Author: elenasquareeyes

Books of 2019

Here are all the books I read this year. I’m taking it a bit easier this year and haven’t signed up for any challenges. Instead I’m going to be focussing on my Read the World Project and trying to get my physical TBR down a fair bit. You can find out more about what I’m reading on my Twitter and Goodreads.

Without further ado, here’s what I read in 2019! Any titles with asterisks are rereads and if it has a link, that goes to my review.

January:
Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph – Yusra Mardini
The Exact Opposite of Okay – Laura Steven
My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
Under the Tripoli Sky – Kamal Ben Hameda
Every Man Is A Race – Mia Couto

February:
– Made You Up – Francesca Zappia
The Memory of Love – Aminatta Forna

Currently reading:
– Allah is not Obliged – Ahmadou Kourouma
– Safe as Houses – Simone van der Vlugt

Books read: 7/52
Books reviewed: 6/26

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READ THE WORLD – Mozambique: Every Man Is A Race by Mia Couto

A collection of 18 short stories that look at a range of issues including civil war, colonialism and corruption against the backdrop of post-independence Mozambique.

These short stories range from three pages long to no more than fifteen pages. Each of them features very different characters, though some of the issues they face are quite similar. A lot of the stories are about or feature outsiders, whether it’s a man who has a lot of birds in “The bird-dreaming baobab” or a Russian woman who has come with her husband to run a mine in “The Russian princess”. There are different types of outsiders, the Russian woman is a white woman so has a level of authority but has no equals or friends, in other stories, the outsiders are black people who are seen as different by the rest of the villages.

Some of the stories are very real, showing peoples lives in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and how they were blending the traditional with the new. A lot of the stories are bold though and have magical realism elements. A few of the stories seem like fables while others are just weird. It’s this combination of contrasting stories that makes Every Man Is A Race such a quick and fascinating read.

One of my favourite stories was “The rise of Joāo Bate-Certo” which is about a young man who wanted to live in a city but came home to his village and built a ladder to the clouds and appeared to find a whole new place up there. So many of the stories leave you with more questions than answers or give you a lot to think about.

Every Man Is A Race is a short story collection where there weren’t any short stories that I really disliked. They a vibrant and magical but also often sad and thoughtful. 4/5.

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Top of Your TBR

Top 5 Wednesday is a great feature hosted by ThoughtsonTomes. To find out more about Top 5 Wednesday and the upcoming topics, check out its Goodreads page. It’s a new year and a new chance to tackle that TBR and this week’s Top 5 Wednesday is all about what books are at the top of our TBR pile and are the ones we want to read ASAP. I have an extensive physical TBR with almost 40 unread books with me in my flat, and then around 60 more unread books taking up residence in my mum’s flat. Oops! Here’s five books I do really want to read soon though!

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadwi
I got this for my birthday last year and I somehow have yet to pick it up. While I’ve not read the original Frankenstein, I know the story and am interested in seeing how this retelling works in US-occupied Baghdad.

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
This is a book I hadn’t heard of before but got it one of those Buy One Get One Half Price deals in Waterstones. I’ve not read anything by Jenny Han (Though I’ve watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and really enjoyed it) but I read The List by Siobhan Vivian a couple of years a go and liked it a lot, so I’m interested to see what I make of this collaboration.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
This was a Christmas present via the #TBTBSanta exchange and is probably one of the most recent additions on my TBR. I read and loved Eliza and Her Monsters, so I hope I like Made You Up just as much.

Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma
I’ve owned Allah is Not Obliged for almost a year now after I bought it on last year’s London Bookshop Crawl, so I really should get to it soon. It’s a pretty short book, just over 200 pages, but it sounds like a hard-hitting one as it’s about a child soldier.

Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid
Another birthday present from last year, I think the reason I’ve been putting off Burning Cities is because of its size. It’s just over 300 pages but the edition I have makes it look much longer. It is a multigenerational story which I do enjoy but I do have to be in the right mindset for it.

What books are at the top of your TBR pile?

REVIEW: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

When author Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) falls on hard times as her books aren’t selling, she turns to forging letters from famous dead authors, poets and playwrights in order to make a living.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a witty and entertaining heist film that has a lot more going on than one might think. While it’s certainly a small-scale heist film, behind the crime Lee is committing, is a story of loneliness. Lee is grouchy and often nasty, and she much prefers to spend time with her cat than with people. Her reclusive and curt nature doesn’t make her popular with her agent (a brilliantly scathing Jane Curtin) nor make her well-known enough to have people want to buy her books.

Melissa McCarthy gives a great performance in a more serious role. Her sensitive take on Lee’s hostilities makes her more than an unlikeable cat lady, instead being someone who has layers and is afraid of getting hurt. Richard E. Grant almost steals the show though as street smart charmer Jack Hock. He helps Lee fence her forgeries and his friendship comes along when she needs it the most. Their chemistry is wonderful as both Jack and Lee were gay, they appear to have a unique understanding of one another. In many ways they are complete opposites but for the most part they work together, their interactions are certainly very funny.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a darkly witty little crime film. The script and direction make you like an unlikable character from almost the very beginning and the performances are brilliant. 4/5.

Films of 2019

Here are all the films I’ve watched this year. My main film-related goal for this year, as it’s been for the past three years, is to watch 52 Films by Women (both directors and screenwriters). You can find out more about what I’m watching on my Twitter or Letterboxd.

Without further ado, here’s what I’m watching in 2019! Film titles in bold are films I saw at the cinema and films with an asterisk are rewatches. Any title with a hyperlink goes to its review – whether that’s here on my blog or on Jumpcut Online which I contribute to.

January:
Colette (2018)
– Anna Karenina (2012)
– Lawless (2012)
– Home (2015)
– No Good Deed (2014)
– The Gunman (2015)
– Legacy (2010)
– 100 Streets (2016)
The Favourite (2018)
Stan & Ollie (2018)
– The Duchess (2008)
– In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)
– Brooklyn (2015)
On Her Shoulders (2018)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)*
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
– The Young Victoria (2009)
– Emma (1996)
– Jimi: All Is by My Side (2013)
– Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)
Every Day (2018)
– Assassin’s Creed (2016)

February:
Capernaum (2018)
– Sleepover (2004)
– The Gambler (2014)
– The Glass Castle (2017)
– Short Term 12 (2013)
The Last Five Years (2014)
– Rocket Science (2007)

Number of different films watched: 30
Number of times been to the cinema: 7

READ THE WORLD – Italy: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Translated by Ann Goldstein.

In a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples, lives intelligent and opinionated Lila, a bookish Elena. They are best friends who met aged ten but as they grow older and become teenagers, their paths divide slightly. Elena continues to study while Lila has to work to help her family.

My Brilliant Friend is the first book in a four-book series called the Neapolitan Novels. This adult literary fiction series spans the lives of Lila and Elena. My Brilliant Friend begins with Elena receiving a call from Lila’s son saying she’s missing and from there the story jumps back to 1950s Naples and Elena and Lila’s childhood. Elena is the narrator of this story and as it’s from her perspective it’s easy to see that there’s perhaps some bias to how she paints certain characters. Elena idolises Lila, she does what Lila does and Lila’s thirst for knowledge pushes Elena to study harder.

Elena can see very few faults with Lila, both in terms of her personality and her appearance. When it comes to how Elena describes herself, she’s much more critical. She doesn’t like how she looks, and she thinks cruel things about how her mother looks too.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Hillary Huber and I have to say, I think if I’d read the physical copy, I would have gotten bored quickly so the fact it was on audio and I could listen to it as I walked to work or did the cleaning made me continue with it. The narration was good but it’s the story itself that didn’t really grab. The writing is often lovely and paints a vivid picture of post-World War Two Italy and how Elena and the other children don’t understand the political or financial issues they’ve been born into.

In many ways, not a lot happens in My Brilliant Friend. Because it follows Elena and Lila from childhood until their mid-teens, a lot of it is about their school life, the grades they get, what books their read, and as they get a bit older it becomes about boys and dating and going through puberty. For a large proportion of the book I was waiting for something big to happen, but that big thing never came. Yes, there were family arguments and friends had fights, but there was never anything that gripped me.

My Brilliant Friend is very much a character-driven story and I presume by the fourth book the story, and the characters ages, will have caught up to where Elena is informed Lila is missing at the beginning of this book and continue from there. However, there wasn’t enough about My Brilliant Friend that I liked in order to continue with this series. It is very well-written and I found both Elena and Lila equal parts frustrating and sympathetic many times, but their story was never something I truly became invested in. 3/5.

REVIEW: Stan & Ollie (2018)

Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) attempt to reignite their film career as they embark on a gruelling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Stan & Ollie opens with a four or five-minute-long tracking shot of Laurel and Hardy as they make their way through a film studio, passing cowboys, Roman soldiers and crew members, as they discuss their marital situations and their next move career-wise. This was a great way to introduce these two men and show off how films were made, and the stars were controlled in the Classical Hollywood era.

Soon after that though it’s 1957 and Laurel and Hardy aren’t as young or as famous as they used to be. Coogan and Reilly both do a great job in their roles. They’re clearly having a lot of fun with the slapstick sketches, which are fun to watch too, but they both are well-suited to the more dramatic and emotional moments too. There’s a lot of history between the Laurel and Hardy we follow here, but there’s a deep friendship too. Great performances and cracking chemistry make them a compelling duo.

The supporting cast are great too and the whole film is almost stolen by Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson, playing Ida and Lucille, Laurel and Hardy’s wives respectively. The majority of the laughs come from these two. Their interactions with each other are often scathing and witty, while their interactions with their husbands are equal parts caring and amusing.

Stan & Ollie is lovely and charming. As someone who knew little to nothing about Laurel and Hardy before seeing this film, I found it accessible, engaging and fun. It’s not exactly ground-breaking in terms of what a biopic can be, but the performances make this film more than worth the price of admission. 4/5.