READ THE WORLD – Luxembourg: Dr. Mabuse by Norbert Jacques

Translated by Lillian A. Clare.

Set in 1920s Germany, Dr. Mabuse is a greedy anarchist who assumes many guises and controls a legion of henchmen (both willingly and unwillingly) through money, power, and telepathic hypnosis. State prosecutor Norbert von Wenk gets put on Dr. Mabuse’s trail after strange things happen at gambling halls and so begins a game of cat and mouse.

Dr. Mabuse is a great villain. He’s truly evil and is a power-hungry master-manipulator. He can hypnotise people to do what he wills, whether it’s cheating at a game of cards or even taking their own life. The way the hypnotism is described by one of he’s victims is very unsettling and uncomfortable, especially when he’s forcing his will upon a woman. It is for all intents and purposes rape of the mind and body. He’s also great at disguises and putting on different personas so at times von Wenk and Dr. Mabuse are in the same room and may even be talking to one another but von Wenk has no idea that it’s the man he’s after until later.

The writing style of Dr. Mabuse is that typical late nineteenth century style. The language, the mystery, and the action reminded me both of Sherlock Holmes and Raffles at times. If you like stories about those characters – though they’re both far more heroic than Dr. Mabuse – then you might like this one too.

Dr. Mabuse is a fun, pulpy, mystery. It’s full of twists and turns and though some of them are unbelievable – how this man manages to evade capture at some points incredible – but it just goes to show how Dr. Mabuse is the kind of criminal mastermind that’s always a few steps ahead. Though it goes to great lengths to show how smart Dr. Mabuse is, it doesn’t do so at the detriment of von Wenk. He’s a pretty smart and capable man himself, and has enough pull with the law to get police officers (and a lot of them) where he needs them quickly. It is fun seeing von Wenk put things together and try and solve the case. There’s a lot of surprises and when some of Dr. Mabuse’s accomplices would rather die than say anything about him, von Wenk faces a lot of dead ends.

Dr. Mabuse is a pretty enjoyable read and being set in 1920s Germany it’s interesting to see the effects of the First World War on the German citizens and society. They were often only passing mentions but it helped make me understand the place that Dr. Mabuse was operating in. 4/5.

REVIEW: Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

Four years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom humans and dinosaurs are struggling to coexist. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are trying to keep under the radar, even as they help dinosaurs in need, to keep their adoptive clone daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) safe but when velociraptor Blue’s baby is taken by poachers they set out to save it. Meanwhile Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) are reunited as they investigate the shady goings on at genetics company Biosyn.

Considering the premise of dinosaurs living with humans in the modern world is an interesting one and not one we’ve seen before in the Jurassic Park/World franchise, it’s kind of a shame that Jurassic World Dominion mostly glosses over that. Sure, there’s scenes towards the beginning of the film of dinosaurs clashing with humans and the bad side of humanity as of course humans would set up a black market for dinosaur sales and illegal breeding facilities, but people are for the most part just living with dinosaurs and all the chaos and danger that might cause. Almost feels like an allegory for how people/governments have dealt with and are living with a pandemic.

Like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Jurassic World Dominion kind of feels like two genres of films in one. There’s the kidnapped child plot that the Jurassic World characters are in and the corporate espionage plot that the Jurassic Park characters are in. Eventually all the characters end up crossing paths and it at least ends more cohesively than Fallen Kingdom did.

The action sequences with dinosaurs are generally good. Some are well shot and exciting, others are poorly edited and are hard to follow. The last act of the film when characters are reuniting and teaming up against the dinosaurs and the evil corporation is the best as that’s when there’s a lot of good dino action happening almost continuously.

Having the original trilogy heroes back and seeing Dern, Neill, and Jeff Goldblum (because Dr Ian Malcolm is here too) all together on screen again is a delight. Sattler and Grant are still both fond of and exasperated by Malcolm’s whole persona and his swagger adds some much-needed levity to a film that at times can verge on being a bit dull. Having these three actors back, who all have great chemistry, playing three characters that still feel familiar even if they’ve evolved since the last time we’ve seen them, does make Pratt’s and Dallas Howard’s characters feel even more one-note than before. They are so generic that it’s a running joke on the internet that people can’t remember their characters names but in Jurassic World Dominion they both feel really flat. The fact that Dallas Howard and Pratt have negative chemistry is also abundantly clear when you have Dern and Neill’s characters just oozing longing and quick glances and you realise you’ve been waiting for almost thirty years for them to kiss.

Jurassic World Dominion is perhaps a bit overlong and disjointed to begin with but chase scenes with dinosaurs almost never get old and having Drs Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm back is what elevates this film. The other newer characters from the Jurassic World franchise are mostly forgettable – except DeWanda Wise’s Kayla Watts, she’s also a great source of energy and charm in this film. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Bosnia and Herzegovina: How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić

Translated by Anthea Bell.

For young Aleksandar – the best magician in the non-aligned states and painter of unfinished things – life is endowed with a mythic quality in the Bosnian town of Višegrad, a rich playground for his imagination. When his grandfather dies, Aleks channels his storytelling talent to help with his grief. However, when the shadow of war spreads to Visegrad, the world as he knows it stops. Suddenly it is not important how heavy a spider’s life weighs, or why Marko’s horse is related to Superman. Suddenly it is important to have the right name and to pretend that the little Muslim girl Asija is his sister. Then Aleksandar’s parents decide to flee to Germany and he must leave his new friend behind.

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone Is one of those books where quotation marks aren’t used when characters are speaking. Personally, I find this stylistic choice really hard to read and I’m not saying I skim read, but having speech marks make the endless paragraphs easier to read and breaks up the text a bit for me. About midway through there’s some chapters where there isn’t any speech and instead it’s just Aleksandar’s thoughts and how he feels about the situation he’s in and I enjoyed them a lot more as they were easier to read. Then it was back to having conversations where I felt I missed bits because I wasn’t always certain when the dialogue started/ended or who was talking. It did make me smile though as clearly the author knew he was doing as at one point Aleksandar’s teacher gives the class a writing task and the teacher takes a moment to tell him that he has to use quotation marks and mustn’t forget them like he has done in previous work.

Aleksandar is a child at the beginning of the book and so has a child’s understanding of what’s happening when war breaks out, and even before that when his grandfather dies. As his grandfather told him he was magic, Aleksandar believes that he can bring him back from the dead, if only he could find his wand. Even before soldiers arrived in his hometown things are changing as teachers in his school need to now be referred to by “Mr” rather than “Comrade” and Aleksandar is the kind of boy to question things when adults tell him he shouldn’t.

When Aleksandar returns to Bosnia over ten years since he and his family fled to Germany, he’s in his twenties and he finds the place a lot different to how he remembers it. He still has some extended family and friends there and it’s interesting to see how there’s sometimes animosity against him from those who didn’t manage to leave and had to live through the war. He and his parents had it difficult too, having to learn a new language and having little support in a whole new place but it’s clear the trauma and difficulties were different for those who stayed behind.

Though it’s not gone into much I thought it was interesting that it showed that difference as other books I’ve read during my Read the World Project haven’t really shown both sides. Most just follow those who managed to leave or those who lived through the conflict in their hometown, without much consideration of what other people would’ve gone through as their own situation was already so difficult.

As I found How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone so difficult to read, I ended up not really liking the story much. Though the latter half where Aleksandar’s older and always thinking about the girl he had to leave behind and going through the address book to find her was interesting and sweet, it wasn’t enough to get me truly invested in his story.

REVIEW: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

Two years after her husband’s death, Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson), a 55-year-old retired religious studies teacher, makes a plan. She books a hotel room and hires young sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) in the hope to finally experience some good sex.

This is one of those films I went into blind and wanted to watch it purely because there was an actor I liked in it. In this case that’s Emma Thompson but I have to say I’ll be checking out Daryl McCormack’s filmography after this because he was utterly charming and charismatic. Thompson though is a tour deforce. Emma Thompson is generally great, she’s funny and quick and nails those dramatic moments, but in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande it’s like you get to see another new side to her. Nancy is scared and vulnerable while also being incredibly opinionated and sure about the things she does know about. Sex is something she’s unsure about having only slept with one man her entire life and having never had any pleasure from it. But her life and her thoughts on society are things she is sure about as she’s a planner and thinks through every possible scenario.

The conflicts that arise in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande are often personal and internal ones. Nancy is conflicted by what she’s doing. Hiring a sex worker is so out of her realm of normality that she second guesses herself almost constantly. Then there’s the boundaries both she and Leo put for their own peace of mind and how things deteriorate when those boundaries are crossed.

The fact that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is pretty much just set in a hotel room is great too as I’m a big fan of single-location films. How Leo and Nancy move around the space is interesting and when tensions boil over, they feel so far apart even though they’re in the same room and are still as physically close to one another as they have been before.

The discussions Nancy and Leo have before, during and after sex are both funny and interesting. Their ideas of what sex work is and its value differ greatly and some of that can be put down to a generational divide. To begin with Nancy thinks there must be “something wrong” with Leo or he must have some huge trauma to do what he does but for him it’s a job he enjoys doing. He enjoys giving others pleasure and there’s the clients that don’t want anything from him but some company. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is probably one of the most nuanced and positive depictions of sex work I’ve seen in a film. Leo is never guilty about his job and he is kind enough to explain to Nancy what he gets out of it.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is funny, cringey, sexy, and a touching film about human connection – sexual or otherwise. The fact that it’s pretty much just set in a hotel room is great too as I’m a big fan of single-location films. The humour cannot be overstated and with a clever script and brilliant performances Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a delight! 4/5.

REVIEW: Red Seas, Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Audiobook narrated by Michael Page.

This is the second book in the Gentlemen’s Bastard series, the first being The Lies of Locke Lamora, so there may be vague spoilers for the first book.

After barely making it out of Camorr alive, Lock Lamora and Jean Tannen arrive in the city state of Tal Varrar where they are soon planning to take on the legendary gaming house The Sinspire. No-one has ever taken even a single coin from the Sinspire that wasn’t won on the tables or in the other games of chance on offer there but Locke and Jean plan to change that. The course of crime rarely runs smooth and soon Locke and Jean find themselves entangled in the politics of the city and are coerced into setting sail in order to find some pirates

Red Seas, Under Red Skies is almost a book of two halves and I very much enjoyed both of them. The first follows Locke and Jean about two years after the events of The Lies of Locke Lamora as they are putting the final touches to the long con they’ve been pulling. In that half there’s also flashback chapters to see what happened to them in the first few months after they left Camorr. I’m always impressed by the flashbacks in this series. They never bore me and do a good job of actually adding to the characters and their newly changed dynamic as Locke and Jean have been affected by what happened to them in the first book. The second half is the seafaring adventure as they’re forced to learn how to be passable sailors and go searching for pirates to bring back to the city. It’s like the first half is a city book and while the setting is different to where they grew up, Locke, Jean and you as the reader know what they’re up against and how to rig the system. When it becomes a sea/pirate adventure book, that’s when Locke, Jean and the reader are on uncertain ground as no matter how much charisma and smarts they have, there’s things out to sea that you can’t talk your way out of.

It was fun seeing Locke and Jean out of their element when they’re out to see, but really through the flashbacks you see that they haven’t really been 100% themselves since they left Camorr. They relationship has shifted a but and while they still definitely trust and care about each other (don’t think I’ve read about such ride or die best friends like them for a long time) they aren’t always quite on the same wavelength anymore. Locke especially is unsettled and doesn’t always believe in himself and his schemes and it’s interesting to see him doubt himself and work to overcome that.

There’s a lot going on in Red Seas, Under Red Skies with various outside forces having their own schemes that attempt to ensnare Locke and Jean, but I never felt lost or confused when reading it. There are schemes within schemes and it’s fun to see how things unfold and while there’s certainly surprises, when you think back, the groundwork for them was there and pretty much everything was meretriciously planned.

I love the blend of magic and science in this series. You get to see more of Locke’s bag of tricks and how a pack of playing cards can be more than what they seem. Alchemy is the main sort of “magic” but there’s a few instances where mind control and telepathy may come to play, and when they’re out to see there’s clearly some large, deadly and fantastical creatures in the water.

I love the characters, the world, and the whole vibe of Red Seas, Under Red Skies and this series as a whole. It’s a series I want to take my time with as there’s only three books released but even though it’s been a couple of years since I read the first book, I soon found myself immersed in this world again. Locke and Jean’s character development was so good and interesting and the new characters, especially the new lady pirates, were great too. 5/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books with a Unit of Time in the Title

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme, as the title suggests, is book titles with a unit of time in them. This can be seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, eternity, however you might mark the pass of time.

I’ve read all but the last book in this list, though it is on my TBR for June so I hope to get to it soon. I’ve linked to any reviews if I have them, and some of these I read so long ago I’m not sure if they’d still hold up for me today but I did tend to like all these books when I read them.

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
The Punisher Vol. 3: Last Days by Nathan Edmondson, Mitch Gerads, Moritat and Brent Schoonover
Black Widow Vol. 3: Last Days by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto
Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun

Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki
40 Years: For my 40th Birthday I pause to share 40 poems then I shall be on my way by Ritah
Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke
Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam edited by Linh Dinh
The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Have you read any of these? What books came to mind with this prompt?

READ THE WORLD – Lesotho: Chaka by Thomas Mofolo

Translated by Daniel P. Kunene.

This is the fictionalised life-story account of Chaka begins with the future Zulu king’s birth followed by the unwarranted taunts and abuse he receives during childhood and adolescence. Then follows the events leading to Chaka’s status of great Zulu warrior, conqueror, king, and ultimate ruin.

Chaka is one of those stories that’s a blend of fiction and history. Chaka was a real person and this is the account of his life and his rise and fall as a king, but how much of what is in this book is real can be debated.

Chaka is a classic story. It has a father disowning his son and rightful heir due to pressure from his wives, and then that son gaining power and respect elsewhere in order to eventually claim the kingdom that was rightfully theirs. It feels almost Shakespearean at times as there’s a lot of similar themes in Chaka of power, ambition, and cruelty that you see in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Because Chaka’s life is kind of tragic, some things he couldn’t avoid because of the family he was born into, but others were due to his own greed.

Chaka has an omnipresent narrator. Every now and then there’s comments on what happened, or it recounts past historical events to give more context to what’s happening now. It’s a story told in simple language and sometimes feels like it’s a folktale being told around a campfire.

Chaka’s most close friend and ally is Isanusi, a doctor that makes potions and medicines to make Chaka stronger and gives him advice when needed. As the story progresses and Chaka gets more power hungry, it’s hard not to wonder if Isanusi has ulterior motives as he knows a great deal, is a seer, and comes across as more of a witch doctor than a traditional medicine man.

Chaka is an interesting and easy to read story about a king that commanded armies of tens of thousands of men – perhaps even more. Chaka’s accomplishments can’t be denied but his greed and cruelty to the few who did love him, like his mother and the one woman he loved, makes him a flawed but interesting man.

READ THE WORLD – Palau: “Language with an Attitude: Palauan Identity with an English Accent” by Isebong M. Asang

This is where working at a university whose library boasts it has a copy of every book ever published in English, whether digitally or physically, comes in handy. This is where I found some texts for the smaller countries, especially those in the Pacific. A book called Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia edited by Evelyn Flores, Emelihter Kihleng and Craig Santos Perez proved to be invaluable. It’s a collection of poetry, short stories, critical and creative essays, chants, and excerpts of plays by Indigenous Micronesian authors and it tells you which country in Micronesia each of the authors are from including Marshall Islands, Guam, Nauru, Kiribati, Palau, and the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia – Kosrae, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap.

Out of the various works from writers by Palauan writers in this book, I’ll be focussing on “Language with an Attitude: Palauan Identity with an English Accent” by Isebong M. Asang for this post.

This essay was all about Isebong M. Asang’s experience with language. She grew up speaking and writing Palauan at home with her parents (who both also knew Japanese from when they were in school but never taught her) but at school in Hawaii had to always speak, read and write “Standard English”. Likewise, with her own children, the older ones who grew up around their grandparents are fluent in Palauan but the younger ones who wasn’t exposed to the language as much only know a few words. It’s sad but also not really surprising that the children who understand Palauan will respond to her in English when she talks to them in Palauan.

I am British, born and raised in the UK, so my first (and only) language is English. I learnt French and Spanish at school and I’ve pretty much forgotten all French and I can get by on conversational Spanish thanks to the fact my dad lived in Spain for about 18 years. I am forever impressed by people who can speak more than one language and the following stat from this essay blew my mind – “about 1.6 billion people speak English in one form or another on a daily basis”. English, much like our colonial ancestors, is an infectious language which is seen as the norm by those in any form of power.

This essay shows how it was drilled into Asang’s head from a young age that she wouldn’t succeed if she didn’t have good English. As an adult she has a bit of an identity crisis as she speaks Palauan with an English accent, making her sometimes unsure of how truly Palauan she is. Isebong M. Asang talks about code switching and how the text books in Palau are slowly changing and that Palauan is still taught though English still becomes the most predominant language.

This essay was really interesting as while it focuses on Isebong M. Asang’s identity and the Palauan language, the ideas it brings up can be applied to so many people from different countries and who know different languages. Especially those who are second generation immigrants and may not be as fluent in their parents’ language as they feel they should be and therefore might not feel as close to that culture or identity.

This essay also doesn’t give any real solutions to this almost universal problem – school’s might be changing slightly but it’s slow going and as we live in a world where English is seen as the default – instead it’s just how Isebong M. Asang feels about her language and identity, which perhaps makes it more impactful.

READ THE WORLD – Brunei: Written in Black by K.H. Lim

A snapshot of a few days in the life of ten-year-old Jonathan Lee, attending the funeral of his Ah Kong, or grandfather, and still reeling from the drama of his mother leaving for Australia and his older brother getting kicked out of the house and joining a rock band. Annoyed at being the brunt of his father’s pent-up anger, Jonathan escapes his grandfather’s wake in an empty coffin and embarks on a journey through the backwaters of Brunei to bring his disowned brother back for the funeral and to learn the truth about his absent mother.

Jonathan as a character could be equal parts interesting and infuriating at times. I do tend to struggle reading books from a child’s point of view and with Jonathan he seemed far more confident and surer of himself than the average ten-year-old. He does make brash decisions and argues with his siblings and cousin like any child would but sometimes he came across as older than his years with his ability to talk himself out of (and into) a lot of situations. Then there’s the times when he just seems incredibly bitter about everything he’s got going on in life. Some of it seems like a fair thing to be bitter about like how his father won’t talk about his mother and how he keeps missing her phone calls. Other time’s though it’s like that fatalistic attitude that teenagers have turned up to the max – I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with such a dramatic ten-year-old.

The adventure Jonathan goes on to find his older brother who might hold the key to be able to contact their mother is fun one. Just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong but Jonathan never stops trying to achieve his goal. He’s got this single-minded determinedness that’s impressive.

As an atheist (though I was christened a Catholic) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the descriptions of Ah Kong’s funeral and the various traditions that Jonathan and the rest of the family had to take part in. The funeral is a Chinese one and there’s mentions of another character having been to Malay funerals but not Chinese ones, showing how there’s different tradition in each cultures funeral and that Brunei as a country is a mix of different people with different heritages, which was interesting.

Written in Black is a quick and easy book to read with an engaging story that keeps you turning the page. The plotline about Jonathan’s absent mother isn’t really given a satisfactory resolution though – or much of a resolution to be honest. In some ways it feels like his mother is avoiding him rather than his three other siblings and it’s sad there’s never really an explanation for that or anything to show that she cares about Jonathan just as much as her other children. Besides from that, it’s a fast-paced and decent coming of age story and Jonathan certainly does seem to mature a lot in such a short space of time. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Solomon Islands: “The duress of movement: Reflections on the time of the ethnic tension, Solomon Islands” by Jully Makini

This is where working at a university whose library boasts it has a copy of every book ever published in English, whether digitally or physically, comes in handy. This is where I found some texts for the smaller countries, especially those in the Pacific. A book called Oceanian Journeys and Sojourns: Home Thoughts Abroad edited by Judith A. Bennett came in very handy. It’s a collection of essays looking at how Pacific Island peoples – Oceanians – think about a range of journeys near and far; their meanings, motives, and implications. In addition to addressing human mobility in various island locales, these essays deal with the interconnections of culture, identity, and academic research among indigenous Pacific peoples that have emerged from the contributors’ personal observations and fieldwork encounters.

There’s a couple of essays from different people from the Solomon Islands but for this post I’m going to focus on the essay from Jully Makini; “The duress of movement: Reflections on the time of the ethnic tension, Solomon Islands”.

This essay is about the preceding tension and then the fallout from the coup d’état on 5 June 2000 in the capital city of the Solomon Islands, Honiara. Once again, this is a bit of world history I had never even heard of so it worked as a good introduction and then I went to Google to learn more.

Some of the essay is a personal reaction to the consequences of the coup, with Makini explaining how scared they were in certain situations but equally how some events seemed to happen without her notice. It was relatable in a way as some of the events and tension were so much that it was overwhelming so she just didn’t want to hear about it. For her that was not reading newspapers or listening to the radio, and I know for me when there’s a lot of bad things happening in the world, abroad or closer to home, it can get too much especially now with social media making everything on demand.

The “journeys” talked about in this essay were about the people fleeing Honiara to other towns or even islands. It was kind of fascinating to think about the Solomon Islands as Makini does well to show how it is a collection of islands that each have their own towns and cultures and some people have never moved from an island for generations. On the other hand, others may have moved and had a family on one island but with the ethnic tensions boiling and the threat of violence feel they should leave to go back to an island they haven’t called home for decades.

Makini ponders on this movement between the islands, how it used to be and the different ethnic groups tend to belong to different islands. It’s sad to think about how some people fled their homes and if they did return found their belongings stolen or even their home burnt to the ground. Geographically speaking, they did not go far from home but still everything changed for them.