REVIEW: What They Had (2018)

Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns home to help her brother Nick (Michael Shannon) look after their mother Ruth (Blythe Danner) who has Alzheimer’s and persuade their father Burt (Robert Forster) it is time for him to look into care options for Ruth as her illness deteriorates.

What They Had opens with Ruth getting out of bed in the middle of the night, putting on some lipstick, her shoes and a coat over her nightshirt, and then lets herself out of her home and walks off in the middle of a snowstorm. This incident is the final straw for Nick who has been trying to get his father to see how much the illness is affecting Ruth and how they both need help and support. He calls Bridget and she and her daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) fly out to help.

Everything about What They Had and how a family deals with a loved one having Alzheimer’s is incredibly true to life. Everyone’s experiences with an illness differs but there were so many moments in this film I could relate to as someone who has had one grandparent die after having dementia, and another currently living with Alzheimer’s. The script allowed each character to have their own point of view of what this illness was doing to their family. Nick is often frustrated as he’s the one that’s been helping his father look after his mother for so long, whereas Bridget can still see the funny side of things – because sometimes things happen or are said which are funny – but that’s not exactly helpful to Nick. Then there’s Bert who is in denial and doesn’t want to be apart from his wife, which is totally understandable, even if that could be what’s best for the both of them.

The whole cast give brilliant performances, with Swank and Shannon bouncing off one another really well and feel like proper siblings. It’s Blythe Danner though that really needs to be commended. The way she portrays someone with Alzheimer’s is spot on and even with the more absurd moments, she’s never over acts it. It’s the quieter moments though, when Ruth slips from being unaware of what’s happening around her, to momentarily understanding it and being frustrated by it, before slipping back to obliviousness, that are like a punch to the gut. It gives her loved one’s emotional whiplash and highlights how horrible the disease is.

What They Had is a well written and well-acted film that never lacks empathy for these characters. It’s certainly a tough watch at times, especially for those who have experienced a love one losing their mind to Alzheimer’s or dementia, but it’s a film that highlights the struggles and difficult choices a family in that position must make. 5/5.

Advertisements

Women’s History Month TBR and the Indieathon TBR

This TBR post is basically going to be one big month-long TBR but a subset of these books will be relevant to my Indieathon TBR. March is Women’s History Month and because I became aware of this sooner rather than later, I plan to focus on reading books by women this month. Each year I read a pretty equal split between male and female authors, but I always find it interesting to take a proper look as to what’s on my shelves.

Also in March is the Indieathon, which is a week-long readathon where the aim is to read books from independent publishers. This readathon is hosted by Ninja Book Box and it runs from Friday 8th to Friday 15th March.

In this big TBR post there will be far more books than I could possibly read during a month (though saying that I am going to making some long train journeys for work this month so that’ll give me more reading time than normal) and I’ll note which books are from independent publishers so those are the ones I might read during the Indieathon.

I have many unread books that are written by women but not so many unread books that are from independent publishers but, surprisingly to me, most of the books on this TBR are indie books.

Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid (translated by Adam Cullen), published by Peter Owen Publishers.
Mere Chances by Veronika Simoniti (translated by Nada Grošelj), published by Dalkey Archive Press.
A Fortune Foretold by Agneta Pleijel (translated by Marlaine Delargy), published by Other Press.
Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated by Margita Gailitis), published by Peirene Press.
The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell, published by Linen Press
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies curated by Scarlett Curtis, published by Penguin
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney, published by Titan Books

The first four indie books on my TBR this month are all for my Read the World Project. I have, at my last count, 149 countries left to read so it’d be nice if this month could give me a push with my international reading.

Set in the Estonian city of Tartu, Burning Cities follows two generations of the Unger family from the Second World War to the twenty-first century. Mere Chances is a collection of short stories that are said to be strange and about characters who are struggling to maintain their identities. Soviet Milk is about the affects of Soviet rule on one person, how a woman strives to become a doctor but outside forces stop her and even deprive her of her relationship with her daughter. A Fortune Foretold is a coming of age story about a young girl in 1950s Sweden who uses fortune-telling and prophesies to make sense of the world around her. The last indie book on my TBR is one I received from Ninja Book Box’s Summer Reading box last year; The Red Beach Hut is about the friendship between an eight-year-old boy and a man who takes refuge in a red beach hut.

I’m not sure which indie books are the ones I’ll read during the Indieathon specifically, as I’ve said before I’m very much a mood reader, but these books are both from independent publishers and by women, so I hope to read them this month.

All the books mentioned so far feel like they are serious reads so I’ve also picked up Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies it’s a collection of essays and writings from lots of different women from different walks of life, so it’s something I can deep in and out of easily. The last book on my ridiculously ambitious TBR is A Blade So Black. I thought it’d be a good idea to throw some YA in here and this is an urban fantasy story inspired by Alice in Wonderland and with a black protagonist.

These are all the books I’d like to read this month. Are you focussing on reading books by female authors this month? Or are you taking part in the Indieathon? There’s going to be Twitter chats and Instagram challenges so I hope they help me to keep on track. Whish me luck! If I read five of these books that’ll be good for me.

READ THE WORLD – Greenland: Crimson by Nivaq Korneliussen

Five young people’s lives collide in Nuuk Greenland as secrets are revealed and relationships crumble. Inuk has something to hide and runs from his problems. His sister Fia breaks up with her long-term boyfriend and falls for Sara. Sara is in love with Ivik who holds a big secret. Ivik struggles with gender dysphoria, and transgender identity, while Arnaq, the party queen pulls the strings of manipulation, bringing these five lives to a shocking crescendo.

Translated by Anna Halager.

Crimson is the UK title of Last Night in Nuuk, a book I’d been aware of as it was written by a young Greenlandic author and is set in the country’s capital city. Besides from that, all I knew about the books before diving into it was that it was about the interconnected lives of five young people who are in their early twenties.

Crimson has five chapters and each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. It’s not a truly linear story which makes delving into these characters lives for such a short space of time interesting. As the story progresses some events from previous chapters are retold from a different perspective, through this you can see different sides of an argument or what happened next after the first character had left the party for instance.

Each character, and therefore each chapter, has its own distinct voice. This helps as besides a couple of sentences at the start of the book about each character giving you the most important facts about their lives, you are thrown into this book blind, learning about what makes each character tick in around 30 pages. Some chapters are more like diary entries while others are written like a stream of conscious, this can be a little jarring, but it does make each character feel different.

While these five characters are all connected in some way, they all feel very alone and drifting through the days. Sara is the one who is more obviously depressed while Arnaq uses partying, drinking and sex to ignore her problems even though those three activities often cause her new ones. I feel Crimson is an unflinching look at what it is to be someone in your early twenties, when you’ve got no real career prospects and you don’t truly understand yourself or anything that’s happening around you.

Crimson is a story about people struggling, their connections, love and sexuality. It’s a quick read at less than 180 pages and the way it’s set out, in each chapter you don’t just learn about the current character you’re following, but you see other sides to characters you’ve previously met. Even though this story is set in a country that appears to be so remote it’s almost alien to me, it’s a story that’s universal as young people will have fun and be irresponsible and make mistakes no matter where in the world they’re from. 4/5.

REVIEW: Instant Family (2018)

Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne) find themselves in over their heads after they decide to foster tough teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings, anxious and accident-prone Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and volatile Lita (Julianna Gamiz).

Instant Family was an unexpected delight. It’s marketed as a straight up comedy, and while it still is very funny, it’s actually got a lot of heart to it as it portrays all the highs and lows of foster care. Pete and Ellie are reasonably well off, they have a thriving home renovation business and are content in their lives until a family member makes a comment about them never having kids. It gets them thinking and they sign up for a foster parent course where there’s the usual stereotypes like the gay couple and the deeply Christian couple, but there they all find a sense of support and belonging to get them through the complexities of fostering children who, in many cases, believe they aren’t worth anything.

Both Wahlberg’s and Byrne show off their comedic chops but they both handle the dramatic moments just as well. The young cast is great but it’s Isabela Moner that really shines as Lizzy. Lizzy’s someone who has practically raised her siblings herself so finds it difficult to both relinquish control to Pete and Ellie, and to trust them both. All three kids have had a tough life but being the oldest Lizzy has more of an understanding of what’s going on. Moner does a great job gradually showing Lizzy’s vulnerabilities as she learns to trust and open up to Pete and Ellie, but still never loses her independence or strength.

There are the usual family hijinks of temper tantrums over food, inappropriate boyfriends, and screaming arguments over toys, but when there’s the more serious and emotional moments (of which there are more than one might think based on the marketing) the film handles them well and doesn’t use any cheap joke to lessen the moment. The emotional scenes pack a punch and you’ll have to be tough not to tear up at least once.

Instant Family is a film about love, family and trust. It’s funny but it’s also a tear-jerker both when there’s something sad and when there’s something happy as this unusual family makes a breakthrough. It’s a feel-good dramedy that also never shies away from the difficulties these children and the people who foster them can face. Instant Family really was a surprise in the best possible way. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Netherlands: Safe as Houses by Simone van der Vlugt

Trigger warnings for rape.

Home is supposed the be a safe place, but when a man forces his way into Lisa’s house taking her and her five-year-old daughter Anouk hostage, there’s no where to hide. In the coming days, Lisa will do just about anything to keep her daughter safe, but all the while she wonders why the only witness to her attack has not raised the alarm.

Translated by Michele Hutchison.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Julia Binns and due to both the narration and the story itself, I flew through this book. Safe as Houses is such a compelling story, there’s no slow set-up, instead within the opening chapters Lisa’s home is invaded by a dangerous criminal. It’s fascinating to see how Lisa tries to relate to Kruger, the escaped criminal who has a twisted mind, in order to try and keep herself and her daughter safe. Numours times Lisa ponders how she would react if she didn’t have Anouk with her and this book truly shows the strength of a mother’s determination.

Kruger is a violent man and he sexually assaults and rapes Lisa, believing she’s interested in him and wants it. She shuts down and can’t say no as she’s terrified of what he might do if she puts up a fight. Those scenes are tough to read (or in my case listen to) and they really made my skin crawl.

The emotions of the different characters are fully realised, and they all act in believable ways. Even five-year-old Anouk is neither too mature for her age nor an inconvenience to the plot. She’s a child that on some level knows that things aren’t good as her mother is hit in front of her and they are forced to sleep in the basement, but she also still wants to do finger paints and play with her dolls. When there’s the more everyday moments between Lisa, Kruger and Anouk, having breakfast together, or watching the TV together, it makes everything feel even more unsettling and on a knifes edge.

Safe as Houses is an incredibly fast-paced story so it’s unfortunate that while the conclusion is thrilling, it also comes to an abrupt stop. It’s the sort of ending where I wish there was an epilogue so you could see how the characters are coping because they went through such horrendous things in order to survive. I just wanted a little more from the conclusion after enjoying the rest of the novel.

Safe as Houses is a gripping thriller that’s often tense and scary. It’s a proper page-turner though not necessarily a thriller that will stick in my mind for a long time. Still, it was a strangely enjoyable read. 4/5.

REVIEW: Life (2017)

When a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station are examining the first samples from Mars, they discover a rapidly evolving life form that not only threatens their lives, but all life on Earth.

A lot of comparisons can be made between Life and the original claustrophobic-space-horror-film Alien, but that doesn’t mean Life doesn’t do a good job with that template, and it offers its own spin of certain elements.

The first half of Life is more of the philosophical and scientific side of things as you get to know the basics about the crew and what they are trying to achieve with this life form they are studying. While the second half is more action-packed as naturally when the creature escapes, things get increasingly worse and the intensity never really lets up. It’s interesting how to begin with there is humour in this film, most of it coming from Ryan Reynolds’s character, but as soon as the danger is realised, the tension jumps up a notch and all characters are suddenly a lot more serious.

The camera work and editing make every tunnel and compartment of the ISS feel deadly. As the creature grows smarter and reactionary towards the humans onboard it becomes a bit of a cat and mouse chase around the space station as the crew attempt to contact Earth and stay alive. The dangers are real as members of the crew get injured or die in increasingly gruesome ways and it really is a battle as the creature and the humans onboard have a lot of the same basic needs.

Life is a tense, claustrophobic space horror that leaves you on the edge of your seat, but its dark undertone gets more and more prominent as the film progresses, leaving you drained by the time the credits begin to roll. 4/5.

The London Bookshop Crawl 2019

This time last week the London Bookshop Crawl was in full swing. It’s an event that lasted from Friday 8th – Sunday 10th February but I only took part on Saturday. There were guided tours, special events, book swaps and over 80 bookshops across London taking part. The London Bookshop Crawl is like a pub crawl except with books which is awesome!

I’m an old hat at this London Bookshop Crawl thing and it’s amazing to see how much this event has grown over the past four years. I decided to get a ticket for the guided bookshop crawl around the King’s Cross area as I’m a big fan of the guided groups. It’s a great way to meet people, and it is fun discovering new bookshops with people, comparing purchases and generally being a bad influence on each other.

We met at the British Library which I hadn’t been to since I was at university and there was our first stop of the crawl – the British Library Bookshop. There I bought Crimson by Nivaq Korneliussen which is a coming of age story that was on my radar before the bookshop crawl which is always a bonus. The reason I was aware of this book was because it’s set in Greenland and by an author who’s from Greenland so it’s perfect for my Read the World Project.

Next, we went to the Blackwell’s Bookshop in the Welcome Library. There I bought Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies, a non-fiction book that’s all about what feminism means to different women. This is another book that was previously on my radar (SPOILER ALERT! I think I did pretty well at buying books that I previously wanted/was aware of) I think I’ll definitely be going back there again as it was a great book and gift shop and I heard that the actual library itself was pretty amazing too, so it’d be nice to explore that properly.

We went to second-hand bookstore Judd Books next which was a really very well stocked second-hand bookstore, with pretty much all the books being in great condition and a wide choice of genres. There I bought The War Correspondent by Greg McLaughlin, which isn’t for me but is actually going to be a birthday present for my dad. It’s his birthday next month so I’m well impressed with myself being so organised.

Then we went to Gay’s the Word which was practically next door to Judd Books. There I got Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann which is a YA story about an asexual black main character. This is another one which has been on my wishlist for a while and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the next book I pick up. Gay’s the Word is one of only two specifically LGBT+ bookstores in the UK and it sells both queer fiction and non-fiction. It had a really friendly atmosphere and the books it had in stock were a great mix of genres.

The penultimate stop on the London Bookshop Crawl for me was Housmans which is a radical bookshop selling new and secondhand books from a whole range of genres including progressive politics, and where I got two books! I bought Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena, which was on my wishlist, and African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal, which wasn’t on my wishlist but they are both reasonable short and both are for my Read the World Project. I really liked Housmans and will be going back there again as it’s just around the corner from King’s Cross station and that’s the station I go to and from London.

My final stop was Word on the Water which is such a lovely little second-hand bookshop on a barge on the river. The guys who run the place are great and there’s always something cool to find there.

I was restrained and didn’t buy anything from Word on the Water, so I finished my 2019 bookshop crawl with six books, five for me and one as a gift which wasn’t too bad if I do say so myself. I’ve generally become better at buying books that I’m already interested in or am sure I will pick and read sooner rather than later. I’m still trying to get that TBR down!

I had a great time on the London Bookshop Crawl. I got to meet up with twitter pals and people I’d met on previous bookshop crawls and everyone in our little group were friendly and chatty and they were a great bunch of people to spend a few hours in bookshops with. Out of the six bookshops I visited, I’d only been to one before which was Word on the Water, so it was great to discover new bookshops that I’d never noticed before.

I have to say thanks once again to the amazing Bex who organises the whole bookshop crawl in her spare time. She’s absolutely brilliant and I can’t wait to see what she puts together next year for the fifth anniversary of the London Bookshop Crawl! There’s likely to be mini bookshop crawls in a city or two around the UK in the summer so if you’re interested make sure you follow them on Twitter to keep up to date with everything and check out the Bookshop Crawl website. Oh and it’s always fun to check out the #LondonBookshopCrawl on Twitter to see other peoples purchases and adventures over the weekend. Until next year!