READ THE WORLD – Slovenia: Mere Chances by Veronika Simoniti

Translated by Nada Grošelj.

A collection of singular and strange stories about characters struggling to maintain their identities as they cross physical and linguistic borders.

The themes of the stories in Mere Chances where very interesting as they cover belonging, identity, and the difficulties in making yourself heard in a new place. However, the actual plots of a lot of the stories aren’t as compelling as their themes. It’s like a lot of them are trying to be bigger and more important than they are, with surprises that don’t feel earned and characters that aren’t developed enough. Obviously, short stories don’t have the same space to give characters a full backstory but a good short story can give you a good characterisation to be interested in, even in just a few pages.

There are a few stories that are truly great and powerful. “Portugal” is about a young woman with a terminal illness who decides to make the trip she’s always wanted to before having to deal with the reality of her health. The escapism is great as she makes her way to her destination, talking to locals and letting her thoughts wander.

A couple of the stories are about the war in the Balkans and trying to find where the bodies in the mass graves belong to return them to their families. Those stories are like a shock to the system after the stories that are bland and unaffecting.

Mere Chances is a short story collection that has a lot of good ideas and themes but unfortunately the majority of the stories don’t have good enough characters and plot to make them more than interesting in theory.

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Reading Rush TBR

The Reading Rush starts next week, and I’ve finally got my TBR together. The Reading Rush is the revamped BookTubeAThon (a readathon that will always have a special place in my heart as it was the first readathon I ever took part in) and takes place from midnight your time zone on Monday 22 July and finishes at 11:59pm on Sunday 28 July. They have a YouTube channel and Instagram, and a brand-new website (I’m ElenaSquareEyes over there as well) for people to meet and there will the usual Twitter chats and sprints too.

The Reading Rush comes with some challenges you can try and complete but really the aim is to read as much as you can during the week. There are video challenges too but that’s far too technical for me. The reading challenges are;

1. Read a book with purple on the cover
2. Read a book in the same spot the entire time
3. Read a book you meant to read last year
4. Read an author’s first book
5. Read a book with a non-human main character
6. Pick a book that has five or more words in the title
7. Read and watch a book to movie adaptation
Bonus: Read 7 books!

You know me when it comes to readathons, I’m always look for as many options as possible because I’m such a mood reader. I know I won’t read seven books but with the books I do have, I could potentially complete all but one of the challenges as the books I have on my TBR fit more than one challenge.

Purple on the cover
I have three books that fit this – Viper by Bex Hogan, Hawkeye: Avenging Archer by Jim McCann, David López, Duane Swierczynski, Manuel Garcia and Paco Diaz and West Coast Avengers Vol. 1: Best Coast by Kelly Thompson, Stefano Caselli and Tríona Farrell. Viper has an incredibly purple cover and there’s bits of purple on characters costumes on the two graphic novels.

Read in the same spot
Obviously, I will complete this by reading one of the graphic novels (probably West Coast Avengers as it’s the shorter one). The spot in question will probably be my bed.

Book you meant to read last year
This is The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I was meant to read this for Sci-Fi Month last November (there was a buddy read of it and everything!) and I did read 30 pages but then I stopped even though I was liking the characters and the setting I’d been introduced to so far.

Author’s first book
I’ve got a couple of options for that; Viper and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Book with a non-human main character
I’m pretty sure in the first 30 pages of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet that I read there were a few non-human characters in the shape of different aliens, and as it’s a sort of ensemble cast type book, that’ll count.

Book with five or more words in the title
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet fits this one again, as does How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić. I don’t actually have many books with five words or more, so this was a bit of a struggle to find some options.

I won’t be able to complete the final challenge to read a book and then watch the film/TV adaptation as I don’t currently have any books to read that have been adapted.

Looking at my TBR and the challenges they fit, I only need to read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and West Coast Avengers to complete six of the seven challenges! I could totally read them both in a week! I think my plan is going to be to read them two first and then any of the other books I read during Reading Rush will be a bonus.

Are you taking part in the Reading Rush? There seems to be a few readathons going on at the minute so if you are taking part in one, I hope you are achieving your goals and are enjoying what you’re reading!

REVIEW: Point Blank (2019)

When ER nurse Paul’s (Anthony Mackie) heavily pregnant wife Taryn (Teyonah Parris) is kidnapped, he has to work with injured murder suspect Abe (Frank Grillo) to get her back as they face off against rival criminals and renegade cops.

Mackie and Grillo work well together here. Their characters are polar opposites which leads to some amusing moments, but they bring a lot of energy to their scenes together as thy have a common goal. Paul wants to get back to his wife, while Abe wants to get back to his younger brother Matteo (Christian Cooke) and all four of them are trying to keep ahead of the criminals who want them dead.

Point Blank is a predictable action thriller but the way the action is shot and how the plot speeds along makes it a fun ride. Quick edits a long with some decent fights make those scenes interesting however the car chases are more pedestrian than exciting. There are some surprisingly emotional moments though the script isn’t good enough to really pack an emotional punch.

There are some odd music cues in Point Blank as a fight or something will kick off and it’s like a needle drops onto a record but the song that starts playing isn’t one that really fits. It can be quite jarring and takes you out of the film as what you’re hearing and what you’re seeing really don’t mesh that well together. Sometimes the music choices even cheapened those times where they were going for something dramatic.

Towards the end of Point Blank, it starts to lean too far into the buddy comedy element and the ending is cheesy, but that doesn’t stop most of the film being a fast-paced and a generally compelling action film. 3/5.

Mid-Year Reading Update

We’re (over) halfway through the year and as I did a mid-year check in for what films I’ve been watching, I thought I’d do one for what books I’ve been reading too. Plus, I haven’t managed to read one book so far in July (though I’ve nearly finished rereading The Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman on audio, but I started that last month) so these stats are definitely for the first six months of the year.

I kept my reading goals for 2019 pretty simple. I didn’t sign up for any reading challenges though I set my Goodreads goal to 52 books and I wanted to review at least 26 of them. I’m right on track with that as so far, I’ve read 41 books and have reviewed 25 of them (review 26 is half written and will be posted next week). I read 12 books in June which definitely helped these stats. I spent 10 days at my dad’s and pretty much all I did there was read.

I wanted to get my physical TBR down from 100 books to 50 and that’s going well so far too. While I have acquired books, through subscription boxes, the London Bookshop Crawl, and just taking advantage of when I see a book has become somewhat cheap as it sits on my Amazon Wishlist, I have been reading a lot of what I already owned. My current TBR stands at 88 books and while I’m not sure I’ll actually manage to hit my target of 50 by the time 2019 is finished, it looks like (for once) I’m reading more than I’m bringing in.

I’m always interested in who I’m reading books by and try and have an even split of books by men and women (though I naturally tend to read more books by women than men). So far this year I’ve read 25 books by women and 16 books by men. I can see this sort of split continue for the rest of the year as I do own slightly more books by women than men. But then again, I’m a mood reader with eclectic taste so who knows what I’ll read next!

I also started tracking if the authors I’m reading are white or people of colour and I wanted at least 25% of the books I read to be by non-white authors. So far, I’ve read 27 books by white authors and 14 books by authors of colour – which is 34% of what I’ve read! If I keep on like this, I should achieve my goal. I do think my Read the World Project helps me with this as it has really broadened my reading tastes and I’ve discovered so many new authors and stories.

Speaking of the Read the World Project, out of the 41 books I’ve read this year, 23 of them have been by international authors. That leaves me with 133 countries (by my count) left to read in the next 2 years and 2 months-ish if I want to meet my thirtieth birthday deadline I imposed on myself. At the start of the year I said I’d need to read about 50 books for the Read the World project to be in with a chance of finishing the project before my 30th birthday, and I’ve read just a bit less than half of that in the first half of the year so I may be able to achieve that goal. North America is where most of the authors I’ve read so far this year are from (which makes sense as if I’m not reading something for the Read the World project it tends to be YA by American authors) but then there’s Europe, which is not just the UK as I’ve only read 3 books from authors from there, and Africa and Asia. I have more books from both of those continents to read before the year is out so it’ll be interesting to see how this chart looks at the end of 2019.

Did you have any reading goals for this year? If you did, how are you doing with them? I’m a big fan of charts and stats so thought it’d be cool to see how my reading was now, so I could have something to compare it to at the end of the year.

REVIEW: Fast Five (2011)

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) along with his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster and friend and former-FBI Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are on the run and backed into a corner. After they cross paths with a powerful Brazilian drug lord in Rio, they call in old friends to pull off one last job to buy their freedom. But all the while federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is on their tail.

Following on from Fast & Furious, Fast Five continues the trend of stepping away from its street racing roots becoming a heist film and it’s all the better for it. It still has some great car racing action, but a lot of it either pushes forward the plot or is a nice character moment. It has all the usual heist tropes, but they come together with characters you’ve seen across the previous four films means which makes them extra fun and enjoyable.

Moulding characters into the roles of heist archetypes like the techy (Ludacris’s Tej), the quick talker (Tyrese Gibson’s Roman), and the social chameleon (Sung Kang’s Han) is handled really well and it feels like an extension of the characters we’ve already meant rather than a complete reinvention.

Having all these characters come together and become friends, some of which previously knew Dom before while some only knew Brian, fully cements the key theme of this franchise – family. It’s a theme that had been there from the start but really, it’s once this cast of actors and characters are finally together that you properly start to connect with that message.

Dwayne Johnson is a brilliant addition to the cast and he is a formidable foe for Walker’s Brian and Diesel’s Dom. Really, Hobbs is a combination of the two of them; he has the knowledge of the legal system of Brian, the physical strength of Dom, and is just as loyal to his team as the two of them are to their own family.

The action spectacle of Fast Five is top-notch too. There are foot chases through a favela, an opening set piece with a heist on a train, brutal fistfights, and then there’s the climax which sees a lot of destruction on the streets of Rio. All the action sequences are exciting, well-shot and easy to follow and above all, they are really fun.

Fast Five is a thrill ride from start to finish. The false starts, and not so great films that came before it, can be forgiven because this one is a fantastic blend of action, intrigue, fun and above all – likeable characters that are one big family. Fast Five really set the bar for what the rest of the franchise could be. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Finland: The Howling Miller by Arto Passilinna

When Gunnar Huttunen turns up in a small village to restore a dilapidated mill, its inhabitants are instinctively wary. He’s big. He’s a bit odd. And he’s a stranger. Everyone loves his brilliant animal impressions but these feelings soon sour when he starts to howl wildly at night. And once the mean-spirited, small-minded locals realise Gunnar won’t conform, they conclude he must be mad and hound him from his home. With the help of the love of his life, and the local drunk, he’ll try and find some semblance on peace.

The Howling Miller feels a bit whimsical like a fairy tale or a fable a lot of the time, especially towards the end when you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. It definitely has that feel of Eastern European folklore, though obviously Finland wouldn’t necessarily be classified as a country in Eastern Europe. It’s the setting of the forests and rivers and the dark, cold nights, and having a solitary hero with weird quirks, and townspeople who are fine to put up with his eccentricities until they aren’t.

Gunnar is perhaps a simple character as he doesn’t really get social cues or see the boundaries people have. Or he is just an arsehole who just does what he wants. He’s not horrible or unnecessarily cruel, but he lashes out when people turn against him. This then brings about a seemingly endless cycle of Gunnar and the townsfolk getting on until one irritates the other, and then the other reacts negatively. Though Gunnar isn’t the only one at fault. The people of the town, while imitated by the look of him to begin with, enjoy his animal impressions to begin with and even do their own but when he joins in, they feel he is mocking them and don’t like it.

The main problem Gunnar and a lot of the characters have is they are terrible at communicating. Gunnar is very blunt but has his own ideas of what people are thinking, while a lot of the characters never say what they really mean. It’s frustrating and is what leads to a lot of the conflict. The romance between Gunnar and Sanelma feels very rushed and while it’s easy to see why Gunnar likes the her, (she’s kind, pretty and thoughtful) you never really see why she loves him when his actions often inadvertently hurt her.

The Howling Miller is an odd story. Most of the characters are unlikable and it seems like it’s trying to be a cautionary tale, but it isn’t clear what lesson it is trying to teach. The events in the story feel very repetitive as Gunnar scares/shuns the townspeople again and again though in slightly different ways, making it a story that’s a bit of a chore to get through as no one seems to learn from their actions. 2/5.

A to Z in April Blogging Challenge 2019 Masterpost

Well this is being posted later than expected – what can I say! Time got away from me. That’s another April gone and with it another A-Z in April Challenge successfully completed. This year it was all about my favourite characters in the MCU. It was certainly hard to narrow it down for some days/letters, but I’m happy with the characters I got to talk about.

Sign Up Post
A – Ava Starr
B – James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes
C – Cassie Lang
D – Carol Danvers
E – Erik “Killmonger” Stevens
F – Frigga
G – Goose
H – Happy Hogan
I – Ivan Vanko
J – Jim Paxton
K – Harley Keener
L – Luis
M – Maria Rambeau
N – Nebula
O – Okoye
P – Pepper Potts
Q – Peter Quill
R – James “Rhodey” Rhodes
S – Shuri
T – Tony Stark
U – Ulysses Klaue
V – Valkyrie
W – Wanda Maximoff
X – X-tras (Clint Barton, Michelle “MJ” Jones, Nick Fury, Hela and Rocket Racoon)
Y – Ho Yinsen
Z – Hemlut Zemo
Reflections Post