Sunday Salon | 9 June

As I sat down to write/type this I realised that I hadn’t take any pictures to use for the post image this week, so just imagine something suitably pretty somewhere abov this paragraph 😀

It’s been a very quiet week focussed on domestic stuff, mostly to do with the replacement of our central heating boiler which has now been installed by Wayne, the very nice and extremely skilled British Gas engineer who spent the whole of Thursday Chez Bride.

It’s also the Book God’s birthday today, which means that loads of books have come into the house, they just weren’t for me. Sad.

Anyway, what about this week in books?

I finished two books this week, each bringing a series to a close. Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain is the last of the Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell serial killer series, and I’ve already written about it over here, and The Vanishing Season by Dot Hutchison, my first book for #20booksofsummer which I’ll review soon.

New books

Just because most of the new books this week are for my other half, doesn’t mean that I didn’t get anything for myself, oh no. There were a couple of pre-orders that came out this week, namely:

  • My Life as a Rat * Joyce Carol Oates – Violet Rue is the baby of the seven Kerrigan children and adores her big brothers. What’s more, she knows that a family protects its own. To go outside the family – to betray the family – is unforgivable. So when she overhears a conversation not meant for her ears and discovers that her brothers have committed a heinous crime, she is torn between her loyalty to her family and her sense of justice. The decision she takes will change her life for ever.
  • Inspection * Josh Malerman – J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know-and all they are allowed to know.

Currently reading

I have started Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff and am enjoying it very much, and I am also about a quarter of the way through my second #20books selection, Siren Song by Robert Edric.

Hope you have a great reading week.

Archie & Gretchen | Books 4-6

I have finally finished the hugely enjoyable Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain with the last three novels discussed below.

First, a quick overview – Archie Sheridan is a police officer based in Portland, Oregon who, while hunting the serial killer known as the Beauty Killer was kidnapped, tortured and ultimately released by said serial killer, the beautiful, intelligent and extremely manipulative Gretchen Lowell. Their dysfunctional relationship is explored over six novels. Unsurprisingly, there is a very high body count.

If you would like to know what I thought about the first three then you can find the relevant blog post here.

The second half of the series comprises:

  • Book 4 – The Night Season – the one where Portland suffers major flooding, there is another serial killer on the loose and Gretchen doesn’t really appear at all
  • Book 5 – Kill You Twice – the one where Gretchen is locked up in a psychiatric unit but merrily manipulative almost everyone else, while another another serial killer is on the loose, this time with potential links to GretchenBook 4 – The Night Season – the one where Portland suffers major flooding, there is another serial killer on the loose and Gretchen doesn’t really appear at all
  • Book 6 – Let Me Go – the one where Gretchen is on the loose again and creating havoc, though there is another another another serial killer carrying out crimes in the area. This looks like its the last in the series though I think the ending is left sufficiently open so that the characters could be revisited in future.

As I said above I really enjoyed this series; the books are well-written and tightly plotted and the psychological makeup of the main characters is troublingly effective. But as with every other almost-omnipotent serial killer (looking at you Hannibal Lecter), each entry in the series has to really up the ante. This often means that situations becoming increasingly gothic, almost to the point of absurdity, so suspension of belief is essential. There were a couple of WTF moments in the final book where I really thought it had all gone too far, but I let that thought go and just went along for the ride.

If you like your psycopaths astonishingly beautiful in a head-turning way who can kill with impunity and, despite being infamous, still manage to move around freely without anyone noticing, and if you don’t mind a lot of gruesomeness and quite a bit of explicit sex, then this series is for you.

Annihilation

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.

I loved Annihilation when it was published back in 2014 and devoured it and its sequels as soon as they were released, so I was really interested when I saw that a film version was on the cards. It’s taken me this long to watch it because although I have Netflix we didn’t (until very recently) have a smart TV, and I had heard that it was best to watch this on the biggest screen possible. So when our new TV was installed this was the first movie I watched by myself.

So as the description above explains, Natalie Portman is a biologist who takes part in an expedition into an area of the country known as the Southern Reach where something, possibly extraterrestrial, has led to something called the Shimmer, where nature and time are corrupted. Natalie’s character has become involved because her husband (Oscar Isaac), missing for a year, suddenly returns and she finds out that his secret mission was one in a line of expeditions which have all failed – no-one has come back before him.

The new team is made up of Natalie and four other women – in the books they have no names and are just described by their roles – and one of the strengths of the film is watching a team of intelligent and brave women working together to solve a problem. When things fall apart they do so in the same way that all of the other missions were affected, mostly due to paranoia.

What makes this special for me is that the film doesn’t shy away from the horrors of a place where things are so out of whack. There are deformed animals including the most frightening bear you will ever see on screen and evidence that the teams before them did some terrible things – a gruesome and shocking piece of footage from her husband’s expedition in particular. The film also doesn’t skimp on beautiful visuals showing just how strange the world inside the Shimmer can be – plants growing in the shape of humans, strange colours and so on.

It is such a shame that Annihilation wasn’t given a theatrical release, especially as it seems to have been due to the studio freaking out that the film was too intellectually challenging, which makes me sad. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve been reading here for a while you will know that I love science fiction in all its forms, however “dumb”, but sometimes it’s nice to have a film that gets you thinking long afterwards (and not because you’re trying to fill in major plot holes).

Also pleased to say my Tessa Thompson girl-crush is firmly in place.

It’s bloody and creepy and beautiful. I loved it and will be watching it again I’m sure.

Dazzling details – Alex Garland directed, the film is 1h 55m long and rated 15 for strong language, gore, sex

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin’s guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head – he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.

As the title suggests, this is the third but apparently not the last in the John Wick series and as the Book God and I had really enjoyed the previous entries there was no way we were was going to miss this.

The film starts exactly at the point Chapter 2 ends, with John Wick on the run. All of the facilities that had been available to him as an assassin have been withdrawn so he starts calling in favours from various contacts who owe him, including a magnificent Angelica Huston as an (I think) Belarussian matriarch and Halle Berry in North Africa. There are wheels within wheels and double-double crosses and an ending that clearly sets up the next film.

The plot is fairly simple but what makes the film is the choreography of the many and various fight scenes which are absolutely epic in scope and delivery.

Favourite things:

  • the dogs – Wick’s faithful companion and Halle Berry’s attack dogs, all Very Good Boys
  • the Adjudicator – I loved her quietly menacing authority
  • the implication that everywhere in the world is absolutely crawling with killers for hire – I shall be paying close attention to this possibility the next time I’m in central London
  • Keanu himself – which is not something I thought I would say as I can take (The Matrix) or leave (47 Ronin) him as an actor, but he is ideally cast here.

If you want to know more about what I thought about the first two, you can find them here and here.

If watching lots of people fighting in a bewildering variety of ways while exchanging ‘witty’ comments isn’t your thing then I would avoid. For everyone else, this is a blast.

Dazzling details – directed by Chad Stahelski, 2h 10m long, rated 15 for strong bloody violence, language

Sunday Salon | 2 June 2019

Here we are almost halfway through the year and as I write this #20BooksOfSummer is kicking off, though there is the small matter of finishing the book I’m in the middle of at the moment before I can start participating properly.

A deliberate choice of angle
and not the result of a French Martini

Last week was one of ups and downs. The downs were mainly focussed on our central heating boiler which was so temperamental that I was convinced that it had achieved sentience and was just pissing about with us. It took three visits by two very nice British Gas engineers before it was definitively identified that a new boiler would be required. We will be ceremoniously smashing open the piggy bank later 😀

The up was my (our) wedding anniversary which we celebrated with a trip to the Museum of London Docklands to view the Secret Rivers exhibition – of course, I took a (not very good) photo of the books inspired by the Thames display – and an excellent lunch at one of the most hipsterish restaurants I have ever visited. I may have led a sheltered life though.

How many of these have you read?

What I read

I managed to finish two books this week – the biography of Iris Origo which I have been reading for what seems like an age. I’m going to read some of her own work before I decide whether I’m going to write any more about her, but reading Caroline Moorehead’s beautifully written book has sent me down some WW2 rabbit-holes.

I also read King of Spies by Blaine Harden; the subtitle – the dark reign of America’s spymaster in Korea – tells you all that you need to know about the subject matter. I live in the part of southwest London with a very large South Korean population but realised that I knew very little about that country’s history. A fascinating but disturbing read which has inspired me to find out more.

What I bought

  • Walking to Aldebaran * Adrian Tchaikovsky – I’M LOST. I’M SCARED. AND THERE’S SOMETHING HORRIBLE IN HERE. [Pre-order]
  • Longer * Michael Blumlein- In Longer, Michael Blumlein explores dauntingly epic topics—love, the expanse of the human lifespan, mortality—with a beautifully sharp story that glows with grace and good humour even as it forces us to confront deep, universal fears. [Pre-order]
  • Stormtide * Den Patrick – Book Two of the Ashen Torment series; I really like Den’s work and will be looking forward to readig this series. [Pre-order]
  • Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered * Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark – reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the podcasting world. I follow their podcast religiously and am a member of their MFM Fan Cult so there was no way I wasn’t going to get this book. [Pre-order]
  • Pandemic * Sonia Shah – Scientists agree that a pathogen is likely to cause a global pandemic in the near future. But which one? And how? Bought this because of another podcast I follow (This Podcast Will Kill You – it’s awesome)
  • Blood Pearl * Anne Billson – Camillography Book 1 – Millie Greenwood leads an uneventful life with her overprotective parents in Bramblewood, the most boring village in England – until one day, not long after her sixteenth birthday, she sneakily forges her mother’s signature to go on a school trip to Paris.  I love Anne’s work as an author and a film critic so again this was always going to be on my To Buy list. Plus VAMPIRES!

What I’m reading now

Currently trying to finish the final Archie Sheriden & Gretchen Lowell serial killer novel by Chelsea Cain. I will have thoughts on the series as a whole I’m sure. I talked about the first three here if you are interested.

Have a great reading week!