My Reading Rush 2020 TBR

The Reading Rush starts in a couple of weeks and I’ve put together my TBR. The Reading Rush is a weeklong readathon that starts at midnight your times zone on Monday 20 July and finishes at 11:59pm on Sunday 26 July. The Reading Rush has its origins on YouTube and there’s a YouTube channel, a Twitter, an Instagram and a website.

There’s reading challenges but you don’t have to try and do all of them, the main point of the readathon (as with most readathons) is to read as much as possible. The reading challenges are:

1. Read a book with a cover that matches the colour of your birth stone.
2. Read a book that starts with the word “The”.
3. Read a book that inspired a movie you’ve already seen.
4. Read the first book you touch.
5. Read a book completely outside of your house. With everything going on at the minute, you can change this up to mean sit in front of an open window, listen to outdoor ASMR videos while reading etc there’s more suggestions on the website.
6. Read a book in a genre that you’ve always wanted to read more of.
7. Read a book that takes place on a different continent than where you live.

I know I won’t read seven books and have one for each challenge so I’m all for using books for multiple challenges. Out of the seven challenges the one I definitely won’t be doing is “Read a book that inspired a movie you’ve already seen” as while I’ve seen a few films that were book adaptations that I haven’t read the source material, I don’t have any of those books.

Read a book with a cover that matches the colour of your birth stone
The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan
I’m a September baby so my birthstone is sapphire and one of the only blue books I have is The Gloaming. One of my Twitter pals read this a few months ago and said positive things about it so that has made me want to get to it sooner.

Read a book that starts with the word “The”
The Matter of Desire by Edmundo Paz Soldán or The Restless by Gerty Dambury or The Gloaming
Got a few options for this one which is always nice.

Read the first book you touch
The Restless or Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol.1: Anchor Points by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire
I got together all the books from my Summer TBR that I hadn’t read yet (which is eight books), shut my eyes, waved my hand around a bit and then touched one. Well I wasn’t smart and put my whole hand down and ended up on two books so again, I’ve got options here.

Read a book completely outside of your house
Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki or Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol.1: Anchor Points
As this challenge is open to interpretation, my thinking is if I do decide to read outside (there’s some grassy areas where not many people are near where I live) I’ll read the comic because it’s shorter, or if I don’t fancy that, I’ll read Three Summers as it’s set in the countryside and has a very outdoorsy cover.

Read a book in a genre that you’ve always wanted to read more of
Three Summers
Is “classic” a genre? I’m gonna say it is for this challenge. Three Summers is called a “modern Greek classic” so I’m just running with that.

Read a book that takes place on a different continent than where you live.
The Matter of Desire or The Restless
My Read the World Project comes in handy for this one. I live in Europe and The Matter of Desire is set in both the United States and Bolivia while The Restless is set in Guadeloupe – so that covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

That’s five books on my TBR and as there’s some overlap with challenges I could read four of them and complete these six challenges. Are you taking part in the Reading Rush? If you are, I hope it’s a very successful reading week for you.

REVIEW: Skyscraper (2018)

Framed for the unfolding disaster, security expert Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) must infiltrate the world’s tallest building as it burns to save his family who are trapped inside with criminals.

If the premise of Skyscraper sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because you’ve seen some variation of this film before and it hits some pretty generic action beats to move the plot along. It’s also very easy to make comparisons to Die Hard and The Towering Inferno. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say Skyscraper is a combination of the two. Luckily for Skyscraper it has Dwayne Johnson as it’s lead, so some terrible dialogue and recycled plot points are easier to ignore.

Honestly the charisma and star power of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson really has to be admired as he will make any generic action film watchable. Will Sawyer is a compelling character who happens to be ex-military and is an amputee with a prosthetic leg. Having the hero of this disaster movie be more vulnerable was a nice touch. While Will was still strong and capable of running through fires, climbing buildings and fighting bad guys, there are moments where he has to stop and check his prosthetic leg over. Plus, as the days turmoil goes on it shows how having a prosthetic leg can be both a help and a hinderance in this unique situation. There are some action sequences that make use of the prosthetic leg, but on the whole, it is just shown as a part of him and that he is just fighting to save his family.

The performances from the supporting cast are solid too with people like Noah Taylor and Chin Han showing up making you go “I know him from somewhere!” Neve Campbell plays Sarah, Will’s wife, and she actually ends up with more to do than you think.

The set pieces are pretty spectacular, and I imagine seeing Skyscraper on a big screen would’ve made them even more impressive – and maybe even a sense of vertigo. The sequences where Will is climbing outside of the building, or his family is running through the burning building are good though the closer hand to hand fight scenes are a bit harder to follow and look a little messy at times.

Skyscraper isn’t really anything new to the disaster/action move genre, and it’s more serious than you’d expect, but it’s still reasonably enjoyable even if you can predict a lot of what happens and everything gets wrapped up unexpectedly quickly. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), travel through a wardrobe to the magical world of Narnia and discover they’re a part of a prophecy to free Narnia from the clutches of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton).

I remember going to the cinema to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but can’t quite believe that was fifteen years ago. I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia and really enjoyed the film adaptations, but as it’s been so long since I’ve watched them, I thought I’d revisit them as an adult an see if they still have the same magic about them.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the most faithful book to film adaptations I’ve seen, especially for a children’s series where so often what ends up on screen is completely different to what’s on the page. Perhaps it helps that the Narnia books are certified classics and are known across the generations, or it’s just more proof of the care and heart that was put into this film by everyone involved.

There are some moments that don’t grip your attention as much as others, but overall, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a story of hope, perseverance and good triumphing over evil. It’s a universal story and one that’s told very well from the production and set design to the performances.

The four young leads are all wonderful and they do feel like real siblings. Georgie Henley as Lucy is especially brilliant as it’s with her that you encounter Narnia for the first time and her wonder and delight is infectious. For me, Edmund has always been the most interesting of the Pevensie siblings. He’s jealous of his older brother and he can be mean but over the course of the film matures as he sees the consequences of his actions and strives to help others and do good. Skandar Keynes does a good job at showing how spiteful Edmund can be, but also how sympathetic and remorseful he truly is.

Tilda Swinton is the White Witch. She is menacing and cruel and can switch from being seemingly kind and caring to vicious in a second in order to get what she wants. She’s a foreboding presence even when she’s not on screen and it’s clear to see why the creatures of Narnia fear her so.

Half the fun of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is hearing well known voices come from a variety of creatures – Ray Winstone and Dawn French as Mr and Mrs Beaver is a delight. The special effects, makeup and costumes that bring the creatures of Narnia to life are fantastic and still hold up fifteen years later. One has to wonder how the filmmakers here made a pretty photorealistic lion with Aslan, that looks and acts like a lion while still being able to emote, and the lions and creatures in The Lion King (2019) just don’t emote at all.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a film that’s still full of magic. The care and attention put into everything from the costumes and special effects to the score and the story, means that it looks just as good and is just as enjoyable all these years later. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Nicaragua: Life for Each by Daisy Zamora

Translated by Dinah Livingstone.

A poetry collection from Daisy Zamora, a Sandinista combatant during the liberation struggle who ran the clandestine Radio Sandino which broadcasted the call for a general insurrection in June 1979.

Life for Each is a super short poetry collection of only 70 pages. The collection is split into four parts. The first is a study of different people Zamora has met and connected with, the second has more personal poems, the third and fourth parts explore her family and friends and how they connect to her political love and anger.

Something I really liked about this poetry collection was how on the opposite side of the page to the English translation, was the poem in its original language. It was nice to be able to see the original text how the author wrote it and, if you know any of the language, being able to get some extra meaning from it. I’ve read a few books on my Read the World Project that have done this and I think it’s a great way to present a translated work.

I still find it difficult to write about poetry collections. As I said it’s a short collection and most of the poems themselves are short, only a few stanzas long, and to the point. They are punchy and affective but equally some of the longer poems are moving. “Lullaby for a Newborn Girl who Died” is about the death of Zamora’s newborn baby and it’s very bittersweet.

The poems in the latter half of the collection that are about politics, revolution, anger and desperation were the ones that I really liked. They’re small insights into political upheaval and how Zamora viewed those events. The final poem in the collection – “Families of CIA Victims Protest Outside the United States Embassy” – does a great job at showing the desperation of the families and the cruelty of those in the Embassy because they really just don’t care. This poem, like a lot of them in the collection, is passionate and heartfelt and eye-opening.

Mid-year Film Update 2020

Last year was the first time I did a mid-year check in on my film-related goals and I thought I’d do the same again this year – mainly because I like to see how much my most watched actors change over the course of a year.

My film-related goals are pretty chill. They are:

And I have to say, I’m on the right track with both of those so far. I have watched 28 films directed women so over half way there and I’ve watched 40 films written by women which is over three quarters of the way to 52. I’ll definitely hit 52 films for both directors and screenwriters by the end of the year, the question is what will my final total be. My favourite films made by women I’ve seen so far this year are Miss Americana, Little Women and Misbehaviour. I also rewatched Mamma Mia! which was a delight as always.

Thanks to COVID-19 and lockdown, naturally I haven’t been to the cinema since March (and I’m not sure when I’ll be going back even though they being to open here in a couple of weeks), and a lot of the big films directed by women – Black Widow, Mulan, Wonder Woman 1984 – have been pushed back. So, if it hadn’t have been for COVID, I’ll have probably seen more films directed by women by now but there we go.

Thanks to the A-Z in April Challenge this year, I have knocked 20 films off my unwatched DVD/Blu-rays list so now I have 64 left to watch. I do hope to watch more of them over the next six months, especially the Hitchcock and Clint Eastwood films.

I love my Letterboxd stats. Here’s my most watched actors of 2020 so far:

I have done a lot of rewatching of some of my favourite franchises so far this year which pretty much explains everyone here. So far in 2020 I have rewatched; the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, The Lord of the Rings (normally a Christmas rewatch for me but I needed the extra comfort that those films bring me), and The Chronicles of Narnia films. Last month I decided to watch all of Anton Yelchin’s films that I hadn’t seen before that were available on Netflix/Prime so that’s how he made it on the list. I’m interested to see how many of the MCU actors especially manage to stay in my most watched actors list by the end of the year.

My most watched directors of 2020 so far:

Again, my director list isn’t that surprising based on the franchises I’ve rewatched so far this year. The Russo’s, James Gunn, Peyton Reed, Joss Whedon, Jon Watts and Jon Favreau all directed multiple films in the MCU, while Steven Soderbergh, Gore Verbinski and Peter Jackson directed the Ocean’s trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, and Lord of the Rings trilogy respectively. It’d be nice if I could have a more diverse range of filmmakers in this list by the end of the year (at least Bong Joon-ho is there!) but we’ll see how that goes. While I often at least watch 52 films directed by women each year for example, they are often from 52 different women so female directors don’t often make this list.

In the first half of 2020 I have seen 144 different films with 13 being at the cinema, and as I said while I miss spending a Saturday watching three films in the cinema back to back, I’m not sure when I’ll be doing that again.

What are some of your favourite films you’ve watched so far in 2020? Are you missing the cinema at all? Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, some of my favourite films have been Dark Waters, Da 5 Bloods and Love, Antosha. Each month on Twitter I share my Top 5 First Views if you ever want to see my monthly film highlights.

Mid-year Book Freak Out Tag 2020

We’re halfway through what has been an eventful, interesting and somewhat depressing year so far (at least for me) so it’s time to have a quick check in on my reading so far in 2020. I also thought I’d do the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag which was created by Earl Grey Books and Read Like Wildfire on YouTube. Turns out I did this tag in 2017 and not done it again since – probably due to my lack of organisation.

My very simple reading goals of 2020 are:

  • Read 60 books and review at least half of them. I’ve read 32 and reviewed 27 (though some of those aren’t live yet) so that’s on track. You can find a full list of the books I’ve read and reviewed so far this year on my Books of 2020 page as well as Goodreads.
  • Get my TBR down to 50 books. It currently stands at 91 when I stared the year with 85 unread books so that’s not going well but what else is new! Although while I am acquiring books they’re not overwhelming my TBR too much.
  • Have an equal split of male and female authors/if it leans one way, have it be that I read more women. As you can see by my handy pie chart that’s on track too:

  • At least 30% of the books I read be by people of colour. This is definitely on track at the minute as the authors of colour make up 60% of the books I’ve read so far this year. By the way “both” refers to books with multiple authors and one might be white and the other might be Black for example.

Now onto the tag!

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2020
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
This was actually a bit difficult to choose as I’ve read a few 5 star books so far this year but I just loved Locke and his crew/family and the story was funny and exciting and just fantastic. I listened to the audiobook and I highly recommend that because the narrator is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2020
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
I don’t read a lot of sequels. Both because I tend to read standalone books and when I do read a series, I usually take ages to get around to reading the next book. This year I read a sequel the month after I read the first book! Deathless Divide was darker and better than the first book and I definitely recommend reading them both. (more…)

REVIEW: Paradise Hills (2019)

Uma (Emma Roberts) wakes up in Paradise Hills, an apparently idyllic reform school for wealthy young ladies, but things are not what they seem.

Honestly, I was not sure what to make of Paradise Hills to begin with, but I slowly got captivated by the whole look of the film and that unsettling feeling that something isn’t quite right at Paradise Hills.

Uma is strong-willed and opinionated – two reasons why she was sent to Paradise Hills as it’s where she can learn to become a better version of herself aka the version that her mother wants. At Paradise Hills she meets other girls who are in a similar position to her. Chloe (Danielle Macdonald), Yu (Awkwafina) and Amarna (Eiza González) are all there for different reasons but they are also all content with who they are.

The relationship that forms between them all is one of love and support. They are solid friends who look out for and help one another. The moments there are tension between them are not because of what one girl is thinking, but because of the situation they’re in and it’s circumstances that threaten to tear them apart.

There’s an other worldly beauty to Paradise Hills thanks to the art department. The production design, the hair, the make up and costumes makes Paradise Hills (the place) seem so far removed from what we know. It often gives off a twisted Alice in Wonderland vibe, especially with all the roses everywhere and the obsession with mirrors. To carry on the Alice in Wonderland analogy, The Duchess (Milla Jovovich), who runs Paradise Hills, almost fills the Red Queen role. She’s in control of everything, though she can lose her cool in a spectacular fashion, she’s obsessed with roses and she’s the only person in Paradise Hills whose clothes are colourful, making her stand out from everyone else. Uma and the other girls always wear white dresses while the male servants, gardeners and attendants are also in white.

The beautiful costumes and location is a harsh juxtaposition to the thoughts and emotions Uma is going through. Paradise Hills is perfection and that’s what Uma is supposed to be learning to be, but she doesn’t want to. She knows who she is, who she loves, and she doesn’t want to change anything about herself.

Paradise Hills is so much more than I thought it’d be. The theme of women supporting women is so strong, as is the message that people (especially young women) should be happy with who they are no matter what pressures from family or society they might face. The whole production is stunning and that makes the dark underbelly of what’s really happening at Paradise Hills all the more affecting. 4/5.

REVIEW: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Deathless Divide is the sequel to Dread Nation so there may be vague spoilers for the first book in this review.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother. But nothing is easy or as it seems and soon after Jane arrives in a town called Nicodermus, she comes to believe it’s not as safe as everyone believes. Jane soon finds herself on a dark path as she’s out for revenge and closes herself off from the world. But one person won’t let her shut herself off completely. Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Amazingly, Deathless Divide is even better than its predecessor. It’s told in dual perspective with the chapters alternating between Jane’s point of view and Katherine’s. it’s great getting to see things from Katherine’s perspective and she becomes a much more fleshed out character as you learn more about her past and how she struggles with the fact she can pass for white. Also, both perspectives are equally gripping and they both have distinct voices which is always a plus for dual narratives.

Jane honestly has gone through so much and she is such a fighter, but her quest for revenge and how desensitised she has become to killing the dead, puts her in a precarious place. She likes to think she doesn’t need anyone but that’s not the case and it takes a long time for her to sort all those feelings out in her head.

Jane and Katherine’s friendship is really the heart and soul of this book. Jane needs Katherine and Katherine wants to be Jane’s friend. They balance each other out and have fought and survived together, meaning they know one another unlike anyone else. There are other relationships in Deathless Divide, romantic or otherwise, but none of them are as strong or as important as Jane and Katherine’s.

In Deathless Divide you learn more about how the shamblers (the undead) have affected the rest of the country, and there’s even mentions of outbreaks around the world showing it’s not a localised event. Deathless Divide combines different genres and themes in an interesting way; it’s a survivors story, there’s Western elements, there’s a deeper discussion of bioethics and experimentation, and there’s a lot of trauma and how that can effect someone’s psyche.

All the while Deathless Divide continues to work as an alternate history because there are so many actual historical elements included and adapted for this scenario. For instance, the explanation for the Chinese arriving on the West Coast and how that effects things and how no matter what, it’s Black people who are always at the bottom of the theoretical social ladder.

Deathless Divide really goes to dark and unexpected places and it’s all the better for it. It doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities Jane and Katherine live in the; the racism, the cruelty, the threat of death at any moment – from shamblers or humans – and it’s still an action-packed story with lots of twists and turns. It also has a very satisfying if a little bittersweet ending to what really is a fantastic duology. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Ukraine: Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko

Translated by Halyna Hryn. Narrated by Angela Dawe.

I had go to Goodreads to get a synopsis because I really wasn’t sure how to sum up this book, so here we go:
Narrated in first-person streams of thought, the female narrator is visiting professor of Slavic studies at Harvard and her exposure to American values and behaviours conspires with her yearning to break free from Ukrainian conventions. In her despair over a recently ended affair, she turns her attention to the details of her lover’s abusive behaviour. In detailing the power her Ukrainian lover wielded over her, and in admitting the underlying reasons for her attraction to him, she begins to see the chains that have defined her as a Ukrainian woman.

Honestly not sure what to make of Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex. I listened to it on audio and I’m not sure if that helped or hindered my experience of reading it. The narrative seemed to jump back and forth in time with no real clear signposts as to where we were in the main characters life. It’s a rambling narration of her thoughts and feelings about love, relationships, and what it means to be Ukrainian. It’s hard to keep up while listening to the audio so I have no idea if it’d be easier to follow if physically reading it.

Also, while the Goodreads synopsis say it’s in first-person, sometimes the stream of thought goes into second or third person as well which can make things more confusing. Though I suppose it’s also a way to show the narrators distance from some of her life experiences, or she’s reliving them in her memory and can now have a different take on events due to her new understanding of herself or the situation.

The discussions about being Ukrainian and the culture and history and language was one of the most interesting parts of Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex to me. It was a way to learn about a country that had its struggles and a culture of fear and repression and how that affected its people, especially women. Then seeing the differences between life in America and Ukraine and how it opens the narrator’s eyes to a new way of thinking was interesting too. She experiences a clash of cultures and it makes her rethink her relationship and how it wasn’t good for her for a number of reasons.

The sex scenes and musing on sex is graphic a lot of the time. She uses harsh and sometimes vulgar language to describe the act and it can be uncomfortable to listen to, not only because of the sexual content but how she sees herself when it comes to sex. It’s in those scenes that it’s really clear that her relationship isn’t a good or healthy one and the way her partner treats her, during sex and generally, is not OK. From this relationship she has an almost warped sense of self that she’s then re-examining once she’s out of it in relation to culture and heritage.

Much like The Naked Woman, I feel Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex could do from being a book read with others so you can then discuss it. There’s a lot of themes in it but the stream of conscious narrative along with the random time jumps makes it difficult to follow and appreciate what this novel was trying to say.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. I don’t often take part in Top Ten Tuesday (I forget or it’s not a topic I feel I have ten books that fit etc) but I do always do the seasonal TBR posts. That’s mainly because I find it interesting and somewhat entertaining to see how many times a book ends up on a TBR – please do go through my TBR tag if you also want to see books repeatedly appear. It’s not because I don’t want to read them, all books I mention in my TBR posts are books I own and want to read, it’s just that I’m a mood reader and easily distracted by other books.

So, after that bit of context, here are ten books I’d like to read in the coming months but who knows how many of them I actually will.

Life for Each: Poems by Daisy Zamora
This poetry collection is literally 70 pages long. I could read it in the morning before work it’s that short.

Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki
An historical fiction about three sisters growing up in the countryside in Athens before the Second World War. It’s a coming of age story with romance, secrets and family drama. From the title alone it seems like a good book to read during the summer months.

The Restless by Gerty Dambury
Set in 1960s Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, The Restless follows a nine-year-old girl who is struggling with the sudden disappearance of her teacher and her father at the onset of a workers’ strike.

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn
Had not heard of this book before I got it in a subscription box but it seems to be a story about a ragtag group of outcasts in Revolutionary France and it has some Frankenstein elements? Sounds good to me.

Scarlet Odyssey by C.T. Rwizi
An epic fantasy set in a landscape inspired by the history of southern and eastern Africa and its myths and magic. I got this via Amazon’s First Reads as the premise of a young man who wants to become a mystic in a society where women do magic and men are warriors caught my eye.

Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun
This is another super short book of less than 100 pages and is a collection of short stories – both things making it something that I should read quickly and soon.

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol 1 – 3 by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire
I’m kind of cheating and combing three books into one choice here, but it’s a graphic novel series and as I have them all, I will be reading them one after the other. I love Hawkeye – both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop – and have been meaning to read Kate’s latest story arc for a while now.

The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag
Another book I got in a subscription box and it’s a story of four sisters trying to find one another and there’s magic I think? As you may probably tell, when it comes to subscription box books I haven’t heard of before, I like going into them knowing as little as possible. I do know The Sisters Grimm is set in Cambridge which is where I work so it’ll be cool reading a book set somewhere I know pretty well.

13 Colors of the Honduran Resistance by Melissa Cardoza
Feminist author and activist Melissa Cardoza tells thirteen stories about women from the Honduran resistance in the aftermath of the 28th June 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya.

A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell
Guess what, this was a book I got from a subscription box! It’s a collection of short stories by Black authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

What books are on your TBR for the next few months? If you’ve read any of these and think I should read them ASAP, please let me know.