone else’s door, and I always try to learn more about contemporary Asians (immigrant or not). In this case, I felt like I was just gaping a lot at the page, because is this how it goes? Or is this solely the impact of the denial about mental illnesses? And is it bad that I laughed (in disbelief) so often?

Because there’s drug dealing neighbours that pay their neighbour’s children to hang out with theirs, disgusting-sounding meals, insults viewed as different level of endearments and barely a plain, ordinary family member with an ordinary, healthy life around. Lindsay isn’t easy to love either, but gosh darn it, no-one should grow up in such an environment. And I don’t ask for it often, but: I’d definitely read a sequel.

The Woo-Woo, Lindsay Wong, Arsenal Pulp 2018

The Talented Ribkins

He only came back because Melvin said he would kill him if he didn’t pay off his debt by the end of the week.

Now how to talk about this one. There’s a fantastical element in this story (several, if you consider all the individuals involved), but I definitely wouldn’t call it a story from the fantasy genre. Maybe more magic realistic? Anyway, these talents can come in quite handy, but brought ruin to almost every owner – every member of the Ribkins family.

The Ribkins are a black family, with one generation starting out as activists (during the Civil Rights Movement) but seeming to have ended up in crime. Each of their stories rub against historical facts, which makes the people with extraordinary powers trope so much more realistic, and keeps the focus on those people, instead of what they do with their powers.

This is combined with a playground (Florida) that somehow manages to make all of it more surreal and real at the same time. Of course the main character needs to dig up money he hid around the state, of course their last name has a wonderful background. Ladee Hubbard bakes all of it together, and it tastes strange, but good.

The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard, Melville House 2017