READ THE WORLD – Equatorial Guinea: La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

Translated by Lawrence Schimel. Trigger warnings for sexual assault.

Orphaned teenager Okomo lives under the watchful eyes of her grandparents and dreams about finding her father. All she knows is that he’s a “scoundrel” and she’s forbidden to seek him out. She enlists the help of other outcasts; her gay uncle Marcelo and a gang of “indecent” girls. With them she finds comfort, falls in love and rebels against the rigid norms of Fang culture.

La Bastarda is a very short book, it’s only 88 pages so it’s very easy to read it in one sitting, and it’s the first book from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English which is pretty cool.

La Bastarda is a coming of age story about a girl who is trying to understand the various traditions her people have and what that means for her and her desire to know her father. Okomo is quite a naïve seventeen-year-old which is probably due to the sheltered life she’s led, she’s unsure about so many relationships in her life and is often clueless about the different rules her culture has.

I liked the relationship that forms between Okomo and Dina. It’s interesting as Okomo’s uncle Marcelo is known as a man-woman because he sleeps with men and refuses to “do his duty” and get his infertile brothers’ wife pregnant to make sure the family has a son; however their community doesn’t have a word for lesbian so it’s as if Okomo, Dina and the rest of the girls don’t exist.

I enjoyed La Bastarda. It’s a quick, easy read about a culture that’s complete different to my own. It’s an episodic story and while Okomo is quite a young seventeen-year-old, I did want her to find her own place, whether that was in her society or not, with people who care about her.

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REVIEW: The Predator (2018)

When a lethal alien creature crash lands on Earth, a ragtag group of soldiers must fight to survive.

The Predator starts off well with the opening sequence of sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) encountering the predator for the first time. It’s an exciting scene that shows how deadly the Predator is and what humans are up against. McKenna takes some of the creatures’ tech and mails it to his home as he thinks no one will believe him. There his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) opens the box and starts playing with it, putting himself and everyone around him in danger.

The actual plot leaves much to be desired with the films own established logic frequently being ignored. For instance, bullets are seen to have little to no effect on the Predator, but these characters still keep shooting it. It also tried to fit in a lot of scientific reasoning as to why the Predator had come to Earth, connecting it to some of the previous films while doing so, but it didn’t really work nor was it needed.

For an action/horror film, there’s a lot of jokes in this film, and barely any of them land. Every single character’s defining trait is “they’re funny” which not only makes it hard for any of these characters to stand out, but when the film tries to have a serious moment between characters it doesn’t work. There’s one moment where something happens that I expect was supposed to be sad and poignant, but people laughed. Sterling K. Brown plays the government bad guy and he’s supposed to be intimidating and scary but because he’s cracking jokes in every scene he’s in, he just doesn’t feel threatening.

The action is generally well shot and exciting and there is a lot of blood and gore as the Predator violently kills just about anyone it encounters. However, the editing was a little odd and inconsistent at times. People and cars move between shots and are suddenly in different places making some sequences hard to follow.

The Predator is an easily forgettable film. Even while writing this review, I was struggling to remember anything that really stood out, both positive and negative. It’s mostly fun, though Tremblay’s character having autism and it being used to further the plot in a stereotypical way is problematic, but it also has nothing to make it memorable in terms of the genre or of the franchise it’s a part of. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Set in France during the 1620s, young d’Artagnan looks to join the King’s Musketeers where he meets Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Soon the four of them become firm friends and they have adventures across the country as there’s many plots afoot.

Every August Rincey from Rincey Reads on YouTube hosts a month long readalong of a large and maybe intimidating classic. This year it was The Three Musketeers, a book that’s been on my shelves for at least ten years, so this readalong gave me the push to finally read it.

I’ve seen a lot of different adaptations of The Three Musketeers, I saw some of the episodes of the relatively recent BBC series and I’ve seen a whole host of the various films that have been made over the decades. So, going into The Three Musketeers, I could remember bits about the characters, their relationships, and the story but it was really interesting to learn more about them and get the whole story.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Tristam Summers and it was a great audiobook that sucked me in and I’d definitely recommend it as it made the story fly by and wasn’t as intimidating as the physical book might’ve been.

The main plot of The Three Musketeers takes a while to reveal itself, instead focussing on introducing all the characters and their loyalties. I was surprised how much of the focus of the story was on d’Artagnan, especially the first third. He was definitely the main character rather than the titular three musketeers themselves. Athos is the musketeer with the most backstory, I personally found Aramis kind of snarky and frequently hilarious (he’s my favourite musketeer) but he and especially Porthos were left in the background for the majority of the book.

Once everyone’s been introduced the story moves along at great speed. There’s political intrigue with some people supporting the King, or more specifically the Queen, while others stand by the Cardinal who has he’s own goals. He’s a shady character who seems to have eyes and ears everywhere so when d’Artagnan and the musketeers have a mission, they have to very careful as to who they trust.

The female characters aren’t treated particularly well which is a shame and is potentially a sign of the time it was written. Milady de Winter is a fantastic character though and I would read a spinoff or a prequel about her. She’s a spy and an assassin who uses men’s idea of her, that she can be nothing more than a weak, delicate woman, in order to complete her mission and in some cases get away with murder. She’s brilliant and her interactions with both d’Artagnan and Athos were always interesting.

I loved The Three Musketeers. It is a proper action-adventure with some political intrigue and romance sprinkled through it as well. The characters, especially d’Artagnan, ends up in a completely different place compared to where they started, and I could never have predicted where the story goes even though I’ve seen various film adaptations. The Three Musketeers is just a lot of fun. 5/5.

REVIEW and GIVEAWAY: One Would Think The Deep by Claire Zorn

I was contacted by Ransom Publishing to see if I’d like a copy of One Would Think The Deep to review, and they were nice enough to send me a second copy to giveaway! More on the giveaway below and on my Twitter, and just so you know, my thoughts on the book are my honest opinion.

Sam has always had too much going on in his head, and now his mum is dead and it’s worse than ever. With nothing but his skateboard, his discman and some clothes in a garbage bag, Sam goes to live with the only family he has left; Aunty Lorraine and his cousins Shane and Minty. But his mum cut ties with them seven years ago and he doesn’t know why. Sam faces suspicion and hostility in his new home, but he starts following Minty around like he did as a child. Soon he’s surfing with Minty, finding it to be the one thing that cuts through the static in his head. But the secrets of the past refuse to stay hidden. What happened seven years ago that caused such a rift? Why won’t anyone tell him who his father is? And if things weren’t complicated enough, there’s also this girl…

Set in 1997, One Would Think The Deep is like a love letter to Australian surfer culture. Surfing is Minty’s life and it could be a way for him to leave his small hometown and make a name for himself. The way the beach, the ocean and Sam’s experience learning to surf is described, paints such a vivid in my mind it was almost like I could hear the waves. The setting and counterculture described in One Would Think The Deep reminded me of the films Point Break (1991) and Lords of Dogtown (2005) so if you like either of those films, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

I really liked Claire Zorn’s writing style. It’s beautiful as you were inside Sam’s head, but like him, there is also a distance there between what he experiences and what he feels. It’s almost a gentle, contemplative story so when there are outbursts of emotion they are even more affecting.

Sam is such an interesting character. He has a lot of grief and anger that he’s dealing with, or not dealing with as the case may be, and while his mother’s sudden death is a big part of that, as the story unfolds you see that he was angry before that too. The way his mind works, how there’s almost too much going on in there and his memories are like photographs he files away so he doesn’t have to think about them.

The secrets the adults in Sam’s life keep from him bubble away under the surface and while he meets new people and potentially finds love, those secrets and his own confused mind drag him down. It’s like if he doesn’t know his past, or come to terms with his past actions, then how can he figure out what his future should be?

Sam, his Aunt Lorraine and the rest of the main characters feel like very real, flawed people. While their stories develop over the course of the book, it feels like you only spent some time with them and they’re going to continue living beyond the pages of the book.

One Would Think The Deep is a slow burn story, about a young man figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. It has beautiful writing, and a gorgeous setting. The only negative, and it’s a small one, is that it took me a while to get into the rhythm of the story and the writing, but once I had loved seeing what might become of Sam. I feel like it’s a book that will play on my mind for a while. 4/5.

Like the sound of One Would Think The Deep and fancy your own copy? Make sure you follow me on Twitter and retweet this tweet and you could be in with a chance to win a copy – this giveaway is open internationally too!

REVIEW: 5 to 7 (2014)

Twenty-four-year-old aspiring writer Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin) embarks on a relationship with thirty-three-year-old Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe), the only catch is she is married with two young children and they can only meet between the hours of 5 to 7 each evening.

5 to 7 is a sweet romantic film that is elevated by the performances and chemistry between the leads. Brian could easily be an annoying would-be writer, putting off going to law school in order to “follow his dream”, but Yelchin has this effortless charm that makes Brian an idealistic romantic. Arielle is the more complex and interesting of the two of them, she’s up front with what she wants and the rules of their relationship. Seeing Brian and Arielle’s relationship grow is surprisingly beautiful.

Glenn Close and Frank Langella are Brain’s parents and while they aren’t in the film much, when they do make an appearance, they are hilarious, Langella especially. Their reactions to Brian and Arielle’s relationship is very realistic as they care about their son and don’t want him to get hurt, but can also see that he’s happy.

The directing, cinematography and music is all top notch and the film shows New York City at its most picturesque.

5 to 7 is unexpectedly lovely. The way the story unfolds as these two people fall more and more in love is both touching and wistful. 5 to 7 is an intriguing take on love, and how there can be so many different types of it and you can encounter it when you least expect it. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Belgium: Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke

Translated by Liz Waters.

Alphonse is a friendly and observant former musician, who has left Brussels with his girlfriend Cat to live closer to her parents in the rural district of Westhoek. It’s a place that has open fields and more World War I graves than almost anywhere else in Europe. Alphonse starts a new life as a painter and decorator, and he becomes entwined in so many peoples lives. But when he, Cat and one of his clients help a group of Afghans and Syrians at a makeshift refugee camp, he learns that not all of the locals appreciate what they’re doing.

Somewhat surprisingly the first chapter in Thirty Days is chapter 30, and each chapter number decreases. While it’s a slow book to get going, this adds to the fact that the story appears to be building to something – and it certainly does build to something unexpected. Plus, like the title suggests, it each chapter is a day, something I didn’t register to begin with.

I really liked Alphonse, but I could see why his partner Cat would get frustrated with him. He’s a painter and decorator so he goes to various people’s homes to do a job but there’s something about him that causes his clients to offload a lot of their thoughts or secrets on him. He becomes involved in so many people’s lives and Cat doesn’t always like that as it takes his time and thoughts away from her and their life together. He’s a guy that’s almost too nice for his own good but his niceness is never off-putting or eyeroll-inducing.

Alphonse is victim to a lot of racism ranging from micro aggressions, being asked where he’s really from after first saying Brussels, to full on hostility, such as when a client’s neighbour accuses him of trying to break into their house. As Thirty Days is from Alphonse’s point of view, it never stops and describes how he or Cat look like, so you get to know him without any preconceptions meaning when he does experience racism it’s more of a shock and an interesting way of presenting what he faces.

Surprisingly, Alphonse doesn’t encounter the refugee camp until the last third of the book. Instead, the clients he has and his relationships with them, and his girlfriend and their friends and family, is the main focus of a lot of this story.

Thirty Days is beautifully written and it’s a moving story. The themes of being a good person, helping others but still making sure you don’t give up all of yourself are all handled well. As is both the underlying and overt racism Alphonse experiences, in every day life, and when he tries to help refugees who are just looking for somewhere to call home. It deals with so many opposites, good and evil, beauty and ugliness but it never feels preachy. Thirty Days is a compelling story and I devoured the last few chapters as I just had to know where things were going for Alphonse. 5/5.

REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) have been dating for over a year, and when it’s Nick’s best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding in Singapore, it’s the perfect chance for Rachel to meet Nick’s family and friends – what she doesn’t expect is for them all to be super rich and famous!

Based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy that’s big, bright and full of over the top characters and settings, and somehow it all works.

Singapore with all its people, buildings and food looks stunning. The film captures the extravagance of these characters lives, showing all the glitz and glamour but still being able to shine light, however briefly, on the characters more hidden sides – one of Nick’s cousins Astrid (Gemma Chan) has a subplot with her dissatisfied husband (Pierre Png) that’s heart-breaking.

Rachel and Nick are a believable couple as their chemistry is fantastic and they actually talk about the problems they encounter – though both of them don’t always understand what the other could face because of their relationship. Rachel’s main adversary is Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s glamourous and reserved mother. She wants the best for her son and see’s Rachel as an outsider and a distraction, both because of Rachel’s status in class, and the fact she grew up in America. As Eleanor’s disapproval becomes more obvious, Rachel must decide whether to fight or give in to the almost insurmountable pressures she and Nick are under. While Eleanor is the villain to Rachel’s hero, the film never fully villainises her, instead being sure to show Eleanor’s side to things and making her sympathetic in her own way.

The whole cast is brilliant and while the romance is the main focus, the film showcases some brilliant relationships between women. There’s Rachel and her best friend from university Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who is hilarious and supportive, Astrid is one of the few members of her family to fully accept and like Rachel straight away, and Rachel and mother (Kheng Hua Tan) have one of the best mother-daughter relationships, and while her mother is from China, even she doesn’t quite get all the ins and outs of high Singapore society.

Crazy Rich Asians is a funny, romantic film with engaging characters you root for. Everything works, the opulence, the music and the cast. It’s a delightful film that’s pure escapism and there’s nothing wrong with that. 5/5.

You can read my review of the book here.