Girl One

April 24, 1972

Girl One, Sarah Flannery Murphy, Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2021

Standard detective with an element that’s supposed to make it cool and original but really doesn’t – instead turning the whole thing into a slog to get through.

Girl One is one of the girls that have been created without any male influence – aka no sperm. This tidbit is mostly mentioned through how society looked at them, not adding any cool scifi-ish bits until the last part of the book. Before that, Girl One (Josephine) is looking for her mum. They don’t have a great relationship, but there’s a deserted looking home and she ~feels~ like she has to.

With the meeting of the other girls created the same way her mother’s disappearance seems to turn into something bigger, but details are fed so slowly and unclear that it’s just.. why should I bother?

The story ends with a Life-Changing disappointment for the protagonist. I mentally signed out long before that.

Strangers with the Same Dream

When Ida arrived in the new place and saw the hot sun broken over the mountain’s crust and the sky above it an impossible ravaged blue, she felt that she had been dead up until that moment.

Strangers with the Same Dream, Alison Pick, Alfred A. Knopf 2017

I guess I needed some more naive world-improvers in my life. This time it’s Jews (secular and otherwise) that are sure that they will create a safe, wonderful, prolific place for them. Somewhere already some people live, but hey – they were promised and it’s just shacks, anyway.

Yep. We know what’s going on here.

Alison Pick gives us the point of view from three people involved: Ida, David and Hannah. The first is a stranger, the second two a couple, but ‘strangers’ definitely fits all of them. Unfitting ideas about each other and the good of the community, terrible communication and all the time that build up to something bad happening.

The one downside to this book is that the POV overlap A LOT. Just a small shift in time would have shown us more about everyone’s history and the development of the land of community. Now parts turn into a he-said/she-said what sabotages that delightful build up.

Let’s try some lighter reading next.

Resort to Love

101 min.

And the winner of overacting this Film-a-Month-Project goes to… this Netflix gem! I know, I know, easy pickings to go for the Netflix romcom, like I should expect award-worthy material but dear reader: the overacting was A Lot. For a majority of the time. I don’t give out these prizes easily.

Anyway, all this acting excellence happens because the main character – played by Christina Milian – becomes a resort singer and discovers that her next assignment at the resort is to sing at the wedding of the ex that ghosted her. While being engaged. You’d throw around your arms and your volume for lesser things.

And it’s not just her that’s doing it. Honestly, except for the love-interest, everyone seems to be in on the fun and good for them. I would rather have more of that than another excuse to get Milian to sing another song to show she can.

The Patriots

On a Sunday in August, a boy and a one-armed man appeared on the platform of the Saratov train station.

The Patriots, Sana Krasikov, Penguin Random Books 2017

Russia and the Soviet continue to endlessly fascinate me. With almost 600 pages and jumping through time to get different angles, The Patriots provides.

That also means that sometimes you have to invest a little bit to follow along. A lot of names and not always a clear sign of which era you’re in keeps you on your toes, I guess.

An American woman moves to the Soviet because the revolution doesn’t happen quickly enough in the USA, in her opinion. We probably all know enough history to know that from a welcome foreigner, she turns into a unwelcome visitor and suffers along with the rest of locals just as easily. Even if you know, reading about it once more just shows that there’s no limit to (unpleasant) surprise.

Generations follow, the Soviet stays the same. It continues to baffle me how recently this all played out, but I will gladly take more stories about it.

Her Royal Highness

“There’s a unicorn on this.”

Her Royal Highness, Rachel Hawkins, Penguin Random House 2019

I find some time to read in between the films. Although you don’t need much time for this 200 page YA novel that is a wish-fulfillment fantasy involving Scottish castles, royalty and a Cool Girl. It’s YA, very obviously. That I didn’t pull out any hair in frustration about dumb teenage actions is a compliment to the author.

Millie likes geology and doesn’t care about her looks. Because of Reasons she decides to do her final year of high school in Scotland. There, she becomes the room mate of a princess. A snooty, tiresome princess but oh no – are those feelings?

It all works: the surroundings, the side characters, the absolutely wonderful love interest. While struggling to get through The Shadow King and seemingly to only pick serious films or duds – this was a breath of fresh air.

Joy

109 min.

I challenged myself to watch a film every day in November. Expect a lot of film posts.

A warning beforehand, this film shows animal abuse and let’s you listen to rape. In case you felt like the title would give you a happy story.

Joy leaves you with questions, although you know the answers to most of them. It’s a surprise that nothing sentimental is added for once: no room for sentimentality with illegal Nigerian sex workers in Austria. Especially not when there’s debt involved. Joy’s one nice decision (taking a younger woman under her wing) backfires, showing there’s no room for niceties.

It’s near the ending where the questions are left unanswered: what do these actions stand for? What is she doing? With this, Joy ends (not completes!) an all too familiar story (immigration for the people back home) on an eerie, unfamiliar note.

The Hidden Palace

Of all the myriad races of thinking creatures in the world, the two that most delight in telling stories are the flesh-and-blood humans and the long-lived, fiery jinn.

The Hidden Palace, Helene Wecker, HarperCollins 2021

I don’t remember exactly why, but I remember absolutely loving in that swept-away-recommend-everyone way the prequel to this: The Golem and the Jinni. Maybe it’s a sophomore slump or the time between has dropped the rose colour from my glasses, but I didn’t love this one. Sadly.

My biggest complaint is how compartmentalized it felt: there’s never much room given to have the story flow, instead of continuously moving on to another character, another angle, another location. It’s like the notes for a story; not a story.

Of course, it’s still a wonderful look at a young New York city (although not that young anymore, with the first World War around the corner), a broad view at the mythology/-ies of golem and jinns. Some of the new characters add to the stories of the golem and the jinn, others take up too much space and sentimentally planned scenes (assuming, of course) don’t pull at the heart strings at all or only very little.

It’s all too one-dimensional, but there’s rumours there’ll be another book. Maybe the third time is the charm – again.

A Good Liar

109 min.

Zo’n verhaal waarvan je al snel hoopt dat het af gaat lopen zoals je weet dat het af moet lopen, maar stel je voor dat je wel een ouderwets, outdated verhaal hebt gevonden en met de frustraties achterblijft.

Spoiler: gelukkig loopt het ook zo af. Al neemt de film er wel de tijd voor.

Het leeuwendeel van de film is het opzetten en volgen van de relatie tussen Roy en Betty. Twee senioren die toch nog iets moois bij elkaar vinden, al is dat wel nogal ongebalanceerd: Roy weet dat Betty miljonair is, Betty heeft genoeg aan gezelschap.

Als zijplotje wordt gedemonstreerd dat Roy wel vaker weet waar de centjes zitten, maar is hij dan alleen met Betty voor haar geld? Verdulleme.

De film is dan vooral een demonstratie van Mirren en McKellan in dialoog: heel de clue wordt met dik-hout-zaagt-men-planken neergegooid en gaat te lang door. Ja ja jeetje wat erg allemaal, maar eigenlijk te laat om impact te hebben. Ook wraakfilms hebben een goede balans nodig.

The Witch’s Heart

Long ago, when the gods were young and Asgard was new, there came a witch from the edge of the worlds.

The Witch’s Heart, Genevieve Gornichec, Penguin Random House 2021

I love a good retelling. Mythological, it is. Madeleine Miller did it with Greeks, Genevieve Gornichec goes way up North with Loki’s story from one of his wives’ point of view.

Angrboda is much more than Loki’s wife: she’s a powerful witch, a threat to the Norse gods (mostly in their eyes, she just wants to be left alone), and a calm soul. She wants to live her little life, but mythologies aren’t build on that. So there’s an unfamiliar feeling (love) for an unreliable person (Loki), pregnancies, children and terrifying visions about (growing) threats. As it goes.

Gornichec doesn’t attempt an old-timey tone that will assure you this is a myth: she tells it like one. There’s a clear chronology, little side steps, lovely visuals. A novel like a comfortable sweater — if you manage to ignore the several deaths, abuse and apocalypse. It’s still a myth, after all.

White Ivy

Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never knew it to look at her.

White Ivy, Susie Yang, Simon & Schuster 2020

White Ivy is all over the place. As the summary and blurbs say it’s coming of age, a (second generation) migrant story, but Ivy manages to elevate (and worsen) all of it.

Because Ivy doesn’t fit into any mold. Maybe she doesn’t even have one. It’s maddening how she sabotages and destroys, but looking at her experiences and upbringingā€¦ maybe not that strange. Because how do you handle being left in a country only to meet your parents again after several years? Being the only Asian-Canadian in white surroundings? Having a violent tiger-mother and (mentally-)absent father? Lesser people would have gotten some trauma from that.

Again, sometimes you’re talking to Ivy to just unclench for once, give herself something, let go of all she’s carrying. Please, to give the reader some air to breathe as well.

I won’t share if she does, but it’s been a while since I’ve so rooted for and so disliked one and the same fictional character.