Ninja Book Box: ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box

Welcome to this very late unboxing of the ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box! I received this exciting package two weeks ago today, but due to work being super busy and life in general being a bit hectic, I didn’t have a chance to write this post until now.

Ninja Book Box is a UK-based quarterly book subscription box that’s all about sharing independently published books. There’s different genres every quarter and some goodies included too. Ninja Book Box also runs a monthly book club for independently published books and anyone can vote for the next months book which is pretty cool too. They are opening their own online second-hand independent books bookshop very soon as well! The fabulous brain behind Ninja Book Box never stops.

Now onto the books. I bought the ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box. This is the second year Ninja Book Box has done a summer reading box and it focuses on the books, not the goodies – though there were some nice surprises in here! Each book was individually wrapped in tissue paper which is a nice touch.

The first book I unwrapped was The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock – I love the cover of this book, it’s beautiful. The story sounds great too as it starts off in the late 1940s with US Air Force test pilots racing to break the sound barrier. By the 1960s the space race is in full swing and Jim Harrison and his colleagues are offered the chance to be the world’s first astronauts. But when his young family is thrown into crisis, Jim must decide whether to accept his ticket to the moon, and if he does, what will it cost. I’m intrigued to see how much of this book is fact and how much is fiction. I do enjoy historical novels that blend the two together, and the space race is always interesting! There was an interview with the author included as well.

The next book I unwrapped was The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell and it was signed which is always a bonus. The Red Beach Hut is about eight-year-old Neville and Abbott, a man who’s on the run after panicking over what he believes to be a homophobic cyber-attack. Abbott takes refuge in the red beach hut, and slowly he and Neville form a friendship, but Abbott’s past threatens to tear him away as others interpret his and Neville’s friendship in their own ways. This is a relatively short book and it sounds like a poignant story.

And finally, the last book was Dust by Mark Thompson which came with a signed bookplate, a bookmark and an interview with the author. The story follows J.J Walsh and Tony ‘El Greco’ Papadakis, two inseparable friends in one formative summer in the 1960s. They face religious piety, alcohol, girls, and tragedy but it’s a road trip through the heart of southern America that shows a darker side to life. It shows the divided nation where wealth, poverty and racial bigotry collide.

All three books sound compelling in their own ways, and while The Last Pilot is the sort of book I’d pick up if I saw it in a bookshop, the other two aren’t. That’s what I love about subscription boxes like Ninja Book Box, it gives me the push to try something a little out of my comfort zone. I really like how all three books definitely fit in with the theme of “Journeys” – whether it’s a physical journey across the country or into space, or an emotional one. I’m looking forward to reading how all these journeys unfold.

Make sure you check out Ninja Book Box’s website and their various social media channels, especially Twitter, so you can keep up with all their bookish news. And if you like the sound of these books and fancy getting them for yourself, there’s a few Summer Reading Boxes still for sale here.

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REVIEW: Hotel Artemis (2018)

Los Angeles 2028. Hotel Artemis is run by the Nurse (Jodie Foster) and it’s a place for criminals to lay low and get patched up. The Hotel Artemis has an important set of rules, including no guns and no killing the other patients. But with riots on the streets and high-end criminals checked in, tensions begin to boil over.

Hotel Artemis does a lot of clever world-building in a very short period of time. There’s riots on the streets over clean water, rich people are desperately trying to place their valuables in the bank to avoid looters and rumours of an all-powerful mob boss. The look of the hotel, how it and the various medial equipment seems to be on its last legs, it makes the hotel almost a character of its own.

Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) is the main character of the hotel guests and thus gets the most development. When it comes to fleshing out the other characters there’s assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella) followed by scumbag Acapulco (Charlie Day). If you’re thinking all these names are a bit odd, that’s because the guests of the hotel are named after the name of their suite. All actors do a good job with what they’re given though it is Jodie Foster who’s the standout. The Nurse holds it all together as she goes from room to room, patching up guests and attempting to keep other people out of the hotel. She’s sweet lady that’s somehow ended up healing criminals, she works in a morally grey area but she’s someone who believes in the rules and is a good person at heart.

Hotel Artemis isn’t particularly an action film. Towards the end there’s a big fight but really, it’s a character driven film and the main plot is about not letting certain characters learn about other characters who may or may not be in the hotel. It sounds more complicated than it is and it would’ve been nice if there were more than one scene where multiple criminals were in the same place at once. That one scene was funny, compelling and tense.

Hotel Artemis does lack a spark of something to make it great. Perhaps it’s because, for some reason, I thought it was going to have the same sort of manic humour as Free Fire. But really while there are a few jokes, most of which come from Dave Bautista’s Everest, it’s a more serious drama about criminals.

With its 90 minutes runtime, Hotel Artemis doesn’t really let up. There’s a lot happening with these characters but the film doesn’t do enough to be memorable. 3/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is trying to balance his life as an IMF agent and his attempt at a normal life with his fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan) when manipulative arms dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is set to steal and sell an item known only as the Rabbits Foot comes onto the IMF’s radar.

Mission: Impossible III is a good mix of intrigue, action and more emotional depth when it comes to Ethan Hunt. Ethan has semi-retired and is in love and wants to settle down with nurse Julia. While it would’ve been nice to see these two meet and fall in love, Cruise and Monaghan’s chemistry more than makes up for that. Also, Julia isn’t stupid, she knows there’s something up with Ethan and his “business trips” but she trusts him enough that he will tell her what’s going on with him when needed.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is satisfyingly menacing as Davian. He’s calm under pressure and always seems to be a few steps ahead of Ethan and his team. Davian plays underhand, threatening people Ethan cares about including Julia, and is an intimidating presence even when he’s not on screen.

The action sequences are exciting, especially the showdown on a bridge. One of the main set pieces in Mission: Impossible III is when Ethan and his team infiltrates the Vatican. That sequence shows off all the spy tech and how good these guys are at their jobs. Mission: Impossible III definitely spaces out the action, instead focusing more on the characters and the idea there’s people at IMF that might not be trusted.

Mission: Impossible III is a good action flick with solid performances from Cruise, Monaghan and Hoffman. Ethan’s team does get left by the wayside during the final act and the Rabbit Foot is a McGuffin which causes the characters to act and it really is a surface level plot point. At its heart Mission: Impossible III is about Ethan and Julia and it’s probably the most character driven film of the series. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Indonesia: Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan

Ajo Kawir is one of the toughest fighters in the Javanese underworld. He’s fearlessness is powered by a painful secret – he’s impotent. When he meets the fearsomely beautiful bodyguard Iteung, he falls in love. But can he ever make Iteung happy if he can’t get it up?

Translated by Annie Tucker. Trigger warning for rape, violence and sexual language.

When Ajo is a young boy he sees a violent sexual assault and ever since then he could never get an erection. This leads him to be a bit odd, talking to his penis and imagining it replies to him.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is a relatively short book and the way its written makes it easy to get through. It does have chapters, but it’s told in short snapshots, that are maybe a page or less, and there’s a lot of page breaks. This makes it easy to get through, but it adds a bit of distance between the characters and the reader.

The first half of the book follows Ajo’s childhood and meeting Iteung and the second half is set a decade later when he’s a truck driver. While it’s got these two distinct halves, there are mentions of future events in the first half of the book, so this blend of time periods can be a little disorientating.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is an odd mixture of romance and black humour that won’t be for everyone. It has larger than life characters who often get into outlandish situations and the story manages to be both surreal and tragic.

REVIEW: Tau (2018)

When Julia (Maika Monroe) wakes up in a house controlled by an Artificial Intelligence system called Tau (Gary Oldman), she must figure out what its creator (Ed Skrein) wants with her and find a way to escape.

Having 99% of the film set in one location, scientist Alex’s home, gives it a claustrophobic feel as Julia begins to converse with Tau and the two of them form an unlikely connection as they learn from one another. The lighting has an influence on each scene as when Alex is home, everything is in shades of blue but when he leaves, and Julia and Tau are alone, the lighting is in shades of red. It contrasts the differences between Alex and Julia, Alex is logical and strives for control, while Julia is quick-thinking and strives for freedom.

Both Monroe and Skrein are great in their roles and when the two of them are caught in almost a battle of wits, the tension is at its peak. Julia is a memorable “final girl” who combines grim determination with hopefulness and a caring side.

Tau is a creepy horror-sci-fi hybrid that offers another take on the man verses AI dilemma we’ve seen in countless films over the years. However, Tau doesn’t really offer anything new in terms of commentary on AI’s and how as they become smarter, people may abuse them. There’s parallels made between the trauma Julia faced at the hands of her parents and the restrictions Alex puts on Tau, but it lacks any real depth. Still, with its 90-minute runtime, Tau is an engaging small-scale sci-fi flick. 3/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible II (2000)

When terrorists plot to steal a deadly super virus, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tasked with putting together a team to find the terrorists and get to the virus before they do. Joining him is tech expert Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), pilot Billy Baird (John Polson) and civilian thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton), who has a history with the terrorist leader, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott).

Directed by John Woo, Mission: Impossible II is almost the polar opposite of the first film. Mission: Impossible II is all about the action and is a full fights and shootouts, while Mission: Impossible was more of a character-driven thriller. There’s a lot of dramatic slow-motion camera shots in Mission: Impossible II that after a while just makes the whole thing feel cheesy. Ethan Hunt has apparently learnt martial arts in the four years since Mission: Impossible and it sometimes looks really quite weird and unnatural and is another way the film distances itself from its predecessor.

Mission: Impossible II begins with Hunt recruiting Nyah and they both fall for each other surprisingly quickly leading to a good proportion of the film being about Nyah stuck between two men. Unfortunately, Cruise and Newton have little chemistry, and some dodgy dialogue, so they are a couple you really don’t believe in.

Mission: Impossible II’s main problem is for all of it’s over-the-top action sequences it still ends up being dull. The characters are not that interesting, though Ambrose has his moments of being an intimidating villain, and the finale is over-long. 2/5.

Admittedly we probably have Mission: Impossible II to thank for the increasingly dangerous stunts Tom Cruise takes part in in each subsequent film. The first time we see Hunt in Mission: Impossible II, he’s climbing a huge rockface, thousands of feet off the ground, without out any ropes and then dangles by one hand off a cliff. These huge stunts are now a key part in the Mission Impossible franchise.

REVIEW: Who Runs the World? by Virginia Bergin

Sixty years after a virus almost wiped out all the men on the planet, the women of the world have grieved, pulled together and moved on. Life is pretty good if you’re a girl, but not so much if you’re a boy. Fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that though, as until she meets Mason, she thought boys were basically extinct.

What Who Runs the World? does very well is that it doesn’t just say men are bad and women are good. Though it makes it very clear that in this world, a lot of violence and crime was committed by men, it also shows that that doesn’t stop women from getting angry or lashing out.

River’s world is one without gender expectations. People are expected to be open, communicate and share their problems and work together to solve any issues. When Mason is discovered it’s clear he comes from a different world, one where from watching porn and playing videos games he has a certain idea of what women should look and act like. River has a certain idea of what men should be like too and seeing their beliefs clash is fascinating.

Mason has been brought up surrounded by toxic masculinity, believing he must be physically strong and it makes him lesser if he cries. River, and other girls and women who have grown up without men, on the other hand has grown up being taught that showing emotions isn’t a weakness and in fact sharing your thoughts and feelings is a good thing.

Kate, River’s great-grandmother, is an interesting character as she remembers life before the virus wiped out the male population. She was a teenager when it happened, so she and other women her age understand the loss of losing their husbands, fathers, brothers and friends and that indeed not all men were dangerous people. She remembers the various social cues that were just there and made men and women act differently. She remembers the good and the bad and now being confronted with Mason gives her some hope that boys and men are out there and can join the society she’s a part of now.

Who Runs the World? is great because it doesn’t just look at gender, it’s also a fast-paced mystery. River, her mother and Kate are all trying to understand where Mason came from and what that means for all the other men and boys that might still be alive somewhere. It would’ve been nice to learn more about where Mason had come from and there’s a lot left up in the air. River’s life has changed by meeting Mason but besides from that there doesn’t seem to be many long-lasting affects from the events in the book. It’s like nothing will get better or get worse in this world, and that River and all the other women are in limbo. 4/5.