Saturday, 7 July 2018

Books and movies in 2018: June

Another not so productive month for movie going and film watching, but it's hard to want to go to the cinema when the weather is so fantastically amazing. I'm convinced that this is the only summer we'll get so if I don't spend every single second outside I'll regret it once it starts raining again. However I am beginning to look like an overcooked ham so I should probably dial it back a bit.

I also went to Secret Cinema in London to see Blade Runner and the set was awesome and the actors playing the key cast were fantastic (amazing Roy Batty). However, I was less impressed with the organisers who seemed to think that a quintessential feature of Blade Runner is actors playing the police verbally harassing women ticket holders and leaving the men alone. I get enough gendered interaction in my daily life, I don't need more when I'm trying to be entertained, especially when that isn't even a key feature of the movie or novel.

Movies: in the order I watched them

1.  Ocean's 8

I was so excited for this movie. I love the concept, and it's a great cast with some impressive outfits, BUT that's where the fun ends. What works about the George Clooney Ocean's movies is that you really like his Danny Ocean, and you get why his friends are drawn to him and his silly schemes, and the bad guys are money hungry dickheads who just aren't as fun as interesting as Danny. Sandra Bullock's Debby Ocean (and seriously is Debby the only D sounding name they could come up with for a master criminal, what about Diana?) is perpetually grumpy and insistent that her plan is totally the best plan and everyone needs to do it her way without ever stating actual facts. The actual heist is ludicrous an completely unrealistic whilst claiming to be totally plausible (relies on so much coincidence), and none of the actresses get any real time for character motivation or development. We get a two min scene with each one where Debby explains that she needs them and her plan is brilliant and even though all of these women are way more successful than Debby they just go 'oh okay' and risk prison with no explanation. Then, in order to make the heist actually work some new characters are introduced in the final act. It's BULLSHIT and it still doesn't work. Anne Hathaway turns in a cracking performance, and Awkawfina is also good but everyone else seems to phone it in which was super disappointing.

I am 100% the target audience for this type of film and I really, really want there to be more of them, but Ocean's 8 just didn't work for me because the story just wasn't thrilling enough. Also, for a movie about female empowerment it was disheartening to see how airbrushed/face blurred the lead actresses were. 

So rather than watch this I would suggest you just watch the Widows trailer on repeat because that looks fucking a-mah-zing, though I was like 'Wut? Viola Davis and Liam Neeson as a couple?' Cannot wrap my brain around that but it won't matter anyway and just every frame of the trailer looks perfect. I'm a massive Gillian Flynn fangirl and I'm hopeful that this is another slice of her awesomeness, and yes I do know that Widows was originally a novel by Lynda La Plante. I know my shit. 

2. Jurassic World:Fallen Kingdom

I didn't like the first Jurassic World movie and I suspected this one would also suck, and yes, it really sucks. It's three implausible movies rolled into one, including dinosaurs who keep changing sizes (the continuity on this movie was shocking) and a truly bizarre twist ending which is played as compassionate but is just weird. Also plot threads that are totally unexplained while others are so laboured you roll your eyes with boredom. When will studios realise that Chris Pratt cannot play a charming hero? Stop trying to make him one. Daniela Pineda is good as a hipster dino-doctor, Rafe Spall is playing his usual arsehole with aplomb and Toby Jones is great in his tiny, ridiculous role, but none of it is worth actually watching this boring mess of a movie.

For the first time ever I don't think I can do a best liked/most likely to rewatch for June because I didn't like either of this movies and can't imagine ever watching them again.

Books: in the order I read them

1. Zenith by Sasha Alsberg
3 stars. I didn’t love this but it was decently written with an interesting plot so I don’t understand why this has such low reviews on Goodreads. I loved The Marauder and her crew were funny and interesting and the initial mission was interesting. Most crucially I didn’t love any of the characters, who all felt quite thin and really I thought they were too many people who were royalty in disguise. The romance between Andi and Dex felt pretty forced too. However, it was enjoyable enough and I’d probably read the next one, even though I don’t feel like I need to know what happens next.

2. 84K by Claire North
3 stars. A 4 star concept with a 2 star story. The novel has a really strong high concept, as Claire North’s books always do, and the first 100 pages sets up an intriguing mystery. However it quickly descends into one man’s formless quest for revenge helped out by a lot of coincidences. The problem I found with this novel is that Theo is the least interesting thing in it. If the story had been told from Dani, Lucy or even Simon’s perspective it would have felt like a more compelling journey. Also I feel the writing style detracts from the readability of the book as it jumps around in time and between characters with no warning. There’s some great small details, like the Rager's, but there's also a huge sense of wish fulfilment in the section between Theo and the Company which feels very unrealistic and ultimately goes nowhere. 

I enjoyed it more than The End of The Day and The Sudden Appearance Of Hope but not as much as Touch or Harry August. I wouldn’t read it again. 

3. The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
3 stars. It was interesting, particularly Regan and Topsy’s section, but it just felt so unfinished to me, alluding to bits of the story that it would never tell.

4. Space Unicorn Blues by TJ Berry
3 stars. It’s not my usual type of sci fi but the story grew on me. Initially I wasn’t really into half-unicorn Gary and the magical spacebeings (faeries, necromancers, sentient trees and unicorn Gods are all alien species) but the story settles down about a third of the way through and delivers plenty of action and interesting insights. It's more fantasy that sci fi in my opinion but the story is inclusive and has some carefully crafted insights into humanity and bigotry that are worth reading. Jenny Perata is actually a great character and Ricky Tang is also great and needs way more to do. They are the most interesting characters and I could’ve read way more about them. 

*I received a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Again I'm not really sure what the best book I read in June was as I thought they were all quite flawed and I probably wouldn't reread any of them but I thought 84K had some interesting concepts, even though they were ultimately under-realised. 

I'm currently reading Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias which is very prescient given current goings on in the US, and I've also got Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly, Everfair by Nisi Shawl, and Sick by Porochista Khakpour on my TBR pile. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Stop with the lady death, male screenwriters!

I get it. I really do. You're a dude and you've got a sweet job writing a TV show/movie/TV series and you're got this super funny, self-depreciating main character (who is you, in a perfect world, am i right?) and you need to send him on a journey, where he like, learns some stuff, while doing a thing. And you think, well, what's the worst thing that could happen to him on this journey? So, you do a bit of thinking and you consider, well my girlfriend/wife/mom/mum/mam is always complaining that I'm not thoughtful enough and she/they are so thoughtful (though sometimes a bit of a bitch about it, you know?). What if my thoughtlessness got them killed? OMG the guilt would really suck, and I'd actually have to do my own laundry/remember my friends and family members birthdays.

Boom. There you have it, suddenly your hero has an acute case of womandeath and the subsequent guilt that goes with it. You want to get right into your story, so you don't have enough time to give this woman a personality, you figure you can show what she means to your main character in soft, focus sepia tinted flashbacks, and so very pleased with yourself, you start writing.

Well, I just want you to know, that your idea sucks.

Imagine, just for a moment, that you are a woman, who enjoys watching entertainment, particularly those with a science fiction, action, superhero, or thriller style. Do you know how rare it is to get through a movie/TV show without the female partner of a male character, or one of the female characters being brutally murdered to give the man a so called valid reason to express emotions? It is so rare. Also, in the few female led movies/TV shows we don't have woman death, but we almost always have the woman haunted by her past where she was brutalised by a man/men, which I will now call soulcrushing. While you can get movies that have well-told themes of woman death or soul crushing, it's just an incredible narrowing of the female experience. A movie/TV show without woman death or soul crushing is as rare as a unicorn, and I am so bored of having to sit through that shit when I want to watch a fucking adventure story.

I am bored of movies that give their male characters agency by murdering their wives and children (often female children) to give the protagonist something to do. I'm not against violent movies, in fact I'm pretty into non-horror violent movies, but I immediately roll my eyes as soon as we get a (usually off-screen) lady death to give our hero some pathos in between indiscriminately battering people. Women are people too, with jobs and friends and ambitions and stories of their own! They shouldn't just be used in movies as an 'acceptable' way for your male hero to feel sad and angry.

I will be using movies that are in the cinema right now as examples to my forthcoming rants, so be warned.


Why am I talking about this now? Mainly because I saw Deadpool 2 and Solo within two days of each other and was just baffled at why the writers thought that, for each film, multiple woman death of characters who'd had no arc of their own was a good plan.

Movies I saw in the cinema in May - 2 (Solo and Deadpool 2)
There are three instances of womandeath in Deadpool 2. This was an incredible amount of woman death for a film with one main character and one antagonist, and it was so shoved in that I was actually convinced that they were going to reference in the film (the way they do with lots of other tropes), but they didn't. They just had Deadpool's girlfriend shot (getting bonus woman death points for the fact that they were going to be starting a family), preserved in a room in his head to give him advice throughout the movie, with a plot twist to ensure that actually, they could turn back time and have her not be dead. Cable's vengeful mission was also spurred on by a dead wife and daughter, because no superhero is allowed to beat people up for any other reason, are they? Boring. Zazie Beetz is great at Domino, and actually has a great arc where she gets to go back to the site of her abuse and liberate the other kids, but still, the insinuation was that she's been soul-crushed, so again, well done screenwriters for your inability to give a female character an agency that is unrelated to any previous history with a man.

Cable could have gone back in time to avenge the destruction of society, not his own family. Deadpool could have struggled with feelings of inadequacy and depression about bringing a child into a world that is so violent and messed up. I think both of those would have been far more interesting situations to watch.

In Solo, Beckett and Lando watch both their women die heroically, though both inexplicably. I'm 100% confident that you could have told at least as interesting a story without Thandie Newton pointlessly blowing herself up rather than attempting to escape and without L3 literally standing around waving her arms in the air until somebody shoots her. Why couldn't Thandie have left Woody Harrelson after the job goes wrong because she's decided she can do better and he's not so smart? Ditto, L3 literally realises her calling as a robots rights activist when the story decides to kill her off. Have her leave Lando and lead the robots to safety on another planet instead. Killing them both off was a fucking dumb move. Both of those female characters (and the great actresses who played them) could have gone on to play interesting roles within the expanded Star Wars universe if only the people writing them hadn't been so lazy.

Solo also decide to double down on its dubious treatment of women by having the only capable female character with any screen time turn out to be the evilest person in the movie. Extra 'fuck you' points earned for having a repeated array of men say that the woman 'has done evil things' even though every single fucking person in this movie is an actual murderer. *shakes angry fist to the sky* Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) chose power and the sense of certainty that comes with it, rather than so-called love with a guy that demonstrably failed to do anything for her. The movie could have used it as an opportunity to explore why her troubled background made her feel more comfortable with power and violence than with love, and shown it as a tragedy, rather than the unveiling of a villain. Similarly I was really underwhelmed by Han Solo's 'do the right thing' by giving some people some fuel when he was literally outnumbered on all sides. What else was he going to do, precisely?

These are two recent examples but there are just so many in science fiction, thrillers and action TV shows and movies. I recently started watching The Expanse and boom, in the first episode the lead character's girlfriend gets blown up just as she's about to tell him something important. We first see her naked, riding him, but she gets a little more story shown in flashbacks, but still, we only ever see her through his eyes.

It is just so boring.

I know that sometimes it's reversed, and the female lead has to navigate a world where her male partner or family has been brutally murdered off-screen, I'm thinking of Alias the TV show, Leon, Annihilation, The Brave One (though I haven't seen it) and that's not perfect either, but it does happen far less often than women dying to give the male characters a story. Even Spy, where Melissa McCarthy goes undercover to avenge the death of her (sort of work) partner Jude Law, we get a few scenes of Jude as a spy, and their relationship, so we understand why he means so much to her and why she's devastated that he's dead.

Ultimately, my plea isn't to never write women who die to give the male characters room for emotional expression and a green light for revenge, but to only do it when it's absolutely required for the story. Then there would be more room for both stories about male characters that show more diverse expressions of masculinity (rather than woman dead so man sad) and a chance to show more nuanced relationships between people.

One of the main things I loved about The Force Awakens was Rae's determination to get back to her home planet even though she knew deep down that there was nothing waiting for her there. Similarly, I loved that the Biologist in Annihilation wants to go to Area X to find out what happened to her husband even though she knows she'll probably die, her story is a pilgrimage, rather than revenge (in the book at least).

Personally, I know more men that would probably go on a revenge rampage to avenge the death of a dog than a female partner. My boyfriend started welling up just thinking that my house mate's dog wouldn't live forever and yet told me that if I died he would "have to fuck a lot of people to feel better." Tell me which of those scenarios is a more interesting story?

To suggest that there's only one type of great loss, which in movies/TV is almost always the loss of a heterosexual partner, and only one flavour of grief (anger and/or despair) is beyond wrong. The stories we tell need to much better reflect the reality that love, life and grief looks different for everyone. In fairness, I read loads of science fiction novels that do tell a far wider array of human stories, but those stories mostly don't seem to have been optioned and made into TV and movies. I hope that will change soon. Until then, male screenwriters, you all need to get an actual woman to beta read your pitches.

Books and movies in 2018: May

This was not my most productive month for reading and cinema going. In my defence, I did go to Center Parcs, write 24,000 words of my novel, beta read another friend's novel (then cry inside because it's so good and it's a psychological thriller which means someone will actually want to publish it, whereas my novel about feminists battling in a dystopia). I also watched a bunch of Van Damme movies - Bloodsport, Cyborg, Universal Solider, Hard Target and Timecop - I would say that Timecop is actually a solid sci-fi film. I had no idea. Cyborg and Hard Target are absolutely nonsensical, but fun anyway. So all in all, it was time well spent.

Movies: in the order I watched them

1.  Deadpool 2
Full disclosure, I always thought Ryan Reynolds seemed like an unfunny jerk so I am about the last person on Earth the Deadpool franchise was for. I thought the first one was okay, if a bit boring, but I really liked Morena Baccarin, as she is so awesome and needs to be in more stuff. Everyone said that the second one was less funny so I thought maybe I would like it more. Reader, I did not like it more. Everything Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz and that kid from Hunt for the Wilderpeople does is brilliant, but the worst thing about the movie is Deadpool and his boring case of Womandeath (I will talk more about this in a separate post) that is so unaware in a movie that is otherwise so painfully aware of itself.

2. Solo
I liked Solo a lot. It does have some issues with the story and most crucially female characters, but at it's heart its a well shot, coherently told adventure story. Donald Glover is amazing as Lando, and his scenes are the most memorable, but Alden Ehrenreich is also great with a solid, low key performance about of an arrogant Han Solo. Does Ehrenreich have Harrison Ford's swagger and confidence? No, but then again, who does? There's a reason why Harrison Ford is the most memorable person in a bunch of fun, memorable movies, because he was (in his heydey) brain meltingly charismatic and I cannot think of a single actor working today who has the charisma and the range Ford does (Channing Tatum and the Rock have the charisma, but not the range, Ehrenreich has the range, but not the charisma). Is it a story that needed to be told? Again, no, but there are loads of interesting set pieces and things that I hadn't seen before. Particularly the innovative way they showed the Kessel Run gave me an explanative for a thing I didn't need to know, but in a way that was satisfying and didn't retroactively ruin anything about the original stories (unlike the prequels, Rogue One or even the new trilogy). Solo isn't my favourite Star Wars movie, but i'd place it as my 5th favourite out of the 10, which isn't bad at all. 

For those who want my list of the best Star Wars movies in the order I like them: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of The Jedi, A New Hope, The Force Awakens, Solo, The Last Jedi, Attack of the Clones, Rogue One, The Phantom Menace, Revenge of the Sith. 

The best movie I watched in April and the movie i’m most likely to re-watch is Solo. 

Books: in the order I read them

1. The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
3 stars. There’s a lot to like here: female scientist time travellers, backstabbing and a murder mystery. Margaret, Grace, Lucille and Barbara are really interesting characters but the present day characters far less interesting. Overall I felt there were too many characters and for me too much exposition as opposed to action. I didn't feel at all compelled to find out how the book finished. 

* i received a sampler of 40% of the novel through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

2. Provenance by Ann Leckie
2 stars. I was really, really excited for this book but I just couldn’t get on with it. The MC seemed really childlike for 25yr old and I found the story confusing and dull. It’s a shame because I love the Ancillary series, but this is very different to those books.

3. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
4.5 stars. I loved this. The premise is unique, the world is almost one we know, which makes it easy to identify with the characters even though their dilemma is futuristic. It had just the right balance between science and plot, story and action, and I loved the way we got clues through each character’s lived experiences. I didn’t love the ending quite as much as the rest of the novel but I’ll still be recommending it to everyone. 

The best book I read in May was Six Wakes. 

I'm currently reading Zenith by Sasha Alsberg, which I'm enjoying (it got really ratings on Goodreads which I don't quite understand), and after that I'll probably read the new Claire North, 84K. I've also got books by Alex Wells and Brooke Bolander in my TBR, and just got a Netgalley copy of Space Unicorn Blues, which sounds interestingly nuts. 

Monday, 30 April 2018

Books and Movies in 2018: April

Hey, hey, hey. I managed to catch up on the reading and movie watching in April, in part because the weather was so terrible. Why has it suddenly become November again? I am not cool with it. 2018 has been endlessly downbeat so far, and the weather makes it seem even more dystopian.

However,  there has been a lot of great books published, which is pretty much the only silver lining. I'm still hoping to get a Hugo Voter Packet with some reading material in it at some point, but I haven't received anything yet.

Movies: in the order I watched them

1.  Ready Player One
Actually not as bad as I was expecting but I just wasn't into it. All of the video games references went over my head and I just didn't think most of the characters, bar Lena Waithe, were that likable. 

2. A Quiet Place
I usually hate horror movies but I loved this. The set up and characters are interesting and engaging, and you get a sense very early on of how deadly the 'monster' is. It's hand in mouth scary sometimes, and you genuinely want everyone to make it out okay (even that really annoying kid), but you know not everyone will make it. Not quite as amazing as Get Out, but still really good.

3. The Hurricane Heist
I was so down for this Fast & Furious/Hard Rain mash-up, and was really disappointed when it didn't get a UK release date. I was even more disappointed when I finally watched the movie itself. It should be great. Ryan Kwanten as always, gets it right (he really needs more roles) as his 'citizen of Alabama' hard drinking, gun toting mechanic. Toby Kebbell seems lost in a role where he's part bad ass, part lost little boy. Plot threads enter and disappear at random and sadly there's some serious continuity issues with the final set piece. 

4. Rampage
Rampage is classic The Rock. Not quite as good as San Andreas, but way better than Baywatch and more consistent than Jumanji (though when Jumanji gets it right, it's hilarious). The plot in Rampage doesn't make sense for a single second, but you don't care because it's silly and fun. Also, whoever Jeffrey Dean Morgan is channelling for his performance as a CIA agent (I think it's vintage McConaughey),I very much approve.

5. You Were Never Really Here
I'm not a huge fan of Joaquin Phoenix, but he's spot on as this near mute assassin with a very troubled past and a personal interest in battering paedophiles. Three quarters of this movie is super creepy and very tense, but the final 15 minutes just didn't work for me at all. 

6. Avengers: Infinity War
I couldn't have been less excited about this movie. It was 150 minutes long and I felt every minute. Thor had an interesting little side mission which gave Hemsworth a chance to showcase how funny and charming he is but the rest of the principle cast was just lost amidst a sea of pedestrian CGI. As usual, there are a handful of women in the movie who enter and exit scenes simply to make men feel things, and there's a 15 second lady fight between Black Widow, the Dora Milaj and the lady Thanos henchmen that felt very much like ticking a box. I'm just beyond bored of this 'non-human threat to civilisation' that has played out over ten years or so. Real life is far scarier than Thanos.

The best movie I watched in April and the movie i’m most likely to re-watch is A Quiet Place. 

Books: in the order I read them

1. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
3 stars. I really enjoyed each of the individual women’s stories but I found the structure distracted from the story. I also didn’t think that the biographical sections really added value. However I really did love how all the women’s stories came together and overlapped at the end. I particularly liked The Wife’s journey.

2. I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara 
4 stars. I hadn’t heard of the Golden State Killer before I bought this book. It’s a terrifying story, and the details of the incidents are creepy and really well laid out. The story in the first part of the book jumps around a lot before settling in parts two and three, but I guess that is just a consequence of the book being unfinished when the author died.

3. The Electricity of Every Living Thing: One Woman's Walk with Aspergers by Katherine May
3 stars. This is part memoir of a woman realising and coming to terms with the knowledge that she has autism, and part travelogue of walking the South West Coastal path. All of the anecdotes about Katherine’s early life through to becoming a mother and how she struggled to fit herself in to this loud and unpredictable world are in turns sad, engaging and uplifting. It is also very positive about the diagnosis and the future, which I loved. I did feel that the travelogue aspect of the book sometimes jarred with the other stories, although there are many links between the two. 

* I received a copy of the book via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review*

4. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
3 stars. It’s an interesting premise, and Dorrit’s sadness about being separated from her dog and her dilemma are sensitively handled. However, there a lot of threads that go nowhere and I found the ending confusing, rushed and very dissatisfying. 

*i received a copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

5. Free Chocolate by Amber Royer
3.5 stars. he world building is unique, the pace frenetic and the story fantastically inventive. Bo is a really engaging MC, funny and capable, whilst also continually learning who she is. Although, there is just so much going on in the story and Bo meets so many people that I got really confused towards the end about who was doing/had done what. However, I would definitely read more of this interesting world. 

*i received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

6. Failsafe by Anela Deen
4 stars. This was fun! A fast paced YA story with an interesting MC and a suitably brooding yet emotionally childlike love interest. It’s basically a mash up of The Matrix and Maze Runner but that’s not a criticism. I enjoyed it loads. 

*i received a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

7. The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
4 stars. I'm not usually into ghost stories, but I loved Priest's Brimstone, so I thought i'd give this one a shot. It's pacy, with an interesting contemporary setting and story, but with a classic ghost story vibe. My only beef was that I wanted more of it. 

The best book I read in April was I'll Be Gone In The Dark. 

I've got a pretty massive TBR pile these days, but recent additions that I hope to start getting through are Radiance by Catherynne Valente and Provenance by Ann Leckie. 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Books and Movies in 2018: March

Another crazy hectic month so I didn't manage to watch as many movies as I would like. Fingers crossed work will die down soon and I'll be able to relax again.

I've got some time off over Easter so I've been lining up some classic Easter related movies to watch. Last night was Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. Gonna try and sneak in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Big in as well.

Movies: in the order I watched them

1.  The Shape of Water
It's a really interesting story and the central performances are brilliant. Yet, as with all Guillermo Del Toro movies, the bad guy is literally the worst person in the world, and the fact the nobody else seems to realise that really did detract from my enjoyment of the movie. The Devil's Backbone is still my favourite Del Toro movie because the bad guy is a decent person who slowly descends into evil, not someone whose evil is turned up to 11 from the start.

2. Lady Bird
I liked Lady Bird, but I didn't love it. I'm a huge fan of Frances Ha and Mistress America, mainly because they show women trying to be creative whilst dealing with the limits of their talent and the obstacles life throws at them. Lady Bird is naturally the story that occurs before those two movies, but it just didn't resonate with me as much as say Mistress America does. 

3. I, Tonya
I loved everything about I, Tonya. The performances, the story and the soundtrack were all engaging and pitch perfect. Alison Janney thoroughly deserved her Oscar and I wish Margot Robbie had won one too. However, as someone who remembered the media furore at the time the movie was a very sympathetic portrait of Tonya Harding.

4. Annihilation
I know it didn't get a theatrical release but I'm still counting it because it should have done. I thought the movie had wonderful moments (both beautiful and creepy), but overall I was a bit confused that they made a movie without including any of the best bits from the book. I absolutely love both the novel's depiction of the Crawler and the reveal with the notebooks, neither of which made it into the movie. It was still really good though.

The best movie I watched in March and the movie i’m most likely to re-watch is I, Tonya. 

Books: in the order I read them

1. The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth
3 stars. A pacy, interesting thriller. I really enjoyed how the lives of the two MC entwined: one a survivor of an attack and another a deceased victim. I could have done with a bit more characterisation for Melody. She spends a lot of time suddenly realising things and then accidentally falling asleep. However it wins points for the twist ending that I did not anticipate (which almost never happens to me). 

2. The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
3 stars. It has an interesting, dream like quality to it and I want to know what happens, but the story lacked realism to me. The MC doesn’t really seem to make any attempts at survival but is carried in others wake which makes the story feel frustrating.

3. Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
3.5 stars. The technological ideas are engaging and interesting and the characters become much more interesting over the course of the book. However the plot is meandering and feels unfocused, and it feels like the story is about to say something really interesting about walkaway and the desire to lead, but it fudges it right at the end.

4. The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
2 stars. The plot is convoluted to the point of being nonsensical, and involves everyone being involved in a decades long conspiracy that they had no incentive to keep quiet about, that also doesn’t make any sense. Despite billing itself as ‘a novel of darkest London’ it could have taken place in any city, as the historical setting isn’t utilised at all. The characters are okay but don’t feel very real. The story doesn’t feel believable at all. Hugely disappointing.

5. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
4.5 stars. What a brilliant end to the series. Personally I think Gemina is the best book in terms of action and sheer unexpectedness, but Obsidio kept up the tension, provided plenty of surprises and still gave us an interesting new set of star-crossed lovers in peril. Snappy dialogue and innovative use of layout as always. Wasn't 100% sure about AIDEN's journey but it was still gripping. Recommend.

6. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado 
3 stars. The Husband Stitch and Inventory are two really engaging, beautifully written stories about the female experience. I just couldn't engage with the other stories as much. 

7. Suicide Club by Rachel Heng
The set up, the dystopian future setting and the first 100 pages are great. Lea's inciting incident pits her up against a shadowy bureaucracy and a strange group of dissidents, as she realises she can't trust anyone. The world is richly detailed and vividly realised but the story goes in a different direction and none of the original questions are resolved. As a result the ending felt unsatisfying. Also, Lea's shockingly violent outbursts are just brushed off in a way that seemed really odd. 

*I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

The best book I read in March was Obsidio. 

In April I will be reading Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, trying to force my way through more of the dirge fest that is the Altered Carbon tv series, and considering whether watching Ready Player One is going to make my head explode. 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Books and movies in 2018: February

Sorry, I was pretty late in getting this one posted. This month has been pretty busy so far.

Movies: in the order I watched them

1.  The Phantom Thread
This is a odd one. It's a really interesting film about a difficult genius who probably has Aspergers (though nobody says that) and how the women in his life deal with it. However, I felt that the decision to make Vicky Krieps character behave the way she did ultimately undermined what was otherwise a thought provoking look at co-dependency in relationships.

2. Black Panther
Is fun and enjoyable and interesting. I had a couple of small beefs: T'Challa seemed to be the least capable of the Wakandans. I felt he should have done more to earn his crown, and secondly, did Eric really have to die? Still, a nice change from the usually stale Marvel format, not an alien robot in sight. 

3. Den of Thieves
Wants to be Heat but fails at literally every turn. Gerard Butler's 'gangster cop' is an alcoholic arsehole who commits more crimes than anyone else in the movie and whose idea of police work is just driving round the streets, kidnapping people. Throughout the course of the movie Butler and his crew solve zero crimes. Even the attempt to humanise him has him being an arsehole to his wife, threatening her friends because she has the temerity to leave him after she caught him having sex with strippers, again. The heist crew are sympathetic enough, but the heist itself relies on two utterly preposterous nonsenses that had me laughing before I realised that the movie was trying to play it straight. It's a detective movie with no detecting, an action movie with no real action. Go re-watch Heat or The Town instead. 

The best movie I watched in February was The Phantom Thread and the movie i’m most likely to rewatch is Black Panther. 

Books: in the order I read them

1. The Lost Plot (Invisible Library no.4) by Genevieve Cogman
3 stars. I haven’t read any other of the Invisible Library series but I thought this was an enjoyable romp. Irene is a good character, though I think she’s a bit too capable and The Language is a too convenient plot device which means that no-one is ever in that much trouble. I really liked Kai and his dilemma, but I probably won’t read any more of this series.

2. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
3 stars. I love the different types of vampires and all the mythology around them, particularly the Revenant. Atl is a great MC and all the vampire characters have distinct personalities, but I felt the human characters were very two dimensional. The plot is also very pedestrian compared to the rich world building. I’d love to read more of Atl and the Revenants though.

3. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
3.5 stars. The three astronauts are really engaging and I enjoy each of the different journeys they go on over the course of the novel. The additional POVs, Luke, Madoka, Dimitri and Mireille don’t really add much and slow the pace of the story. An interesting novel about how place changes our perception of what it means to be human.

4. A Whore's Profession by David Mamet
3 stars. The Cabin and On Directing Film are the best collections as they both have interesting things to say about David Mamet‘s life and his ideas on storytelling. The passages with somewhat generic takes on American politics and women weren’t all that interesting to me.

The best book I read in February was the Wanderers.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

What's eligible: Hugo Awards 2018

I suddenly realised that there's only six days left to nominate for the 2018 Hugo Awards. Sure, it's kinda expensive to become a member, but it's something that I think is really important, so I made the decision to join two years ago. Being able to nominate your favourite books means, most importantly, that you aren't relying on someone else to nominate them for you, and it also reduces other people's ability to game the awards. If you are gonna vote, make sure it's done by 16th March.

I'm not going to use this post to say 'hey, vote for x', but to highlight what books I'm aware of that are eligible. I find it really difficult to remember what books came out when so I think it's really useful to recap. I particularly wanted to highlight some of the great books by very talented female authors.

As I mainly read novellas and novels the list below is focused only on those. If anyone has suggestions about where I can get great short science fiction stories (particularly by women) then please let me know.

Best novel
Now, there are loads in this category, but some of my favourites were:

  • The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley (like a space-age, body horror Dante's Inferno) 
  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
  • Brimstone by Cherie Priest (some debate about whether it's a horror or fantasy novel, but I nominated it anyway)
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
  • Provenance by Ann Leckie
  • The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
  • Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
  • The Space Between The Stars by Ann Corlett
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (again, I know people have debated this, but I think it counts as fantasy) 

Best Novella
  • All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells
  • Agents of Dreamland by Caitlyn Kiernan (loved this, so reminiscent of vintage X Files)
  • Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
  • The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
  • Bearly A Lady by Cassandra Khaw
  • Brothers Ruin by Emma Newman
  • Weaver's Lament by Emma Newman

Best Young Adult
  • Dreadnought by April Daniels
  • Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Ink by Alice Broadway

My reviews of most of these novels can be found in previous posts across 2017 and 2018. 

If you're looking for even more inspiration you can check out the links below. 

Kirkus: Verge: Mechanics: Post: Guardian: and Noble: reviewers' choice: reading list: Without Ends award worthy books: 

wonder wheel

wonder wheel