READ THE WORLD – Greece: Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki

Translated by Karen Van Dyck.

Living in a big old house surrounded by a beautiful garden in the countryside outside Athens are Maria, the oldest sister, as sexually bold as she is eager to settle down and have a family of her own; beautiful but distant Infanta; and dreamy and rebellious Katerina. Over three summers, the girls share and keep secrets, fall in and out of love, try to figure out their parents and other members of the tribe of adults, and worry about and wonder who they are.

The majority of Three Summers is told from Katerina’s perspective and in the first person. Though there are the odd chapters from other characters perspectives, mainly the other two sisters, and those are written in the third person so it’s easy to tell when you’re momentarily stepping away from Katerina’s viewpoint.

Three Summers is set in the 1930s before the Second World War and the sisters do all seem to live an idyllic life. At the start of the novel, so during the first summer, they are twenty, eighteen and sixteen. They spend their time lying in the fields, talking to one another about their thoughts and dreams, and also generally getting the attention of the young me they know. They also think about their separated parents and other family dramas. They live with their mother, aunt and grandfather while their father, who is both a banker and an inventor, lives in Athens.

I found Three Summers quite slow going. At times that suited the story as it evokes the feeling of lazy summer days where the days blur into one, but on the other hand it made it more difficult to connect with the characters and on the whole I didn’t really care about them.

Maria was the sister that was the easiest to understand, she knows what she wants and decides who and when she’s going to marry quickly. Infanta is more reserved and at some points I wondered if she was written to be asexual or aromantic because of how distant she was towards the young man who clearly likes her. It could have been natural shyness or nerves but some of her reactions to strong emotions sometimes seemed more extreme for that. Katerina is more bold than her sisters and her curiosity and actions often made her mother despair. She doesn’t seem to fit in this family and while she does say she falls in love with a neighbour, it’s hard to tell if she really has and she’s not using him as a gateway to adventure.

The writing in Three Summers is quite flowery and paints vivid pictures of the old house and the surrounding countryside, but that sort of thing isn’t really for me and it wasn’t keeping my attention by the end of book. Maybe it’s because I did find myself skim reading the last section of the book, which was about the events of the third summer, but I did find it difficult to keep track of some of the friends and neighbours, how they were connected to the sisters and what they thought of them.

Because it’s set just across three summers and is more of a slice of life type story, there are some things that are open ended and potential relationships not yet pursued which is a little frustrating but that’s the nature of this kind of story. Three Summers is a coming of age story and it’s one that fans of period dramas may like a lot. It has the will they/won’t they relationships but with more of a stiff upper lip as young women weren’t allowed to be forthright with their wants in the 1930s.

WWW Wednesday – 21 October 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words. It’s a simple meme where you just have to answer three questions:
– What are you currently reading?
– What did you recently finish reading?
– What do you think you’ll read next?

I think it’s a great way to share my recent reads as I don’t review everything I read and often the reviews I do post are behind what I’m actually reading.

What I am currently reading
Jamilia by Chingiz Aïtmatov
I thought I would’ve finished this by the time I needed to post this WWW Wednesday but work got in the way so I’ll no doubt finish it tonight before bed. It’s a very short book at less than 100 pages and is set around World War One in a small village in the Russia/Kyrgyzstan area and is about a wife of a solider who is working the land while her husband is at war.

 

What I recently finished reading
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
This book was set during the LA Riots in 1992 and I thought it was really good. It’s thoughtful and impactful and while I didn’t always like the main character, I thought her confusion and impulsiveness was understandable. If you like The Hate U Give I’d recommend The Black Kids for something along a similar vein but is set in recent history and around real events.

 

What I think I’ll read next
The Good Girls by Sara Shepard
I read The Perfectionists last week and really enjoyed it and while I new it was a first book in a series I didn’t quite realise that it was going to end on such a cliffhanger so naturally I had to buy the sequel immediately. Definitely looking forward to seeing if/how the five teen girls prove their innocence for multiple murders.

The Autumn Tag

It’s time for another autumnal tag! You know I love a tag when I’m trying to post something every day of a month. This is the Autumn Tag and it’s created by Jenniely, do go check their blog out. Now onto the tag!

1. Hot Chocolate – what is your comfort book?
I’m not sure if I have a comfort book anymore as it’s been so long since I’ve read a book multiple times, no matter how much I love a book. Thinking about it, the only book I think that fits this description – even though I’ve only read it the once – is The Martian by Andy Weir. It was such a fun and hopeful story and I adore the film adaptation.

2. Pumpkin Carving – what is your favourite creative outlet?
I don’t think I’m that much of a creative person. Though I guess my blog and writing for JumpCut Online are my creative outlet. I enjoy writing reviews for books and films and just generally being organised and scheduling posts ahead of time.

3. Falling Leaves – changes that appear bad, but you secretly love?
(This one is a bit ambiguous; it can refer to your life or fictional changes in books & movies!)
In terms of books, I sometimes struggle with stories that have multiple point of views or have been from one characters perspective for the majority of it and then suddenly switches to someone else’s, but in the end I do end up liking seeing another side to things more often than not. I think I tend to like multiple POV stories more than most people.

4. Pumpkin Spiced Latte – something you love that others tend to judge
Having a weekend doing nothing and staying in your PJs all weekend? I’m sure everyone enjoys lazy weekends now and then, but I still feel a little judged sometimes when I either say before a weekend that I have no plans so I’m really looking forward to the weekend, or if after a weekend people ask what you got up to and then I’m like, “I slept and watched Netflix and/or read books?” Guess this is one I should lean not to get too caught up in what other people think.

5. Bonfire Night – what makes you explode with joy?
Oh boy, after the year that has been 2020, I’d definitely say the answer to that is seeing my friends, especially in real life. I haven’t seen my best friend of ten years since February due to us living in different cities and I cannot wait to see her again. And I think even generally before 2020 I loved seeing my friends as I’m lucky enough to have a lot of different groups of friends who live in different places, so I’m used to not seeing some of them for a while but now it feels extra weird that I can’t see some of them – like it’s almost exactly a year since I’ve seen my work wife!

6. Fright Night – favourite scary book or film
I am a wuss so have read or watched very few scary things. There’s a sequence in Lirael by Garth Nix that I still think is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read. No matter how many times I reread that series, that sequence still freaks me out.

7. Halloween candy – favourite thing to eat
When the nights get darker and longer, I seem to eat a lot more biscuits – especially chocolate chip cookies and chocolate digestives.

8. Scarves – your autumn ‘must have’ accessory
Well it’s obvious but I do love a good scarf. I’m also a big fan of fingerless gloves even though they’re not too practical. Note to self: I need to get new fingerless gloves as I seem to not have a complete pair anymore.

9. Fire – a book or film that burns your soul
A recent read that made me very happy at a deep an emotional level was Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble by Graham Hunter. I just loved reliving those six incredible years in Spanish football and learning things I didn’t know about people and matches that I’d watched.

10. Toffee apples – a book or film that seems one thing but really has a different inside
For book I’m going to say The Passage by Justin Cronin, mainly because I didn’t realise it was a first book in what turned out to be a trilogy when I was reading it, so as I was getting through the story and there were less and less pages for everything to be resolved I was really freaking out!

As for films, I’ll mention Personal Shopper as for some reason I thought it was going to be a full on horror/thriller and while it certainly has those elements it was a much more impactful film than I thought it’d be.

I tag anyone who facies doing this tag!

REVIEW: Shirley (2020)

Famous American horror writer Shirley Jackson (Elizabeth Moss) finds inspiration for her next book after she and her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) take in young couple Fred and Rose (Logan Lerman and Odessa Young).

I don’t know anything about Shirley Jackson and haven’t read any of her books, and to be honest after watching Shirley I don’t think I have much more of an idea about who she was. Shirley is a strange take on a biopic. Instead of being a linear story about Shirley Jackson’s life, it’s more of a character study about how she, and to a lesser extent her husband, affect and manipulate a fictional couple who come into their lives.

There are interesting elements to Shirley, but interesting elements don’t necessarily make a compelling film. There’s a lot of extreme closeups on characters faces, tilted angles and some beautiful cinematography but it’s not enough to make the film memorable. The costumes and set design are also striking, as is the frequently intense score, but it often feels like window dressing on a film with a plot that’s just not interesting.

Elizabeth Moss does crazy and intense very well. Her chemistry with Odessa Young is strong as Shirley Jackson turns Rose into her housekeeper/assistant/muse for her latest novel that she’s trying to power through writer’s block to write. Real life merges with the fantasy of Jackson’s would-be novel as scenes from her book play out on screen, with Young portraying the missing girl in the novel.

The relationships between the four characters are supposedly important to the plot of the film but so many of them are pushed to the side that things happen between certain characters so out of the blue it’s jarring. Lerman’s Fred is absent for a lot of the film and his relationship with Rose suffers as she becomes more enamoured with Shirley Jackson. Stuhlbarg’s Stanley is also largely absent but when he does make an appearance, he does have more of an impact. Towards the end of the film Shirley and Stanley’s desires are revealed but because the way the film is put together, where you’re not sure what’s real or what’s fantasy, it’s hard to see the threads that led everything to that conclusion.

Shirley has a powerhouse performance from Elizabeth Moss but the film that surrounds her isn’t as engaging and leaves you feeling a bit confused as to what it was trying to say. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.

The Blair Witch Project is one of those films that I knew of but hadn’t watched because I am a wuss. I did wonder how effective The Blair Witch Project would be with so much of it has become a part of popular culture and referenced in various other types of media, so I was aware of certain shots and the general story before actually watching it. I’m pleased to say it was still nerve-wracking and creepy.

The pace of The Blair Witch Project is really smart. The opening twenty minutes is the three students talking to residents of Burkittsville, hearing the stories about the Blair Witch and the other weird and horrifying things that have happened in the woods outside town. This sets the tone and makes you expect weird and creepy things to happen, and soon they do.

The trio of filmmakers all give great performances and it’s easy to see why people could believe the events of The Blair Witch Project actually happened. The fear, panic and stress is clear to see and their reactions to the unexplainable events are understandable. Heather is the projects director and she’s the one who is always filming everything and to start with doesn’t seem to mind the creepy things that are happening around them as in her mind it’ll make her documentary even better. She’s joined by Josh, who she knows well, and Mike, who she doesn’t, and as things get weird, tensions rise.

As the trio bicker as they traipse around the woods, getting more and more disorientated, the addition of unexplainable and strange piles of rocks, sounds and bundles of twigs gets everyone feeling anxious and just wanting to go home.

The Blair Witch Project is a classic of the horror genre and it’s the film that really kickstarted the found footage subgenre of films. As someone who very rarely watches horror films in general, never mind the found footage subgenre, The Blair Witch Project is tense and eerie from the outset and all the tropes that are so common now, are effective and unsettling. 5/5.

REVIEW: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

When a zombie apocalypse breaks out in their small town, best friends and scouts Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) – along with cocktail waitress Denise (Sarah Dumont) – must use their scouting skills to make it out alive.

This is one of those films where it started out and I was like, “Yeah, this is alright, a bit generic but fine” but then something clicked and I ended up having a great time with it.

The actual proper zombie battle stuff does take a while to get going, instead it spends time focussing on the friendship between the three scouts. The three scouts all have the sort of personalities you’d expect; Ben is the normal, relatable one, Carter is the loudmouth one and Augie is the more awkward one. They bicker and fall out as some of them feel like they’re getting to old for scouts while others still love it and it’s all very normal teen friend drama but in scout uniforms.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is actually really funny. There are clever visual gags, one-liners, gross out and humour (they’re teen boys – what do you expect?!), and just a lot of laugh out loud moments. Perhaps I went into this with rather low expectations, but this was far funnier than I was expecting it to be.

The comedic timing and chemistry between the three friends and Denise is really good. Denise is badass and how she fits into the dynamic of this kind of dorky friendship group works surprisingly well. The four of them each bring their own skills to the zombie fighting and the action sequences are all well shot and very entertaining.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse has a solid mix of gore, crudity and laughs which makes it very enjoyable in its ridiculousness. Like honestly, there’s zombie cats and it has possibly the best use of a Dolly Parton song I’ve ever seen and that whole sequence, just like the film in general, is just so much fun. 4/5.

FRIDAY 56: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Friday 56 is a weekly feature hosted by Freda’s Voice. The aim is to share a few sentences of a book (whether it’s one you’re currently reading or not) so other people might be enticed to pick it up.

Here’s the rules:
– Turn to page 56 or 56% in your ebook
– Find any sentence – or a few, just don’t spoil it
– Post it
– Add the URL of your post to the Linky on Freda’s most recent post

“Sometimes my parents got mistaken for their own assistants, or people think they’ve stumbled into the wrong meetings, or their assistants think they know better than my parents do and it becomes a whole thing, even though both of them are amazing at what they do, or they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are to begin with.”

That was from page 56 of the paperback edition of The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed which I am currently reading.

READ THE WORLD – Mauritius: The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah

Translated by Geoffrey Strachan.

Ten-year-old Raj is oblivious to the Second World War being fought far beyond his tiny island home. His mother is his sole company while his father works as a prison guard, so Raj dreams of friendship. One day, from the far-away world, a ship brings to the island Jewish exiles who have been refused entry to Israel. David, a recently orphaned boy of his own age, becomes the friend that he has longed for, and Raj takes it upon himself to help David escape from the prison. As they flee through sub-tropical forests and devastating storms, the boys battle hunger and malaria – and forge a friendship only death could destroy.

The Last Brother is one of those stories where a much older character reminisces about certain events of their past and how it affected them. In this instance, Raj is an old man close to his eighties and he’s thinking about David, their friendship and the games and adventures they had and what he would’ve done differently if he could. This means you are kind of aware of how things are probably going to turn out before you get to that part of the story.

Something I really liked about The Last Brother was how it made me think about the Second World War from a completely different perspective. As someone who’s British and grew up in the UK, in school I learnt about the Second World War from the UK perspective and about the European countries (and America and Japan) involved with the conflict. The world is a big place and while it’s something I hadn’t thought about before, there would naturally be parts of the world where the conflict didn’t touch or the people, especially children, were unaware of what was happening between other nations.

The difference between adult-Raj and child-Raj’s narrative voice is distinct and I feel the author really captured the innocence a ten-year-old has, even if they have experienced violence they are resilient and still want to have fun with a friend. Both Raj and David have experienced personal tragedy though Raj can’t comprehend how and why David and the other Jewish refugees have ended up in his small corner of the world, and in a prison as well. David doesn’t talk about his life or how he became an orphan much, as the reader with prior knowledge of the persecution of the Jews in Europe you can see his trauma but with Raj being so unaware of world events, he doesn’t see David as a victim, he just sees a friend.

The way Raj and David form such a firm friendship in such a short space of time is sweet and realistic. As is how far Raj will go to try and protect David even if his plans are misguided. The Last Brother is a deceptively simple story because it’s largely told through the eyes of a child, but that makes it all the more affecting.

Sci-Fi Month 2020

ARTWORK by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com. QUOTE from Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam.

Even though 2020 seems to be dragging on forever, we are getting closer to the end of the year and November brings Sci-Fi Month, hosted by Lisa and Imyril.

As the name suggests, Sci-Fi Month is all about celebrating all things sci-fi, whether that’s books, films, TV show, games or podcasts. It’s the chance to focus on the sci-fi stuff you’ve been putting on the backburner, whether it’s speculative fiction, epic space operas, time travel adventures or parallel worlds.

There’s a couple of readathons happening during the month if that’s your kind of thing. Jorie Loves a Story is hosting a readathon of Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott while Imyril is hosting a readathon of Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle.

While there’s the readathons and some challenges still to be announced, there’s no requirements or goals to take part in Sci-Fi Month, the main point is to consume some sci-fi, a little or a lot, and have some fun. See imyril’s blog for more information and to sign up to Sci-Fi Month and follow @SciFiMonth on Twitter and use the hashtag #SciFiMonth to take part in all the chats or when sharing your posts.

While I like sci-fi books, I don’t currently have a lot of them on their TBR, in fact I only have two: Brilliance by Marcus Sakey and Gemina Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I’ll try and read them both in November but Gemina will be the priority as that chonky book has been on my shelf for far too long.

I also plan to watch and review a lot of sci-fi films next month. I’ve had a look through what sci-fi films I’ve got in my Netflix and Prime watchlists and pulled together a selection of what it’d like to watch. There’s a whole load of different types of sci-fi, superpowers, aliens, and AI, and from different countries too. Here’s some of the films I’ll hopefully be watching next month – any thoughts or recommendations based on this list would, as always, be much appreciated:

What are some of your favourite sci-fi media? I’m always looking for sci-fi book and film recommendations. My favourite kind of sci-fi (or sometimes it’s science-fact) is when people are really competent at their jobs e.g. The Martian, Apollo 13 and Hidden Figures.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Super Long Book Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week it’s all about super long book titles. These are all books I’ve read, and I think some of these book titles are deceptive as when you count the words there’s not as many as you think, they just have a lot of syllables. I noticed a lot of these books are non-fiction – those semi colons definitely help book titles to become longer!

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid by Sid Lowe
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker
Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph by Yusra Mardini
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan
Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal: The Lives and Careers of Two Tennis Legends by Sebastián Fest
Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
How to be a Heroine (Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much) by Samantha Ellis

Have you read any of these long-titled books? And do you find some books don’t have so many words in the title as you first think they do?