2 stars

READ THE WORLD – China: The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung

Old Chen lives in Beijing, where a whole month has gone missing from official records, no one has any memory of it and no one cares about it either. Except for Old Chen and his friends – they realise something’s wrong with the Chinese people’s cheerfulness and amnesia. When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they discover could shake them to the core.

The Fat Years is set in the near future so while things are different, for instance there was not just the financial crisis of 2008 a second one in 2011, a lot of Chinese history is mentioned. This is interesting and on the most part the social and political history is well-explained and is a great insight into what life is like in (almost) contemporary China. However, as the book progresses it becomes more dense and I struggled to get through the 100 page epilogue. There was a lot of talk about world economics and politics and while most of the book had been relatively quick to read, that epilogue was a slog.

The Fat Years is an interesting take on a near-future dystopia as so much of it appears to be heavily influenced by what we know of China today. There’s the heavy control of the media and the internet, and if someone disagrees with the government there’s strict punishments. It’s the sort of situation that’s scary and unsettling because it’s so realistic. I did like how The Fat Years talks about controlling governments and how the people tend to just accept what is happening, the sociological angle of how a month could go missing from people’s memories was very interesting.

I enjoyed the concept and it was well thought out and interesting however the characters were a bit of a mixed bad. I didn’t find the main protagonist Old Chen particularly compelling but I did like Little Xi, an internet political activist, and the mentions of her relationship with her son who is an ambitious party member.

If you have an interest in or a good understanding of Chinese political and social history then The Fat Years might be for you. Unfortunately, it became a bit too dense and complicated for me towards the end. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Zimbabwe: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

Memory is an albino woman, serving time in prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. When she was nine she was adopted by Lloyd Hendricks, a wealthy white man. It is his murder she is now convicted of and is facing the death penalty. As she waits for her death she tells the story of the events that brought her here – but is everything as she remembers it?

The Book of Memory is an interesting story but one that I sometimes found hard to get through. It wasn’t till I got to the half way point that I began to like the book more and start reading it more quickly. I think that’s because The Book of Memory is split into three parts, Memory’s childhood with her family, her growing up with Lloyd and her time in prison. Though while the book is labelled like that, she does meander with her storytelling meaning it jumps from the present to various points in the past. I personally found the parts more focussed on her adolescence with Lloyd more compelling than her childhood – though I did like how the story brings those two halves of her together.

Memory’s name is apt as so much of her story is recounted from her memory and she doesn’t have anyone to collaborate what she remembers. It’s an interesting to see how something you see and remember when you were a child changes dramatically when you get more information.

Memory is a likeable character, as are many of her fellow inmates, though naturally the prison guards are the main antagonists Memory’s present situation. That being said, there is one guard whose behaviour towards Memory is so nice and almost kind that it makes both the reader and Memory uncomfortable.

I did like the smattering of Shona language used in the book, as well as how it didn’t give you a crash course in Zimbabwean history. Memory often would go between calling her home country Zimbabwe and Rhodesia, and talk about warring political parties and how white people were seen.

For me, there’s not much memorable about The Book of Memory. While I liked Memory well enough, the other characters weren’t particularly notable and there wasn’t many stand out moments in the story. 2/5.

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is coerced by old flame Angelica (Penélope Cruz) and her father Blackbeard (Ian McShane) into a quest to find the fountain of youth. They aren’t the only ones after it though with the Spanish and the British, led by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), searching for it too.

While On Stranger Tides continues the trend in this franchise of having great costumes, music and set design, it unfortunately doesn’t have the fun or emotional-heft of the previous films. This may be in part as it’s the first film not to feature Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom), two central characters in the previous three films, and instead you have a new villain, new crew-mates, and a new love interest for Jack.

Blackbeard is a decent villain. He’s menacing and has a very clever ship, though this is probably down to Ian McShane’s performance more than the script. Blackbeard is set up to be a fearsome pirate but after you initially meet him, he’s not that fearsome. He’s by no means a nice guy and is incredibly selfish but he’s not terribly threatening after the initial reveal.

There’s a side romance with missionary Phillip (Sam Claflin) and mermaid Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) that could have easily been done without. In many ways, they are both plot devices, Phillip especially, and there’s not enough insight into their character for the audience to become attached to them in anyway.

On Stranger Tides is just a bit bland. It’s moves from one event to another and because there’s no real character development nor many interesting characters full stop, the times these characters are put in danger you don’t really care. Jack Sparrow, while still a bit mad and full of plans that unbelievably work, isn’t enough to make this film enjoyable. 2/5.

MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Poe Dameron Vol. 1, Monstress Vol. 1 and A-Force Vol. 0

I couldn’t figure out what book I wanted to read recently (the great thing about the Read the World Project is I’ve got a lot of interesting options but it does sometimes feel like homework) so I went back to my comic shelves and read a few of my unread volumes. I have stuff to say about them but not a lot so here’s some mini reviews.

Poe Dameron Volume 1: Black Squadron by Charles Soule and Phil Noto

I really loved this comic! Poe Dameron stole my heart in The Force Awakens so when I heard he was going to have his own comic series I knew I had to read it. Black Squadron is a prequel to The Force Awakens and Poe, along with his friends in his squadron, are tasked by Leia Organa to find Lor San Tekka (the old guy Poe’s talking to at the start of The Force Awakens – boy I’ve said The Force Awakens a lot in this paragraph!).

So, the comic is all about the mission but also the downtime and you get to see Poe interact with his team which is great. It’s a funny comic, Poe’s charm shines right off the pages and it’s a nice way to learn more about the character. Plus, his relationship with BB-8 is brilliant, there’s a scene where the whole plan depends on BB-8 and some other droids and Poe has complete faith in them.

I also love the art style in Black Squadron. Phil Noto draws some gorgeous stuff (his Black Widow run is also fab) and I love the colours. It is a bit funny seeing Oscar Isaac’s face in a comic, but I soon got used to it. This is such a fun comic with good adversaries for Poe and his team and they kind of go on a heist at one which was wonderful (heists are my favourite thing ever) and I can’t wait till Volume 2 is released. 5/5.

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READ THE WORLD – SOUTH AFRICA: Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Katya Grubbs, like her father, deals with the unwanted and unappreciated. In contrast to her father’s methods, she is in the business of pest relocation, not pest extermination. Katya’s business comes to the attention of a property developer whose luxury estate on the edge of Cape Town has been standing empty due to an infestation of mysterious insects. As Katya investigates the chaotic urban wilderness of Nineveh she must confront some unwelcome intrusions from her own past.

I found Nineveh pretty hard to get into and at times quite a slow read. It was a very put-downable book, once I was reading I could get through 40 or 50 pages easily but I never felt like I just had to get back to it after I put it down for whatever reason. I think that was maybe down to the writing style, it was quite floaty and dreamlike in some places – especially when something would remind Katya of something from her past.

Katya’s relationship with her father is interesting yet unsettling as he is almost unintentionally abusive towards her and her sister. What happened to them when they were young is abuse but Katya is so blasé about it that it’s very uncomfortable to read sometimes. When you start seeing the similarities between Katya and her father you start to think she will never be happy or “normal” because of such an unusual childhood. They are interesting characters to see bounce off one another but I didn’t like either of them.

That’s the thing with Nineveh, I didn’t like any of the characters. That might be in part due to the fact the book is from Katya’s point of view and she naturally keeps people at arm’s length, even her family, but I didn’t really like Katya much either.

When Katya is in the Nineveh complex, it is an eerie and unsettling place. That came across really well as you were just waiting to discover what sort of infestation the place had and how would Katya deal with it. The problem was there never felt like there was any payoff to what was happening and Katya was just a spectator in her own narrative.

Nineveh just wasn’t for me. Not a lot really happened and I just didn’t like the characters or the writing style. Nineveh as a place was interesting and when the book was set there I enjoyed it more but otherwise it was a pretty dull read for me. 2/5.

REVIEW: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

tiger lilly coverIn the forbidden woods of Neverland, fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily falls under Peter Pan’s spell. Peter’s unlike anyone she’s ever met and soon she will risk everything – her family, her friends, her future – to be with him. With enemies threatening to tear them a part and Tiger Lily’s responsibilities to her family, Tiger Lily discovers that the most dangerous enemies can live inside a loyal and loving heart.

Tiger Lily is told from Tinker Bell’s point of view which is interesting as while you can often see what the characters are thinking and feeling, because reading people’s thoughts is something faeries can do, there’s still this distance between the reader and the characters so you don’t always feel that connected to the characters.

The world of Neverland and how people don’t really age is interesting and it’s a blend of kind of historical America and fantasy world. There’s people who definitely appear to be white colonialists, who come to Tiger Lily’s home and teach them all about God and try to change what the people do and believe.

The elements from the traditional Peter Pan story are all still there, though they each have their own interpretation. There’s still the Pirates led by Hook, though he’s a very different man, and the mermaids who are pretty scary. Wendy Darling makes an appearance too and in Tiger Lily you can really see why Tinker Bell doesn’t like her that much and you can see it’s not just petty jealousy over Peter.

Tiger Lily is an interesting retelling of Peter Pan focusing on an often forgotten character. It can be a slow read as you don’t feel that connected to the characters and because of how the book is written. Plus as it is a character driven book so not a lot actually happens till towards the end of the book but as you have this distance from the characters it can be a hard story to get into. 2/5.

REVIEW: Jason Bourne (2016)

jason bourne movie posterWhen Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) comes to him with more information on his past and on what the CIA has been doing over the past few years, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) comes out of the shadows to uncover hidden truths about himself, his past and the agency he once worked for.

The action sequences in Jason Bourne are shot really well. There’s the typical shaky-cam you come to expect from the Bourne franchise but you can still follow what’s happening and the opening motorbike chase is thrilling and exciting. However, when it comes to the story that’s what drags Jason Bourne down.

Unfortunately, the general plot is nothing we haven’t already seen before. CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) are the main duo who are trying to take down Bourne in one way or another, and there’s also the Asset (Vincent Cassel) who is the one out in the field chasing down Bourne. While all three give good performances, there’s nothing that stands out about what they are doing. We’ve seen the CIA trying to kill Bourne many times before, just like we’ve seen him looking into his past before. How many times can you have him not remember something about himself until someone gives him a clue and then he goes and punches and shoots people until he gets the truth?

Jason Bourne is a fast-paced film and the action never really stops. The final sequence in Las Vegas is extravagant but unlike previous car chases in the Bourne films, it feels more like an over the top Fast and Furious sequence rather than a more grounded one suited to the world of Bourne.

In my mind, The Bourne Ultimatum ended perfectly and, while the action sequences are still good, Jason Bourne adds nothing new to the character or to the franchise. 2/5.