Sunday Salon | 17 November

Suddenly (or so it seems to me at least) we are in the middle of November and I am starting to think of all things Christmas. This includes the wishlists that the Book God and I exchange – a simple idea that’s worked very well for the 25 years we’ve lived together. We each agree a number of gifts (almost always books, but sometimes music or movies), then exchange lists containing at least three times that number of suggestions. That way, we always get something that we want but we don’t know exactly what that will be.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

This approach has two consequences (a) a book buying ban from, oh, around about now and (b) a Boxing Day online shopping spree for things we (OK, I) have asked for but didn’t get and now realise are absolutely must-haves.

But this hasn’t stopped the flow of new books coming into the Bride’s home in November. Let’s check them out, shall we?

The Pre-Orders

  • The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North – I love Claire and was lucky wnought to meet her at a reading on the publication of Touch which she kindly signed for me, and wher we all agreed that Roger Zelazny was a genius. Her newest novel is set in South Africa in the 1880s and involves a curse…..
  • Who Loses, Who Wins by Kenneth Rose – the second volume of his journals, this covers the period from 1979 and the election of That Woman, to Rose’s own death in 2014.
  • Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe – an author new to me, but any novel set in the 1920s using a photograph of Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl in one frame at a party in Berlin has me intrigued

The Impulse Buys

  • Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire – the collected short stories of the author who also writes as Mira Grant, these cover “airy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland
  • Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver – “When strangers take part in a series of group suicides, everything suggests that a cult is to blame. How do you stop a cult when nobody knows they are a member?
  • The Vagina Bible by Dr Jen Gunter – I follow Dr Gunter on Twitter and very much enjoy the way she debunks some of the myths around reproductive health pushed by celebrities (my hard stare is directed at you, Gwyneth Paltrow) and gives sound advice to women of all ages. She gets a lot of stick online and I wanted to buy her book not only to support her but to learn things. Even at my advanced age.
  • Don’t Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge – “1960s New York, and Emma Bowden seems to have it all – a glamorous Manhattan apartment, a loving husband, and a successful writing career. But while Emma and her husband Jonathan are on vacation at the Hamptons, a child drowns in the sea, and suspicion falls on Emma.

I’ve done very little reading this week but have been listening to podcasts instead, particularly Jensen & Holes: Murder Squad. Yes, it’s tru crime, however did you guess?

Also of note this week was my first chance to attend a technical rhearsal at Sadlers Wells. The Dorrance Dance Company was performing – they use tap in a very modern and at times astonishing way and I had a great time. They are very much worth looking out for.

So, that’s my week. Hope you guys are all doing well and will see you in my next post (spoiler – I will go on at length about Doctor Sleep!)

The Addams Family (2019)

The Addams Family is

an animated version of Charles Addams series of cartoons about a peculiar ghoulish family

Which doesn’t exactly tell you much and probably assumes a level of familiarity which is probably justified amongst all but the very youngest viewers.

I have been an Addams Family fan since I was quite young, largely because of exposure to the TV series which ran for only two seasons in the early sixties (when I was a toddler) but seemed to be constantly on TV as I was growing up. I always preferred it to The Munsters. As a teenager, I discovered the original cartoons and they fit comfortably into my world view alongside Edward Gorey.

So I was very keen to see the new film and, encouraged by the poster and trailer, we trooped along just before Halloween. If two people can troop, that is.

Can you feel a but coming?

It was fine, I suppose, with lots of lovely in-jokes for us old folks who remember the original but the kicker for me was that the story was weak. This was the same issue I had with the 90s films – the thing that makes the Addams Family for me is what they are, not what they do. Does that make sense?

And it was nothing we hadn’t seen before.

Oh, and it seemed longer than its stated running time.

Having said all of that I loved the character design and the voice cast was wonderful, especially Charlize Theron, but sadly this felt like a missed opportunity.

I still aspire to be a (shorter, fatter, older) version of Morticia, though 😀

Dazzling details: directed by Grey Tiernan & Conrad Vernon, TAF is 96m long and rated PG for mild comic threat and language.

Sunday Salon | 10 November

I seem to have spent a lot of time napping this week, which I’m going to continue to blame on the end of British Summertime even though that was a fortnight ago.

I am willing to die on that hill.

I’m still having problems progressing with fiction but my tried and tested anti-slump technique of reading non-fiction worked again, as I picked up and quickly finished A is for Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup, which is all about the poisons Agatha Christie used in her dtective stories. really intersting and has sent me down a rabbit hole, the results of which will become obvious soon-ish.

Despite having just published two long posts about the books I bought during my hiatus in October, more books have arrived on my e-reader this week:

  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – the long awaited follow-up to The Night Circus which I loved back in the day, this is getting much praise. I’m saving it until I know I’m going to be able to finish it
  • Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky – there are tiny puppety things and the main character is called Coppelia; I shall say no more
  • Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas – modern boarding school mystery with Russian twist
  • The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes – a novel based on the life of the French surgeon Samuel Pozzi, subject of one of my favourite John Singer Sargent portraits (though I’m not sure that there are any I don’t like)

Those were all pre-ordered. There was only on impulse buy this week The Spectral City by Leanna Renee Hieber, as recommended by the Book God himself. Oh, and I also got a free book from Amazon – true crime in the shape of If You Tell by Gregg Olsen which I must admit looks incredibly grim.

All links are to Goodreads btw.

In other stuff, I took myself to see Doctor Sleep, based partly on the Stephen King sequel to The Shining, and partly to the Kubrick movie of the same. If you have read/seen both then you will know that there are differences in plot, and if you have been visiting here for any length of time then you will know that I am not a major fan of the Kubrick movie, mostly because if the way it chooses to treat Wendy Torrance. But Doctor Sleep was excellent, and I’ll be writing about it more fully shortly.

In other “what I’ve been watching” news, I was absolutely (and surprisingly) gutted to realise that not only was last week’s episode of Instinct (starring the wonderful Alan Cumming) was the last in season 2, it was also the last one EVER. I was very cross about this as it was something of a guilty pleasure for me – at least it would have been if I believe there is such a thing. You should love what you love, people, and not make excuses for it.

And finally, our big outing this week was to the National Portrait Gellery to see the exhibition “Pre-Raphaelite Sisters” which was simply lovely and I learned a great deal. I may also have bought the catalogue….

It’s disappointing to hear that the NPG will be closing for efurbishment for around 3 years which seems rather extreme to me.

Hopefully some interesting things coming up this week. Hope you all have a great one!

October Round-Up | New Books | The Impulse Purchases

Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

All of the books I didn’t know I was going to buy but I succumbed for whatever reason. If I actually remember what those reasons were I will be sure to let you know below 🙂

The Horror…. almost entirely bought simply because it was October

The Non-Fiction

  • Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming – one of my favourite actors, I’m still devastated that Instinct has been cancelled, so obviously had to get this to keep me company until I see him on stage next year.
  • Pet Sounds by Quinn Cummings – my love for Quinn has been mentioned here more than once; sadly once I finish this I will have read all of her books and will only have her podcast left…
  • The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carre – spies and writing, two of the things I enjoy reading about, this looks totally absorbing.

The Rest

  • Out by Natsuo Kirino – my fascination with Japanese crime fiction continues
  • The Last Days by Laurent Seksik – a fictionalised version of the last months of the writer Stefan Zweig before he took his own life in 1942
  • You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlman – I think I saw this recommended by another blogger, but in any case it looks interesting (and may possibly have been added to the Horror list)
  • The Witch Who Came in from the Cold S1 – having mentioned reading the first chapter here I was clearly going to by the complete version, so I did
  • Defender by GX Todd – when the blurb mentions both Stephen King and Neil Gaiman then I have to give this author a try.

Have you read any of these?

October Round-Up | New Books | The Pre-Orders

This post will do what it says on the tin, listing the many pre-orders which landed on my Kindle app (unless otherwise stated) during October. All links are to Goodreads.

Photo by Paolo Chiabrando on Unsplash

Life Undercover by Amaryllis Fox – recruited by the CIA when she was only 21, this is her memoir of her life as an operative

The Pursuit by Joyce Carol Oates – a woman with a haunted past, a husband trying to get to the bottom of it all

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp – Kate Collins has been ghosted. She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty apartment. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared. Except for his mobile phone.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, this is apparently “A speculative thriller in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley – […] a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.

The Reddening by Adam Nevill – given the cover, if there is not at least one werewolf in this folk horror novel then I shall be severely disappointed.

Interference by Sue Burke – the second novel in the Semiosis Duology; I already have, but not yet read, the first one….

Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma – short fantasy, coming-of-age, all about the land.

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather – all about the Sisters of the Order of St Rita and their mission. In space. That’s right – Nuns in Space!

And a flurry of crime novels:

Let me know if there is anything in this list that captures your interest, or that you’ve already read.

October Round-up | Books read

I was reasonably pleased with my reading in October, especially as I had a couple of mini-reading slumps. The issue for me at the moment seems to be that I get about a quarter of the way into a book then no matter how much I am enjoying it I kind of stop. See if you can spot a pattern….

Pandemic * Sonia Shah [10 October]

More than three hundred infectious diseases have emerged or reemerged in new territory during the past fifty years, and ninety per cent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a disruptive, deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations.

Recommended by the ladies of This Podcast Will Kill You (a must-listen if you are at all interested in diseases etc.), this uses cholera as an example of how pandemics start and spread as the basis for theorising about how any future pandemic might behave. Fascinating and a bit scary, especially when the author talks about how groups are scapegoated when disease breaks out.

The Year of Learning Dangerously * Quinn Cummings [20 October]

I have said here before that I am a great admirer of Quinn and support her through Patreon so that she can tell small stories through Twitter. Anyway, this is the second of her three books that I have picked up, and it is all about home-schooling her daughter. A mixture of personal experience and the history of the home-schooling movement, I found it fascinating and hilarious.

A Long Cold Winter * Max Gladstone & Lindsay Smith [20 October]

When I bought this I knew it was a short story but wasn’t paying enough attention at the time to notice that it was, in fact, the first part of a serial called The Witch Who Came in from the Cold written by multiple authors. So I treated this a taster and enjoyed it very much. I didn’t realise that I needed Cold War magical spycraft in easter Europe quite so much, but apparently, I do.

The Luminous Dead * Caitlin Starling [21 October]

a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

Less of a horror story than I expected, more of a creepy character study. I probably shouldn’t have read this in the wee small hours while in the throes of insomnia. It was totally worth it, but not for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. Trust me.

The Twilight Pariah * Jeffrey Ford [22 October]

All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town.

Another short read, this was definitely a horror story. They probably shouldn’t have removed that thing from the trench they dug because of course there were Consequences. Really liked this but the end just sort of happened; the story concluded but it looked like there was going to be more. Which I would have welcomed.

Longer * Michael Blumlein [24 October]

Gunjita and Cav are in orbit. R&D scientists for pharmaceutical giant Gleem Galactic, they are wealthy enough to participate in rejuvenation: rebooting themselves from old age to jump their bodies back to their twenties. You get two chances. There can never be a third. After Gunjita has juved for the second and final time and Cav has not, questions of life, death, morality, and test their relationship. Up among the stars, the research possibilities are infinite and first contact is possible, but their marriage may not survive the challenge.

Not sure the payoff worked but there were enough thought-provoking ideas along the way to make it worth reading. I just wanted a bit more.

October Round-up | Movies

As we were away for a chunk of October we didn’t watch many movies. In fact, I saw the two London Film Festival screenings by myself…..

In the Shadow of the Moon [Streaming – 5 October]

A Philadelphia police officer struggles with a lifelong obsession to track down a mysterious serial killer whose crimes defy explanation.

I enjoy a good time-travel-paradox-what-just-happened movie like the next man and this was that thing. It is a strong portrayal of the toll an obsession can take on a person and the impact it has on the people around them. It wasn’t earth-shattering but had a good cast, a story that wasn’t too WTF and was nicely done. A good choice for staying in on a Saturday night. Though let’s face it, at my age I always stay in on a Saturday night 😀

Dazzling details: directed by Jim Mickle, ITSOTM is 1h 55 long and rated 15 for strong language, gory images and drug misuse

The Lighthouse [LFF screening – 6 October]

The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.

So basically Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are on this remote island at the end of the nineteenth century carrying out their duties as lighthouse keepers. The weather is dreadful, there are whispers of the supernatural (mermaids!) and as time passes the two men veer between comradeship and hatred with a single destination – madness. It isn’t clear whether what they are experiencing is real or not but that doesn’t really matter, because the film is extraordinary – beautifully shot in black & white, it is ominous, claustrophobic and full of dread. It is also surprisingly very funny in places; I did laugh out loud, mostly at the language used which is colourful, to say the least. The two lead performances are astonishing, and I had never really noticed before how unmodern Pattinson can look.

I was thrilled at the screening to hear both the director Robert Eggers and Willem Dafoe (in the flesh!) talk about their intentions and experiences. It’s not going to be for everyone, but I loved it. It reminded me a little of The Servant and will stay with me for some time.

Dazzling details: directed as I said by Mr Eggers, The Lighthouse is 1h 49 long and rated 15 for strong sex, nudity, violence, gore and disturbing images.

Marriage Story [LFF screening – 7 October]

Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.

Straight from the poster and telling you nothing about what turned out to be my favourite of the three films covered in this post.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are married; he’s a well-regarded indie theatre director in NY and she is an actress who has been given a TV series in LA. Unable to resolve the tensions between them they head for divorce and the film follows them through the horrible experience.

What I really liked about this film (as someone who has been divorced) is how realistic it was (setting aside the business that is show background) and in particular how both lead characters are just people, not goodies or baddies.

There are some fabulous supporting performances but the success of the film rests on the shoulders of the two leads who are just fabulous. It’s absorbing and emotionally complex and my love for Adam Driver remains intact.

Dazzling details: Mr Baumbach’s masterpiece is 2h 16 long and rated 15 for strong language

Two last things:

  • how can three such different films get rated the same – and what do you have to do to get rated 18 these days?
  • I’ve just noticed that the posters are basically dudes looking moody