Don’t You Forget About Me

Tapton School, Sheffield, 2007

‘You loved me – then what right had you to leave me?

Ah, delicious by-the-numbers contemporary romance with just a few reminders of real life to not make it saccharine sweet. My kind of romance.

Boy meets girl, they fall in love, it’s the end of high school – fade out. Man meets woman, claims he absolutely can not remember her, even though she recognises him straight away. What’s going on? What happened during the fade out? And why is her mother less-than-supportive about pretty much everything she does?

Don’t You Forget About Me hits all the spots in chronological order, has the fun friends/side kicks (pleasantly fleshed out, that doesn’t always happen), and a few laugh-out-loud laughs.

Main Georgina sells it, though. Her frustrations, fears and self-doubt never get navelgazy or woe-is-me, but are (too) recognisable. She’s for the single women in their thirties, with the shitty job and the feeling of being without direction but unable to find the compass either.

I read McFarlane’s Who’s That Girl? before, and think I can conclude that for fun, romantic, quick-to-read time this author is a good fit.

Don’t You Forget About Me, Mhairi McFarlane, HarperCollins 2019

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

Sorcery of Thorns

Night fell as death rode into the Great Library of Summershall.

I’m sure Margaret Rogerson hadn’t planned on setting such a dramatic scene with just the first sentence. It’d have been Death or DEATH otherwise, of course. Anyway, let’s not go off on a tangent.

I wanted some easy, accessible fantasy and Sorcery of Thorns didn’t disappoint. It even looks to be a stand-alone! And even though it’s YA pretty by the book (unlikely hero who’s Different, a dark and mysterious love interest, a funny sidekick), it doesn’t become a bother. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, the tempo is high and there’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained.

Elisabeth Scrivener (I know) was left as a baby at one of the Great Libraries and grew up in one. Books are magical creatures, but those that manage those powers are kind of feared and frowned upon. So of course, she ends up with a sorcerer after an accident, and magic becomes a large part of her life.

The clear love of books gets Sorcery of Thorns an extra star: if it wouldn’t have been so dangerous, I would have loved to have a look around in its libraries.

Sorcery of Thorns, Margaret Rogerson, Margaret K. McElderry Books 2019

Swing Time

It was the first day of my humiliation.

I’ve read some Zadie Smith before and I think I can repeat a previously used sentiment: Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters. Although this time, in Swing Time there definitely might be some plot-like features to be found.

There’s the growing up of a mixed girl in eighties England on the (edge of the) estate, her sort-of friendship with an equal in skin colour but very different in background and surroundings and their shared passion of dancing.

There’s the woman who’s an assistant of a world-famous pop-star who gets entangled in the lives of West-African villagers (maybe Gambian) in an attempt of charity work.

And then there’s the woman who can’t seem to do right by the dreams and ambitions of her mother, who in turn decides to pursue them herself.

It’s all the same woman, so you might get what I mean. It’s a slice of life but life is firmly on the background, even when the protagonist (unnamed) interacts with it and the people part of it. It’s all very much in her head, even when, or maybe especially when you would appreciate a bird’s eye view.

But the title is ever so fitting, the story providing a certain kind of rhythm that makes the book easy to pick up and stick to.

Swing Time, Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton 2016

The Maid

Red flowers were blooming in the front yard, but Nanase had no idea what they were: the names of the flowers did not interest her.

Well, the summary of this novel is going to be short and clear. Young Japanese woman is telepathic and listens in on the households in which she does maid-work. Any questions?

Nanase doesn’t really manage to hold on to a job for long, which could be quite understandable when you can hear everyone’s thoughts. It turns the novel into a collection of short stories: ever so often a new household. It also makes it quite repetitive: everyone only seems to think about status, money and sex.

So, yes, maybe that’s all what people think about when they think no-one else can hear them, but couldn’t there have been some kind of addition to prevent feeling like you’ve read this already the previous chapter? Sadly not. There’s no descriptions of surroundings and Nanase herself doesn’t seem to spend too much thought on herself and her future. It sadly turns The Maid into a creative writing exercise that went on for too long.

The Maid, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Alma Books 2010

The Kitchen

102 min.

In no way does this film show that the origin is a (comic) book, at least not the kind you might expect from DC (Batman and his ilk). This is ‘just’ a movie about the Irish mob in New York’s Hell Kitchen at the end of the seventies.

the kitchen film posterThree wives-of-mobsters are left hanging high and dry when their husbands are caught and imprisoned. The family doesn’t take as much care of them as expected either, so they decide to take matters in their own hands. And matters in this case are making money in less legal ways.

Not so surprisingly, this goes well, even better than the men that had started it. Other people, of course, are less than pleased by this, and some thing close to a hunt happens. So do dead bodies, but somehow The Kitchen never manages to add a sense of worry or urgency to all this. It all floats along; well-looking surroundings, okay soundtrack, okay dialogue. Any excitement? Not really. Why do I need to keep watching this movie, no matter how hard Melissa McCarthy is trying? Unsure, really. It’s all just there.

The Kitchen, DC Vertigo 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

Freshwater

The first time our mother came for us, we screamed.

Sometimes a book leaves you with a feeling instead of easy-put-into-thoughts words. Freshwater is exciting, eerie, scary and frustrating, both the story and the story telling. It’s a book you’d recommend with a long disclaimer.

Main character Ada (or the Ada) is born with one foot in the other world, she’s possessed by creatures/things/ghosts, and they have quite the impact on her health, her life and her loved ones. It’s not just her that gets to speak either, it’s the ‘we’ and others that get to control the human Ada from time to time, or at the very least debate her decisions.

It makes for a creepy, aggravating story that isn’t always easy to get through, like it’s not just Ada that’s being dragged down and manipulated by the other ones. At the same time it’s such a balanced story about a culture (Nigerian) that doesn’t view all this as too exotic, but at the same time has elements that prevents Ada from speaking the truth. So there’s different layers to her straddling two worlds, even when she hasn’t has her creatures involved.

Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, Grove Press 2018

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