Movies by the Minute: Split

A continuing series with rapid reviews about great movies

 See end of review for assessment:

A must see on the big screen,
Matinee getaway OR
Watch movie, but wait for DVD

At the risk of being repetitive, my disclaimer is this: I like movies as much as the next person, though I’m by no means a fanatic. My fourteen-year-old boy, however, is quite the aficionado and more than once he’s used his stealth swaying powers to get me in front of the screen.

Tonight it was for M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, which after a few minutes in I recognized from previously viewing its trailer. While not (I thought) in love with Shyamalan or psychological thrillers, my lack of follow-up had more to do with the subject matter of abduction, a topic that unnerves me when immersed within it for too long—especially as part of storytelling.

In this particular tale three high-school girls are abducted from King of Prussia, later awakening to find themselves in a small room complete with torture lighting. Their kidnapper is a man with 23 personalities, key of which are revealed to viewers—and the girls, albeit more slowly—as the film progresses through scenes, including his visits to a psychologist and one of the girls, Casey, experiencing flashbacks of life events that aid her attempts to strategize a way out.

The room itself is part of the set I liked the least, for where we are placed as we observe events is almost claustrophobic. Shyamalan manages to generate in viewers a sensation of skittishness in there as we face the horrible colors, subtly glaring light (if that isn’t too contradictory) and overall ickiness of the surroundings: no windows, humid, basement-y, utilitarian and lonesome, the very place no cautious person would ever go into willingly.

We feel backed into a corner when confronted with James McAvoy’s multiple personalities, portrayed so brilliantly we will never look at Tumnus the same way ever again, which for the actor may be a pretty good deal as he escapes potential typecasting as a faun, and is known for his amazing repertoire. Truly, this was a risky role given the film’s uncomfortable content, but McAvoy owns it as he introduces the various personalities by the very expressions on his face. Spectacles are a prop for one identity, but they are almost superfluous given McAvoy’s ability to reposition his countenance and alter his accent, even his very voice to become who he is (at that moment). Who else resides inside his psyche is yet to be seen, as is the cost to whom he reveals himself.

Anya Taylor Joy also gives a fantastic performance even in silence, for her range of emotion speaks volumes: horrific fear, fierce determination, raw desperation, even bitter anger. As her abduction is set in motion and the two other girls are already knocked out, it might be contemplated that to simply wake up somewhere horrible must be the absolute worst. Taylor Joy challenges this as one tear runs from her eye and she is utterly paralyzed in fear and terror—too much so to simply leap from the car she might otherwise have escaped. One simply murmurs to one’s self: Oh. My. God.

As a director Shyamalan is impressive and I can appreciate his talents displayed in transitional shifts, perspective angles, fitful lighting and a host of other techniques utilized to create tension and elicit commentary directed at characters, willing them to do this or that—and do it faster. And while I am absolutely fascinated with the brain, I prefer mostly to stay out of the dark corridors of the mind. Shyamalan, however, manages to lure from this protective evasion to view technical brilliance and magnificent performance within the themes of, amongst others, the role of history, labels, leadership, agency, coping mechanisms, relationships and communication. And in the end we see a surprise that makes us think both Aha! and No way!

Stay tuned, people, stay very tuned. 

Assessment: Major performances are worthy of

cinematic experience, whether day or night

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Click the title to see our previous

“Movies by the Minute” review for Dunkirk

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And the Daffodils Look Lovely Today

I am so very, very sad to read that Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer for the Cranberries, has passed away. She had such a beautiful voice, whether speaking or singing, and I could listen to her for hours.

Her lyrics weren’t always about happy things, but that voice made you want to listen and be part of the joy of being alive, of experiencing something special in life. And for those who, like her, suffered from bi-polar disorder or depression, it lifted one up to want to be part of creating a beauty for others to experience.

Dolores O’Riordan with the Cranberries, live in Barcelona 2010-3-13, by Alterna2, via Wikimedia Commons

Some years ago I received a letter from a penpal in Russia. I was always so excited to hear from Natasha, who sprinkled her missives with “my darling” and “sweetheart” from day one. At one point she sent me a gorgeous samovar that I treasured deeply. I was absolutely smitten with its pretty lines and aura of loving that accompanied its gifting.

I was always so greedy about letters I received, and never could be one to put an unopened one in my purse to read later, at home. No, I tore them open and read at stop lights, my laughter or gigantic smile happily devouring contents. On this day I was so uplifted as I slowed to the red light at 4th Avenue, coming up from behind the post office, a Cranberries CD helping me pump out my emotion and anticipation as my voice used all its strength to release what I held inside.

Like a light switched off, my smile disappeared. Natasha wrote that she had discovered a lump in her breast while she was pregnant with her first child, one she had wanted so much that she refused medical advice to abort in order to receive treatment. She went on to briefly explain the situation but the words I recall most are, “ … and I believe I have a future.” They are imprinted in my mind, which is grand because later someone stole the box of letters that was my treasure chest from abroad, and even now I have to remember her words from the recesses of my mind, where she is still alive for me.

Also sealed into my mind are those songs I listened to as I drove, particularly “Dreaming My Dreams” on through the rest of the No Need to Argue CD. Somehow those vocal intonations reflected my heart’s song: the dread I felt, along with the future Natasha was so sure of. I knew someone in my own life who had recently beaten breast cancer, and so as my goosebumps radiated a chill through me, I poured my tension out, willing it to leave with the flow of song as it escaped my lips.

Continuing to drive, I thought of the narrator’s story in “Daffodil Lament” as she transitions from a period of stagnation, seeming hopelessness—“Holding on, that’s what I do, since I met you”—to a mindset of something brighter ahead. The music is symphonic and shifts with a movement replicating that period of time, and O’Riordan’s voice reflects this as she moves forward:

I have decided to leave you forever
I have decided to start things from here
Thunder and lightning won’t change what I’m feeling
And the daffodils looked lovely today
And the daffodils look lovely today
Look lovely today

 Has anyone seen lightning
Has anyone looked lovely

I thought this could very well be my friend’s song, addressed to a disease she stood up to, telling its combined forces that she would not be put down. The last two lines in the excerpt above reflect the storyteller’s determined strength against even thunder and lightning, as she admires the sustained loveliness of a genus representative of both death and good fortune. She chooses the latter and a new life, renewal, she determines to achieve.

Natasha did survive long enough to give birth and be with her daughter, Anna, for a bit, but eventually succumbed to her illness. The day I learned of her passing I also listened to O’Riordan’s amazing voice as she belted out her passions and I absorbed what I could to once more uplift myself, grateful and glad to be alive, even though my voice cracked a few times and, like the poetic music it is, O’Riordan’s voice lured me back to the song as I silently moved in candlelight.

Perhaps for the rest of my life I will always have that connection between my friend Natasha and the voice of Dolores O’Riordan, both of which are everlasting gifts whose memories and legacies enable me to pass a special part of who I am to my own child. A Russian friend told me, the day I sang my heart’s mournful melody in a way not quite like any I have ever before or since, that people in his country believe no one ever really dies as long as there is someone to remember them. I’ve gone back to that so many times in subsequent years, not only because it is such a comforting sentiment, but because I’m naturally inclined to believe the dead deserve our attention, not just for everlasting life, but because they once were. They shared this world with us, and in so many instances what they had with us.

My voice is nowhere near as beautiful as Dolores O’Riordan’s—not by a long shot. In fact, there are very few people I will sing in front of because, well, my singing leaves a lot to be desired. Simultaneously I have been either blessed or cursed with a physical recognition that flows within my veins, of the power it holds over me, of the lifeblood that is song for humans, and that most often simply bursts from my heart when it is caged. 

Today I will be lighting candles for Dolores O’Riordan, not because I knew her—I didn’t—but for the memories she contributes to and the gifts she shared with us, her own heart’s songs that memorialize so much of the struggles of life. We often wish to forget them, but she gave them attention because of their link to the humans we care about.

Thank you, Dolores O’Riordan, and rest in peace.

The fragrant Poet’s Daffodil (click)

Book Review: Anna of Byzantium

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett

Anna of Byzantium is Tracy Barrett’s young adult historical fiction account of Anna Komnene, daughter of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I, now known for her medical practice, hospital administration and historical scholarship, particularly an epic account of her father’s reign, the Alexiad. Compressed for time and characters, the novel moves quickly yet presents an appealing account of Komnene’s life, from royal status as heir to her father’s throne to devastating loss and betrayal.

Her misfortune advances from several directions, so the book’s own blurb revealing her removal doesn’t ruin the story, because getting there is an important part of the plot. As events develop and occur, readers get hooked into the tale and Barrett’s savvy understanding of when to drop the hammer and when not, keeps our exhalations of relief weighted as we continue to wait for the other shoe to drop.

Crusaders Council via Wikimedia Commons

Because Komnene—Anglicized to Comnena in the novel—is born less than two decades following 1066, her story gives us insight into what occurs in other parts of the world as England reels from a devastating invasion. The author skillfully fills in details of Comnena’s region throughout the book, and her brevity provides quite a bit more information than young (or any) readers might realize they are absorbing. Moreover, with extremely strong writing, she does it typically through dialogue or Anna’s own contemplations, which further bring us closer to our protagonist.

Like many authors of historical fiction, Barrett takes liberties, including that relating to her marriage to Nicephorus Bryennius. She addresses this in her author’s note, but doesn’t explain why, which we would have appreciated. The ending also comes rapidly, though it does answer some questions as it links to details of the real Komnene’s history and work. The book’s thematic angles—justice, misrepresentation and even sibling rivalry, amongst others—are ones young adults will relate to even as they recognize the vast differences in their and Comnena’s lives, and very well may inspire many readers to reach out for more on this intriguing historical figure.

Book Review: Britannia’s Spartan

Britannia’s Spartan
The Dawlish Chronicles: June 1859, April – August 1882
by Antoine Vanner

In this captivating nautical historical fiction adventure, Antoine Vanner’s Britannia’s Spartan takes us east, a welcome change in setting for those of us new to the series chronicling the life of Nicholas Dawlish, RN.

As captain of the newly commissioned HMS Leonidas, Dawlish is tasked with a voyage of mechanical testing. His 1882 tour finds him, however, smack in the middle of a clash of political wills as the Crown, China, Japan and Russia all seek to influence the still-isolated Korea, as diplomatic protocol and demands dictate his balance. Encountering various power brokers, he must constantly assess their motives against the narratives they present. As his diplomatic and political abilities are tested, military clashes breach his mission, which soon enough becomes nearly one of survival.

Our first foray into The Dawlish Chronicles by way of winning Britannia’s Spartan in a contest, it seemed appealing for its setting, and upon reading does not disappoint. Vanner skillfully weaves in background information on Victorian class tensions, technological advancements of the era, seafaring culture and tactical pursuits, to name a few. As events heat up, Dawlish’s responses are authentic, and his military inititatives—especially when taking grand chances that could destroy his career—are intense in their nail-biting thrill.

Vanner’s own abilities, such as spinning information new to many readers (e.g. nautical terms, military tactics), are impressively developed, and his descriptive prowess takes the breath away. His attention to detail enables succinct coverage of unfamiliar situations, and readers quickly become vested in what happens to the captain and his crew. An engaging tale of a time and view to cultures often unexplored by readers of historical fiction, Britannia’s Spartan is an outstanding seafaring story that continually calls, and I suspect readers—including this one—will happily hear more of that in the rest of the series.

Reading 2018: Requiem, Reviews and Year of the TBR

Peering ahead to the new year, a portion of my reading “challenge” for 2018 is to move away from thinking of it so much as a challenge and more of something I just do. There may be some uneasy feelings speaking toward the “requiem” segment of this, our next title, it not sitting so well to remember the dead as part of a challenge. Maybe they wouldn’t mind; I don’t know. I just don’t want to forget them, and maybe that’s all they would want, too.

German cavalry of the 11th Reserve Hussar Regiment in a trench, in France, in the Western Front during 1916 Bundesarchiv, Bild 136-B0560/Tellgmann, Oscar/CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

In the last couple of years, I think the first memory that brought me to where I am today, to this part, is of reading Siegfried Sassoon in high school literature classes. At that time and long after, I read everything about World War II I could get my hands on. The Great War—not so much. What I recall most from then were this poet, the horrible trenches and a theater of miserable mud. I didn’t really think of it all much post school. So it was curious that Sassoon came to mind so recently, and then here and there I saw references to that terrible time as centennial anniversaries rolled through the last few years. When I received a particular book for review, set during and after the “war to end all wars” that didn’t, I began to realize I should follow up on all of this.

Another contemplation I’d been having was to focus on my TBR—to be read. For the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot of reviews, which I love, but admittedly took up a lot more of my time than I should have let them do. While I remain convinced of the massive amount of amazing stories hidden within the indie community (where most of my reviews came from), I also want—need—to delve into my own choices for reading material. This resulted in my two-pronged decision pertaining to book reviews and changes in how I do them:

  • The time I spend on them will, by necessity, be significantly less than before. I’ll be doing fewer, and plan to shave off much of the analysis, aiming for greater succinctness.
  • My choices will come from requests and my own perusals. Also, I may write about topics I’ve read books on, rather than reviews, per se (for my own picks), so I can vary content in the blog more than in the past. I’m also aiming to get back to more food entries and other fun stuff.
It’s happening this year, Jayne!!!

This all works together very nicely because, apart from enabling me to continue this endeavor without losing touch with my family, I can spend some quality time with much (I hope) of what’s been roaming through my mind, themes and topics I wish to explore and learn more about. As it happens, lots of books about the Great War reside on my TBR, including such works as: Jünger’s Storm of Steel; Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’s memoir that has also been made into a film; The Summer Before the War and All Quiet on the Western Front.

I decided to read at least one book each month to observe the 100th anniversary of war’s end, marked by a phrase most know: “At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month ….” Nearly a full year will pass before we reach that early-morning moment, and, especially in these days of historical omissions and fabrications, I hope we shall remember November 11, 1918 long after the novelty of its centennial observation concludes. The people—the living and the dead—given their place in the two-minute silence deserve no less.

There are, of course, many other titles on my TBR, including a great number that have literally been sitting on my shelves collecting dust. Some are ones I’d picked up in the past, knowing I may or may not like them. They looked promising, though, obviously, but leaving them forgotten for so long seemed so wasteful. For that and because I also began to run out of space, I determined to make a physical change to the setting, that of cleaning up and clearing out.

My favorite Dickens: I purchased this book to re-read at least three years ago. I hope this year will be the one!

In addition to the bi-annual wiping down of the house, as I call it, occasionally I instigate a purge, typically when conditions approach those they now do: overcrowded spaces occupied by items unused or that have outlived their usefulness. While hesitant to place books in the latter category, I would concede that if they aren’t being read and hopefully enjoyed, then they belong to someone else. I went through the last of the shelves overnight: taking them all down and going through each individually, dusting the shelves, and replacing with those books unread that I fully intend to, or those experienced but that have extra special significance to my own journeys. At one point I may let go of these too, but for now I take it a little bit at a time.

And of those not returning to my shelves? They deserve to find a special place in other readers’ lives; those readers, too, should be able to experience the magical journeys and amazing tales I have been so fortunate to happen upon. Some I haven’t read, and I set them aside to explore and figure out if each is a good match for me, which could indeed include the phrase literacy teachers employ: the “right book, right now.” At some point I may want to return to one or more, but that is for later. Any that aren’t good fits for me when I pick them up will have storytelling opportunities elsewhere.

The newly opened space on my book cases are ones I’m unaccustomed to, but the refreshed emptiness, as well as the removed books’ path ahead, represent the unknown, really, something that awaits all of us in the future. I find this fitting as well, for all of this, my reading goals and the opening up, gifts us the dual perspective of remembering the past while continuing to look into and create a better future.

Off the shelves of young Turtle

I don’t have a number in mind yet, that is for how many books I aim to read, apart from the twelve Great War works. Similar to last year (which was only yesterday!), numbers really aren’t as important as the content and quality I take away from what I read, how it can enrich my life and others’, even if in smaller ways. So, I may just choose a random number and when I reach it, equally randomly tack on another set.

So for the long and the short, I’ll be reading and remembering the Great War through the year, with a number attached only to keep myself up to date, in short enough segments of time that I can aim to experience a rewarding range of perspectives, themes, genres and approaches, but each long enough to give me time and space to process individual works thoughtfully, without any sort of systematic but senseless rush.

Simultaneously I’ll be re-uniting with my TBR and choosing books to read I’ve been wanting to for so long. I actually got a bit of an early start with that in the last month, despite the slowdown I wrote about yesterday, and overall it’s been glorious. I’m looking forward to those moments when something pops in my head and connected to it a book I know I have. “Oh, I think I’ll read that!” Or when I can get a library book knowing I have a greater chance of reading it before it has to return to its base. Incidentally, my TBR does contain some previously-read titles, though I will let mood and interest mostly dictate whether I get to them or not.

I know there are other bloggers and readers out there with their own challenges, and I’m looking forward to seeing their ideas, and sharing in many different ways the journey through 2018. Happy New Year!!!

See also:

Erin Davies’s Presidential Challenge at Flashlight Commentary

Stephanie M. Hopkins’s 2018 Reading Goals at Layered Pages

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January 1, 1918: This day 100 years ago marks the period between the Battle of Jaffa (December 1917) and the withdrawal (March 1918) of the 52nd (Lowland) Division to the Western Front. The 54th (East Anglian) stayed on and would take part in operations at Berukin (April 1918) and later (September 1918) at the battle of Sharon.
(Scroll to bottom of Revolvy page to see additional links there.)

Reading 2017: Rounding Out the Year

See bottom for links to further entries in the “Reading 2017” series.

Well, 2017 has been an absurd year in too many ways, so it was nice to end it with the feeling that at least my reading wasn’t doing too badly. As I’ve mentioned earlier in the series, I wanted to focus more on content and not just books in terms of numbers. After my first year reading challenge (2016), in which I aimed for a certain amount of books to read, I found a way this time to shift away from that numeric goal with some fun and variety. The dirty details:

Three books from each of three new or newish genres:

Graphic novel: These turned out to be The Metamorphosis; The Iliad and the Odyssey and Frankenstein. In passing I also read a couple of Raina Telgemeier’s, who I knew from my son having read her in the lower grades. Two, Smile and Claudia and Mean Janine, I quite liked, though a third not so much as the whole story generally felt unfinished. All three of my central choices I’d read before (in “regular” form) and loved—save The Iliad, which I mildly enjoyed. (Perhaps I ought to give that another shot in ’18.)

Until reading Mary Shelley’s entry in a sort of nineteenth-century Fright Night writing contest, the only thing I really knew about Frankenstein was that everybody mistakenly referred to the monster by the title name. I was surprised at how much I liked the plot way back, though I admit Shelley’s style of writing more than likely had something to do with it. Nevertheless, the graphic novel version held up as well, even though it lost a bit from me knowing how it would end. Still, the tension was apparent and you felt for all parties involved; there just was no winning corner.

In contrast is The Odyssey, which in previous poetic reading I loved on a level so much higher than Frankenstein that I even told stories from it to my boy when he was littler (the island of the cyclops being a favorite). Here, however, we see that color isn’t everything, which is a pity because the shades are rather vibrant and alive. They don’t, however, really do anything for the narrative, though the fault of that may lay within the technique of text on bottom of panel, words within, floating in speech bubbles—too all over the place. The effect is meant to convey casual asides and humorous remarks, but I found it irritatingly distracting. Also, there is so much lost in the story, and while I get there was a lot for the author to choose from, this just isn’t a dynamic intro to Homer’s amazing tale.

For my review of Franz Kafka’a The Metamorphosis (adapted by Peter Kuper), click here.

True Crime: I happened upon it quite by accident, when reading an update on appeal of the amazingly entitled Michael Skakel, convicted of murdering fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley in her own front yard. Apart from the crime’s own shocking nature is the jaw-dropping reality that the Greenwich, Connecticut police were either too incompetent or inexperienced to find the young girl’s killer—or were they cowed by the sleazy Kennedy name and money that tries to lord over everything it touches (and frequently destroys)? Former police detective and author Mark Furhman investigated years later and literally wrote the book on how Skakel’s name became seriously linked to the murder. For my review, click here.

I was so impressed with Fuhrman’s style—as a detective as well as writer—that I sought out another, Murder in Brentwood. Here we are given a glimpse into the cross-aisle backstabbing, soulless ambition and strikingly stupid cult of personality behind the scenes of the infamous O.J. Simpson case that de-armed detective authority and investigation and later destroyed Fuhrman’s career. The author himself is no angel and he comes clean on everything the prosecution accused him of while also rightfully stating something to the effect of the R in racism being today’s scarlet letter—and utilized as recklessly. It’s an amazing story that fills in so many gaps I was shocked to read and even more surprised to learn when I talked to people about it, how widespread is awareness that Fuhrman was totally set up by an ego-enabled prosecution utilizing the wrong tack and a defense that would go to any lengths to win. Most of all, however, it made these two lost souls, people cut down so young, so heartlessly and so devoid of justice, individuals and not just more famous statistics, or distant humans you read of in the papers and then forget about.

Ann Rule is also a gifted writer, and her book, The Stranger Beside Me too was a recommended read. Utilizing her previous experience as a police officer, she at the time events in the book were occurring, had retired and engaged as a true crime writer for magazines and newspapers. She volunteered for the suicide hotline of a crisis center along with Ted Bundy, who I knew very little about except that he had been a serial killer. I don’t tend to think much about this sort of psychopath, but can guarantee that after reading this book they were on my mind for weeks. My usual rejoinder, “I don’t lose sleep over it, but—” lost a lot of airtime because I did stay awake more than I should have. Reading about the victims of Skakel and Simpson didn’t have the same effect—and I knew this straight away—because while they were targeted, in a set of rages, perhaps, they weren’t random. Bundy, on the other hand, could strike anywhere, and that set me on edge for awhile, especially having read Rule’s descriptive passages of sexual and mental abuse of such horrific nature I could barely comprehend how any human could even think this shit up. I won’t go into details here, just suffice to say that ISIS probably borrowed heavily from Bundy’s catalogue of twisted torture techniques. It’s not something I’m really keen on reading more of, to be quite frank.

Science fiction: Sky fi, as my wee one likes to call it. That’s one thing, but the real question, I found, is: What is it? To be honest, Jurassic Park didn’t strike me as sci-fi and when himself suggested it, I was initially taken aback. It contains science and is a work of fiction, yet for some reason I tended to think of outer space, which I typically only like reading about as non-fiction. Then someone suggested 1984, which really threw me for a loop. So I dropped it all and instead of heading for booklists, the first thing I did was look up the definitions because in order to choose some sci-fi, I first had to be clear what it is.

From the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction: “Science fiction is the literature of the human species encountering change, whether it arrives via scientific discoveries, technological innovations, natural events, or societal shifts.”

(Inserting a small note here: I’ve never heard of Gunn before, so don’t endorse or not endorse them.) At the web page their definition is expanded, but even in keeping with this foundation, it also squares with this one:

Och, who am I kidding? The real reason I’m on so long about this is because I didn’t manage to finish my sci-fi reading challenge. Surprisingly, quite a few titles appealed to me, although in thinking about it, I’d be willing to bet at least a few of them I’d put down after awhile, which is something I haven’t done a lot in recent years. Hyperion caught my eye, but somehow it went back to the library unread, and later I settled on Jurassic Park, 1984 and The Time Machine, though only ever finished the first. (I did read 1984 in elementary school, if that can score me some points). And while they weren’t official choices for the challenge, I can’t say enough about Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports series, the first of which shares the series title and the second, Timing, continues the adventures.

Both involve Mitnash Thakur and his AI partner, Slate, battling financial fraud in space colonies near Jupiter, though terminating the criminal activity doesn’t tend to involve standard, earth-like consequences. The colonial culture and detective angles also drew me in, and I’m certain these will both be re-reads.

The other ones, though … I just couldn’t get interested enough to read them. I did have “discipline” in mind as a factor toward the challenge, though when push came to shove, didn’t see much worth in disciplining one’s self to read something, for leisure, that one can’t get into. I did open my mind to the genre, though, which is the real goal, and may return to those titles at a later date.

It might have helped if I didn’t have others that appealed more, but contributing likely was also my own all-around reading slowdown. Once I finished the massive pile of reviews I’d needed to do, I told myself I would read, during Christmas break,  only what I wanted to read—which turned out to be not much. I picked out a few books but simply spent a lot of time doing other things. I’m rarely not in the mood to read, but it does happen, and when it does, it’s a sizeable block. Close to the end I picked up a bunch of children’s books, the easier reading of which has jump-started me in the past. I pretty rapidly went through an old favorite, Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives, which was as absolutely fabulous as it ever was. I may even write a tad about it in the new year. A couple of others I began and passed on, and as of this writing I’m still reading Company of Fools (Ellis), whose story has also pulled me in.

And, finally …

Five off my neglected TBR shelves:

I didn’t have particular titles in mind, though at the time I wrote up a blog about the ideas, I was eyeing a certain few. It wasn’t long before I had to remind myself that lots of my leisure reading is determined pretty much by mood and what I feel like reading, so even had I definitively chosen, they stood a chance of being displaced—or not. It just depends.

As it happens, this year, like last, most of my reading was for reviewing, so very few of my own books came off the TBR. I did, however, manage to meet and exceed my five: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger; The Revolving Door of Life, Precious and Grace, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, The Bertie Project and The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, all by Alexander McCall Smith; and three Peter St. John Gang books I’ve been after since I reviewed one last year: Gang Loyalty, Gang Petition, Gang Territory and Gang Spies. As you can see, I’m a great fan of both McCall Smith and St. John, the latter of whom has at least two more on backorder that I mean to read—and I say that with great emphasis! Semi-autobiographical stories of an orphan evacuee from the Blitz, these tales are funny, poignant and delightful, with a re-readability factor that’s out of this world.

A lot of books I’ve read this year have really great covers (e.g. Cometh the Hour, The Popish Midwife, Company of Liars), which had been a focus of many discussions I’ve seen across 2017, two of which I was privileged to be a part of. Another, Hand of Glory by Susan Boulton, came at a great moment, set during and after the Great War as it is, given my sort of “re-awakening” to the era. For the past couple of years I’ve been remembering all the Siegfried Sassoon we’d studied in high school and telling myself to dip into the era some more. Boulton’s story contains a mythical twist and the war portions are written with such dexterity: sensitivity but also a knowing of harsh realities, and some resulting passages simply wind into your reading being. And, at the risk of overloading anyone else’s TBR or shopping lists, speaking of getting into you: Jennie Orbell’s Two Chucks and a Tabby Cat had me laughing nearly all the way through, even at passages that weren’t always topics of humor. Orbell has such a feel for the foibles of humanity and a witty way of pointing them out to us, all while knowing when to retreat.

Retreat is what I did once in awhile, as you can see scattered through my 2017 reads here, by backing away from reviews and picking up one of my own, most of which are listed above. I love to write reviews, mind you, and I admit it felt a little odd to be reading a book with no intention (at least at the outset, and some I had to reprimand myself and say no) of writing it up. That happened at the end of the year as well, and taking a couple of weeks off to be reading whatever I pick up off the shelf has been simply grand.

Reads from the last part of 2017, some of which you may see again in these pages. As mentioned elsewhere, numbers weren’t the goal, though you have to plug something in. (Click image for full Goodreads spread.)
2017 saw the conclusion of my 1066 series (see tab in sidebar for links to posts), and the beginning to my Knights Templar (Michael Jecks) following. I’ve got the next two queued up to read as I type.
My reading of Susan Boulton’s Hand of Glory really revved my engines for more about the Great War. A mystery with supernatural and mythological twists, the novel has great staying power.
I’m hoping to dip into more reading about the Barbary Wars, having finally found a great start with Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger’s Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates.

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Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

The Importance of Covers (Book Bloggers Group Chat)

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

New Genre Library (Science Fiction): Jurassic Park

New Genre Library is a three-part spinoff series of Reading 2017

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Thanks for reading and may 2018

be your best year yet!

New Genre Library: Sci-fi (Jurassic Park)

This series explores genres new or newish to me as part of my 2017 reading challenge

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

I’m not really into dinosaurs and, had I never seen the movie of the same name—yes, that same one everyone else and their mother has seen twelve times—I likely would have passed Jurassic Park the book up as well. So why haven’t I read it before now? Well, I can thank my ever-present TBR, that pile of awaiting works towering over the tallest skyscraper and which keeps my anticipation on hyper drive. But I can also thank my teenage son, for finally getting to it. After a childhood of “house rule says you have to read the book before you can watch the movie,” he was given some more wiggle room, and still frequently experiences the book-movie pairing, just in reverse: if he loves a movie he checks to see if it’s based on a novel and if so, wants to read it.

Click image to view a slice of terror from the eyes of Tim, as he peers, horrified, through his night-vision goggles.

So he kept telling me I had to check out the Michael Crichton book that re-ignited the dino devotion, and I finally did (after also watching the film with him at least a dozen times). As he told me, there is a lot you’ll recognize, and some you won’t. The book, to the surprise of absolutely no one, is very different to the movie. There’s a Tim and Lex, and their parents are getting divorced, the reason they appear at the island. The story is rolling for awhile, however, before they appear, and we see another little girl first.

There is also a great deal of background detail presented in the novel, some of it slightly dry, but intriguing enough to make the connections Crichton wants us to, and it explains a lot about how events turn out in both book and film—we should say films, given material from the first book is seen in at least one sequel. With a subplot involving the theft of dinosaur embryos creating more questions, tension and irritability, we witness the start of a race against time to avoid catastrophe not only on the island, but also elsewhere.

Most everyone reading this probably knows the end results of Jurassic Park’s cinematic escapade, but I’ve never come across many who’ve read the book, so I’m hesitant to go into too much detail, because there really is more to know than just the plot—and it’s fantastic. Readers will re-evaluate their thoughts regarding the characters they actually cared about the most when they read the cast present itself differently. Character knowledge also plays a role and the thrill this creates runs throughout the entire book, from start to finish, even though those who open the tale are new, underdeveloped and generally there to furnish background information. Individual characters aren’t always as emotive as one might expect, given what they are experiencing, but this tends to become a lesser concern because readers themselves will be flipping pages to find out, snapping back at those they don’t like and running up against their own anxieties in the race to escape the monsters Hammond has spared no expense to create.

OK, yes, I know: they’re not “monsters,” some purists (such as Grant) may feel inclined to shoot back.


“[Y]ou ought to see the vets scrubbing those big fangs so he doesn’t get tooth decay ….”

“Not just now,” Gennaro said. “What about your mechanical systems?”

“You mean the rides?” Arnold said.

Grant looked up sharply: rides?

“None of the rides are running yet,” Arnold was saying. “We have the Jungle River Ride, where the boats follow tracks underwater, and we have the Aviary Lodge Ride, but none of it’s operational yet. The park’ll open with the basic dinosaur tour—the one that you’re about to take in a few minutes. The other rides will come on line six, twelve months after that.”

“Wait a minute,” Grant said. “You’re going to have rides? Like an amusement park?”

Arnold said, “This is a zoological park. We have tours of different areas, and we call them rides. That’s all.”

Grant frowned. Again he felt troubled. He didn’t like the idea of dinosaurs being used for an amusement park.


It’s just that if I were running for my life from huge-toothed ginormous creatures created by a raving megalomaniac, I wouldn’t be too worried about saving them face. Getting out of Dodge would be priority number one. Crichton, however, positions Grant as a true archeologist, someone who cares deeply about his subject of lifelong study, without obnoxiously endangering those who still walk the Earth (and minus the benefit of supra natural means, I might add). Moreover, he maintains a balance because he does care about people, and the conflict he runs up against illustrates how one can walk that fine line and act in the best interests of all—and why doing so has implications for other areas.

All in all, Jurassic Park is what so many already know: a fabulous, thrilling tale of hubris and the questions pertaining to scientific advancement, plus so much more. With characters, events and a timeline that ooze terror and suspense, readers will wonder why they never got to it long before now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

The Importance of Covers (Book Bloggers Group Chat)

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

Stay tuned for rounding out the year and what’s in store for 2018!

New Genre Library is a three-part spinoff series of Reading 2017

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