April Reviews

I had these ready to post at the beginning of the month then got sidetracked by other posts and forgot…

    Films and television

I thoroughly enjoyed my viewing this month.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? *****
A friend recced this and I ordered it because it was cheap on Amazon. It was really good. Depp and Di Caprio in their early days show their terrific promise in this story about a guy who seems to be stuck looking after his brother and his mother. There’s a romance, but the main focus is on the family.

Made in Dagenham. *****
This is as topical now as it was when it was made. It’s the story of how the women who worked for Ford demanded, and got equal pay for equal work, despite the unions being mostly unhelpful and Ford being horrified. It’s based on the true story and is inspiring. It also has plenty to say about the issues of gender equality in the workplace. Excellent – with a stellar cast.

Shadowlands. *****
I only watched this because I’d heard of it and it was on the same disc as Made in Dagenham… But I was hooked by the story of CS Lewis and his love for an American woman whose death from cancer left him devastated. Beautifully acted, with lovely Oxford settings.
And… Secret Life of the Zoo***** is back – by popular demand! I’m enjoying it as usual!

    Books

I have been doing a book bingo with some colleagues – I will post about it more detail at some point but for now, it explains some of my reading.

The excellent.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertali *****
I had no idea what to expect but I loved this book. The voice of the ‘hero’ is fresh and funny as he fights against society and finds out who his secret penpal is. It’s an mm romance of sorts but it keeps the reader guessing till the last minute. I will probably want to see the film.

Charmed and Dangerous edited by Astrid Amara *****

This is an anthology which unlike most anthologies is uniformly excellent. I knew most of the authors already, so I pretty well knew I’d enjoy it. The premise of each story is that one, at least, of the main characters is supernatural. There’s some mm romance but most of it is action thriller type tales and they’re all both exciting and well written.

Aprons and Silver Spoons by Mollie Moran *****
This was an excellent autobiography with a focus on the author’s early years in domestic service. It’s set in the 1930s and I was intrigued because her experiences were so very different from those of my mother and her friends who grew up during the same period. It was interesting, and well written. I did, however, hate the cover, which showed a couple of servants, but in nineteenth century garb, which made me wonder if the publishers and editors had even read the text!

Darwin’s Watch (The Science of Discworld III) by Pratchett, Cohen and Stewart *****
Another in the series that bases a great deal of scientific and philosophic discussion around a short story set in Discworld. I thought this one might be easier, since I know more about both biology and palaeontology than I do about chemistry or physics. However, I still struggled at times. I reached the end feeling better educated and I enjoyed the story too!

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey *****
I recalled reading this author’s mysteries with pleasure, and this was no exception. However, I noticed various details that were obviously from the period when the author was writing but which would today be considered politically incorrect. I didn’t guess the outcome and was both surprised and yet not surprised to find out who the ‘villain’ was. An excellent novel which gripped me throughout.

Guernica by Dave Boling *****
This was a Christmas present which I’d requested via my wish list. It’s a family saga set around the bombing of Guernica in 1930s Spain. The book is extremely well written. The author is Canadian but his wife is Basque so he draws on family memories and accounts to create a wonderful picture of life on the Basque coast in that time though his main focus is a fictional family which amalgamates various features of the people he knows. It’s an area I know quite well as a visitor and the descriptions are perfect. There is a lot of detail about daily life and social life that adds to the interest of the story. The anguish of the bombing and the aftermath are sensitively portrayed. This is the perfect novel to read as a counterpoint to histories of the period, since it deals with the effects on individuals rather than on communities in general. Highly recommended either for anyone already interested in the time and place, or for readers who know nothing of either but would like to learn more.

The good.

Mary Anning of Lyme Regis by Crispin Tickell ****
I have been reading about the fossil discoveries in the south of England, and this is a short biography of Mary, bought by my husband when he went to the Charmouth museum on a recent business trip. I have read other works featuring this inspiring fossil hunter but it was good to have a book that had her as the sole focus. It was too short, which is why it only merits four stars. I suppose the museum thought a longer account might not sell. I will be referring to it again in a post I intend to do about the books on dinosaurs, fossils, etc. that I’ve been reading.

Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill ****
Another bingo square, and one I really enjoyed. But it’s a children’s book and I passed it on to my grandson after making sure it would suit his tastes. Even as an adult, I developed real empathy with Jenny, the little cat in New York who is gradually accepted into local cat society.

Catching Kit by Kay Berrisford ****
This ticked all my boxes – fairies interacting with humans, police work, a London setting. But it was too short and I would like a sequel.

Flatland by Edward A Abbott ****
I’d heard of this book but only read it because of the book bingo. I enjoyed it. It’s a curious mixture. It was written in the nineteenth century and uses maths and a kind of sci-fi basis to parody Victorian society, especially attitudes to women. I found the mathematical figures that illustrated the work a bit hard to follow but really, that says more about me than the author.

The Lonely Drop by Vanessa North ****
The title is the name of the restaurant owned by Nick, who gets a second chance with Kevin, the friend he turned down at college. The story is competent but unmemorable. I read it because it filled a bingo square!

A Taste of Copper by Elin Gregory ****
Beautifully written, like everything by this author, and the historical research is impeccable as usual, but somehow I never quite empathised with the main characters. A quasi-Arthurian story of knights, squires, vows and courtly honour.

The mediocre – or maybe just not to my taste.

The Wordsworth Golden Treasury of Verse edited by Antonia Till ***
I bought this in a charity shop when I thought (wrongly as it turns out) that I had lost all my poetry books in the Portuguese fires. The title suggests it is based on Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, and it does try to provide a similar collection. However, whilst some of my favourites were there, there was a preponderance of the kind of poetry that tends to bore me – the really long ‘classic’ poems that are not even stories. I won’t be looking at it again; there was nothing I like that I don’t have in other collections.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel ***
This filled a bingo square and if it hadn’t, I would have abandoned it. I haven’t seen the film and now don’t want to. My daughter recced the book and doesn’t recall the parts I hated, which were the extremely (to me) gruesome accounts of the killings and the preparation of e.g. fish and turtles for food. It was almost enough to turn me into a vegetarian. Actually, I’m not particularly squeamish, but I didn’t like the mixture of gruesome/fantasy. The book was well written, but it wasn’t for me.

The poor

Raining Men and Corpses by Anne R Tan *
I didn’t enjoy this at all and only finished it for one of my bingo squares. It was badly written. It was grammatical and there were no plot holes but somehow it was hard to follow or to know who was doing what. The style, full of artificial metaphors, really grated and I couldn’t bring myself to care about the main character who was stupid, and lucky. The hairs on her arms and neck did a lot of standing up. There were hints of back story, insufficiently developed. The book had, for me, a weird dissonance because it turns out the ‘heroine’ is American Chinese but is referred to as Asian and the only Raina I know is Ugandan Asian. US/UK cultural divide strikes again! There are six sequels but I will not be reading them. The idea of Raina getting involved with yet more murder mysteries fills me with dread.

And the unreadable

Cowabunga Christmas (Cosario Cove Cozy Mystery series) by Anna Celeste Burke
I abandoned this. It purported to be a mystery and the couple solving it were on their honeymoon in the hotel where the murder took place. After a while I found I had absolutely no interest in the detective couple or in the victim, and was vaguely irritated by the police. So I gave up.

    Fanfiction

Because of the book bingo, I didn’t read much fanfic this month! I embarked on a long and well written saga set around a fictional ice hockey team, which is in a sense fanfic of hockey players. I haven’t finished it yet. I also read a series of stories set in the post-book/film world of The Hobbit but they were difficult to understand unless you’d already read a lot in that genre. There have been additions to Small_Hobbit’s works related to the various Sherlock Holmes versions, but you already know how I view those, and can easily find the series in my previous reviews. So, nothing new to recommend this month.

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