Just One Damned Thing After Another

There have been two moments in my life when everything changed.

Time travel! Dinosaurs! Bad guys and unlikely heroes! First book of a series!

Yes, I know, I will forever be overly bitter by the fact that a standalone fantasy novel is hard to find. Sue me (don’t sue me).

On the other hand – I’m a sucker for time travel and will accept a lot for the sheer fact of time travel being involved. It’s just a convenient genre: you get history, adventure, romance (often), sometimes science fiction – all in one book.

Just as in this case. Just One Damned Thing After Another has the scrappy heroine with the dodgy history, very villain-y villains, dinosaurs and mentions enough historical events to make sure you don’t forget the time traveling part. Jodi Taylor provides the majority of this with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, which (might) make(s) the reader more acceptable of the times when things get a bit too trope-y. Is that me complaining about getting everything I wanted from this kind of story? Yes.

If there wouldn’t be sequels, there wouldn’t have been several set-ups that took (a bit) too long to pay off. Without the scrappy heroine-background, there would have been less time spent on moping and self-pity.

So, yes, this is what to expect from the genre. I was just hoping for more.

Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor, Accent Press 2013

There Will Come a Darkness

In the moonlit room overlooking the city of faith, a priest knelt before Ephyra and begged for his life.

Am I going to say it? I’m going to say it. This is another ‘I thought this would be a stand-alone fantasy YA’ failure on my part. Of COURSE it’s part of a series, rookie mistake!

The nice thing is that you don’t really notice until it’s too late. The question of ‘how is this going to be cleanly rolled up in so little pages left’ doesn’t show up until 3/4 into the book, and even then Katy Rose Pool doesn’t use neon-light warnings to guide you to the open ending. The ending isn’t even that open, which to me – avid hater of open endings – is a relief.

Except for the ages of the protagonists, it’s not very YA either (little romance, little teen-specific issues) and the fantasy part delivers. Scary cult, people with gifts, threatening apocalypse, royals et cetera. The world-building makes you wonder if this is supposed to be our past or our distance future: just look at the map used.

With five protagonists it sometimes feels a bit like some get more time in the spotlight than others; it also makes it easy to quickly get a preference. Maybe in the next book(s) the attention will shifts and you might feel more for other characters.

All in all, a nothing-wrong-with fantasy. If I’d see the sequel in the library, I wouldn’t ignore it.

There Will Come a Darkness, Katy Rose Pool, MacMillan 2019

Invisible Women

Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.

Good gravy, just when you thought you already knew, things turn out to be so much worse. Next to a sexist gap in pay, safety and health there is a huge one in the thing that drives pretty  much all of society: data.

Why is the default ‘he’? Why is there still a riddle about a doctor whose husband died, and why do too many people involved with design viewing women as ‘men with boobs’? Well, because societies worldwide have made it so, and not enough people in powerful positions protest it. And it turns out to be lethal for women.

Invisible Women isn’t particularly uplifting material: there’s just so many numbers and anecdotes on things that went wrong and are going wrong and men not giving a damn about it. How do we rally for change when the entire history of humanity is against us?

Because in some cases and in some countries things have changed and are changing. And you can never change something you don’t know anything about. And because it might save your life to know.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez, Abrams Press 2019

The Secrets We Kept

We typed a hundred words per minute and never missed a syllable.

While I’m absolutely lukewarm about stories that use the World Wars as their background, the Cold War or anything involving the USSR/Russia has easily my interest (peeked). The Secrets We Kept ads love for literature to that. Ace in the hole, you’d say.

I can’t pinpoint why it isn’t one. It’s an appealing, enticing story; easy to read, pretty easy to follow (several chapters keep you in the dark about who’s the protagonist now — at least for a page and a half) and voices could have differed a bit more from each other. But that’s details I discover looking back, not necessarily crippling me during reading the story.

The secrets kept the title mentioned are from both The Agency (American security) as from Russian individuals that dare do things The State doesn’t agree with. Of course, there’s secrets on other levels as well, and this isn’t  a Cold War story in the way of ‘pick a side and follow through’. These women and typists carry more responsibility than their detailed-described looks entail.

It’s a fun novel to read, easily calling up images and with no frills when not necessary. I’m honestly surprised that I’m not more excited about it.

The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott, Bond Street Books 2019

Lincoln in the Bardo

On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.

Don’t judge a book by its title. Or maybe don’t expect to know what is going to happen by a book’s title. I thought Lincoln – like the American president. I thought Bardo – a kind of Buddhist limbo, add those and you get something eerie, cool, spooky about mourning, the afterlife and discussing religion.

Instead I got a collection of (fictional) citations and quotations about Abraham Lincoln, his dead son and a lot of people I’ve never heard of before.

It took some time to adjust.

Both Lincolns are very little part of this story. It is about the Bardo and how people of all walks of life experience it while avoiding the reality of having died. As mentioned before – this doesn’t happen in continuous prose, you seem to be paging through an encyclopedia of Americans that have died in the time before Abraham Lincoln. Why? Because some of them look out for Willie Lincoln, and are impressed that Abraham continues to visit his son and mourn him.

So it’s not a story about the American president, it’s a little bit about mourning, it’s a too little bit about what the Bardo is, how it works and what it looks like, and the rest of it is – I guess – about the skills of one George Saunders in bringing a lot of character sheets together and passing them off as novel.

2020 isn’t a great year for books, just yet.

Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders, Bloomsbury 2017

An Ocean of Minutes

People wishing to time travel go to Houston Intercontinental Airport.

Is dystopia less scary to me when it happens in the past? For someone that doesn’t like dystopian stories, this is the second one I read in two months.

This time it’s an epidemic and time travel that gets us where we end up; although – we end up in the past. The protagonist is sent into the future from the eighties, and ends up in 1998. Oof, isn’t that an awful long time ago?

Of course, because that’s how it goes, things go quite awry, and Polly has to adjust not just to a new time, but to new surroundings and societal rules. This being a dystopian story – things didn’t improve.

The twist of this story – it masquerading as a love and time travel story, while it really isn’t – is also the most appealing feature of it. Besides that it’s too muted, lamenting and passive to feel anything but a tinge of relief of having finished this.

An Ocean of Minutes, Thea Lim, Penguin Random House 2018

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

Coisa Mais Linda

7 x 45 min.

Also known as Most Beautiful Thing, and it definitely is pretty to look at. With it being centered around a musical café it’s not bad to listen to either.

most beautiful thing posterBut what’s going on? A Brazilian housewife in the fifties follows her husband from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro only to discover he disappeared with all her money, leaving her indebted and without direction. Now what? Her image destroyed, her bank account empty, time to find a new husband!

Except she doesn’t want to. They had dreams of starting a restaurant, now she decides on starting a jazz club. As a naive little housewife there are plenty of things she has to learn while working against sexism, the previous mentioned debts and her parents. Good thing there are female friends that suffer (in other ways) along with her.

And all that in beautiful, bright surroundings (are so many shows and films so dark these days or is it just my screen settings?) that add a little bit extra to the trope of ‘woman recognises her worth and comes into her own’. Oh and yes, it’s in Portuguese, so you might have to get used to the idea of reading subtitles.

Coisa Mais Linda, Netflix 2019

After the Party

When I came out of prison my hair was white.

When we don’t learn from history something something repeat something something. Who would have thought that a book about fascism would be all too relevant again in the twenty-first century? Look, it even has women and children being brainwashed through children and ‘good people’ while parroting that above all “it’s about patriotism!”.

The title can be interpreted in two ways, I realise only now. Protagonist Phyllis returns to England when the second world war is just a spot on the horizon. She joins her sisters in a world of high(er) society, and so what if there’s stories about a very charismatic Leader whose party will take care of making Great Britain greater (I kid you not)? Parallels, anyone?

The time-hopping kind of spoils how Phyllis’ story goes, and I would have appreciated more focus on details about this “patriotic” party and their place in society. Now it’s mostly a slice-of-life look of a certain people and how easily they step into the “we just want the best (for people like us)” trap. A study of humanity – and their refusal to learn from history.

After the Party, Cressida Connolly, Viking Press 2018