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
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
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
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.
Three 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
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
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.
But 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
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
On that day in 1914, a young girl banged on the door of the Hôpital de la Miséricorde in Montreal.
Boy, does this author love her metaphors like a dog likes a bone. Don’t use them as a drinking game, you will end up in the hospital. Even though it’s becoming quite noticeable after a while, I have to admit that they add to the fairy-tale like feeling this story already has. The development and rise of orphans in Great Depression North America, involving clowns and mobsters, maybe they deserve a metaphor every other sentence.
Main characters are Pierrot and Rose and share the chapters whenever they are together or apart. They’ve got very different views on life and what they want from it; making the fairy-tale like feeling disappear before it can give a (happy) end.
Besides that, there’s the surroundings this plays out in. Montreal with its alive snow, New York with the buildings full of possibilities and risks. It’s all written very visually, which neatly distracts from the small plot holes or just hiccups it provides. This story is pretty and enticing; everything else is subordinate to it.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill, Riverhead Books 2018
The maesters of the Citadel who keep the histories of Westeros have used Aegon’s conquest as their touchstone for the past three hundred years.
Are you in need of more Westeros now the TV-show is so close to ending and the book series it might be based on might never finish? Do you love dragons and politics in your fantasy? Boy, do I’ve got a recommendation for you. For those that are looking for fantasy and just grabbed the newest book your library had on offer? Hm-mweh.
George R.R. Martin has always been a bit Tolkien-light when it comes to his descriptions over show-don’t-tell. Fire & Blood is Martin gathering all those descriptions he probably ever used to spend time on one Westeros family: Targaryen (yes, I know we can discuss if they’re a Westeros family). Remember from the Bible those family trees lists that went on forever? That’s Fire & Blood, just with more descriptions added of how people look and from time to time how people (brutally) died in one of the many fights and wars.
Is that a bad thing? That depends on what you want from this book. This isn’t an epic telling; it’s closer to an encyclopedia with some prose added (and repetitive at that; there really couldn’t have been more side steps to other countries and families instead of hearing how another sibling-pair marries each other?). Do you just want more of Martin’s Westeros (I did)? This will work for you, as long as you don’t read it too much in one go – mentioned repetitions will really start to show. And those dragons? Well, they’re … pretty?
Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin, Penguin Random House 2018
In the dusky haze of evening a ruddy-cheeked newsboy strode along Fifth Avenue proclaiming the future.
Remember The Rules of Magic? I’ve got a similar book-from-the-nineties-feeling with this one. Or maybe it’s just the nineties that make me remember the nineties? This story doesn’t even play out in the nineties, so we might never know. On to witches!
This is New York in the nineteenth century, which certainly was part of the appeal for me as well, and luckily for me does Ami McKay spend time on giving the city room in her story as well. It’s enough of another world from the New York city we know (through media and fiction), that a magical element seems to fit almost right in.
The three main characters are quite charming as well, even though I would have enjoyed learning more about the older two. There’s also something to say about how the author decides to completely commit to magic instead of keeping the implication and illusion of it, but it doesn’t sour the story of the three women. All in all, like the book mentioned in the first paragraph – none of this is mind-blowing and groundbreaking – but it is sweet and easily enjoyable.
Witches of New York, Ami McKay, Alfred A. Knopf 2016