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

Sunday Salon | 3 November

So, back to the old routine. Although I had planned to post before today I (as always) underestimated just how long it takes to get back to normal after a holiday. Especially where laundry is concerned. How can two adults create so much stuff in 10 days?

But what of this week? Well it was Halloween so of course I had good intentions of watching and/or reading creepy stuff but that just didn’t happen. Except for going to see The Addams Family, which I will blog about separately. I am hoping to rectify this oversight by going to see Doctor Sleep this coming week. By myself.

Books read – nothing finished since I got back home

New books – so many during October that two, count them TWO, posts will be necessary to cover them all.

Currently reading: the same list I had before going away with two additions:

  • Gilded Needles by Michael McDowell – historical Gothic-ish novel recommended by Christopher Fowler and so far very gripping
  • Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore – ticks so many boxes! When you discover you have something sartorial in common with Samuel Beckett it kind of makes your day 🙂

What we are watching – too many series to list here BUT if you haven’t been watching John Turturro in The Name of the Rose then you must seek it out immediately. Yes, it’s “slow” (rolls eyes) but worth it if you loved the book. And of course this evening in the UK we have episode one of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and I couldn’t be more excited.

Have a great reading week!

Here Endeth the Hiatus

So here we are, back again after a break of something like a month (too lazy to check 😀 )

You may be asking yourself what I have been up to since my last post so here goes:

  • I had a minor surgical procedure on 2 October which went very well and the associated biopsy came back clear so all is good;
  • but the need for a bit of time for recovery meant that I only made it to two of the four London Film Festival festival screenings I had planned; I’ll be letting you have my thoughts later this week;
  • and of course we went on our annual holiday, this year off to Scotland via Cumbria on the way up, and Whitby on the way back. We had a super time – comfortable hotels, good food, wonderful scenery and there may even have been a cocktail or two.

And now we’re home. If you’re interested in our adventures please head on over to my Instagram account where there are photos. Not a surprise given that’s what Instagram is all about. The picture at the top of the post is something I’d love to claim is a wee oil painting I threw together over the weekend but of course is actually one of my holiday snaps manipulated through my favourite new app.

Normal service is about to resume so please stick around 🙂

Two Mini-Reviews and a Hiatus |Sunday Salon * 29 September

It’s dark and windy outside and feeling distinctly autumnal and seemed like the right time for a Sunday Salon post.

As with last week there has been no progress on reading – I’m still [not] reading the same two books and that means I haven’t finished any either. But as we are in peak publishing season a few new books arrived on my Kindle app this week, mostly pre-orders. Here, in no particular order, are the details:

  • Grave Importance * Vivian Shaw – the third Greta Helsing novel, set in a health spa for mummies. The Book God has already read this and recommends highly.
  • The Monster of Elendhaven * Jennifer Giesbrecht – defnitely a Halloween book, this tells the story of the city of Elendhaven which “sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats.”
  • The Tenth Girl * Sara Faring – a Gothic haunted school set in a mansion in Argentina with a family curse.
  • The Flower Arranger * JJ Ellis – Tokyo-set police procedural involving a reporter teaming up with the police to look into the disappearance of a number of young women
  • Starvation Heights * Gregg Olsen – a true story of murder, malice, quackery, a snake-oil saleswoman and untimely deaths. Fasting treatment is rarely if ever a good thing. Bought this after hearing the ladies on My Favourite Murder outline the story; I was really keen for a deep dive and this came recommended.
  • My Name is Anna * Lizzy Barber – “Two women – desperate to unlock the truth. How far will they go to lay the past to rest?
  • Gone * Leona Deakin – the first Dr Augusta Bloom mystery. I’m a sucker for any book where the protagonist is a psychologist and a private investigator, so here we are. “Four strangers are missing. Left at their last-known locations are birthday cards that read: YOUR GIFT IS THE GAME. DARE TO PLAY?

So, plenty to be getting on with as the nights get longer and I hopefully start reading properly again.

But if I haven’t been reading, what have I been doing?

Well, for three days this week I was away from home accompanying the Book God to the annual Jeff Hawke Society meet-up, for the second year in a row at West Dean College in Sussex. Also for the second year in a row the weather was very, very rainy. We spent a lovely day in Chichester (see arty picture below), and thankfully the food, drink and company was excellent and we had a good time.

I also took the opportunity to think about the blog as I have a lot going on over the next few weeks.

On Tuesday I will be having a minor surgical procedure (under general anaesthetic no less, something I haven’t experienced since I got my tonsils and adenoids removed when I was five (or six?) years old). It should be straightforward, and the biggest concern I have is which physical book I’m going to take with me to read during the inevitable waiting, though I understand that my age and chronic condition means I might actually be first on the list.

After that the London Film Festival kicks off and for a few days in a row I have new movies to see.

And finally we go on holiday later in October, off up to Scotland where we haven’t been for any length of time in quite a few years. So looking forward to going home and eating all of the wrong things….. especially if those things happen to be Empire biscuits!

So I’ve decided to take some pressure off of myself and put the blog on a break during all of these shenanigans, hoping to return on Sunday 27th October. Fret not, because I will be occasionally tweeting and regularly posting on Instagram, so please follow me there if you don’t already. The link are above, (she says, gesticulating vaguely)

The only thing left for me to do is mention two books I read in September which I haven’t reviewed as yet, just included for completeness.

Swan Song by Robert Edric is the last in his Song Cycle trilogy about a PI working in Hull. Young women are being brutally killed, the chief suspect is in a coma but it becomes clear that he isn’t really connected to the killings. Add an ambitious chief constable and our hero Leo Rivers has a lot on his plate. This has been a great series (I reviewed the others here and here) and I recommend them heartily.

Dahlia Black by Keith Thomas – when I bought this I said “this is ” … a suspenseful oral history commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Pulse—the alien code that hacked the DNA of Earth’s population—and the response team who faced the world-changing phenomenon.” They had me at “for fans of World War Z” :-)” And I was right. Really enjoyed this one as well. Nice slow release of information through various characters as we all learn what happened and what it might mean.

So that’s it from me for a while. See you on the other side!

Ad Astra

If ever there was a Marmite movie this is going to be it. I’ve seen Ad Astra described as thrilling and a masterpiece, but also as boring and dull despite having (MINI SPOILERS) moon pirates and killer monkeys.

My thoughts will follow a quick detour to Planet Synopsis

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.

So after surviving a quite spectacular fall from a space structure tethered to Earth which serves to demonstrate that space is dangerous and Roy is a very calm dude, he is called in by his bosses to take part in a secret mission to find out if his Dad is still alive and the cause of cosmic blasts from around Neptune which are wreaking havoc in the solar system (and actually caused Roy’s accident). Of course, he says yes because he wants to find out what happened to his father.

I will say no more.

The tone of this film is hugely important and it’s constant calmness, reflecting Roy’s view of the world, reminded me very much of 2001 with periods of silence interspersing the action.

It’s also key that this is not far-future space; the fact that much of the infrastructure shown is plausible in the next few decades allows the audience to engage with the characters. I say characters but this is very much Brad Pitt’s film. He is so good in this role, displaying a calm and dispassionate outlook but with anger and hurt and resentment just below the surface. Such a contrast to the last film I saw him in!

The supporting cast is excellent though most of them don’t have much to do. The scenes between Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones as his Dad are very powerful, and the great Donald Sutherland is always a treat to watch.

I was not at all surprised to find that the director, James Gray, was responsible for The Lost City of Z, a film I adored (you can find my thoughts about it here), as the tone and approach is very similar.

So as you might have guessed, I loved Ad Astra and would happily watch again. It is thoughtful and engrossing and gave me a lot to think about.

Dazzling details: Ad Astra is directed by James Gray, is 2h 3m long and rated 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate violence, threat, gory images killer space monkeys

The Ka of Gifford Hillary | Dennis Wheatley

Dennis Wheatley is one of those authors that I feel I have to apologise for enjoying because he is definitely problematic. Born in 1897 he was as conservative as it is possible to be. I first came across him when I saw the (now very dated) Devil Rides Out adaptation starring Christopher Lee and released in 1968. I’m pretty sure I read the book afterwards and loved the pacing and development in terms of plot, even if the characters were very Wheatleyan.

The man himself was a staunch supporter of imperialism and the class system all of his life, and his views permeate his novels and can’t be ignored even as the reader (OK, me) enjoys the story. And reading this one had me rolling my eyes so hard it gave me a headache, even as I read on to find out what was going to happen.

First published in 1956, the Ka of Gifford Hillary is listed in the recent set of reprints as Black Magic Book 5, though I won’t be giving anything away by pointing out that this is more of a science fiction thriller with a bit of the occult thrown in rather than a full-blown book about magic.

Gifford Hillary runs a company which builds boats and has several contracts with HM Government, and it appears that the book is going to be all about that as Wheatley takes the opportunity to air his views on the future of the British Armed Services. To be fair this is something he knows quite a bit about, given that he served in various capacities during WW2 devising strategic military deceptions to fool the enemy.

But really this is a book about a man (Gifford) killed by someone who wants to be his wife’s lover by ingenious means which leads to his soul leaving his body and floating around invisibly trying to communicate as he is (a) buried alive, (b) unable to help his wife falsely accused of his murder, (c) unable to help his young relative accused of treason because of his (Gifford’s) loose lips and (d) did I mention he was buried alive? Oh, and when he reconnects with his body he is then charged with murdering the man lusting after his wife, who was actually killed by someone else.

If you can put aside all the racism, imperialism, sexism (evidence below)
and the huge sense of entitlement based on class and wealth (evidence also below), this is actually a very interesting story. The only thing that lets it down in terms of plot is the ending, which was a little too reliant on one of the few female characters finding the one piece of evidence that will resolve the situation given that the truth, which Gifford spells out, or at least up to a point, is too fantastic to believe.

And with a single bound he was free; far too rushed given the build-up that had gone before.

Evidence for the prosecution:

On the charge of sexism:

Women cannot be judged by the same standards as men. They are much more apt to become dominated by their emotions than is the case with our sex.

On the charge of entitlement:

By it I could enter houses unseen and listen to the most intimate conversations. That at least offered a prospect of taking my mind off my own worries.

I know I’m going to read more of his books and but not for a while I think.