Little Women

Another adaptation of the famous Louisa May Alcott novel about the lives of the March sisters in 19th century America.

I was going to say here that nobody needs to be provided with a plot synopsis for this film because everyone knows the story of the March sisters. However, I was shocked (yes, shocked I tell you) to discover that not only had my husband not seen any of the previous versions, but did not have a single idea about what the story covered, except girls and possibly references to the American Civil War.

I have to refer to it as the American Civil War because over here in the UK we had our own Civil War, albeit at a time when the crowns but not the nations were united.

I digress.

Having thought about it I decided that (1) my husband was clearly the exception that proves the rule, (2) I do not need to explain the plot and (3) having originally thought that I might go to see this by myself I determined to take him with me.

Anyway, I’ve read the books so many times that I was able to give my husband the key plot points on the way to the cinema, and we settled down.

I was mesmerised by this version, not just because the structure of the film moves away from the strictly linear narrative and flits back and forth between Jo’s life in New York (and her return home because of Beth) and the stories of them as youngsters up to that point.

It’s a beautifully written and extremely well-acted film with an excellent cast and some overt feminism that’s only hinted at in the original novels, using the words of Louisa May Alcott from her other writings I believe.

Stand-outs for me were Saorise Ronan as Jo and Florence Pugh (rapidly becoming one of my favourite actresses) as Amy. The handsomeness of Professor Bhaer did not go unnoticed.

I laughed and cried in all the right places and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Highly recommended.

Directed by Greta Gerwig, 2h 15 minutes long and rated U with very mild threat.

Postscript – there have been several previous versions of Little Women as I mentioned, and here they are for completeness:

  • 2018 – a modernised one which I will simply ignore
  • 2017 – The BBC adaptation, which I have not seen
  • 1994 – the one with Winona Ryder
  • 1978 – a version which I have not seen but includes Susan Dey
  • 1949 – the one with June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor, and the one I grew up with (though please note I was born significantly later than 1949)
  • 1933 – the one with Katharine Hepburn
  • 1918 – I did not even know that this existed.

December Books | Impulse Buys

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

It is a fact that I am not supposed to buy books in December because gifts, but as we share wishlists I know the range from where my presents will be drawn.

That’s a complicated way of saying that if a title wasn’t on my wish list it was fair game. Here we go.

The Pre-Orders

  • Beast by Matt Wesolowski – because I love the Six Stories series and the podcast format makes for compelling reading
  • Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – because any new book by this author is a must-buy for me

The True Crime

  • American Predator by Maureen Callahan – if you’ve seen my earlier post you will know that I have already read this, and will be looking into this awful serial killer more in 2020
  • Dark Dreams by Roy Hazelwood – Sexual Violence, Homicide and the Criminal Mind because who doesn’t want some light reading…
  • The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown – I heard an interview with the author on a recent podcast and had to find out more about this Canadian case

The Other Non-Fiction

  • The Pulse Glass by Gillian Tindall – a personal and global history in objects; I love this sort of thing
  • Good Morning, Good Life by Amy Schmittauer Landino – I follow Amy’s YouTube channel but bought the book specifically for an online book club read; I’m already behind…..

The Fiction

  • Intensity by Dean Koontz – I don’t think I’ve ever read any Koontz; this is serial killer rather than horror
  • Gallows Court by Martin Edwards – murder in 1930’s London, the first in the Rachel Savernake series
  • We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory – Harrison is the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. What happens when he and others like him join a support group? 

That should keep me busy for a while 😀

Sunday Salon | Books Read

Hope everyone had a fabulous holiday season. In getting ready for 2020 I thought I would write up some short reviews of (most of) the books I’ve read recently. All links are to Goodreads btw.

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp

I shall declare an interest here as I am one of Jason’s supporters on Patreon so obviously think he is a top bloke. Ghoster is the first full length novel by Jason that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it, although as an Old I had to look up what ghosting actually meant – you, young reader, are probably way ahead of me. Kate has met Scott, fallen in love and is driving to another city to move in with him. She’s given up her flat, transferred to another employer (she’s a paramedic) and is well on her way to future happiness when she realises that she can’t contact Scott. At all. And when she gets to his place it is empty and he isn’t there. But his phone is……

I spent a lot of time during this creepy book inwardly yelling to Kate not to do the thing that she was about to do, but of course it wouldn’t be a horror novel if the protagonist was sensible so it is only to be expected that things do not go well. Great fun.

Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman

With an iconic image of Joan Didion on the cover and a blurb that stated I would find out about the “signature sartorial and literary style of fifty men and women of letters” thus combining two of my favourite things – fashion & books – it was obvious that I would get this.

It’s quite a slight volume and doesn’t entirely deliver on the sartorial stuff – not enough detail about what they actually wore for my taste – but there were enough tidbits to satify my curiosity.

That Virginia Woolf worried about bad hat days is also a comforting fact for the dedicated reader and follower of style.

American Predator by Maureen Callahan

I’m not sure exactly where I came across the name of Israel Keyes. It must have been one of the true crime podcasts that I listen to (yes, more than one, don’t jusge me) but I can’t for the life of me remember which one. However I found out about him, I was immediately fascinated by how this man could have carried out so many awful deeds without anyone knowing about it. The subtitle of the book says it all:

The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

He is of course a deeply disturbing and horrible figure who killed all over the USA during a period of fourteen years, burying kill kits for future use, many of which have never been found. This book focusses mainly on the somewhat flawed investigation into his crimes, and I will be following it up by listening to yet another podcast – True Crime Bullshit – which is only about Keyes.

An American Story by Christopher Priest

This is a very well-written novel with a sympathetic (mostly) protagonist and one of the most momentous events of the past few decades in the shape of the 9/11 attacks as context. Ben is a freelance journalist whose then girlfriend died in the attack on the Pentagon; she wasn’t supposed to be on the plane that crashed into the building and like many others her remains were never found, so Ben begins to wonder if she ever really died and if she did whether the accepted story told the whole truth.

There are too many of these inconsistencies to be ignored. At every step of the 9/11 story there is doubt, or there are unanswered questions, or simple logical gaps.

If you concentrate on this story being about loss and in particular the pain experienced when no body is recovered, so there is no certainty and no resting place where one can grieve and find solace, then this is a powerful novel. The 9/11 conspiracy theories work for that reason and that reason only but I still find them very disturbing.

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Graff

[..] in The Only Plane in the Sky, award-winning journalist and bestselling historian Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, Graff paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.

An incredibly moving companion piece to Priest’s novel, it covers the events of that day from a wide range of sources. Extraordinarily sad, powerful reading.

Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

More true crime (sorry, not sorry) this time from the perspective of a journalist who stopped writing about crime and started trying to solve cold cases as a citizen detective. It is a fascinating book, and you can follow Billy’s work alongside his co-host Paul Holes on their podcast Murder Squad. A must-read for all Murderinos, though if you are a Murderino you’ve almost certainly read this already.

Review Catch-Up | Movies

All of these deserved individual posts but I’m superstitious and don’t want 2019 reviews to wander into 2020. It’s a thing.

Doctor Sleep

My thoughts on the Kubrick film of The Shining have been aired here before (in short, it’s a good Kubrick film, but not a great King adaptation) and I read Doctor Sleep when it came out (you can find a review of it here) and I was therefore a bit wary of what I was going to see, given that director was trying to remain faithful to both. I needn’t have worried, this was a really good film with excellent performances (especially Ewan MacGregor). Not really a horror film IMHO but creepy and absorbing and will become a favourite I’m sure.

Directed by Mike Flanagan, 2h 31 minutes long and rated 15 for strong bloody violence, gore, horror, threat and language. All boxes ticked.

Knives Out

As you will know from my book reviews I love a good crime novel and also enjoy crime movies if they are done well. I was excited for Knives Out given the premise and the amazing cast and again was not disappointed. Daniel Craig was in his element, excellent use was made of Chris Evans (and his sweater) and of course Christopher Plummer was wonderful as always – he has been one of my favourite actors for many years and I love seeing him on the big screen. It’s definitely best if you know as little as possible about this film before you see it so I will say no more other than it is thoroughy recommended.

Directed by Rian Johnson, 2h 10 minutes long and rated 12A for brief bloody images, moderate sex and suicide references, strong language

The Irishman

I’m ambivalent about gangster films and their tendency to make heroes out of criminals, even if that’s not intentional, but The Irishman was getting great reviews and the Book God was very keen to see it so we settled down to watch it on our re-established Saturday Night is Film Night – something we used to do fairly regularly but lost impetus because of excellent TV options. Anyway, this was 3.5 hours long and my heart sank a tiny bit but as soon as elderly Robert De Niro started talking I became transfixed and happily watched the whole thing. Of course it’s morally dubious and Al Pacino presents a master class in scenery chewing, and the female characters are all woefully underused, but it was beautfully made and I enjoyed it very much.

Directed by Martin Scorsese becuase of course it was, like I said it was 3h 29 minutes long and rated 15 for strong violence and language

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Well. I’m not going to say a huge amount about this here because everyone else is talking about it and I actually want to see it again before I go into any detail (avoiding spoilers as always of course) BUT subject to my disappointment at the lack of Rose Tico and the wasted opportunity that was Finn & Poe not being the couple we know they should have been, and the reminder that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us, I really really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. It’s not perfect but it is very satisfying.

Directed by JJ Abrams (self descibed as not good at endings), Episode IX is 2h 22 minutes long and rated 12A for moderate violence, threat

Have you seen any (or all) of the above? What did you think?

December Books | Gifts

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

All of my presents this year were books. This is a very good thing.

The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone – it’s a house with a flawed and, let’s face it, potentially evil and certainly dangerous artificial intelligence which controls all of the stuff.

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum – subtitled Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, speaks to my interests.

Occult Paris by Tobias Churton – The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque, according to the blurb this features Theosophists, Rosicrucians, Martinists, Freemasons, Gnostics, and neo-Cathars.

The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion – does what it says on the cover; this book is beautiful and has me wanting to watch the TV series all over again.

The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott – The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America; more true crime in the 1920s.

The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly – all about HMQ and the work that goes into dressing her for the wide range of events she attends, written (with permission, no scandal here) by her long-time adviser and curator. Irresistible.

The Hotel Years by Joseph Roth – a selection of articles from the 20s and 30s when Roth travelled around central Europe living in hotels and writing about the places he visited.

Twilight of Empire by Greg King & Penny Wilson – all about Mayerling and the suicide pact (or was it?) between Crown Prince Rudolf and his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera; this tragic event has led to an excellent ballet and a lot of conspiracy theories.

Scottish Queens 1034-1714 by Rosalind K Marshall – the lives of Scottish Queens, whether reigning in their own right or as consorts, aren’t often discussed in the way that they should be, so this will be interesting. Will Lady MacBeth feature I wonder…..

The Golden Thread by Kassia St Clair – using the story of varieties of cloth to illuminate history; I’ve already dipped into this and it is going to be fascinating.

All of the above were from the Book God, and from my Brother Who Is Not on Social Media I received

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – an oral history of a fictional 1970s rock band, this has been on my list for ages and glad I have it in my hands at last.

What books did you get for Christmas?

New Books – November

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

A quick round-up of the few books I bought in the second half of the month. I was a good girl. Mostly.

Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell

The borders of Lychford are crumbling. Other realities threaten to seep into the otherwise quiet village, and the resident wise woman is struggling to remain wise. The local magic shop owner and the local priest are having troubles of their own. And a mysterious stranger is on hand to offer a solution to everyone’s problems. No cost, no strings (she says). But as everyone knows, free wishes from strangers rarely come without a price . . .

The fourth and penultimate entry in the well-regarded Witches of Lychford series.

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Beautiful Caroline Crale was convicted of poisoning her husband, yet there were five other suspects: Philip Blake (the stockbroker) who went to market; Meredith Blake (the amateur herbalist) who stayed at home; Elsa Greer (the three-time divorcee) who had roast beef; Cecilia Williams (the devoted governess) who had none; and Angela Warren (the disfigured sister) who cried ‘wee wee wee’ all the way home.

A classic Christie novel which I decided to re-read following some comments in a recent book about her writing process (I’ll be talking about that soon). Unfortunately I couldn’t find my physical copy so decided to get a Kindle version.

No Name by Wilkie Collins

After the tragic deaths of their parents, Magdalen and Norah discover the devastating news that they are both illegitimate and not entitled to any inheritance. Norah is forced to become a governess to earn her keep but Magdalen has grander plans and embarks on an elaborate scheme of revenge against her cold-hearted relatives.

I recently saw a Tweet which commented on the tendency to sensationalise classic novels when they are being adapted for TV because they have been done so many times, and why wasn’t more Wilkie Collins being adapted because the sensation was right there on the page. So having read the usual suspects in Wilkie’s catalogue I decided to broaden my horizons and got a copy of this.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Detective Renée Ballard works ‘The Late Show’, the notorious graveyard shift at the LAPD. It’s thankless work for a once-promising detective, keeping strange hours in a twilight world of crime. Some nights are worse than others. And tonight is the worst yet. Two shocking cases, hours apart: a brutal assault, and a multiple murder with no suspects.

I’m a late convert to Connelly’s work through finally getting to watch the Bosch TV series. While the Book God is starting the Bosch book series from scratch, I decided to get into Connelly’s new series on the ground floor.

Athena’s Choice by Adam Boostrom

Athena Vosh lives just like any other teenager from the year 2099. She watches reality shows with her friends, eats well, and occasionally wonders to herself: what would life be like if men were still alive? It has been almost 50 years since an experimental virus accidentally killed all the men on earth. However, a controversial project is currently underway to bring men back. There’s just one catch. The project has been sabotaged.

I can’t remember where I saw this but both the premise and the cover caught my attention, and I couldn’t resist.

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!)