The Marriage of Opposites

I always left my window open at night, despite the warnings I’d been given.

Visually stunning, to start out with a cliche compliment. A book that could very well be turned into a TV show, but is vibrant, bright and visual enough to not necessarily need the obvious image to accompany the story. The story is the image, full of them, bursting in technicolour.
The blurb talks about the life of the mother of painter Camille Pizzarro, but ‘story about stubborn woman on a small island in the 1900s’  would have done fine as well. Rachel isn’t impressed by what her parents, religious community and society tells her to be and do, and fights their ideas in many ways. Old stories, mythology and distance to the rest of the world turn her into a heroine in a magical-realistic world.
That doesn’t mean that she’s likeable full time, the woman is stubborn and arrogant and stubborn. Camille – being her carbon copy – doesn’t make things easier inside the family (home). It does make for bigger surroundings, with Paris becoming a participant of the story later into the book. And through Hoffman’s words, Paris might have never looked lovelier.
Still, this is Rachel’s book, and she deserves it.
The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman, Simon&Schuster 2015

Disappearing Moon Cafe

He remembered that by then he was worn out from fighting the wind.

Sometimes you are simply (already) invested in a novel because you struggled to get it. Or like ‘struggle’; it’s not like I had to climb trees and survive the Sahara to get to it. It was just a tough-to-acquire eBook with a picky view of in which app to work. Anyway.

This was an experience, opposed to just another novel. Maybe I’m simply not used to Asian actors and their certain style yet, maybe it was simply because the jumps through time got me bewildered a few times.

There’s over a century of stories within the family, from second(/third/fourth?) cousins to daughters-in-law, first sons and grumpy (great-)grandmothers. A Chinese family in Canada, Chinese-Canadians and the Chinese family members left behind in the other country.

It’s a family tree book with immigration, racism and sexism mixed in. The not-western point of view doesn’t alienate, because everything that happens is simply too familiar. Everyone’s got a family, some roots just grow further and wither slower.

Disappearing Moon Cafe, Sky Lee, Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. 1990

Fool’s Quest

I am warm and safe in the den, with my two siblings.

Have I told you lately how much a favourite Robin Hobb is of mine? That she’s the one I recommend whenever someone asks for a fantasy author? That using ‘epic’ isn’t too much of an exaggeration with her stories?

Well, now you know. If you want sprawling fantasy with tons of (casual) world building, filled with (mostly) human characters, cool kinds of magic and enough plot, with room to breathe. It doesn’t matter if a book is over 700 pages if you can race through it, powered by excitement (too much?).

Anyway, Fool’s Quest is the second book of a trilogy and connecting worlds and stories used in previous trilogies. There is an older Fitz now, and his calm life is pretty much over and gone, because his past and the people from it, can’t let him go. It moves him from his homestead to the big city to – well, there’s a map in front of the book for a reason.

You can read these books without having read the other trilogies, but just treat yourself with at least The LiveShip Traders besides this one.

Fool’s Quest; Book II of the Fitz and The Fool trilogy, Robin Hobb, Del Rey 2015

Hidden Figures

127 min.
I think it was pretty clear when there were parts and lines added to make (small-minded) white people feel better, but (or maybe because of that, help?) I enjoyed Hidden Figures a lot. An uplifting movie with unlikely heroines that are smart, funny, well dressed and black.
hidden figures poster

‘Based on true life events’ seems to be a forewarning for sappy, Hallmark-like stories that are described as having heart while not really having or showing it. This story about the black, human computers of NASA could have been much more inspirational, much brighter and louder and beautiful and grating. Now it’s largely a show of how people can learn not to be sexist and racist because they’re confronted with smart black women. This happens in the 1960s, and it ends a bit too much with the unsaid message of how all that is very much in the past. While we know it isn’t, of course.

Didn’t I say this movie was uplifting? It is, kind of. The characters move from okay to better, the bad guys are only the confused guys, there’s pictures and blurbs at the end to show you the real life counterparts. There’s a cute soundtrack and as said before, the heroines are lovely. It could have simply been sharper, more vibrant, more honest.

Until we get that story, Hidden Figures is a cleaned up history lesson worth watching.

Hidden Figures, Levantine Films 2016

The Name of the Rose

On August 16, 1968, I was handed a book written by a certain Abbé Vallet, Le Manuscrit de Dom Adson de Melk, traduit en français d’après I’édition de Dom J. Mabillon(Aux Presses de l’Abbaye de la Source, Paris, 1842).

I gave Umberto Eco a second chance; now I know that he isn’t my kind of author. This was like my Art History class all over again. Except with a few murderous monks added.

With some authors, you don’t want to know other people’s opinions. With some, you need their support. I heard ‘Give him time’, ‘have patience’ and a lot of variations on that. Also that you need to appreciate an eye for detail, but there’s only so many details I can appreciate. It’s dense, I lost the story before it started, thinking back I can only remember frustrations. Besides a mild sense of interest towards the library of the monastery, some of those books sounded very cool.

I’m sure there’s plenty of other history-themed books out there I can enjoy.

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, Vintage Classics Random House 2004

The Burning Sky

Just before the start of Summer Half, in April 1883, a very minor event took place at Eton College, that venerable and illustrious English public school for boys.

Stories don’t have to be original to be entertaining. Unlikely hero? Absolutely beautiful, but cold-hearted-because-of-plot-point prince? Cruel authorities? Cross dressing for safety? Pompous names? Now I come to think of it..where’s the adorable pet/companion animal in this story?

Iolanthe has been warned by her guardian to not do certain things. With her listening to him, there wouldn’t be a story, and suddenly Iolanthe turns out to be a threat and a treasure to the powers that be. Good thing there’s a handsome prince that won’t let them get her. Instead, she should stay close to him, hidden away on Eton.

Emotions, hormones, friendships and a book that’s a gate way, a training room and a virtual reality of royal history all make sure that there’s nary a dull moment. Is the will-they-won’t-they sappy? Yes. Does Thomas go off on a much too long description of all the beautiful people around? Definitely. But sometimes someone wants a story you can race through without feeling like you have missed out on details, plot and information. I’m even interested in the other two books (of course this is part of a series), even though I wouldn’t know what they could be about. Sacrifice? More angry kisses? Good thing the trilogy is already completely published.

The Burning Sky, Sherry Thomas, HarperCollins 2013

Smoke

‘Thomas, Thomas! Wake up!’

Well, Dan Vyleta got the Victorian-feel of it down pat. Several times I paged back to the front to check the year of first publication.

This could be viewed as a compliment, but as I expected something else going in, it took me a long time to adapt. Smoke is as straight-edged as its characters, afraid of anything that could be viewed as sin or a wrong emotion, any form of entertainment that could ‘evoke’ something.

This element makes the novel dystopian, a strict society in which something or someone will give sooner than later. Not just that, but on top of the societal mystery, there’s a mysterious group that’s kind of powerful, but not powerful enough to have a clear enough message. Or maybe the smoke just got in between.

Even when adventure is added, the feeling doesn’t get very urgent. Power hungry people want to keep things the way they are, maybe some light sins aren’t that horrible, okay, okay. It could have been a short novel, a foundation for a television series, but as a hefty book there’s just not enough spark.

Smoke, Dan Vyleta, Weidenfeld&Nicholson 2016